Remember to Listen: Cosplay, Racebending, Racefacing and Privilege

As a professor and as a blogger, I’ve written a lot about gender-bending, gender-blending, and crossplay.  I am, in the day job, a scholar of Gender Studies and the mother of a queer cosplayer, I have felt that I can offer a genuine and even valuable perspective on these phenomena.

I say this, but I have to also note two really important things:

  1. It’s absolutely imperative for me to remember that I am sometimes, often or occasionally WRONG. My personal experience or even experience in my family is not representative of a whole group.
  2. Because I DON’T know everything, because I don’t live the lives of all the cosplayers, it’s that much more important for me to listen to them and really hear what they are saying about their practice and their experience.

I’ve been thinking about this in the last few days. There is a renewed interest and debate that I’m seeing in various places on the internet on the practice of racebending. Let me say at the outset, please, that I am not an expert on this in any way, and as a white woman, I am aware that I do not understand the position or experience of people of color. But I’d like to learn more. So I’m thinking out loud here not so much about POC cosplaying white characters as I am in the other direction: white cosplayers cosplaying characters of color.

This debate has really taken off in regards to a Ukranian cosplayer: Pugoffka who came under fire for racefacing and doubled down on her privilege and assertion that it was right in an essay she posted on her Facebook page:

I want to wade in on that debate. I welcome your comments on this. Teach me things. Share your experience if you like.  I will listen. Here we go.

So What is Racebending?

Just as genderbending is the practice of presenting a character as a different gender from the canonical version (e.g.: Femme Joker or Male Harley Quinn), racebending is the practice of performing a character with the appearance of that of a different racial or ethnic group.  So in this case, perhaps an African American cosplayer performs Wonder Woman, or here is an example of a favorite cosplayer of mine, the U.S. based Tranquil Ashes cosplaying, racebending (and genderbending) the Japanese character Akuma.

I can see how the ability and freedom to cosplay characters of a different race are of great importance to cosplayers of color because their options are so much more limited than white cosplayers.  Many of us who study cosplay and the fandoms talk about “affective resonance.” Affective resonance is that concept of how we as individuals see ourselves (either as we are or who we want to be) in a fictional character. We want to be strong and badass, or sexy and desirable, or smart and effective. We feel a resonance with the character as presented, an emotional or affective resonance.

That’s what leads many of us to cosplay.  My first cosplay was of a smuggler-pirate- it is a chance for me to be the bad girl that my every day, eager-to-please self shies away from. I also think Storm from the X-Men is fascinating and an aspirational ideal of a powerful female superhero who overcomes trauma.

So I, personally, think it makes perfect sense for cosplayers of color to racebend characters like in the examples above, to maintain their identity and show how it works with that of the character they are playing. But I don’t think I would ever racebend Storm, because I don’t understand what that would mean to cosplayers of color, and I’d rather err on the side of respect for experiences I don’t have the background to understand.

So What About White Cosplayers Who Want to Cosplay Characters of Color?

This is a question that I’ve been thinking about basically since the Black Panther movie came out. What would it mean if a white kid wanted to cosplay the King of Wakanda?  I really didn’t know and didn’t presume to know.  The phenomenon that is the success of that film is something I can’t understand the importance of fully- because I am not part of the group to whom it means the most.

So I’ve been sitting back and listening.

What I’ve read and heard is:

  1. While racebending characters of color is ok for some, (AS LONG AS YOU DON’T CHANGE YOUR SKIN TONE), it bothers other people of color.
  2. It’s just really NEVER ok to change your skin tone with makeup (Doing blackface or Asian face, etc.) This is called “Racefacing” and is highly offensive.

Let me expand.

Point #1: It May Be Ok, But Some Will Still Be Offended

In a piece in the LA Times,  they interviewed Mike Le, from Racebending.com, who discusses the position of superheroes as figures that supersede individuality and stand as avatars of our ideals. Because of this, he says it’s not the canon (and the canonical race) of the character that’s important.   He does not see the need to “stick to canon” in race (so, you don’t NEED to cosplay Superman as white because he’s canonically white) any more than the President of the United States can’t be Asian because no President (yet) has ever been of Asian descent.

This makes sense to me. It embraces the idea of affective resonance (which is such a powerful way for people to explore identity and worth, and representation.). So this opinion is that it would be ok for a                 white girl to cosplay Shuri from Black Panther…..if she was very, very careful. No tribal markings. And not, under any circumstances, blackface.

Full disclosure, long before I knew enough about Avatar the Last Airbender or cosplay to think this through, Kiogenic cosplayed Katara.

Cosplay daughter as Katara in like….2012?

I think we would both make a different decision now.

WHY?

Ok, whether any of us want to recognize it or not WHITE PRIVILEGE IS A REAL THING.  If you don’t believe that after all the shootings, the rise of Nazism in the U.S. and the way white folks use 911 as customer service, I don’t have the space to debate it with you right here. Please go read:  this,  or this,  or this, or this. 

We are privileged, and we need to acknowledge that. This means that our INTENT doesn’t matter. The EFFECT does.  Cosplayer of color Sophia Bravo puts it this way: 

“The problem with white cosplayers taking on characters of color is that even though the characters we all love live in a world separate from ours, we don’t. We as fans of all races still have to live with long histories of racial tension and trauma as well as other forms of injustice in this society. When white cosplayers dress as characters of color, they are reinforcing (Unintentionally! Yes, you don’t have to step on someone’s foot on purpose for it to hurt) a long history of Hollywood’s exclusion of people of color. The trouble of it all is that race and skin color simply are not costumes and paint fans of color can take off anytime they want.

