Parafurnalia explores the many and various media that comprise our shared furry history—one thing at a time. Give Chipper a shout if you have a furry-related object, document, puppet, forgotten room party sign, tiny little sticker, or huge scroll of paper, (etc.), that you think would be neat to feature!
CW: please be aware that this piece involves difficult discussions around suicide and mental health struggles.
Art of Hearth Fox Performing Wiggle, by Claire Bear. Posted on Twitter
July 2, 2023. Used with artist permission.
On July 1st, 2023, Twitter was ablaze with people upset about the platform’s new policy limiting how many tweets users could see per day. For the furries, however, a much more wholesome phenomenon was lighting up our timelines: Wiggle Fox.
Photo by Peri Pendrake, posted on Twitter July 3, 2023.
Used with permission of the photographer.
Wiggle Fox is a marionette made from fur scraps, tinfoil, macrame cord, and wood. Created and controlled by multi-talented artist, therian, and mental health activist Hearth Fox, Wiggle’s debut became a media event. Literary critic William Warner writes that a media event—a profound public reaction to a new artwork or medium—“feeds upon itself, producing a sense that this media event has become an ambient, all pervasive phenomenon” (Warner, 178). According to Wiggle Fox’s entry on KnowYourMeme.com—to which Wiggle was added on July 4, four days after their June 30 debut at Anthrocon 2023—dozens of images and videos featuring Wiggle Fox dancing, exploring Pittsburgh, and interacting with fursuiters were posted during the convention. Many of these images and videos garnered thousands or tens of thousands of views. A video of Wiggle Fox dancing in Dr. Wildlife’s paws, for instance, received over 13,000 likes in five days (KnowYourMeme).
And that was just the beginning. Warner writes that a media event also “triggers repetitions and simulations,” and Wiggle exemplifies this effect (Warner, 178). In the weeks after AC, Wiggle inspired thousands of appreciation posts: video posts featuring Wiggle at the Anthrocon raves and interacting with suiters; fan art of every variety, including pixel art, short animations, sketches, photos, comics; compilations of fan art; meme formats updated to feature the instantly iconic fox; and even folks sharing their own Wiggle-inspired puppet creations. Another image posted by Hearth Fox on July 1, of Wiggle sitting on a picnic table, currently has almost 900,000 views, and it has been retweeted over 3,000 times.
“It took approximately 6 hours to make Wiggle,” Hearth reports while guest-starring on the Funday Pawpet Show (52:00). But nobody could have expected how many hours of love and joy Wiggle would bring to the community. Claire Bear, whose fan art depiction of Hearth and Wiggle opens this piece, described Wiggle as “the soul of #anthrocon2023" (Claire Bear). Appreciation posts during and after Anthrocon repeatedly talk about Wiggle Fox as bringing joy and positive energy, uplifting the people around them, bringing positivity to the community, and being “the gift that keeps on giving.”
I could watch Wiggle Fox’s fuzzy, dancing butt on loop all day, but as always there is more to the story. For instance, Hearth Fox made Wiggle partly in order to deal with the loss of Kohiyote. Kohi, a beloved furry friend of many who was passionate about photography and exploring, took her life during Anthrocon 2022 after long-term mental health struggles. As Hearth told me, Wiggle ended up being so much more than just a means of dealing with grief; Wiggle became linked to Kohi’s memory and taught people who she was, and the joy Wiggle brought was a testament to the effect Kohi had on others.
To learn about the many meanings of our friend Wiggle, I interviewed Hearth about creating and performing them, and about what it meant that Wiggle captured so many hearts so quickly.
CW: What Inspired Wiggle Fox?
HF: I encountered a creator on Tiktok named Mestre Ensinador, [from] Brazil, and they’re a puppeteer. They’re more well known from the ‘me as a baby’ meme.
It’s something that’s been in my childhood. I’d never really done puppetry, but I’ve been fascinated by puppets because they were in a lot of the shows that I had growing up, like Eureka’s Castle, Sesame Street, Lamb Chops, Mr. Rogers. So puppets have always been a source of joy for me.
