Bear (POP) History: 3 Things You Definitely Need To Know

Bears have progressed from their subcultural, underground sphere to the mainstream culture, directly and indirectly influencing both queer and heteronormative spaces.

Besides the era of sleek metrosexuals, a hybrid of a (muscular) bear and a lumberjack is the dominant male image in the last decade. Furthermore, it shows no signs of losing its dominance in the near future.

I am fascinated by the increasing level of appearances of bearded, chunky or chubby men in the advertising, in flannel shirts or otherwise manifesting fashion codes of lumberjacks and other "masculine" professions. Whether we are talking about beer brands, network providers, or family insurance, the presence of bear culture’s visual codes in media space is undeniable as it anchors itself in reality, after all. In rare moments of idleness, when I dare to enter the void of our family’s TV, I play a game of bear hunt. What intrigues me in modern media is the presence of visual codes and iconography native to identity of gay bears. Every time I see these commercials I want to yell at TV: “You owe this to us! Your beards, flannel shirts, bellies, rugged boots and jeans, chest hair!” Before Tallinn Bearty blasts off I want to tickle your imagination (and beard) - whether you’re a cub or having silver fur to adorn your body, here are 3 pop culture curiosities from bears’ history you should know about.

1. The “invention” of Bears

To cultural and queer historians it is still unclear when the bears first emerged and (visually) established themselves. Moreover, what persists as a more problematic question is who and when actually utilized the term “bear” as a signifier for gay men belonging to LGBT+ bear subculture.

Arguably, the “invention” of bears is credited to George Mazzei and The Advocate magazine. In the magazine’s issue from July 26th, 1979 Mazzei offers a whimsical perspective on the categorization of gays and lesbians in his article Who’s Who at the Zoo.

He categorized members of LGBT community as animals, stating their general characteristics, diets, habitats, and domesticity. Among those animals, illustrated by cartoonist and illustrator Gerard Donelan, are bears of course. Whether Mazzei was the first to give bears their name or not, is still being argued. What he stated about bears is true: cuddly, extremely loving, and loyal. Oh, yes, and they shed on furniture.