When white cosplayers dress as characters of color, the clock strikes midnight and they can take off their costume and go back to the lily-whiteness that protects their lives. They can decide who else they’d love to cosplay, because Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Wonder Woman, all of the Doctors and their companions, and so many other fandom icons look like them already.”

So you can do this, but be aware that you might be offending some people, whose experiences you should defer to.

Point #2: NEVER NEVER CHANGE YOUR SKIN COLOR

And here I’m not talking about anyone wanting to cosplay Gamora.

Painting yourself green is DIFFERENT.  There isn’t a long global history or contemporary problem with the repression and enslavement of GREEN people. You’re not going to be appropriating anyone’s experience, or misunderstanding anyone’s background if you paint yourself green, or blue, etc.

That’s not true of racefacing: using makeup to look like a different race.  There is a whole history of this practice that white folks have the privilege of ignoring, but people of color have to live with.  As Cosplayer WifufuxBelle notes, racefacing “has been used to further the marginalization of black people, to limit roles from PoC in Hollywood, and lately to profit off blackness.” And this isn’t just about people of African descent. Yellowfacing is just as much a problem and has been for a long time.

“In a world where black people are killed due to a fear of our skintone” WifufuxBelle says “it is salt in injury to wear it for a [photo]shoot.”

We’re talking about centuries of murder, rape, subjugation, and oppression. Why would you want to add salt in those wounds? And really, frankly, how little empathy do you demonstrate by refusing to even hear these objections and listen to them?

Back to My Original Thought: For the Love of Pete, LISTEN

So back to the Ukranian cosplayer.  Here is part of her statement (which I’m copying verbatim with no points off for English not being her first language):

“Whenever a cosplayer uses different greasepaints, wigs, contact lenses etc to match the character’s appearance he or she does it because of great appreciation and love for the character but not for deriding this character or someone else. For those who accuses me in racism. Rasism – is the belief in the superiority of one race over another. In what way a portrait of a girl with cosplay makeup fits in this belief? Cosplay is all about love of the character. Also I’ve mentioned in post that I will ban any negative comments.Till now I haven’t ban anyone and I’ve heard all of your oppositions. My page for me place with positive things, rainbow and unicorns XD I don’t like when people use my page for their discussions and bear negative.”

 

Pugoffka is here arguing for affective resonance:  “love of the character.” I get that. But she is also resolutely refusing to read, listen to or acknowledge the flood of comments answering the question that she pretends to pose: “in what way a portrait of a girl with cosplay makeup fits in this belief?” – here referring to racial superiority.

Lots of people (including myself) made an effort to explain on her page to help her understand about privilege and more importantly STRUCTURAL racism.  But as she herself notes, she “doesn’t like negative comments” and only listens to rainbows and unicorns. Sigh.

I get that white privilege (like all privilege) can be hard to see and harder to accept for oneself.  I’d like everyone to give it a try, though. Please.

Racebending, Racefacing, Cultural Appropriation

The debate on racebending and racefacing is similar to the one on cultural appropriation (which white folks are only forced to think about at Halloween, and PoC all the time).  And the same rules, I think, apply.

No, black people are not committing cultural appropriation when they dress like white people. Cultural appropriation has two key components:

  1. An unequal power dynamic
  2. Lack of permission

The group with more power appropriates. Period.  The group with less power is forced to conform out of necessity, generally.  The group with more power generally WANTS everyone to look like them (i.e. permission) and actually has the power to prevent other groups from stealing their cultural products. The group with less power has no ability to hold things to themselves or keep more powerful people from appropriating their culture.

Be Excellent to Each Other and Listen

And because one of the things I love most about cosplay is the way that it has the very real possibility of being supportive and empowering for ALL people, I would like everyone to think about having empathy and sympathy for our fellow cosplayers:

Cosplayer of color DelaDoll:

Look at it this way: If I attempt to toss you a ball and it ends up hitting you in the face, it will still hurt you, and I still hit you in the face, even though I didn’t mean to. Rather than me growing indignant and laughing off any reaction you may have, the right thing for me to do would be to apologize and be more careful next time. The same rule applies when it comes to the issue of blackface in cosplay, as it does with anything else in life.”

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Faces of Cosplay: Labinak and Mangoloo Cosplay

In July of last year, I was in RTX with Kiogenic. It was her senior trip.  I had registered for the convention, but never actually went in- the line to pick up badges was CRAZY, and I had too much fun talking to cosplayers in line.

(It was a lesson: cosplayers are super happy to be interviewed when they are stuck in line! I used this lesson in Mexico as well: equally true!)

As I worked my way down the miles-long, winding, cast of thousands waiting to register, I was struck by the amazing cosplay of these two:

IMG_0676

Labinak and Mangoloo Borderlands RWBY cosplay at RTX 2017

This cosplay was exquisitely made, ultra-detailed and eye-catchingly different. A beautiful example of creative cosplay, in this case, of melding two franchises.  The young woman on the right, Mangoloo was the artist in this case, and was kind enough to talk to me about her enthusiasm and process.

I’m grateful, as her willingness to share was also extremely useful in the academic cosplay work that I’ve completed since as well! Therefore, I hope she’ll forgive me for this profile taking so long to post.

Name:  Mangoloo

Age:  24 years old

Do you have a “day” job?: I definitely do!

How long have you been cosplaying?: I’ve been cosplaying for about 5 years now.

