People about Cosplay...
I have already emphasized elsewhere that I count cosplayers into the pretty small circle of subcultures that I consider “my tribe”. And that I will never hesitate to defend them from detractors and ridicule, be it online or offline, wherever the need arises.
That said, my personal stance regarding the enjoyment of cosplaying is a bit more complicated than that. Because… well… personally, cosplaying doesn’t really “work” for me. At least not in a certain sense.
See, right from the beginning of my anime career, I have always had this habit that I keep anime and real life strictly separate in my mind. In all sorts of ways, and for all sorts of good reasons.
As a result of this, I can admire the people and their awesome costumes, but I have a really, really hard time seeing the actual character “in it”.
Mind you, it’s not the fault of the people. Originally my authenticity demands when it came to character reproductions were insanely high, anyway. Never mind cosplaying. For the longest time, I couldn’t even accept 99% of the released anime figurines because deep down, I felt that “they didn’t look right”.
These days? Well, as far as authenticity is concerned: you only need to look at my shelf with several figures on it to realize that this demand has dropped at least somewhat… but yea, I still keep the worlds apart so strictly that it prevents me from emotionally accepting the “cosplay illusion”.
Needless to say, I never discuss this with cosplayers. Because I fear they could misunderstand it as me disregarding their efforts. Or worse, as criticism of their designs or even their hobby. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. On the contrary.
Because I find it awesome what they do. I always have and always will deeply respect cosplaying for the amount of underlying fandom that it expresses, as well as for the effort people put into it.
Whenever I see someone with an elaborate/authentic/cleverly made costume, I cannot help but doff my hat at the driving passion behind it. Perhaps I’m even a bit envious about it. Either way, if I see that someone is willing to invest that many hours into designing and creating something like that… then that gives him/her my respect and a boatload fan cred. In short, it basically earns you the status of “card-carrying elite fan” in my book.
So no, when I look at cosplayers, I don’t see the character. But it still makes me happy – because I see a fan whose passion and efforts I wholeheartedly support and admire.
Cosplay is used to portray a character, in complete characterization, sometimes even down to speech and acting.
Culture appropriation, in my opinion, is always negative, portraying double standards that favor white people. For example, hairstyles used by black people seem trashy and inappropriate, but in white people they are deemed edgy.
Cosplay is a representation of the love for a character, they are acting as the character, their race or cultural background of said character usually has nothing to do with the character, it is a simple fact about them.
When a person does “cosplay”, by making fun of another race, say they dress up as a black character by simply putting on brown makeup, this is racism.
However, correctly portraying the character who happens to be black, is cosplay and is not appropriating the culture of said character, simply using their image to act as them.
Ancient peoples dressed up as animals and gods. They dressed up as powerful characters of myth and reenacted stories that were important to them.
Modern people do the same. On Halloween, people dress as archetypes of many kinds, At Christmas, you see people dressed as Santa Claus in the US, reminding us to be kind to others, even if we don’t put change in this particular pot.
Once, I was in an Indian restaurant and as I waited to be seated, I looked at pictures of a party at the restaurant. They had two people cosplaying Krishna and Radha.
I attend anime/manga gatherings and I know from talking to many, many people about this, that the drive to dress up as characters you love comes from wanting to participate more deeply in the narrative.
At Renaissance Faires, I was quite often told by people “this is my real self,” as opposed to the normal worker bee they were during the week.
And then there is cosplay as a sales technique. Booth babes are hired at tech and industry shows because getting a dorky guy over to the table takes work. Geeky folks are cynical folks, but a pretty girl will draw many men without working at it. Once they are there, they must of course be engaged and thrilled by the tech, but the hook is the girl. Or in a maid cafe in Tokyo, having someone be kind to you, call you “Master” and do your bidding feels good, even if you’re paying by the hour.
So, why cosplay? To engage with our mythical/narrative roots; to take on skills and powers that we don’t normally have, in the context of ritual – or fun; as a visual hook to drive commerce; to enjoy, for a moment, the thrill of being something else than we are or who we feel that we really are.
We may not all cosplay, but we all play dress up from time to time. Next time you slip into tux or a really nice dress, think about the cosplay you’re engaging in – what are you projecting? What makes this you different than the everyday you? What powers, skills, qualities are you pretending to have?