You know, I can’t even begin to guess the number of posts that have been inspired by conversations with my brother. I swear, he’s like a goldmine of writing material -- which is partly to be expected when he’s the perpetual Ken to my Ryu, the Sol to my Ky, the Jin to my Ragna. So yeah, throw this one onto the pile next and hope it doesn’t topple onto you.
I was playing The Last Guardian one day, and getting pretty into it. Meanwhile, he was online and looking at stuff -- Injustice 2 footage chief among them, so he could be the Batman to my Superman -- but I didn’t pay much attention to him. At one point, though, he made a bold declaration; it was the sort of thing that made me take pause and divert my attention (but not my eyes) from my adventure with Trico. What did he say, you ask? Three simple words.
“I hate cosplay.”
It wasn’t the first time he’s made that claim, and I doubt it’ll be the last -- but it had been a while since his last utterance, and this recent one was certainly one of the most venomous. So out of curiosity, I decided to press him on the subject. “Why?” I asked. His answer: “Because I hate it.”
“Okay, why?” I asked again.
“I hate it.”
“I hate it.”
“Because I hate it.”
“Okay, but why do you hate it?” I asked. “Because if you don’t have a good reason for it, then you’re not making a very good case.” The inordinate amount of time I’ve spent crying about video games I don’t like has taught me that much, but I decided to keep that to myself…even though it was already basically implied.
He did eventually give me a response -- something along the lines of “It sickens me, and it’s wrong. Nobody should ever do it.”
“Okay, so what you’re saying is that because you personally don’t enjoy it, people you’ve never met should never do it?”
“Yup. I’m making America great again -- no more cosplayers ever.”
I held my tongue, because I wasn’t in any rush to find out whether he wanted to use that phrase intentionally and without a hint of irony (again…possibly), because boy is there a lot of baggage with that. So he went on to say “Nobody should ever be allowed to wear costumes again. It’s so dumb and awful.”
“So that means that the actors in the Marvel movies aren’t allowed to wear costumes either, then?”
That got him surprisingly hyped. “Yeah! Spider-Man without his suit? That’d be awesome!” Of course, he had forgotten that that already exists with a character named Peter Parker -- and once upon a time, it didn’t pan out too well.
(I mean…I kinda like that movie’s treatment of symbiote-infected Peter, but I get the hate.)
This is usually the part where I’d try to play devil’s advocate, but I seriously don’t want to. Part of the reason is that, even if the title of this post is the definition of a loaded question, I’m a staunch defender of cosplay. There was a time, though, when I might have shared my brother’s opinion -- an age where I would’ve ranted on LiveJournal about why people who make terrible cosplay outfits should keep their hobby under wraps. It wasn’t my proudest moment, but that was a long time ago; I’ve stepped it up since the moment I entered the Voltech Era.
Not everyone else out there has, apparently. Maybe on some level, I can understand the bare basics of what bugs my brother about cosplay. It’s a willingness to put on costumes and pretend you’re someone or something that you’re not -- and transplanting something from the fictional world to the real one, especially when it’s usually rendered in 2D or decidedly-unrealistic 3D, is a tricky proposition. He’s the arteeeeeest among us, so I’m guessing that if there’s something in front of him that’s aesthetically unpleasant (in his eyes), you might as well be spitting on his deity of choice. I’ll go ahead and guess that that deity is Strider Hiryu.
I don’t want to put words into his mouth, but I also have a theory as to why he -- and others -- might take issue with cosplay. Given how complex or elaborate fictional costumes can get, I’d bet that dressing up as a favorite hero isn’t usually something you can do on a whim with a five minute trip to the closet. If you’re going to do it, you have to put in the work. In other words, cosplay (as I envision it) takes at least two things: effort and earnestness. Money is probably a factor too, but let’s keep it simple (and idealistic) for now.
Let’s get hypothetical for a minute. Say I wanted to do some cosplay -- that one day I woke up and said, “You know what? I should dress up as MetalMan.EXE. That’d be awesome.” It would indeed be awesome, but it’s absurdly impractical; as you can imagine, I don’t have the build for it, and I’m not sure I’d want to meet any human who did. But suppose I went with it anyway, scraping up the funds, materials, and skills needed in order to actually build the costume. And for argument’s sake, suppose I managed to build a suit that let me go out in public -- to conventions and such -- without alerting every security guard and police officer within a 50-mile radius on account of the buzzsaws strapped to my body.
Even if I did it perfectly, it would still be a hell of an endeavor. And sure, I’d bet that there are craftsmen out there who could make the suit for me; then again, that would still mean that there are people out there with the passion to make the unreal real. But since this is a scenario where I’m working on this thing solo, let’s say that I actually pulled it off. It wouldn’t be something done purely with skill or fat stacks of cash; it would be done because I put in the time and work to create a true-to-life costume. Effort made it possible, and that effort only came about because of my earnestness -- my enthusiasm toward the character, and a pure-hearted drive to show something I think is worthwhile to the world.
I can’t prove anything, but if I had to guess? I’d say that there’s a not-insignificant chunk of people out there who are allergic to things like effort and earnestness. “Oh, you actually care about something? How lame!” Or “You actually did work for something that won’t benefit you in any way? Are you an idiot?” I suspect that my brother might sympathize with that mindset (at least for things he doesn’t personally approve of), because…well, why put yourself out there? Why prove to the world that you’re not the bastion of style and coolness that you want to be deep down?