What’s your home base? :I’m based in Vienna, VA.

How do you choose your characters? What appeals to you about them? Do you identify with or aspire to be like them?:

There are many different factors that I consider when choosing a character to cosplay. A big factor is if I can relate to the character. For instance, Ruby from RWBY – I can easily relate to her sweet derpy personality.

RWBY collage

 

I also look into the design – I particularly like challenges so I tend to choose more difficult cosplays, for instance, Final Fantasy’s Serah Farron. Overall my love for the character is what motivates me to make the cosplay for it. I think more often I identify with my character because I spend so much time doing character studies and trying to get into the head of the character so I can accurately roleplay as them by the time the cosplay is done.

Do you have a signature or favorite cosplay?:

I think most people know me from my RWBY Ruby Rose cosplay. Although if I personally had to choose a favorite – I can’t say that I necessarily have one because I love all my cosplays differently. Each cosplay came with different challenges that I had to figure out how to overcome and new techniques that I had to learn. I am proud of the outcome of all my cosplays; therefore, each cosplay has a special place in my heart.

Mangoloo Aliens

Do you make, or buy your cosplays?:

Primarily I make my cosplays because I enjoy the challenge. Although I have bought/modified a few more causal ones.

What’s the best things someone has said to you about your cosplay? What’s the worst?:

The best thing someone could say about my cosplay is complimenting my detail work. I take huge pride in the small details. As for the worst – I would say if someone makes a comment that isn’t constructive. I am all for constructive criticism.

 

Can you elaborate on the “character studies” you do? What does that consist of?
Character studies consist of anything from memorizing quotes, learning the backstory, learning speech patterns, etc – essentially anything to help me get to know the character better so that I can better get into the head of the character when I go and roleplay as them.
Check out Mangoloo’s amazing work on her Facebook PageTumblr, and consider booking them by emailing: LMcosplays@gmail.com.
Labinak and Mangoloo

Sexy Cosplay, Nerdlesque and Men’s “Right to Sex”: Time to Move Past the Karate Kid

Crazy days, friends.  The President is an admitted sexual predator.  There are open debates about whether women should be “redistributed” to provide more sex to more women. But at the same time, there are now feminine Star Wars heroes to choose from, and women are finally getting some much needed, much-deserved justice on matters of abuse and assault.

Incel, The Misogynist Ideology that Inspired the Deadly Toronto Attack.” (Vox)

Blizzard Wants its Diverse Fans to Feel ‘Equally Represented’ by Overwatch’s Heroes“- (Polygon)

Nerdlesque and Body Positive Cosplay.” – (The Geek Anthropologist)

The Redistribution of Sex” – (The New York Times)

…..and finally, “Anyone want to cosplay Overwatch Playboy Bunnies with me?” – (one of the cosplay groups I belong to)

I don’t think it’s too much to say that this is a singular moment in U.S. cultural history.

The headlines above describe the edges of a phenomenon in which women increasingly reject Judith Butler’s “law” of society, and stretch out to make choices that push against multiple canons, societal expectations and collective fantasies.

These events and thoughts, these increasingly violent and entrenched positions have recently led me to believe that there is something really important going on in geekdom, something that could show us the way to how we can get through this moment of gender trouble as a nation.

My Two Cents on What’s Going On

I’ll explain. Let me start from an early essay from Cracked, one of the most perceptive pieces that I had read in quite a while. In 2012, I read this article from David Wong: “Five Ways Modern Men Are Trained to Hate Women.”

In the essay, as it states, Wong lays out how men are 1. Taught that they are owed a hot girl, 2. Are trained to see women as decorative, 3. They think that women conspire with their penises to ruin them, 4. They feel like their manhood (of the 300 kind was stolen, and 5. They feel powerless because of all of the above.

I don’t agree with everything in this piece, but much of it rings very true. It’s the author’s attempt to explain why, even though men hold most, if not all of the economic and political power, “no amount of male domination will ever be enough, why no level of control or privilege or female submission will ever satisfy us. We can put you under a burqa, we can force you out of the workplace — it won’t matter. You’re still all we think about, and that gives you power over us. And we resent you for it.” This, Wong writes, explains the rage.

It’s a convincing take on the problem described in the headlines above.

Incels apparently believe they are owed a “hot” woman, believe that women have all the power in society and are filled with violent rage at their lack of power.

And when they are thwarted, and cannot treat women as toys, objects or decorations, they snap and start killing them.

This has got to stop.

We have to stop teaching men that there’s only one way to be a man and it involves big muscles, violence, and treating women like trophies.

so, as I often do, I think cosplay, gaming culture and the fandoms have something to teach us about sexuality, gender, identity and the possibilities of what the world COULD look like, if we could break free of a Karate Kid/Donald Trump kind of world view.

Back to Overwatch: What Can Cosplay Teach Us?

Kiogenic, my daughter, plays Overwatch. Her favorite character is Tracer- a strong, short-haired, fierce lesbian who is as sassy as she is brave.  This is the beauty of Overwatch, as noted above, the game was designed by the people who brought us World of Warcraft, men who realized that women appreciated characters who didn’t just walk around in bikinis. Here is one of the creators reflecting on the decsion to create non-sexualized characters for Overwatch:

“”We’ve heard [from] our female employees and … even my daughter tools me out about it,” he said. “We were looking at old Warcraft stuff on YouTube, a cinematic … and my daughter is like, ‘Why are they all in swimsuits?’ And I’m like ‘Ugh, I don’t know, honey.’

