Is Cosplay doomed to destroy itself?

Cosplaying is big business now, gone are the days that only one or two people would turn up to a comic convention dressed as their favorite character, all down partly to the success of big budget movies such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise and the rise of ‘Geek Culture’ with television shows such as The Big Bang Theory that makes being a geek a cool and hip thing.

Many savvy souls have worked this out for themselves and cashed in on the fact that ‘geek culture’ now sells and comic conventions (often without a single comic book stall in sight) have begun to spring up in almost every single town across the nation (United Kingdom that is) and you are just as likely to see hordes of Harley Quins and 10th Doctors on a busy weekend in your home town, as a sway of football fans making their way to a match! It is big business and now there is at least one event taking place in the UK fifty of the fifty two weeks of the year, from small affairs that only attract a few dozen souls, or the larger cons that are run by fans for the fans who put their very soul into it and to the huge corporate run events that attract tens of thousands! Lets face it cosplay is here to stay!

Or is it?

Please bear with me a moment on this as I try to explain. Cosplaying is not a new phenomenon, people have been dressing up for a long, long time; even way back in the late nineteenth century people played dress up.

Sure it wasn’t to the extent that it is nowadays but it did happen. As a cultural thing however it did really begin in the late 1960s and many comic book conventions that were happening in the states at the time had the odd person (who was seen as odd by many) turn up in costume, though it can be argued to go back even further with people who liked costuming a fad that sprang up post war in America and had as one of its luminaries legendary horror fan and writer the late Forresst J Ackerman.

In the seventies following the cancellation of Star Trek after its third season in 1969, a fan campaign headed by Bjo Trumble showed just how much love there was for the show and the first Star Trek convention took place in the states and was attended by stars of the show, while many of the convention guests arrived in costume.

In the mid eighties it really began to take off with Worldcon and other conventions and soon a bracket all word ‘Cosplay’ was used to group together all of the elements of the hobby which it was now becoming. Some of the larger cons started to offer cash prizes for best costumes and soon the idea of the cosplay masquerade came about and people started to take it very seriously, sometimes far to seriously indeed.

With prizes often in the many thousands of dollars for some cons, it was little wonder that others would soon cash in on the fact and soon the conventions themselves began to grow at an alarming rate and would see hundreds of thousands of visitors come to cons such as San Diego Comic Con or World Con each year.

With the advent of social media in the early 2000’s and the accessibility to camera phones meaning that everyone could carry a good quality phone around with them on a daily basis, it was only natural that the once almost underground practice of cosplaying would so go mainstream. Movies such as the Marvel and DC franchises, Doctor Who and Harry Potter would all lend themselves to cementing the hobby, which had up until now been mainly the soul domain of anime and manga fans with the odd fan turning up in a home made Star Trek outfit at a convention.

We now approach the end of 2018 and cosplaying is still very popular, but is it in danger of destroying itself?

Like all fan based things, when you get a large group or groups of people together who have very similar interests at heart, things can often go sideways quickly. We find that people will bicker and talk about other cosplayers behind their backs, making snide comments or insults about them or their choice of cosplay outfit. People will go out of their way at times to make someone feel totally unwelcome just because they don’t like the character they are dressed as. Thankfully this is a rare thing and of all the people who attend conventions and shows in cosplay, it is only a very small minority of those who are the actual root of the problem!

On the whole most cosplayers are hard working people who have a love of creating things and having fun. They will often spend many, many hours creating a costume to the best of their abilities or will commission a costume from someone else who will do just the same thing. The attention to detail and skill put into some of the costumes you see at conventions is rivaled only by professional costumers on film or television productions, sometimes even surpassing those.

Cosplayers are also by the very definition of the hobby they love, geeks, a nerdy outcast who would other wise be ridiculed or bullied in other circles. With cosplaying they find a niche that they can express themselves without real fear of bullying tactics or hatred, but that is not always the case. There are a few who poison the waters, and like to stir trouble up for others. It happens with sports fans, it happens in other hobbies too, and nobody knows just why!

If you are a cosplayer then the chances are that you have been the victim of harassment for some reason somewhere down the line. This form of escapism often helps us out, and yes I do include myself in that as I was mercilessly bullied when I was in my teens, and gives us an outlet, one which will allow us to meet other like minded people.

So how do we combat this? Well the hard part of stopping the bullies is rooting them out. You will see them all across social media, attacking others from the safety of a keyboard, sure we all see hundreds of 10th Doctors or Harley Quinns at shows and Deadpools are often ten a penny but each of those people in that costume, home made or store bought or commissioned is a person in their own right, so attacking them is tantamount to throwing stones in a glass house.

