Cosplay/noun: the activity or practice of dressing up as a character from a work of fiction (such as a comic book, video game, or television show)
LARP/noun: a type of interactive role-playing game in which the participants portray characters through physical action, often in costume and with props.
It’s the day after the attack on the U.S. Capitol Building by armed insurrectionists.
Like so many others, I’m seeking to process the images of the insurgents storming the U.S. Capitol. And the cosplaymom/cosplay research side of my brain can’t get over how so many of them did so in costume.
They carried props. They carried weapons. They wore masks, and hats and capes. They used face paint and military symbols. They were cosplaying warriors and engaging in Live Action Role Play as revolutionaries.
Was it really just cosplay?
Why call it cosplaying/LARPing? Because they knew there would be no real consequences. They could not have had any real expectation of stopping the electoral count or the transition of power, and multiple sources (and video) show that they were literally let into the building without violent challenge. They weren’t there to fight. They were there to pose, and take selfies, and post on social media, playing at being warriors.
As my colleague Dr. Lori Morimoto suggests, it’s time to discuss hypermasculinity, identity and reactionary cosplay.
This isn’t just about wearing a superhero cape or giving a Wakanda salute: it’s about how men reach for the trappings of violent power and appropriate sacred symbols as they aspire to be “badass.”
It’s about a group of men who don’t want to be civil, polite or respectful of others’ opinions- they think they long for a day where they could just beat up or intimidate anyone they disagree with. They’re not happy that women or minorities can vote, and they are creating an imagined place where not only is their societal supremacy still challenged- but it’s also an imaginary place where they would be supreme in that society.
There is a lot to try and unpack here, so this will be part 1 of at least 2 posts on this topic. Yes, I know you’ve seen the guy below in his cosplay-tastic mish-mash of appropriated symbols. He (as Amy Jefford Franks and others have noted is going all out in his performance of hypermasculinity, notably through sacred symbols. He is an example of how white supremacist thought plays into this whole toxic stew, and that’s a topic for another day.
I’d like to leave that discussion for another post and focus and in this one focus on the use of military gear, uniforms, weapons and props as cosplay. Let’s return to the above quoted Major Mike Perry (retired)’s thoughts on militias, Proud Boys and other groups of playacting warriors.
Mob vs. Army: Look at Me! I’m Special Ops!
Following threads of international military veterans on twitter and in other social media, I see the types of men who participated in the January 6th attack often referred to as only “cosplaying” soldiers.
Here, a French veteran makes a similar observation:
Taken together, these two comments point to the way that individuals within the mob seek to perform the kind of masculine posturing that we all recognize from film, comic books and video games, but do so without the training or understanding of what the reality of military training and practice entails.
As with a lot of cosplay, the donning of fancy (and often inappropriate- please see the ghillie suit above) gear in order to “look tough” is the same kind of aspirational identity performance as showing up at a convention in an Iron Man suit. Decades of movies, television shows and first person RPGs have glamorized the idea of being the individual, indestructible hero, and made the “rogue cop/rogue soldier” a role to cosplay.
Exhibits 1-4 (Call of Duty, American Sniper, Gerard Butler in Olympus Has Fallen and Squad)
No, I’m not blaming video games for violence. Actually, the point here is that the mob at the Capitol knew they were never in any real danger. In fact, evidence suggests that the men participating would not participate if they were:
For the record: “SOF” is Special Operations Forces and “CAG” is the Combat Applications Group- which includes Delta Force. (I often have to use a lot of Google to understand the tweets of veterans).
This observation, however, highlights how the props and the costume for some men is part of a desire to play the role- to LARP. When, however, it turns out that the reality of what that means is painful and hard, they don’t actually want to do it at all.
Think of it this way- its as if the guy above spent a mint on an Iron Man Suit and then got mad when he found out that it’s hard and painful to actually fly with a jet pack. Or if a man bought a Spider Man suit thinking that it would be enough to let him climb walls. If he didn’t train in bouldering and climbing, should he be mad when he fell?
Cosplaying Strength, Inappropriately: Look How Big My “Gun” Is!
The costumes here are like the beards referred to above: an outward sign of masculinity, a desire to perform and display testosterone and outward symbols of strength without discipline or self control.
And that, I would argue is ok at a convention, at a photo shoot or in a location with rules governing behavior.
It is most decidedly NOT ok when the performance entails destruction of the U.S. Capitol Building- or in any other public place. Because of course this is not the only time we have seen this cosplay. It has played out in other locations, like Idaho and Michigan.
I have no idea what kind of gun that is, except “big” but would be willing to bet that the men and women trained to carry and fire it would find it ludicrous that this person is carrying it in a public place.
I’m sure these men felt very manly indeed in their cosplay, as they LARPed as Gerard Butler. But they were just cosPLAYing. They are, to quote Maj. Perry, “cosplay militia domestic terrorists.”
And as much as I love cosplay, this, this is not the way.