CW: How did you make Wiggle?
HF: So I made Wiggle out of Sculpy and tinfoil, some fur scraps, a wooden dowel for the control, macrame cord, little wooden parts for their hands and feet—they’re like little wooden half eggs—and it was a learning process. But in the end, I had a memory of playing with a marionette as a child, and so I knew how the controls were supposed to work. And I think part of Wiggle’s charm is the fact that their tail is supported; it doesn’t just hang. There’s leverage on the control to lift the tail up and down, and I find that that is extremely expressive. And I think that’s part of the reason people like Wiggle so much. He can move his little legs, but they can also move their little tail.
CW: Is Wiggle you but in puppet form?
HF: Wiggle is sort of like me. Wiggle is kind of this idea of a generic fox, and I like imagining myself as a generic fox—well, because I’m a therian. I find comfort in being indistinguishable from the next animal, you know? And therianthropy is all about identity. So Wiggle to me represents the archetype of my ideal fox. I was going to make them look like me, but I decided against it while I was making them because I wanted them to be as plain as possible. Because when a character is that plain, it actually makes it easier for people to connect with them because it doesn’t threaten their idiom or their modality. It kind of seems like, the simpler something is, the more friendly it is.”
CW: Did it take a lot of practice to perfect the wiggle? What's it like performing with them?
HF: I had to learn to puppet on the go. Wiggle is my very very first puppet that I’ve ever made, and I had a little bit of practice at home before the con. I made a couple of videos and put them on my Tiktok, and I didn’t really think much of it. In fact, when I brought Wiggle to the con, I didn’t even bring them out on Thursday night because I thought, ‘Well, people won’t really care about a puppet. They’ll think it’s weird.’ People have weird feelings about puppeteers. It wasn’t until Friday that I actually brought them out because, you know, I was having a pretty rough time on Thursday, and I wasn’t feeling it. So Friday is when I brought them out, Friday is when they got the attention, and overnight they became a big success. So learning to puppet Wiggle was something that happened over the course of Friday night. I learned little emotes for them, I learned how to make them dance, how to make them react to people. I learned that people love it when Wiggle dances on their paws. I found the things that people reacted to best, and tried new things, and kind of got this idea for the character that everyone seemed to want and to love.
“They called him Tiny, Little Guy, Little Dude, La Creatura, Wobble Wolf, Little Scronkly … It was so cute.”
Wiggle Fox GIF by @rockosedits, posted on
Twitter July 9, 2023. Used with artist permission.
CW: Can you tell me about Kohi? Was Wiggle Fox part of your way of keeping Kohi's memory?
HF: This one is hard. This one is really hard. So, Kohi was a friend of mine who was an urban explorer, went to anime cons all the time, was an amazing, intelligent IT person, an amazing furry, an amazing person in the scene—somebody who brought people together. Kohi would find friends and then think, ‘Oh, these two people need to know each other,’ and then make that connection happen. And Kohi cared so much about all of us. She was larger than life. She was the source of my courage. She was the reason that I started to transition, and she’s the reason that I feel like I am who I am today. I don’t think I could have done it without Kohi. She was someone I ran into at cons a lot and always talked about wanting to hang out outside. And we finally did. We started urban exploring together, and she got me to get over my fear of that and built my courage up, little bit by little bit, encouraged me, and was real and cool and just honest all the fucking time. Every time you’re around Kohi, you couldn’t help but smile.
Kohi took her life last year. We only found out about it at Anthrocon. I was actually waiting for her to show up. I was waiting to see her because she had moved to Colorado, away from the northeast, and I just didn’t see her after that. And … it destroyed me. It absolutely destroyed me. Because nothing made sense after that. It didn’t make sense that the bravest person I would ever know would end their life. And it scared the hell out of me. I had to admit myself to a mental hospital immediately after attending her funeral. The following year was probably the most difficult of my life. I struggled with suicide attempts, I had to be institutionalized again last April for two weeks, and I was dreading Anthrocon. I remember after it, over and over telling myself, ‘I don’t know how the hell I’m going to go. I don’t know how the hell I can show my face there. I don’t know how I can bear it all, with all the memory.’