Thankfully there are many who feel this way and don’t get me wrong some of my closest and dearest friends are those made in the cosplay community both in the UK and USA over the years. The vast majority of those involved are great people, free thinkers and able to have fun and not at the expense of others, sadly though its the other element that we need to address. The majority of conventions now have posters up saying that ‘Cosplay is not Consent’ which is very true, and a lot of cons also carry banners or posters to help curb or stomp out the bullies. It is how we address them ourselves that is the most crucial part. Conventions such as Q-Con in Belfast and Edinburgh Comic Con here in Scotland, have a great sense of community that often means that the con attendees look out for each other and are always on hand to help someone out. Sure feathers get ruffled from time to time but on the whole these two conventions (both fan run by the way) have a sense of family that some other cons seem to lack and feel more like a soulless entity at times.

Having been a victim of bullying both mental and physical till I was in my late teens, I learned long and hard that the only real way to stop a bully is to take the power from them, but this will not always work when someone is harassing you on social media in your favorite convention’s Facebook group or forum. Speak up, do not be silent and confront them directly and remind them that words do have consequences if needed. I know that many reading this may think that its easy for me to type this and more difficult to actually put into practice, and it is true its easier to type it. But if you take away a bullies strength you turn the tables on them. Speak with admin on groups and bring up your fears and problems, speak with friends you have made in the community, but don’t hide and let them get to you. The small amount of people who make cosplaying a real task for many of us are like a cancer that spreads within the community, if you catch it early enough you can eradicate it, but let it linger and it will cause real problems for you down the line.

Speak with someone who you respect or trust in the community. Lots of cosplay communities have sprung up all around the world and though many cosplayers are aged between 14 and 28, there are some who are much older and more mature one could say. Approach them and tell them of your worries or concerns and they will most likely offer advice, taken from life experience. Remember that these people are often much the same as yourself, a social outcast due to their love of things that are considered geeky or nerdish and have been through a lot over the years.

Social media such as Facebook, Instragram and Twitter are all indirectly responsible for causing a lot of problems when it comes to cosplayers. People will post memes and comments without thinking that it will hurt someone else most of the time, but as mentioned actions can have consequences so think before you post and just simply ask yourself would you like someone to do that to you?

If you are at a convention and have concerns that someone is being bullied or harassed then raise the matter if you can. Convention staff are often unable to do anything about things such as bully’s, but most cons have someone in the organising committee who can take action if needed. Remember that these conventions wish to run as smoothly as possible so eliminating negative elements can often help them in the long run.

Don’t try to take matters into your own hands though as this can backfire and you could be accused of the very thing you are trying to prevent. At a recent con here in Scotland I had several people and trusted friends come up to me and confide in me that a known pedophile was present in the convention. This person was wearing a mask and costume but had been known by many and banned from several conventions. Some of my friends expected me to confront this person directly, and if I had done so it would have been wrong! Why? Well for a start I don’t know this person from Adam and have never met them before, and to accuse someone of something so heinous without backing it up with concrete evidence is grounds for a civil action against oneself.

I am fifty five years old and feel that due to my maturity (sic) this was the reason I was approached, but having seen first hand the damage that incorrect accusations can cause to someone and the repercussions it can have, without any evidence I would never attempt to confront someone.

Speak with convention staff or organisers if you have real concerns.

There are those who think that the whole cosplay bubble is about to burst and that all will come crashing down and the hobby will vanish over night. Simple answer is that this is not going to happen. We now live in a world where we can talk to someone in real time at the touch of a button on the other side of the planet, where news spreads faster than the news stations and press can keep up with and despite the vast distances between countries we are in essence one global village.

Cosplaying is a fun hobby that brings joy to millions of people, and it is a hobby for many. While some simply just go out and buy something from a store that fits and looks good, many will spend hundreds of hours working on costumes, props, wigs, and that’s before we get to routines and skits and performances that those who go in for the competitions undergo. Cosplaying is big business and each year more and more people are discovering it due to the growing number of conventions. I do see a downscale in the number of cons in the coming years but definitely don’t see the hobby itself in a downward spiral or decline.

If you have read so far (for which I thank you) you will most likely have noticed that it is not the cosplay scene itself that is the problem, rather a small and vile element (sometimes it can be just one person or a small group) that attacks others. Just be true to your self and remember that you were most likely a victim at some point yourself.

If you find cosplaying fun and love it please by all means continue to do so and long may it remain that way, don’t let others spoil things for you and remember if you are not having fun you may need to look at why!  Cosplay is fun and we can all enjoy it, either as participants or observers.

In the words of a very wise man that holds true now than it did back in 1989!

 

Published by

Marc Farrimond

I'm a 55 year guy from Wigan in Lancashire living in Edinburgh, Scotland with two of my four awesome kids and my long suffering wife Laura. I have worked freelance over the years for some of the biggest names in tabletop and roleplaying and I am a very keen cosplayer and photographer.

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