Sunday, December 30, 2012

Cosplay is Serious Business

From the outside, cosplay might look like a child's game. If you've been paying attention to the phenomenon in recent years, though, you'll see that cosplay has been highlighting the occasional discriminatory nature of popular media, especially in regard to race and sex. Cosplay has provoked more discussions on these issues that the stories that actually inspired many of the costumes. So, if you're new to the concept, I'd suggest not looking on this hobby (which is actually a full-time job for some) as though it's quaint or foolish.

Let me put my soapbox aside for a moment to share some photos from DARK SHADOWS fan Stephen Haydon, who had this to say:
"Back in May, I attended the Dark Shadows movie premiere party at the Vista in Los Angeles where I dressed as Barnabas and my friend dressed as Quentin. He’s wearing a wig BUT that’s my real hair. We had the privilege to pose for photos with Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker and had an all around good time."
 While I'm not prone to dressing up on days that aren't Halloween (I've got plans for DragonCon next year, though) I've been fascinated to watch this hobby evolve over the last decade. It's OK for women to dress as male characters, yet it's still taboo for men to dress as female characters (when it's done it's often in jest, which offends me for reasons I can't quite explain.)

It also shines a bright spotlight on the weird sexuality of fantasy entertainment. There have been tons of female characters spunoff from superheroes (Supergirl, Batgirl, etc.) but outside of the KINGDOM COME series in 1996, I can't think of a single male "franchise" character created from female characters. Factor in America's own confused sexuality (men who dress up as women are assumed to be gay, a value judgement that isn't applied to women who dress as male characters) and the angry, baffling responses from men unaccustomed to women wandering into their He Man Woman Haters Club and you'll see that cosplay is a hobby worth discussing. (I'm going to post this link again because you need to read it to believe it.)

I'm not suggesting the San Diego ComicCon is Selma, Ala., or anything. But there's definitely something happening at conventions that's worth keeping an eye on.

What are your thoughts?


majkinja said...

Wow, I read the Bleeding Cool posts and Tony Harris has a language that makes me want to avoid buying his work. <:( As Rich Johnston proves it's possible to disagree without using foul language, more power to him because of that.

Melissa said...

As a big fan of drag queens and of cosplay, I've always thought it was a shame that there isn;t more crossover between those two worlds.

majkinja said...

I'm confused, I thought men wouldn't be shunned for dressing up as a female character since there are cosplay stores who custom make female costumes for males. The stores are often Japanese so maybe there's a difference between Japanese cosplay and American?
Is it possible to dress up as DS characters at ComicCon or is it just for comic related characters?
I read through the Bleeding Cool forum + some other blogs about this and it's really bizarre how much fury it is within a community that's supposed to be all about fun.
The weirdest comment I read was about comic stores being a free-zone for men that women is now invading. Wow, as someone who has read comics all her life (an interest I got from my comic collecting mother) I'm shocked at that sentiment,

Cousin Barnabas said...

It's not a sentiment I endorse, but the comics industry in America is spiraling the drain. One of its many problems is the vulgar misogyny on display in too many mainstream comics. Here's a good summary of the "Women in Refrigerators" trope, which is just a small part of the problem:

ComicCon has evolved into a Mardi Gras-style celebration of media, so you'll see LOTS of variety of costumes there.

Also, I wasn't referring to comics stores as "He Man Woman Haters Clubs" as a GOOD thing. Maturity is a problem EVERYWHERE and comic stores get unfairly dumped on for suffering the same social problems found in professional sports, etc. That being said, there's not a lot of reasons for women to venture into comic stores these days when most of the shelves are filled with g-string clad virgins whose primary personality traits are cleavage. Comic stores have become the diet versions of strip clubs in the U.S.

All of this needs to change. I don't claim to have an abundance of solutions to these problems, though. I wouldn't suggest spending your money to support sexist, hateful books. But, if you love the medium and characters, starving it to death doesn't seem like a great idea, either.

majkinja said...

After following your link I ended up reading a lot of forums about this and having a hard time understanding this comic-geek problem. Then it occurred to me (facepalm) that the American comic-book culture is very different from the European one.
Here in Norway reading comics isn't considered as an geek activity done only by social awkward boys, here comics are read by everyone, no matter what age or gender. The most popular American comic here are Donald Duck and The Phantom. We have a big variation of Donald comics here, like pockets, albums and issues. Donald artists like Carl Barks, Marco Rota and Don Rosa are household names here, we also have Scandinavian Donald and The Phantom artists.
Belgium comics are huge, big favourites are Asterix, Tintin, Spirou and Lucky Luke. There are some Norwegian and Swedish comics that are very popular.

I must admit I always envied Americans the comic-con but after reading about Tony Harris' rant and the reaction around it I was left with a terrible impression of a very excluding community. <:(

No, there was nothing in your text that implied that the "He Man Woman Haters Clubs" is positive, so don't worry, I don't think you'll be misunderstood about that.

I am picky when it comes to comics, but I don't necessarily avoid a comic if it has a sexy looking female character that shows some skin, it's when the character are set to act or pose in a demeaning manner I find it offensive. I should get to know Vampirella better before I harshly judge her but my first impression of her is that she wears the most ridiculous looking costume ever and she's has a lot of ugly poses. On the other hand I always like Shadow Lass from The Legion of Super Heroes. It must be mentioned that the issues I read was from the 70s and after some image googling it seems like some of the resent art-work is more distasteful. Not the fault of Shadow Lass, it's the artists that are creeps.

European comics isn't innocent when it comes to this but again it's all about how the character is treated. We have European adventure comics with female protagonists like Franka and Brelan de dames which all are good looking ladies but they are also active and brainy women with a big dose of personality. A lot of the stories both the ones with male protagonists and female ones don't have much or any focus towards love interests or sex, it's the mystery and adventure that is the focal point.
Of course there are comics "for adults only" wich have graphic sexual and violent content that is a big part of the storie. Canardo by BenoƮt Sokal is a great gritty series which despite having animal characters is not for children (as a child I read them anyway). One of my favourite crime series.

Gawd, there are so many comics to mention but I see that I'm about to write a novel here so I should stop.

I'm read Dynamites Dark Shadows and Star Trek nowadays which seems fine to me in term of the issue discussed but I'll check out some US superhero comics to see how bad they have become.

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