Have you ever been browsing through Furry YouTube and seen videos of furs, or heck even normies, reacting to what they deem "Furry Cringe"? Or how about on Furry Social Media where furries post memes that speak ill about the fandom through silly and exaggerated comments such as "furries will pay thousands of dollars for a suit but not pay a few bucks for soap and deodorant" or the ever classic... "ew furry" spoken by furries. Many claim that these comments and jokes are made ironically because "it's cool to make fun of yourself and others". That mentality is, in many ways, healthy as it prevents us from being too full of ourselves or take something so seriously as a fandom. And yet, there can be some hurtful elements behind this mindset that can alter how people view themselves and the fandom in the long run.
The best example I can give of this is the 16th episode of the fourth season of " Full House" called "Stephanie Gets Framed". Best known for having a crossover cameo by Steven Urkel from "Family Matters" , this episode has Stephanie being told that she needs to wear reading glasses in order to succeed in class. Like every kid in the 90s, she was afraid that she would be mocked and bullied, being called "four eyes". That's when Steve Urkel comes in. Being the nerdy butt of the joke in his own sitcom, Urkel dispenses some knowledge of his own when it comes to people mocking you; "The trick is to get them to laugh with you than at you!". The next day, when she needs to get her reading glasses out, the kids ask her to wear them. Stephanie being intimidated, she begins to put on a myriad of silly prop glasses borrowed from Uncle Joey. This disrupt the class and the teacher disciplines Stephanie and confiscating all of the prop glasses. The moral of the story is that we tend to be so worried about what others may think that we quickly develop an image in our heads and we go on the defensive.
What Steve was trying to show in this episode the concept of "laughing at yourself" or "self-deprecating humor/humility". This mindset is about learning to be able to laugh at yourself if you ever find yourself in a silly situation or trying to break the ice at a group gathering if you don't have the social skills to blend in. Self-Deprecating Humor is also seen most often on stand up comedy routines in which the comedians will make remarks about themselves often to make a statement about how the world perceives them as while reflecting on how some of those mindsets can be toxic, such as judging someone based on color, race, gender, sexual orientation and more. Sometimes it comes in the way of witty comments about their own person or some shocking visual imagery (an example being an Eric Andre stand-up special that ends with him stripping fully naked in front of a large audience).
The key element here is that self-deprecation is done as a way to comment on how the world views someone and make people think through humor about those ideas. Yet online, this is being used as a self-defense mechanism that appears to be someone just taking light jabs at themselves and the fandoms they may be in because "it's not a big deal, it's silly I know but even I laugh at it". But the way furs use this is in my honest opinion not done right because it comes off as them trying to "acknowledge" that "the fandom is weird, silly, stupid and kinda cringe but we are aware of that and make fun of it too" to the non-fur audience. This example of more of a Stephanie Tanner than an Eric Andre example as this is furs trying to deflect some of the more common jokes and comments made about the fandom by the internet at large or even try to criticize some elements of the fandom that they themselves don't agree with but don't want to openly state it.
Yes, the Furry Fandom in itself is a weird sub-culture that doesn't makes sense and it shouldn't make sense as everyone has a distinctive view on the fandom. But is constant self-bashing something NEEDED to make people understand that we are aware of how silly and "cringe" it may be? It stuns how the fandom can go from DREADING mainstream normie interference for fear of losing their identity and being cleaned up for a friendlier image to trying desperately to appeal to people by saying that we are aware how messed this can be. Worst is, it tends to take credit away from the GOOD the fandom can generate to people. And yet, I can see this being an automatic self-defense mechanism since the Furry Fandom has been the butt of so many tired jokes for over the years we want to try to get people to laugh with US rather than AT US.
It has also been proven that constant use of self-deprecation can have psychological effects as the more it is use, the more the mind is wired to believe that these "jokes" are real. Soon someone may say "ew furry" ironically to "I am furry trash therefore I am worthless and useless to my friends, family and society as a whole" sincerely. And all to appear "cool and self aware" to people on the outside looking in.
So what is the best way of using self-deprecating humor? One is by not over-using it in every situation. If someone asks about Furry or state "furry is weird" just say "Yes, yes it is, but it's a fun subculture where people can express their personalities through art, fursuit performance, music and more, just like any other fandom". That's it. Going back to the "Full House" example, the reason Stephanie acted the fool in class was because a kid asked to see her glasses. No mean comments, no jokes, no bullying, he just...wanted to see the glasses. And with so many decades of furry bashing it seems that we are set to quickly mock and ridicule the fandom and ourselves whenever someone asks "so what's a furry and why are people making jokes about them?". We don't need to show them Ash Coyote's documentary "The Fandom" in the spot, but we can't always be like "THAT'S BECAUSE WE ARE ALWAYS SO HORNY ON MAIN, WE HAVE WEIRD KINKS, AND WE ARE GENERALLY TRASH, MYSELF INCLUDED, LAWL", because that's just one twisted view that uses self-deprecation in a wrong manner, especially if someone was asking because they wanted to know what it was, not jump to make a mean-spirited joke.
I feel this is something we will have to come grips the more furry has more visibility in mainstream media and the general geek culture online and in real life and many don't know how to explain what it is without saying "NO NO THIS IS NOT ABOUT SEX WE ARE NOT A CULT NO NO WE ARE WHOLESOME" or "YEAH WE ARE AN AWFUL BUNCH OF TRASHY PEOPLE LAWL". Fandoms, no matter how weird, extreme or silly it is, is about finding acceptance by people within that community through one passion. This has been proven to create long-lasting friendships and has even made people join other fandoms because the main fandom became an ice-breaker to find people with common hobbies and interests. The constant self-deprecation of the fandom takes away from what the fandom has done to a lot of people. It's OK to realize that this is silly, because as my time as a Brony has taught me is that taking yourself and a fandom VERY seriously can lead to delusions of grandeur, gatekeeping and inspiring a very hostile, toxic fanbase that doesn't want to loosen themselves up. Bronies initially got a bad rep because they were constantly being over the top serious about the fandom and how the show "WAS ONE OF THE BEST WRITTEN SERIES EVER BECAUSE IT DEALT WITH SERIOUS ISSUES"...At the end of the day, the show was a really good merchandise driven cartoon about pastel colored ponies in a fantasy world. Does that mean you should be less enthralled by it? No! But taking it seriously makes it look like this is too important.
At the end of the day, it's all a balancing act. Learning to love and accept yourself for who you are is hard unless you have a great support system, and for many that is not the case. So they tend to go into self-deprecation as a means to show that they are cool and try to not let any mean comments get to them. But in reality, it can become harmful even dangerous. It's OK to keep yourself grounded, but not so much that you dig yourself into an emotional hole so deep you start to believe that that's where you belong.
And sometimes that means pulling an Eric Andre and metaphorically undressing to a large audience with a big smile on your face as you welcome the cheers and loud laughter, because that's when you are laugh with them and telling yourself "Yes, I may be acting the fool, but I love myself for it and the people that love it".