It’s foolish, it’s childish, it’s silly, it’s inconsequential, it’s pointless, it’s embarrassing, it’s absurd -- the list of damning words goes on and on. And likely includes this one.
If you’ll let me keep posing theories, I wonder if there’s a sort of stigma towards indulging in nerd culture and some of the more (for lack of a better term) fringe aspects of the gaming world. For a lot of people, playing games is something that you tend to do behind closed doors, away from the world and its infinite prying eyes. That’s not the case for everyone, I know, because realities like couch co-op and advances like LP and streaming have made the hobby pretty public -- to say nothing of the Nintendo Switch. On the other hand, I’d wager that there’s still a lingering stigma. Not everyone has played the same games as me, so I can’t start popping off about Break Souls and Switch Blasts in public without expecting some confused looks.
So maybe on some level, there’s still an aura of shame surrounding the medium. (To be clear, it’s not the only medium that’s got to deal with it; I’m in no rush to tell anyone offline that I’m a fan of JoJo and Kamen Rider.) You’re not supposed to talk about that stuff, because outsiders “just wouldn’t get it”, or “they’ll only try to put you down”. How true is that? Your mileage may vary. But if there is some kernel of truth to it, my guess is that any scorn towards cosplay comes from the fact that it’s trying to bridge the gap -- that it’s breaking the unspoken rule of “keep the nerdy stuff behind closed doors” so that others can enjoy the art that’s touched the cosplayer’s heart.
That’s an incomplete theory, I know, because I’d imagine that cosplayers end up appearing in areas and in front of audiences that are more receptive to that sort of thing. Still, maybe there is some level of resentment -- if not outright jealousy -- for cosplay-haters. The reasons for it may vary from person to person (a point that I can’t stress enough), but there could indeed be people out there who have a fundamental belief that dressing up as a fictional character -- even if it’s their favorite World Warrior -- is a blasphemous taboo. “No, don’t bridge the gap between others!” “No, don’t try to prove that passion and diligence are their own rewards!” “No, don’t try and break my quasi-religious trust in nonchalance and apathy!” “No, don’t do what I would never do!”
But in the end, I can only speak for myself. And to that end, I’ll be frank: I think cosplay as a whole is pretty cool.
Here’s the thing. I’m the sort of guy who takes art very seriously -- as someone who wants to make it for mass-scale consumption, as well as someone who eats it up ravenously on a regular basis. But I’m not the only one who goes to such extremes; I’m not the only one who holds up certain, easily-ignored values like “you can’t spell character without care”. There are people out there who have been impacted, and greatly, by the stories that come their way. Heroes, villains, and everything in between have become a core part of some of the most diehard fans out there. Why hate them for wanting to show their love -- their honest desire to pay tribute to their idols -- however they can?
Cosplaying means more than just playing dress-up. It’s a means to take the unreal and make it real, of course -- but that does more than bring the pointed designs of the fictional world to planet earth. It also means bringing the essence of characters and their stories along with those costumes. Their courage; their virtue; their strength; their will; their brilliance; their presence; when you’re in that costume, you can leave yourself behind and bond with characters in a way that should be impossible. By becoming that character, you deepen the bond -- and make it possible, however slim the chance, for others to form that bond too.
But that’s a lot of high-minded thinking, and not even 100% necessary in every case. If we think as video games (and fiction in general) as art, then surely we have to think of the depictions tied to them as art, right? Yes, there’s going to be a wide range in quality for the cosplay du jour; that’s to be expected, because tons of factors have to be taken into account to make a good costume. But even if the most a fan has got is some cardboard and duct tape, they’ve still got that earnest desire to show off something to the world -- be it their character of choice, their story, or the spirit that drives them forward.
And yet, when it’s done really well -- which it absolutely can be -- then it can transcend the status of a mere costume and becomes something more. And indeed, the cosplayer becomes something more; a seemingly-average Jack or Jill ceases to be average and transforms, however temporarily, into art. A statement. An idea that can impart something on others, fan or otherwise. It’s a chance to become an interpretation of something familiar, all for the sake of leaving an audience with the same sort of stunning force that a good story can create. As an example: Melissa Benoist’s portrait of Supergirl is one take on the DC character -- and a good one, too. But look up Enji Night and/or her take on Supergirl, and you just might end up being left breathless. I know I was.
I have a lot of respect for cosplayers, whether they’re mere fans, green-horned amateurs, or pros who dominate the field. I can sort of see why detractors might crop up and cry foul, but I refuse to follow along with their opinion. To devalue a cosplayer’s efforts -- and cosplay in general -- is to infringe on free will and the pursuit of happiness. We’re all free to celebrate fiction as we see fit; even if that involves putting on some top-quality pajamas, why would cosplay ever be a problem?
The answer: it isn’t. And it shouldn’t.
…In my humble opinion, of course.
Well, those are my thoughts on the subject. So now it’s your turn: how good is cosplay, really? Is it deserving of praise? Of scorn? Does it make you cheer, or cringe? Would you ever do it? And if so, who would you be for a day? Feel free to weigh in, and spread your personal gospel.
And as for me? If I ever become the writing hero I want to be, then I’ll make it a personal mission in life to create characters that featherweight, black, afro-headed nerds like me can cosplay with minimal effort. I mean, it’s only fair, right?