People about Cosplay...
Interesting question. If the word “cosplay” is referring to what is usually meant, then no, because the costumes in question are those of fictitious characters. There is no “culture” being appropriated. Not even if you wear a Japanese school uniform – because Ayanami Rei, or whoever, is not a Japanese girl, she’s a fictitious character and you are dressing like her.
There’s some interesting weirdnesses to explore though, even in this space. Some thoughtless racist fans were in the habit of making black cosplayers feel uncomfortable. The absurdity of this is almost galactic in proportion because if a black woman can’t dress like Sailor Moon because she’s not Japanese, then why would a white women be able to? She isn’t Japanese, either. And Sailor Moon is not Japanese, she’s fictitious. Obviously, critical thinking is not high on the list of people who are unpleasant to other people.
But the rising tide right now is that cosplay is for everyone and while I don’t myself cosplay, I support this. Dressing up as your favorite character is not cultural appropriation – it is a culture in and of itself. There are folks who cosplay Jane Austen characters and pirates and princesses. Cosplay has its own subculture aesthetic. Merely dressing up is for anyone, anytime, anywhere.
The world has adopted the word cosplay. It’s Wasei-eigo, which means the word was originally created by the Japanese using English as the roots. “Costume play” becomes “cosplay.” There is a world cosplay summit. So I don’t think you can argue that merely using the word is appropriation. Words for things spread. That’s how language works.
Calling offensive stereotype costumes “cosplay” is stretching the word uncomfortably outside what cosplay means, IMHO. Those costumes are meant to represent offensive stereotypes. It’s outside the culture of cosplay itself and is merely wearing a costume in bad taste.
So, I would say no, cosplay is not cultural appropriation, it is its own culture that is open to anyone, anywhere.
Costume play is very powerful tool. Any role play, with or without costume, allows a person to express things with much less risk and responsibility. Through this self exploration proceeds unimpeded, and new behaviors are tested to see if they will be useful.
Constructively used, this allows becoming more oneself and testing of one’s environment and abilities. I allows a person to test revealing things about themselves and see if it meets with rejection, and extend their comfort zones. It allows testing of fears, e.g., permitting a shy person to try being outgoing to see how well it works for them.
On the other hand, a costume, role or disguise also permits a person to enact their worst and most damaging behaviors anonymously. It is far easier to behave badly if one has a costume or role which hides the identity of the person both literally and figuratively.
Costuming has been around a long time: we find artifacts from tens of thousands of years ago where they were used to portray a being or spirit. Often those who played the parts in costume were held in high regard.
A little time with kids or a parade group reminds us all how much fun people have – let alone when there is a formal play being staged. Costuming is fun; it’s fun for people to pretend, but it should be understood by all that it’s to be pretend. Problems come when the “role” gets mixed up with one’s being; the role defines the person instead of the person defining the role.
As Jack Nicholson famously said to Michael Keaton as they were suiting up for their roles in Batman (1989): “Time to let the costumes do the acting.”
When the role is more than the person, that causes psych problems.