Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Everybody is Free to Cosplay

So I guess yesterday was Cosplay Appreciation Day. That's good because I'm binning the post-election blog I was going to write about in favor of something I've been aching to hit up ever since I saw a Wonder Woman cosplayer a while back.

Image courtesy of nathaninsandiego at flickr.

I'm not posting all of these images. I know a lot of you are at work and can't click all the links, but because these pictures are of cosplayers, some of whom actually make a living by creating costumes and making appearances and some of these pictures are taken by professional photographers for their portfolio, I'm trying to be very careful about the permissions here.

So anyway, some D-bag on Tumblr mentions that Wonder Woman isn't Asian. Now, I can only conjecture about his thought process on this, but I imagine it went something like this:

Hey, that Wonder Woman cosplayer has a great costume. 

That altered tank top is pretty clever.

The hair is dead-on.

She's not 100% like the comic book, but it looks really good.

Dose boots!

Wait. Is she...Asian?! (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

I'm not sure why, in the world of cosplaying, ethnicity is a sticking point for some people. I'm being facetious--I know it's because they place more importance on race than even they would be comfortable with admitting--but cosplaying is something that people enjoy. I just did some acting as The Doctor and I enjoyed it because The Doctor is cool and it's nice to bring out that part of yourself that connects with that character; to play out the fantasy of being something better than you are, more like the person you want to be, or just different from what you always have been. 

The reason that most popular characters are popular isn't because of how they look. Alex Louis Armstrong, Superman, and Leeloo aren't cosplayed because their bodies. It's because of what's inside of them; cosplaying is the act of taking the physical iconography of a character to invoke their (more literal) character as a totem of your own. 

It's also a display of the hard work, creativity, and (because at least some parts of the roleplaying world are here in The United States) raw resources you can put forward to exhibit your affection for a character. 

As strange as it is for a public display that communicates--ostensibly to others--enthusiasm and creativity directed toward something that's very much not a private item, a person's satisfaction with cosplay isn't limited to others' reception of it. At first glance, it does seem incredibly small that it's an artistic act that declares by fiat its immunity to criticism (even when its practitioners are emphatically, realistically not), but it is.

I can only conjecture that it is the type of criticism I see heaped on cosplayers that's not relevant. Anyone can cite Kevin Smith claiming Gigli isn't meant for critics as a weak defense of a weak work, but with cosplaying it's more like a bizarro world where the most vocal critics are demanding to know why a 2003 Bennifer movie isn't discussing Barack Obama's birth certificate. 

The first point where the criticism goes wrong is related to the very origins of Cosplay Appreciation Day. Earlier this week, Tony Harris, who does (did) art for Image, DC, and Marvel let loose with an incredible rant, the highlights of which follow:
1) Semi-attractive women only pretend to like comics so they can prey upon nerds for attention.
1a) Girls don't know or like anything about comics.
1b) They only show up for cons to get attention from men by dressing scantily.
1c) They are not very good at it because they aren't very pretty.
1d) Nerds are nervous around women. Possibly virgins. Must investigate further.
1e) These women prey upon nerds, who also want attention, but are the victims here.
1f) Tony Harris kinda likes porn. He's too classy to get into it and it's not really related to the rest of this stuff, but in case we had any doubts...Tony Harris kinda likes porn. It's important to him that you know that.
Where this incredible, fucked-up, wrongwrongwrongwrongwrong statement intersects with my spiel here is that this guy is audacious enough to say to all of these women, "No. You don't really like that. I know what you like and when you cosplay, you are lying. Your cosplay is bad because you're not playing as a character you really appreciate."

If it's not obvious, I have little affection for the arrogant assertion that one guy can decide what anyone else appreciates, much less what an entire group of people he's seen from his table at the con can like or dress as. I'm not going to call him names. Partially because I'm too classy for that, partially because he lives in Macon, Georgia, allegedly of his own volition, so I can assume he already hates himself, at least a little bit.

The second point of cosplay critique that fails is physical verisimilitude. In a sub-culture largely based on the tolerant and egalitarian ideals espoused by the original Star Trek, one that accepts kid Joker, dark-haired Kirk, and Iron Cyberman without question, somehow we need a filter like Rule 63 for a female dressed as Blue Beetle, and an entire national debate for Idris Elba to play Heimdall. 

Seriously, roleplay whoever you want. Put effort and heart into it. Be that person who loves cosplaying. And bring a bat'leth. Because if someone says you aren't cosplaying correctly, tell them that your second choice was beating folks bloody with a Klingon melee weapon, and if you're all outta the first option... 

Other Good Cosplays on Tumblr:
Geekery and Hockey
Strange Like That
Mike Pixie
Catchan Cosplay
Damn Nerd

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