So there are LOTS of choices of representation in Overwatch, the cast list is extensive:

There are lots of different choices for women who want to cosplay or play as non-sexualized and strong women.

Which, frankly, is why I was so confused when I saw the call for Playboy Bunny/Overwatch cosplayers on my Facebook thread.  Didn’t, (I thought), the decision to overtly sexualize the Overwatch players completely undercut the idea behind creating them as non-sexual?

What I’ve decided is…. actually, NO.

While we definitely have a lot of work to do in the representation of women (and men) in society to allow for different types of expression, the “Playboy Bunny” Overwatch characters were examples of women’s agency: their ability, through cosplay, to explore whatever sides of their identity they would like to.

Women, and men, in cosplay, can cosplay, crossplay, gender-bend or make up new and sexually adventurous versions of characters to express and explore their own sexualities freely, and in a healthy way that doesn’t resort to hurting others.

I think it’s GREAT that women don’t have to be confined by either the cage of puritanical “purity” OR the “sexualized decorative trophy.”  Again, I don’t know that women have that freedom everywhere, but I increasingly see it in cosplay.

What’s more, I see an open space for men to cosplay, crossplay or do nerdlesque- breaking out of that toxically limited box of Arnold Schartzenegger testosterone and Trumpian disdain for women.

As Geek Anthropologist Emma Louis Backe writes, “nerdlesque pushes back against pernicious sex myths within the geek community.” Nerdlesque, in which both men and women have the opportunity to perform sexy, burlesque-style performances of their cosplays (Femme Kylo Ren as striptease, for example).  Nerdlesque, as the New York Times, took note of above, is about breaking out of the vicious and damaging hetero-normative narrative about men and women that has framed geek culture for too long. This is the “adorkable misogyny” of Big Bang Theory.  The caricature of geeks as poorly socialized straight men eternally mystified by women hazards becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy: a modest but vociferous circle of geek men seems to warily view the entrance of smart, beautiful, and strong women into the geek fold.”

This paradigm would insist that strong women are a danger to men’s power and position, and that non-ideal body types are not decorative enough to be accepted. This stereotype of course, is just nearly as damaging for men as it is for women. It also, of course, excludes queer and asexual cosplayers by framing everything within the nasty, sick anger-generating paradigm that teaches men to hate women.

Where Can We Go From Here?

If Wong is right, and our culture teaches men to hate women, we need to create better, healthier cultural models. Some of this is ongoing- in cosplay especially.

it’s no secret I’m a fan of cosplay as a way to build self-esteem, promote respect for others, celebrate creativity and help people grow. What I would like to see entertainment, economic and political leaders learn from the beautiful and brave artistic work of cosplayers.

Sex isn’t inherently bad.

Women can enjoy sex.

Men don’t have to be Spartan warriors.

Women don’t have to be barbie dolls.

Men do not HAVE to be ruled by their sexual drives

Women can be strong and smart

Everyone deserves to be safe and happy, everyone deserves to be respected.

All bodies are beautiful bodies.

YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL.

Faces of Cosplay: William Herschel Moore

Greetings! Welcome back to “Faces of Cosplay!”

There was a little hiatus as Kiogenic and I wrote a book….(see the ad to the right!) but I haven’t forgotten about all the great cosplayers I’ve met and talked to. And I am still very committed to helping them showcase their work!

The further I get into cosplay, the more impressed I am with the ingenuity, creativity, and skill of all the cosplayers I know. So without further ado, here is William, who I met in Arkansas at the Arkansas Anime Festival, also known as A2F.

A2F is one of our favorite cons, it’s small, but not too small, friendly, well run and well-attended. The cosplayers we meet there (like Paul, who I’ve profiled before).

The last time we went to A2F (sadly, before Kiogenic ran off to college), I went to check on her in the line for cosplay contest pre-judging.  She had struggled to get into the newly made Yang gauntlets (a very tight fit), and now couldn’t take them off until after the cosplay competition.

These Yang gauntlets!

William, I remember, was walking up and down the super-long line of cosplayers, asking if anyone needed water- and then bringing it to them. So this is my best memory of William, in cosplay, a friendly, decent guy, a superhero for all the thirsty, tired cosplayers!

(side note: conventions that set prejudging appointments, instead of those long lines are better.)

Road Hog from Overwatch

Name:  William Herschel Moore

Day Job:  Game Master at Bolt NWA! An escape room in Bentonville Arkansas

Age: 22

Home Base: Lowell, Arkansas

Why do you cosplay?

It’s fun to be able to become some of my favorite characters and be recognized as those characters!

How long have you been cosplaying? 

I’ve been cosplaying since about 2010, which is crazy to think about now…. it doesn’t feel like I’ve been doing it for 7 years.

How do you choose what characters to cosplay?

Well, honestly I try to find larger characters. I try to fit them to my body type, luckily enough they are all characters I end up liking!

What’s your most famous, or best-known cosplay?

For the longest time, everyone knew me for my Choji Akamichi cosplay from Naruto, I’d say I cosplayed him exclusively for about…. 2 1/2 years?

Choji from Naruto

The more I look at my old Choji cosplay the more I realize it was literally just stuff I pulled from my closet. Aside from the shirt my dad and I made.

Do you make or buy your costumes?

Both actually. I order some pieces online and alter them as well as having help from others when it comes to making stuff. A vast majority of my cosplays are thanks to my friends that have helped me make them. I can’t take the credit for my cosplays.

