Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Editorial: The Changing Landscape of Cosplay
Seeing people in cosplay is a highlight for me as long as I have attended conventions. There is so much skill in artisanship, posing, and facial emotions to get the character right. Over time, I have done photoshoots with people in this hobby and through that, I have connected and made friends with a variety of cosplayers over time. Over time, I noticed several trends, some I like and some I do not like. What I like is the increasing quality of Cosplay and the amount of effort in costumes has improved in leaps and bounds. By extension, the quality of the posing and facial emotions has improved significantly over time. What I do not like are the increasing sexualization of Cosplay and the influx of photographers that are drawn by this sexualization of Cosplay.
For the positive, the quality of Cosplay has improved significantly over time. The cosplay wigs have become much better in quality, and there has been a huge improvement in the craftsmanship of the Cosplay outfits. In turn, people practice their Cosplay more, and the ubiquity of the Internet means that there are many more references to understand and master the character. In turn, posing and facial emotions have improved significantly, since people understand the character and how they interact with the world out there. There are also many avenues to get instantaneous feedback between the photographer and the cosplayer that has push the skill levels of both far beyond how it was in the past. From this perspective, the art of cosplay itself has flowered beyond my wildest expectations when I got into cosplay photography so many years ago.
The negative has bothered me and it will continue to bother me, it is the increasing sexualization and of Cosplay. There are varieties of geek websites that unfortunately use these cosplayers to increase hits for ad revenue. Greater exposure to the hobby is great, but they tend to highlight the best and the most beautiful of the cosplayers. Due to the nature of these sites, they also tend to ignore male cosplayers unless they are very eye-catching or have some sort of gimmick to attract attention. This focus leads to people who have a misinformed opinion that only the most beautiful and genetically gifted can cosplay. Those with a misinformed opinion may also shame people who are bigger, skinnier, darker, or not as pretty as those featured on those websites. It changes the dynamic of the fandom from one of connecting and showing love for a character to one of finding Cosplay that can make them more popular than ever. This shift in Cosplay culture has created an arms race where people try to become "Cosplay Popular" and race to get as many likes as possible
This leads to another unfortunate paradigm shift, the influx of photographers who are not fans of the hobby but of certain people who cosplay. They are there because of the sexualization of Cosplay, and taking photos can fulfill personal fetishes. They are not there for capturing the spirit of Cosplay; they are there to get as many beautiful people as possible. This leaves certain cosplayers who have a glut of photographers asking for “photoshoots” while there are many walking around the convention wondering if they will even get the time of day. Many of these people are not familiar with social norms, hence why there have been a rise of "creepers" with cameras.
As I have seen from experience, the common solutions people bring to the table are wrong. Some resort to “slut shaming” where they would insult them and berate them. The problem with this is that it also does not reward the hard work it takes to keep a fit body, the dieting, exercise, and scheduling needed to maintain a fit figure. It only brings negativity and divisiveness to the community that should be more inclusive, rather than exclusive. Ideally, we welcome all in the cosplay community. On one level, a solution can be found by us, the people within the cosplay and cosplay photography community. Make sure they have a level head and a good heart. It is perfectly fine to be a fan, but there is no need to idealize them and blindly follow what they do. A true fan would knock them back to reality if they do something wrong, and praise them for doing hard work. The most important part is that include them as part of the community, they are not above it, they are a part of it. Treat them as equals, not as superiors. Being white-knight sycophants that praise them for every good and bad thing they do is destructive.
The situation with cosplay has changed a bit over time, and it has its fair share of the good and bad. The quality has improved light years and it has improved the cosplay experience as a whole. There is an increase in sexualization due to the heavy promotion of the prettiest and the sexiest, which had a rather unfortunate side effect by drawing in people who only wants to photograph the prettiest and the sexiest. Instead of berating these cosplayers, include them in the community and keep them in line by being constructive, not destructive.