The Cosplay Fallacy?


I understand the need for a good rant. I do it all the time, I even encourage the necessity to vent one’s emotions as a means to process. But not all rants are created equal and not all brain snaps are very thoughtful.

Over the last week a series of tweets from various cosplayers around the place caught my attention and I was troubled by a few of them. This one in particular.

Now I don’t want to shit in another person’s yard, I sympathise with where some folks are coming from (I’ve had similar “brain snaps” in recent weeks), so I won’t provide names or URLs of this screencap I’m about to address externally here.

I’ve felt similar frustrations myself, it’s a bit of a spiral, one I’ve encountered many times over the last 12 years. But I want you to read that opening tweet again and see of you can spot the flaw in the argument?

The “top” of what exactly?

I could brush this off as a figure of speech or someone who misspoke but if we want to have that “honest conversation” we need to examine the details.

The OP’s original assertion is that cosplay has a hierarchy, a ladder of success. Now while I don’t disagree that there may be a “class system” at play in various sections of the community in certain contexts, what’s happening here is rather common: compounding the career aspects with the hobby side of things.

And that’s problematic because that’s NOT what cosplay is at all.

It feels like I have to explain this every 6-12 months but cosplay is a creative outlet, a form of expression. You like a character or story, you make or buy a costume, you wear it out, you have fun.

Amongst that sequence of events, as well as any related outcomes, is where you find value in the hobby. Some people, like myself, really enjoy making things. Some people are performers and they revel in getting into character. But I think the majority of fans want to wear their heart on their sleeve, like wearing the t-shirt of one’s favourite band, they want to show off their love and passion for a specific story or character. Which in turn can bring them in contact with other like-minded fans.

Over the years I’ve championed the notion that cosplay can indeed be turned into a career (or at least it can lead to related career opportunities) as well as defended the idea of “cosplay celebrities”. There are plenty of big name cosplayers out there who have done rather well for themselves and they in turn inspire many others.

And that’s where some of our problems arise.

Depending on how those of us with an interest in cosplay use our social media, our newsfeeds and timelines may be full of posts by those who create daily content as a means to either earn extra cash or do it as a crust full time. But I think it’s safe to assume that a large percentage of the folks whose work we follow are perhaps prolific but don’t cosplay as a career in any capacity.

So is it any wonder that some people may have a sense of FOMO about all the things that some cosplayers get to experience? When you’re bombarded with cosplay guest announcements, “influencers” attending movie premieres, commissions for major companies, near-monthly con photos from anywhere around the world, etc, it’s easy to want in on a piece of the action.

If you were to follow the work of ONE cosplayer, however, isolated from anyone else’s posts, you might see how straightforward and maybe a little ordinary their daily life is, which I’ll bet may be a good representation of most cosplayers.

Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting your passion to result in something, something more. People all the time are wanting to turn their art into a career. But I think the issue here is compounding cosplay as a single thing without understanding the spectrum of how fans operate. In that way, how we talk about cosplay is just as important as how we perceive it.

And I think that is at the core problem with the OP’s tweet.

I know that seems like an awful lot to read into a Twitter mini-rant but there are other tweets from this cosplayer that give context to where they are coming from (and I’ve debated whether to provide that context or maintain their privacy). There was one tweet in particular I took issue with, which I failed to screengrab before it was deleted (I’ll get to that).

The notion that cosplay is a “privilege” is possibly the the worst and most misguided take on the artform that I’ve ever read. The premise being that it takes a lot of money to be able to cosplay.

Let’s focus on the actual cosplay first. Wait a second I’ve already done that…

BASIC GIST: not everyone is wanting to make a fully functioning Iron Man suit or detailed Warcraft armour or giant Transformer. Some fans want to keep things simple, aim within reach, buy off the shelf parts, or throw together something silly just for the fun of it.

There are affordable materials and methods out there. It doesn’t have to be the best or the priciest version just because a cosplayer or influencer promotes it. Some elements might cost a bit but then you have to determine whether it’s worth it or not or maybe there is an alternative.

I’ve had to go over this again and again yet it doesn’t stick in anyone’s minds because so few people are considering the new folks, the casual cosplayers. Everyone is different and it sucks when life and finances get in the way of something you love and enjoy but maybe there are ways to achieve that over-the-top costume you’ve had your heart set on yet it doesn’t have to be on anyone else’s terms but your own.

Also what the hell does this have anything to do with cosplay???

I sympathise with fans that have to travel far because there are no events where they live but these expenses are not a normal part of cosplay and should not be roped into the same category.

Also is it really called for to mention cosmetic surgery in all this? What another woman (or man) does to their own body, within reason, shouldn’t be anyone’s business.

As for that now deleted tweet: it made some outright horrible and trite claims about how some successful names are able to afford their career, without putting in any thought how that career might fund itself and their life through sales, commissions, even sponsorships. There’s a reason it was deleted.

I’m not immune to these sort of brain snaps myself. I recently had one about Facebook and thought it reduced my reach to zero (found out later Insights was broken and was later repaired). It’s frustrating to put in a lot of effort into something and not have it appreciated. Yes, these days we perhaps wrongly tie that into out social media interactions but it’s a normal reaction not about seeking attention but seeking validation (which isn’t always the same thing).

As far as the OP (and others) go there seems to be more projecting going on here than an “honest conversation”. Maybe that’s unfair of me and I’ll cop to that but it’s also unfair to keep portraying cosplay in this light.

I feel for anyone struggling to make something out of their passion. I sympathise with anyone that feels as though they are under appreciated. But I also have a major problem with how cosplay is constantly portrayed as a “ladder to success”. It’s a perception that has sunk one too many events and related businesses as well as exploited the naive, because it is based on an error, a half truth, a focus on a few instead of the whole.

Again, it sucks when life and finances get in the way of something we love and enjoy. To keep harping on about “success”, “expense”, or “privilege” creates the very barriers this cosplayer is referring to and what I’ve spent so long arguing against.

Most fans just want to dress up and enjoy their fandom.

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