As Mario (right) with Luigi from Kingdom Hearts Mario and Luigi

What advice do you have for other cosplayers? Especially new cosplayers?

I guess my advice should go hand in hand with what I just said. Never be afraid to ask others for help. You’ll always find people willing to help out and teach you a new way to do things! Who knows, maybe someday someone will come to you asking for help and you can teach them!

What the best thing that someone has said to you about your cosplay?
There was one gentleman at a local convention that came up to me and told me that he and his wife always look forward to the cosplays I come up with and loves seeing my updates on his feed. He told me he came to one convention for a day just to see my newest cosplay at the time!

Tombstone Taric from League of Legends

What’s the worst thing that someone has said to you about your cosplay?

The worst thing I’ve had said to me was because I’m larger, I’ll never get any attention as a cosplayer and that I should just do myself a favor and stop cosplaying all together before something bad happens to me haha. Well, I kept cosplaying and nothing has happened yet!

Do you attend conventions? Do you have a favorite?

Yes, I attend conventions, though lately the number of cons per year has dwindled, due to adulting constantly. Hooray for bills. Can’t really say I have a favorite haha. I love all the conventions I go to equally! Most of the time I go to see my friends and Con family more than anything else.

I interviewed William via Facebook messenger. You can check out his work at https://www.facebook.com/OneMooreTimeCosplay/

Taco, Taako, and Other Signs that I’m Old

 

KIOGENIC IS 19.

HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?

very much like this. From adorable, small, opinionated talent to drop-dead gorgeous, Talented, outspoken, and excellent person.

Sigh. Anyway, since she now consumes media mostly in another city (away at Webster U., where she is very happy), I am totally clueless about what is going on in much of fandom.

She is, still, however, cosplaying and building cosplay. She just now has new a new cosplay posse, including her friend Raleigh, who lives on her floor in the dorm.

When Kiogenic was home for Christmas break, she asked if she could take the Sulaco (our sewing maching) back to school with her.  I said yes, because our sewing machine fix-it guy, weary of having to repair a machine never meant for sewing pleather, had recommended we get an all-metal old school machine.

So we bought Peggy, at a thrift store, for $20. Isn’t she beautiful?

Peggy

Yes, I name our sewing machines. No, I don’t think that’s weird.

So we had two machines, and she took one back with her to make some new cosplay with Raleigh, which she and Raleigh showed off at Visioncon in Branson, for Kiogenic’s birthday extravaganza.

Here are Kiogenic, Sammy Jo (cosplaybestfriend), Raleigh and Scooter (cosplayboyfriend, who you can see is REALLY TALL.)

My 19-year-old daughter at the convention with her 21-year-old boyfriend, who is a math genius.  Another sign that that I’m old.

Another hint? I was so clueless about what Kiogenic and Raleigh were cosplaying that I misspelled it when I tweeted it out. To be clear, this is Taako, from the podcast The Adventure Zone.

Since the Adventure Zone is a podcast, the fans don’t know for sure EXACTLY what Taako looks like but there is consensus on umbrella, hat, and general fabulousness. This makes cosplay more fun!

Here is Taako’s bio on the wiki:

“He is a high-elf wizard with a chaotic good alignment. He is originally from New Elfington.  Prior to joining up with Merle Highchurch and Magnus Burnsides he hosted a traveling cooking show, ‘Sizzle It Up with Taako’,  but fled after forty people died in the show’s final episode.”

Which frankly, makes him sound to me like the elf member of Spinal Tap. But again, I’m old. She said “Taako” and I heard “Taco.”

So I totally called him “Taco.” On Twitter. To an audience of like seventy billion people.

I’m old. The kid leaves and I’m stuck with TNG  and Tap cultural references.

Anyway, she and Raleigh did Taako with his twin sister Lup. And they were AMAZING.

Fantastic make up by Sammy Jo and photography by Scooter- who turns out to not just be a math genius, but a GREAT cosplay photographer!

And, in my defense, within an hour of me tweeting a photo of her as “Taco”, a nice fan of the podcast had gently corrected me and made FAN ART of her cosplay! Which……I can’t copy and paste in this blog, because again, I’m old. Follow this link if you’d like to see it.

As a bonus, you get to see my original tweet about “Taco.”

Ah well. I may be old, but I’m very lucky. Very blessed and very happy to have such a great kid, with such great friends, and to have such a great family.

 

Mako Mori, Wonder Woman and Black Panther: Rules and Representation

young wonder woman

I’ve spent the last year reveling in the success of the Wonder Woman movie and eagerly anticipating the Black Panther premiere.

Both are huge signs and signals to Hollywood of what we know from cosplay already: that identity, representation and fan inclusion matter. 

As of November, the Wonder Woman movie became the highest grossing superhero origin story ever.  As of today, the film has made 891 million dollars. Almost a billion dollars!

But Black Panther, with it’s massive pre-sales numbers and kick-ass reviews may pass that mark. FANTASTIC.

Black panther kid

Kids. Men. Women. Black.White. Asian. Hispanic. All WANT to see detailed, well-rounded, heroic representations of themselves- as we all know from cosplay. That’s what cosplay has been doing for a long time: offering the chance for people to perform stronger, braver, more beautiful or more dangerous versions of themselves as a way of exploring identity.

That cosplay involves crossplay, gender-bending, mash-ups and other great creativity, however, is a sign that media producers don’t always provide to fans the images that they seek.

