Cosplay – I’ve done a bit. I call myself a ‘Cosplayer’. I’ve created a whole bunch of costumes and been to a few Comic Cons and suchlike. But I’ve been doing it wrong. All wrong!
‘Cosplay’ = ‘costume play’, & what I’ve finally realised (after doing it wrong! All wrong!) is that it’s actually about dressing up very precisely as an existing character from a movie, TV, comic or cartoon (or if Japanese from manga/anime). Do it precisely. Get it spot-on. Buy the expensive ready-made costume if you can. Don’t screw with it. Don’t glam it up. Don’t Steampunk it. You have to cosplay *that* exact character.
You see: it’s about Recognition, not Originality.
Seriously – I’ve seen this time and time again: I spent 300 hours creating a costume ( and more than that in dollars), and people walk right past me. But when some anonymous guy walks past dressed in an expensive Darth Vader costume, he gets mobbed. Everyone wanted a photo with him. Tiny children want a photo with him, and their parents are only too happy to oblige. This is the same Darth Vader who slaughtered all those cute children in the last movie, people!
Me? Bitter? You’d thing I would be, wouldn’t you? And you’d be right. Because I was expected far more of people than they deserved credit for. They don’t want a sly reference, send-up or artistic statement, they want FAMILIARITY.
You see: Cosplay is very much a social activity, and I’ve been utterly blind to that very vital *major* aspect. – Yes, you wear whatever you want for yourself, but actually NO – you’re wearing it for everyone else!
Unless it has a very high familiarity-factor (and a glaringly obvious ‘handle’ your viewers can grasp and then tug themselves into your clever post-modernist/deconstructional spoof) … it doesn’t work. The social contract breaks down. The fun stops.
Even more evident, speaking of the social core of cosplay, is the number of people who combine as little groups (2, 3, 5, 8 ~ players) so that they might all go together to the Con as a Collective Statement. Cue a whole slew of Dr Whos, or the Recurrent Tribe of Naruto. Oh; and remember that fabulous once-only set of TinTin characters?
These work because Cosplay is *tribal*. It’s about conforming to the tribal identity, big or small. Break that invisible social codex and The Whole Tribe (everyone at the Con) or the Sub-tribes (the Anime Crowd, for example – a very humourless mob, I’ve found) start giving you the cold shoulder.
<Sneer> “Nah, I don’t get it” “Whoa; too weird!”
This is the subtle code I was trying to describe. Despite the cheerful “do waddeva ya want, mate!” there is still a pressure to do it “right”. Don’t glam it up! It threatens the tribalism inherent in us clever apes when we’re out in force, conscious of it or not.
As a person with Asperger’s syndrome you can probably see how I’d totally missed the tribal-code stuff – and eventually stumbled out the side door; hurt, confused, and with a bruised ego.
I’ve never yet managed to go in a group. (Sure – I’ve met up with the Steampunks for the Sunday Photo Shoot, but that ain’t the same as a long-range collaboration) and guess what? I envy them intensely. They’re “in”. I’m not. And I feel that.
Sure: I walk around, I look awesome, people photograph me (unless Darth Vader is available) – but I go home alone, and with an empty ‘social soul’ – if there is such a thing.
So that’s what this big mind-dig is all about. I’ve had the slow-dawning realisation that my take on ‘cosplay’ is at odds with most of the rest of the world. And I’ll freely admit that it was made a lot worse by my unhealed childlike addiction to approval.
Is this in fact the core of Cosplay? It’s not about honouring your favourite character; it’s about seeking approval and winning applause? Maybe. different for everyone, sure. I can only speak of my own experience.
Cosplay – I’ve been doing it wrong.
ADDENDUM: this conversation originally occurred on Facebook. A lot of people popped up, it was very interesting. Curiously – a few of them mentioned ‘The Haters’ – part of their experience, I guess, but not of mine. In certain circles, cosplay gets quite vicious. But that’s for someone else to write about.
QUOTES: what follows is a selection of the lovely things said to me during that convo:
“I love your costuming Ged! So long as you remain your creative and unique self, call it by any name you want, you sir, are a gem in an often samey-same world. We will have endless lines of the 10th Doctor etc but what they won’t be is memorable, yours are. Shine on, Ged.”
“Anyone can copy an anime character spot on. It takes creativity to become a character. You Sir are a character, as am I, we look like no one else, (Thank God) so we don’t have to be “in Character”. Never stop.”
“Maybe we need to invent a new term for creative original costume and character creation: ‘Cosplayingaround’ ‘Cosplayingup’ ‘Cos-tweak’ ‘Coscreating’ ? … ”
CONCLUSION: Perhaps, in the world of Cosplay, there are some limiting thoughts; unspoken boundaries; the ‘Safe Zone’ within which many people prefer to stay. That’s fine. I see it now. They’re not ‘haters’, they’re simply those who chose their safety barriers and cannot cope with those of us who dare frolic on the outer side. But it still hurts when someone looks straight at you and says, “Holy crap, that’s creepy. Kill it with fire!”