I remember making Wiggle after grinding on art for weeks, for the Anthrocon art show. And I made Wiggle because I was exhausted and burnt out, and I was dreading the con, and I needed something to make me happy. So I made Wiggle to help me heal, coming back to this place. Coming back to Anthrocon. I made Wiggle so that I could have something good to distract me from the pain that I was feeling. And that’s why I didn’t even bring them out on Thursday night. Everything fucking hurt too much. Everything was agony. Everything reminded me of the trauma of losing her in one of the happiest and safest places that I’ve ever been.
So when I brought Wiggle out, I did not intend for them to be a holder of her memory. I made Wiggle to help me deal with her loss. What wound up happening was that it brought so much joy. It got so much attention that I kept her in my mind, and I just tried to embody her spirit the entire time that I was puppeteering, and that’s what got me to do all of the things I did. I jumped the fence and did the fursuit parade, and I went through three times. I got Wiggle into Floor Wars, and I just—I followed the party, because I knew that’s what Kohi would do. As the con went on, it felt like she was cheering me on. And I got the opportunity to tell the story of her before the con was over, via Twitter. The fact that so many people reached out, and that so many people now know who Kohi is, and was, that didn’t before, and that her memory is not gone, and she won’t be forgotten—that means absolutely everything to me. I’m so glad that Wiggle turned into something bigger than I ever intended.
CW: What was your favorite part about performing with Wiggle Fox at Anthrocon? What about after the con?
So my favorite part at Anthrocon—well, I can’t exactly claim Floor Wars, because I let someone else puppeteer during Floor Wars. But I think my favorite were all of the dances and all of the raves because people lost their absolute minds when they saw this one-foot-tall little white fox breaking it down in the middle of a dance pit. And I remember on Saturday night, showing up to the rave again, and Fiona the horse being there with a Captain America shield, and Wiggle jumping up onto the shield and dancing while everybody around cheered. That was just so, so unbelievably cool. After AC, I kept making videos. I have been learning to make videos as I’ve gone. My content has gotten a little bit more elaborate the more that I’ve done it, and I think my favorite adventure with Wiggle so far has been either taking them to the basketball court, which was cool, or taking them to the skate park. I am planning on taking Wiggle urban exploring with me, so they will be in some pretty interesting locations, and I’m just going to keep the adventure going.
“People lost their absolute minds when they saw this one-foot-tall little white fox breaking it down in the middle of a dance pit.”
CW: What kinds of reactions have you gotten from folks?
HF: I got so many positive reactions. So, during Anthrocon, the standard reaction is that people would see me walking by, and they’d notice Wiggle, and they’d say, ‘Oh my god, it’s him!’ And they’d say, ‘It’s tiny!’ All the names that people came up with before they knew that their name was Wiggle were hilarious. They called him Tiny, Little Guy, Little Dude, La Creatura, Wobble Wolf, Little Scronkly … It was so cute. And outside of the con, I’ve gotten so many good reactions as well. And I’ve found that the people who notice Wiggle and who love him the most are the elderly, because it reminds them of the old shows that I was talking about. There’s such a charm about him that it just brings smiles. When I’m shooting videos, people get happy. And people are happy to be in the backgrounds of the videos—I always ask consent. People notice and—‘Yeah, I want to be part of that!’ you know?
CW: How did you feel about the monumental online reaction?
HF: I am not gonna lie. I was extremely overwhelmed by the online reaction to Wiggle. Extremely. To the point that I was starting to get uncomfortable with how many people were following me all of a sudden. Because my visibility on Twitter went from 13,000 followers before the con to now 40,000 followers, and I went from almost no Tiktok followers to 26,000 in the course of days. And I’m humbled – absolutely humbled by the reaction. I’m absolutely humbled by the support. I have trouble feeling like I deserve those things. It’s taken me a lot to accept all the long and kindness and graciousness, but it’s also taken a lot to get used to all the visibility. I’m sure you know about some of the things people have said about me after the con, and it’s all just … gossip. And I’ve learned to deal with it. I know it’s not true, so the things they say about me don’t affect me much. It’s just the fact that they’re willing to make stuff up that kind of bothers me. But the online reaction, like … overwhelmingly supportive, positive. I have gotten possibly 100 pieces of fan art of Wiggle and of just me, and both of us at the same time. And I have saved every single one.