Cosplayers, as I’ve said before are both very creative and very savvy about finding ways to both express and represent themselves and also to recognize the figures, characters and ideas that they resonate with.

The kids above, rocking Wonder Woman and Black Panther cosplay, are just two examples.

As a fan and a cosplayer, I’m always impressed by the intelligence and creativity of sf/fantasy/comic fans and their costumes.

But as a scholar, I’m also impressed by the awareness and savvy that gives us the Mako Mori test. 

You may have heard of the Bechdel test, which asks us to consider representation of women in film. The rules are:

  1. is there more than one female character who has a name?
  2. Do the (at least) two women talk to each other…..
  3. …..about something other than a man?

If you stop and think about it, it’s a truly astounding amount of films that don’t pass this test. (And MOST sf/fantasy films don’t.)

In real life, women have identities and names, and they talk, all the time about things that are NOT men. Work, politics, film, whatever.

So this has been a rallying cry for years in an effort to get more women represented in film as both 1. important and not just decorative (that’s also the sexy lamp test. I’ll talk about that later) and also 2. interested in more than just romantic entanglements with men.

But of course the Bechdel test is designed as a guide, not a hard-and-fast up or down rule or vote. There are films that women find to be good representations of them and their aspirational selves, but that don’t pass the test.

Enter the Mako Mori test.

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Mako Mori is the protagonist of the sf film Pacific Rim.   She is, in fact, the hero of the film, and the film is arguably about her.

But….it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. There are only two women in the film, and they don’t talk to each other.  Doesn’t mean you can’t like it, but for a lot of folks, that was disappointing.

The thing is though that, especially for female fans of Asian descent, it’s really hard to fault a film that is really a coming-of-age/hero’s journey/chosen one tale about a woman.

Fans of color point out how vanishingly few representations there are of Asian women like this.

And so, the Mako Mori test was proposed in a conversation in Reddit by the user Chalia.

The Mako Mori test is:

  1. If the movie has at least one main female character
  2. …who gets her own narrative arc
  3. …and whose arc does not exist solely to support the male lead’s story

This allows a different perspective and appreciation for the film and the truly original and even transgressive stance of placing the woman’s arc in the center of the plot.

so why do we even care? BECAUSE REPRESENTATION IS IMPORTANT.

And this is at least as true for white men as anyone else. Look at the backlash against the strong women in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  Men who had grown up visualizing themselves as pure Luke or Han-who-follows-no-orders were existentially troubled by a not-perfect Luke, and a rogue fighter pilot who gets scolded by female generals (and who is really ultimately responsible for all the rebels dying.)

I think it’s important to remember that kids (and adults) can see and visualize themselves as not just victims or assistants, not just girlfriends or servants (please see Spike Lee’s important “Super-duper magical negro” theory.)

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African superheroes, Amazons who run and kick ass in their own nation, Asian robot drivers and Hispanic princess are all IMPORTANT in the dreams they help build, and foster and communicate.

And so are, still, Harry Potter, The Karate Kid and every superhero that the Chris collective plays (Starlord/Kirk/Thor, etc.)

Maybe next we can have representation of men being caring, emotional and collaborative.  Let’s devise a test for that!

 

Meeting the Cosplay Family(s) at La Mole

(Version en Espanol de este articulo por hacer clic aqui)

I’ve returned from my adventure in Mexico at La Mole Comic Con . What a great event.

On Saturday, I met talked with many more cosplayers,  and I was struck by how many family groups there were.

My experience of groups attending together in the U.S. is that these tend to be affinity groups (groups of friends.)  I have met a few family cosplay groups- and after all, I blog as one, but I noticed how many more of these folks I met in Mexico City.

And I am very sure that this is the time I’ve met cosplay grandparents. : )

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Ignacio and Estela as Snow White and The Punisher

Estela was quick to tell me that she isn’t normally the “Princess” type (she’s a fan of the Spiderman franchise)- but had dressed as Snow White for her grand-daughter, who was at the convention as Princess Peach.  Here she is with her little sister (who is the most adorable, tiniest Michonne you’ve ever seen).

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Cosplay grandparents and granddaughters!

Fantastic. More on this family to come.

In addition to the grandparents, I also met groups of siblings and cousins.  Here- Diana, Aden, Joseline, Mariana and Edgar as various characters from Mario Kart (including the “final lap” cloud.)

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They were a lot of fun- had collectively decided to cosplay, had worked on costumes together and were there as a group.

I also met two brother-sister pairs:

Javier and Andrea, taking advantage of the IT hype to give people a fun scare:

Pennywise and Georgie

these two were having a great time and getting along famously.

There were also Rebeca and Ramon (with their father- who like my esposo, was just tech support).

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Rebeca as Camus and Ramon as a Digimon

Rebeca and Ramon’s Dad, beaming proudly (and taking photos of me interviewing these two), is an example of some really nice family support dynamics that I observed, however briefly, at La Mole.

As I’ve written before, I often encounter U.S. based cosplayers who wish they had more family support. Sometimes I’ve met U.S. cosplayers who talk about open hostility to their hobby from their parents and family.

As a Cosplay Mom myself, I’ve always loved that Kiogenic (cosplay daughter) was into cosplay- it’s creative, it’s positive and it has really allowed her to make new friends while learning new skills. So many worse things a young person can spend their time on.

I mentioned this to several of the cosplayers I met in Mexico, but they all reported at best, enthusiastic family support (as in the case of Rebeca and Ramon’s Dad who spent a month of weekends making their costumes), and at worst sort of a shrugged indifference by family members- “huh, that’s a funny thing the kids are into.”

