I don’t know much, especially about cosplay. I, at one point, had a notion that I would do it, specifically as Captain Marvel (the Shazam version) but the difficulty of finding double-breasted clothing caused me to give up on that pretty quickly. When I go to cons I actually tend to dress up, just not in costume. I imagine I’m not alone when I say that my usual attire is of the jeans and a t-shirt variety. But as for cons, I learned early on that as a white male, fitting in was easy, standing out in a non-obnoxious way was the challenge. As much as it may be a stereotype, there are some slovenly folks amongst us. Nothing wrong with it, but if I was looking to stand out I realized I could that my best bet was by getting a haircut, shaving, and wearing a shirt which contained buttons but was free from stains. I also will, from time to time, wear hiking boots at cons. Those boots are great for when you have to walk a lot, a perfectly acceptable piece of attire for my own scientific subculture, and I just don’t care what Josh thinks of me. So there’s that. Enjoy your Chuck Taylor’s and your back pain.
If you’re reading this and have no clue why I’m talking about a subject I admittedly know little about, consider yourself lucky. If you’re on the same page, just accept that I don’t care to promote negativity by linking to it, but yes this my take on that whole thing.
There seem to be two notions at play here, both equally tricky to tackle by an admittedly ignorant white male. But ignorant white males got the ball rolling, the least I can do is try to slow it down, however Sisyphean a task that might prove to be. The first notion is that women dress up in costume to garner attention from the shy nerds. The second notion is that there are “real” geeks, then posers who have infiltrated our ranks (for some reason no one has yet been able to explain to me). I’d like to start with the more narrow supposition that women are just out for attention.
First and foremost, men cosplay too. There’s a pretty fantastic Power Girl as a man costume out there if you’re skeptical. While I am not a cosplayer, mostly because of laziness, I am friends with a few of them, including our own Molly McIssac, as well as Jen and Kevin (congrats on the nuptials, by the way) and a handful of others. Yes, their costumes are sometimes revealing. My understanding is that most of time these costumes are designed by men, which is a separate, but probably still relevant, issue. But I don’t for a second think that the reason my friends, male or female, are dressing up just to show off their bodies. They are dressing up to show off a number of things. They dress up to show off their passion for characters (Jen is a huge Mockingbird fan), they dress up to show off their skill at creating costumes (which is incredible, and something any artist should be flattered beyond all reason by), and they dress up BECAUSE. IT’S. FUN. Is it fun because as a character in costume they will get a lot of attention? Quite possibly. Is that wrong? No. Is that the only reason it’s fun? No, and to presume so seems pretty insulting.
The ancillary contention is that attractive cosplayers distract from the hardworking comic creators sitting at their tables hoping to sell books. I empathize with this, I really do. Selling books at a convention has to be an incredibly stressful experience. I’ve only ever been on the purchasing side, but I can feel the tension. However, and this is a big however, if you’re there to sell books, you really shouldn’t blame cosplayers if your product isn’t flying off the table. I am easy sell at a convention. I’m there to find new stuff, if your stuff is the stuff I ought to find, the onus is somewhat on you to make sure I’m aware of it. There are plenty of times at conventions where someone at a table in artist’s alley calls me over to check out their stuff. And yes, the carnival barker attitude is effective at getting me to your table. If I walk over and scope out your stuff and think it’s not for me, I won’t buy it. If I even suspect it is something I might like, I will give you my hard-earned monies. I bring cash to cons, I bring a backpack. I plan part of my day around dropping off books wherever I’m staying. Point being: I go out of my way to make selling to me as easy as possible, if you have product and can sell it, I’m yours. But if you’re excuse for failing to get attention at a con is because someone in a costume happens to be nearby, my sympathy for your plight approaches zero.
The other issue is the idea of a “real” geek. This one kind of floors me. Going to cons is not cheap. I imagine cosplaying is also not cheap. To accuse people at a con in costume of not being “real” geeks is just… well dumb. As loathe as I am to quote the Bible, I’m pretty sure there’s something in there about presuming to know the hearts of others. Your pronouncements are not likely to be very accurate. There’s also something to be said for another Biblical idea of “judge not lest ye be something or other.”
Ultimately, I would be thrilled if our culture could embrace an attitude of inclusion that accepted all comers regardless of attractiveness or proclivity to cosplaying. I will freely admit that there are geeks who annoy the bejeezus out of me, even concerning things that I like (Firefly, anybody?). Learning to cope with frustration of those who don’t express their appreciation for the things you like in the way you think appropriate is part of maturing as a fan. If you can’t handle it, then retreat with dignity and leave the cons to the cosplayers and those who admire them.
Ryan Haupt knows cosplayers who carry weapons, pissing them off by insulting their spouses is probably not wise. He has a podcast, Science… sort of, which isn’t really relevant to this column, but is still pretty good.