CW: A lot of your art deals really powerfully with mental health. Was that something you had in mind when you made Wiggle Fox? (As someone who struggles with anxiety it's been especially meaningful for me to see that positivity.)
Yes. Emphatically yes. Wiggle is absolutely meant to be a positive influence on mental health. Because all of my art has to do with baring my soul to people, pain and all. All the ugly bits, all the good bits, I just want to lay my soul out for everybody and hope that somebody can see something similar that they’re going through and know they’re not alone. Because growing up and feeling alone sucks. Really bad. Especially when you feel like you can’t talk to anybody. Especially when you feel like it’s too sensitive, you don’t want to open up, you don’t want to get hurt, or you don’t want to weird people out, you don’t want to push people away with your problems, you feel like a burden…. Like, screw that. No. I have to share all of these experiences, because that’s my journey of healing. That’s my process of healing. That’s how I accept what happened to me, what I’ve been through, the ongoing mental health issues that I struggle with. I talk about very serious things— suicide is one of them. Because I’ve attempted suicide. To me, Wiggle is a spirit of life. Wiggle is the joy that tells you to hang on. That’s what they represented to me, and I’m happy that they mean the same thing to other people, too. They’re not just a silly party puppet; they are happiness. I love that for them. I really love that for Wiggle. And Wiggle has really become their own person. They’ve become their own personality. And I’m honestly grateful that they’re the one in front of the camera and not me because I think they’re much better at it than I am. And I think they’re much better at dancing than I am too.
CW: Do you think wiggle fox will inspire you to make any other fun wiggly friends?
So I’m happy to say yes to this! Wiggle Fox is going to have plenty of friends, and I’m going to make many more puppets. In fact I’m currently in the process of making two more marionettes for myself, before I officially start making them on commission for other people. I want to make sure that my process is good, that my products are durable, and that people won’t have to deal with stupid problems like tangles, or anything else like that. I’m trouble-shooting how to prevent issues. But yeah, I’m making a werewolf named Snarlos, and I’m making a little pear dragon, a little chubby dragon named Fidget. I’m also making a hand puppet of myself, and I’m making a very cool creature that I plan on debuting at Furpocalypse this year.
“To me, Wiggle is a spirit of life. Wiggle is the joy that tells you to hang on. That’s what they represented to me, and I’m happy that they mean the same thing to other people, too.”
CW: Uhh, when can I meet Snarlos?? … For real, these all sound amazing. And thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity, and I can’t thank you enough for approaching me. If I get visibility and I can do one thing with it, it’s bring attention to things that need attention, whether that be mental health, whether that be people with alternative identities like therians and otherkin, people with strange mental health states. Like I’m bipolar, I’m autistic, I’m ADHD, I have PTSD – I’ve got my own list of things. If I can help people not feel alone, then my life will have been worth it. All of the time I’ve spent learning to draw, and all of the work I’ve done on myself, and all of the honesty I’ve put into my art — every single bit will have been worth it, if it just helps one person.
My great thanks to Hearth Fox for answering my questions and for providing numerous photos that I include throughout the interview. Thanks also to the other artists and videographers for permission to use their works!
Claire Bear. Gift art Tweet posted July 2, 2023. https://twitter.com/clairebearart/status/1675689257711685632
Funday Pawpet Show. Episode 915. Aired July 9, 2023. https://episodes.pawpet.tv/fps-2023-07-09.mp4
Warner, William. Licensing Entertainment: The Elevation of Novel Reading in Britain, 1684-1750. UC Press, 1998.
“Wiggle Fox.” Know Your Meme. Posted July 4, 2023, by Ass Railroad. Update by Philip Hamilton. https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/wiggle-fox-anthrocon-2023-fox-puppet