As the cousins told me, the saying is that (paraphrasing) “if your kids spend money on cosplay, they won’t have any for drugs or alcohol.”

True.

So many more people to talk to and much more to learn, but I was charmed and delighted by the wonderful cosplay families I met at La Mole!

A big shout out and thanks to all those supportive families.

 

Familias del Cosplay en La Mole

(For an English version of this post click here)

Acabo de regresar de mi aventura en México en La Mole Comic Con.  Fue un evento fantástico.

El sábado, hablé más con muchos que practicaban el cosplay, y me impresionó la cantidad de familias que había en el expo.

Mi experiencia de grupos en los EEUU es que suelen ser grupos de amigos, unidos por su interés colectivo en un programa o juego.  A veces veo familias que participan juntos, pero me pareció que había más en el D.F.

Para empezar- conocí a abuelos que participaban en caracterizar personajes favoritos.

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Ignacio and Estela as Snow White and The Punisher

Estela me dijo al principio que normalmente no se disfrazaría como una princesa (es aficionada del universo Spiderman)- pero esta vez vino al expo como Snow White por su nieta, que asistió como la Princesa Peach de Mario Kart. Aquí se puede ver a la Princesa Peach con su hermana menor- la más pequeña y más adorable versión de Michonne que puede existir.

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Cosplay grandparents and granddaughters!

Me parecian fabulosos (y escribiré más de esta familia en el futuro).

Después de los abuelos del cosplay conocí a grupos de primos y hermanos. Aquí- Diana, Adén, Joseline, Mariana y Edgar como varios personajes del Mario Kart. Ellos lo pasaban re bien, habían trabajado en los disfraces como equipo y llegado al expo de muy buen humor.

También conocí a dos pares de hermanos.

Javier y Andrea, que se aprovechaban de la fama de la película IT para “sacar de onda” a la gente y “llegar al extremo.”

Pennywise and Georgie

Los dos se estaban divirtiendo.

Finalmente conocí a Rebeca y Ramón (con su padre, que me recordaba a mi esposo en que sirvió como apoyo técnico)

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Rebeca as Camus and Ramon as a Digimon

 

El padre de ellos, con sonrisa orgullosa (sacando fotos de ellos y de mi en la entrevista) da un ejemplo de las dinámicas de apoyo dentro de familia que yo percibí en ese expo.

Como he dicho antes en este blog, en los EEUU, a menudo me encuentro con gente joven que me hablan sobre su deseo de tener más apoyo de la familia y de sus padres.

A veces conozco a cosplayadores que reciben hostilidad e insultos de su familia.

Como una madre de una hija que participa en cosplay, yo pienso que es un pasatiempo muy saludable. Ella conoce a nuevos amigos y aprende destrezas técnicas nuevas en construir disfraces.

Hay cosas mucho peores.

Como los primos me dijeron en la Mole, en su familia dicen que los jóvenes “que gasten su dinero en cosplay no tienen dinero para alcohol o drogas.”

Es la verdad.

Sé que tengo mucho que aprender sobre el cosplay en México y quiero conocer a muchos más participantes.

Pero hoy quiero dar aplausos a todos los que conocí, y las familias que los apoyan.

#Estoyenlamole- Bilingual Entry in Inglés y Español

(Sigue alternando el español)

I had a great day at La Mole yesterday, and met some wonderful cosplayers and artists.  I learned some things that I’d like to explore more about how similar- and different the cosplay community is in Mexico from the United States. But of course one key thing is language.

I learned that for my somewhat introverted self- it’s that much harder to get up the courage to approach strangers to talk to me about cosplay. And I learned that while I’m pretty fluent in Spanish, my vocabulary lets me down sometimes if I want to talk about, say, forming foam armor with heat guns.  (Many thanks to the patient cosplayers who hung with me while I fumbled around for terminology).

In speaking to cosplayers, I specifically asked if I should blog in Spanish and English to better communicate with the Mexican cosplay community. The resounding answer was YES. So this blog will be bilingual.  I toyed with the idea of doing two separate posts- one in English and one in Spanish. That may be less cumbersome. At some point, I may design a separate Spanish-language site.

For now though,  this post will be bilingual (alternating paragraphs) and I’d be every so grateful for feedback on if that works or not!

Lo pasé re bien en La Mole ayer, y conocí a muchos artistas y cosplayadores talentosos.  Aprendí de varias cosas que quiero explorar más en cuanto a las similaridades- y diferencias de las comunidades del cosplay en Mexico y Los Estados Unidos.  Claro- una de las lecciones claves tiene que ver con el idioma.

Aprendí que para mí- como soy media introvertida, es aún más difícil acercarme a los cosplayadores que no conozco para hacer preguntas.  También aprendí que, mientras tengo destreza en la lengua, muchas veces no tengo el vocabulario de hablar de tales cosas técnicas como formar el “foam” con una pistola de calor.  (Mil gracias a los cosplayadores que me tenían paciencia cuando yo buscaba palabras).

En hablar con los cosplayadores, hice preguntas específicas acerca de si yo debo escribir ambos en español e inglés. Me dijeron que sí.    Por eso, decidí escribir este blog- y los otros que escribo acerca del cosplay latinoamericano, de manera bilingüe. Pensaba también en simplemente tener todo un artículo separado en español- y también en abrir un sitio/blog que esté puramente en español. No sé todavía.

Empecemos con este blog que alterna entre las dos lenguas.  Estaria muy agradecida por comentarios y sugerencias acerca de la cosa.

Where to start? Maybe with my first impressions on similarities and differences- 

¿Cómo empezar? Quizá con lo que es similar, y lo que es diferente.

Similarities/Lo Similar:

The cosplay and art here in Mexico is as amazing and creative and enthusiastic as any con that I’ve attended in the United States.  I will profile some of these cosplayers in more detail in coming posts, but here’s a taste, just from day 1!

El cosplay y el arte que he visto aquí es tan creative, entusiasta y fantástico como el que he visto en los Estados Unidos. En artículos futuros, haré retratos más detallados de algunos de estos cosplayadores. Por ahora,¡ un vistazo del primer día!

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Eduardo y Fernando como Punk Batman y Mecha Joker

Leo como Harley Quinn in Crossplay

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Jagr, author of Momentum with Momentum.

 

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Artista Siames Escalante of Umiiland

What’s Different? / Lo Diferente

Again, I have many observations, but here I’ll add just a few words and expand more later.

The cosplay here is almost overwhelmingly done by males (or who identify as male).  There were lots of women at the convention yesterday, but hardly any in cosplay.  I did see this AMAZING gender-bent Nightwing

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I didn’t get to talk to this cosplayer- she (assuming, here) radiated “back off” and had a male bodyguard/chaperone. (I always do my best to respect cosplayers’ desire to talk or be left alone.)

Tengo muchas observaciones, pero ofreceré simplemente algunas en este momento para expandir más en el futuro.

El cosplay que vi fue hecho casi en total por hombres (o los que se identificaban como hombres). Había muchas mujeres en el evento, pero casi ninguna en cosplay. Vi (arriba) un Nightwing- versión femenina, pero no pude hablar con ella (aquí asumo que se identifica como mujer)- dio toda una impresión de “no me hables” y también  vino acompañada por un guardaespaldas/chaperón. (Y siempre hago lo que puedo de respetar a los que participan en cosplay- si están dispuestas a hablar, o si quieren mantener su espacio privado).

I think there will be  a lot to say about gender and gendered cosplay as I work and meet cosplayers and reflect. Today though, I am back to the convention, and look forward to posting more later!

Creo que voy a tener mucho que decir en cuando al genero y como funciona el genero en el cosplay aqui. Sin embargo, necesito tiempo para pensar y reflejar. Y hoy- de regreso al evento!  Escribire mas en el futuro!

Faces of Cosplay: Dr. Crossplay

One of my favorite cons is Cosplacon- a friendly, well-run affair that focuses specifically on cosplay and cosplayers.

This year, I went with Kiogenic (cosplay daughter) and friends to the annual event.  Once they were ready to hit the floor, we went down to the atrium for photos:

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this is Kiogenic’s “Lego Batman” Robin.

When we were done and they had run off to meet up with friends and other people much cooler than I am, I sat in the sunny, 1970’s lobby and watched the show.

I love Cosplacon because just about everyone is in cosplay (it’s a cosplay convention, after all).

There were assassins and pokemon, monsters and anime princesses. A sea of happy, excited and excellent cosplay.

But as I sat there, my attention was most drawn to an stunning, statuesque cosplayer in fishnets, top hat and a tailcoat.

Dr Crossplay Zatana 2

Dr. Crossplay as Zatanna Zatara

When he worked his way around the floor, I asked to take his photo and we struck up a conversation. This is how I met the eloquent, elegant Edward Johnson, aka Dr. Crossplay.

Name: Edward Johnson

Age-ish: 48 Years Old Be 49 this August

How long have you been cosplaying? I have been cosplaying four years now.

Why do you cosplay? I cosplay for fun along with the recognition and respect from other cosplayers and fans. I’m able to bring my favorite comic book characters to life and I love the positive attention I get from fans,other cosplayers, friends and strangers.

How do you decide what to cosplay? I get a lot of my choices from Google, Bing, Facebook, and Deviant Art.

Do you have a favorite, or signature cosplay? My favorite cosplays are and have been Zatanna, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy.

Dr Crossplay Harley

Harley Quinn.

Do you make or buy your cosplays?  I tend to make my own costumes.just not exactly from the fabric or from the first sequin and stitch up. I throw together my costumes from other clothes and some other costumes I buy locally on the cheap or from thrift and do some hemming here, and adding more style there, to make my costume the way I want it to be the best I can make it to be.

What advice do you have to other cosplayers? Start out small. Go to the nearest con or comic event nearest to where you live. Don’t be afraid to buy a costume and do some modding or fixer-uppers to get the costume to fit how you want it to. Many cosplayers start out for the first time will go with something simple and build up for there as they progress. If you go to a convention, you’ll see a lot of different types of costumes, from store bought to homemade, from simple to complex. Some people aim to look as much like the character they’re portraying as possible. Others don’t. It’s all a matter of personal choice. The key to not being intimidated by other cosplays is to remember, it’s just for fun and those cosplayers are having fun just as much.

What is the best thing someone has said to you about your cosplay? Most people will say “That’s a great cosplay. Did you make it yourself?”

What’s the worst thing that someone has said to you about your cosplay? The worst I’ve had to endure a few cat calls and some homophobic slurs. Most of the slurs were online. I will sometimes confront them online and put them in their place and or just block them all together.

Do you attend conventions? I most certainly do attend conventions,Yes. So far it has been Cosplacon in Jefferson City, Dodecacon in Columbia, Visioncon in Branson, Missouri.