Please Don’t Be an Ass- Nothing but Love for Fans and Cosplayers

I’ve been thinking a lot about how easy it is to encourage and give hope, but also how easy it is to injure and beat down.

I’m like a lot of us- I carry around compliments and nice things people have said to me like little pieces of precious metal- to pull out and look at when I’m low.

And I also carry around insults and jabs- some from when I was a child. And really, they feel heavier.

This is true for most of us. In work or in relationships, researchers estimate that it takes between 5-10 compliments to offset every insult.

For every negative thing you say to someone, especially a child, you need to say ten positive things.

I knew this intuitively, but as always for me, it helps to see it in scholarly or research form.  I knew this not just because of my own experience, but in what I see in cosplay and at conventions. I love this drawing, because it is so true:


Cosplay changed my daughter’s life. The people she met at our very first convention were so kind, so encouraging and so very positive that she left that event saying “I wish I could live at the convention.”

These are the first people that we met. I am sad at how bad this photo is, and very much wish I could tag them, but I want to at least give them credit and love and appreciation here

2013-08-24 13.20.18

I went to a panel led by the gentleman in the top hat the next day, and he even spent some time emphasizing just how important it can be to a young person to be accepted. Steampunk might have generally accepted rules and conventions, but you should never smack somebody down for their effort.

He said, “you might see a young cosplayer, and their whole costume might be just a pair of goggles.”  “And that is GREAT.”

I’m so grateful to him, the ladies in this photo, the artist Eric Burton, who we met at the same convention, and the so many other cosplayers and artists and creators who have been kind to us. Thank you.

I think most people don’t know how much of an effect they can have, even with one small compliment.

But they do, and they can help someone overcome a devastating insult or attack.

We’ve had overwhelmingly positive experiences in cosplay, but just this month, at RTX in Austin, Texas, one of my daughter’s heroes was, well, an ass.

She chose RTX, the convention for the production company Rooster Teeth for her senior trip.  I would have taken her to England or Japan, but she wanted to go to Austin and meet the men and women who make her favorite programs.

It’s her dream job to work for them.

We spent extra money on a VIP pass and she worked for weeks on cosplay and on making art to give as gifts to the celebrity folks to make the shows.

and the vast majority of them were LOVELY and fantastic and complimentary and everything we’ve come to expect and hope for at a convention.


Cosplay Daughter’s Felix  (RvB) Cosplay. These guys were GREAT


But one of the people she was hoping to meet was mean. And that’s really sad.

She stood in line for hours to meet the star of a show she likes (she wouldn’t want me to say which one), and when she got to meet him, she expressed what a big fan she was.

He then proceeded to quiz her on, “well did you see X episode”?

and when she faltered and wasn’t sure, he mocked her, because it was a “trick question”. “We didn’t do an episode about that.”

WTF dude.

Is this because she was female? Young? is he just mean? Who knows.

but out of all the stories she told me after her experiences, including fantastic ones, it was the experience she told me about the most. It hurt. It made her feel small and stupid. It crushed her.  Words like that are even stronger from someone you respect or admire.

Cosplay daughter used to want to code, until I sent her to a computer camp where she was outnumbered by insulting and abusive boys. This reminds me of that.

I’m just glad the positive outweighed the negative at RTX.

I don’t know why someone would behave like that. Arrogance. Misogyny. Damage. I don’t know. But it’s a very strong and valuable reminder to me about how much power both positive and negative feedback and interactions have.

I talked to cosplayers at the convention, mostly working my way down lines of people waiting to get into events. I met lots of wonderful, creative, supremely talented cosplayers like these


All fantastic gender-bent RWBY cosplayers!

Most of the cosplayers were open and happy and proud and ready to share. We would chat, and I’d take photos, and we’d talk materials and characters and backstories with the surrounding crowd.

But as I worked my way up one line, I saw two young Camp Camp cosplayers ahead trying to make themselves smaller and smaller. They couldn’t have had clearer body language that they didn’t want to talk to me. They drew down into themselves and tried to disappear.

So of course I left them alone.

But at the time, I wanted badly to just walk by and say something nice. And now I’m just so much hoping that they didn’t stand in line to meet the nasty celebrity. I hope they had a good and positive convention.

and I hope, very much, that I always remember this lesson. And say nice things. And be positive.

I want very much to be one of the 5 to 10 compliments that helps counter any insult a cosplayer receives.


My OCs are Showing- Fan Fiction and Original Character Shaming: Fandom’s Social Imaginary

So as I wonder “what on earth have I done” in taking on two simultaneous book contracts in my day job, the cosplay life around here goes on. Cosplay daughter has started a costuming internship, we have two upcoming conventions, and once again, the arts and crafts room has exploded. Stern words have been shared about limiting the flotsam to that room.

In and around this frenzy, I have recently learned about “OC shaming” and have come to realize that, once again, I am not nearly cool enough for the fandoms.

An “OC” is an original character, one that fans conceive of and develop through their love of the source material.  This is often found fan fiction- I believe that the deeply troubling Fifty Shades of Grey characters are OCs of the Twilight series.

I learned this lesson, because cosplay daughter and cosplay best friend are huge fans of the show Red vs. Blue:

a production of the company

a production of the company “Rooster Teeth”, hence the logo.

The show is a send-up of first person shooter games like Halo or Mass Effect and is relentlessly silly. Also, from my outside perspective, impossible to follow. But I’m not a gamer. Or 16 years old.

The girls are such fans, that they have developed, and enjoy sharing with each other, two original characters in that universe. These characters have names, elaborate backstories and their own plot lines.

As I heard about a new story that the girls were spinning for their characters, I was impressed at the detail and creativity, and suggested that they share it with the world as fan fiction. (So proud of myself for knowing what fan fiction is!)

However, what I didn’t know was that original characters are so disdained in the fandoms, that there is a whole world of making fun of both the characters and the people who invent them: OC shaming.  Cosplay daughter explained it to me this way:

-“Oh….your character is BEST FRIENDS with (insert name of famous character from the canon)…..Riiiigggghhhhtttt.”

This is so pervasive that on Tumblr (where the fandoms seem to live) the artists themselves have started a “OC shaming” tag that is similar to the dog or cat shaming:

OC shaming

An example from the Tumblr page of artist and cosplayer sawsbuckgo


I’m not sure what I think about this.

Generally, I have found the cosplay, art and fandom communities to be welcoming and supportive of difference and creativity.

So why would those same communities enforce strict adherence to “canons” and both shame and promote self-shaming of the fans?  What’s wrong with people taking some ownership of the universe(s) that they love?

I’m not sure. I suspect that part of it is that same fervent love of the canonical text/image/storyline.  Fans can be deeply protective of what they love so much.  And in the extreme, these are the same people who will tell others that they can’t cosplay a character of a different ethnicity, body shape or gender.  Those fans only want to see, in person, the same thing that they see on the page or screen.

I can remember feeling like that as a young fan.  I really, really loved Star Wars. And I really, really didn’t like the novels written about it.  It took the characters places that I hadn’t imagined them going or thinking things that I didn’t want them to think. I still don’t like Star Wars, Star Trek or Torchwood novels.

Hans and Leia

sorry. Not the best photo, but trust me. They were SO FUN.

But I did LOVE the gender-bent Hans and Leia at Cosplacon this year.

So why?

I think some of it has to do with the shared social imaginary. (Apologies here for geeking out PhD-style)

According to philosophers and other scholars, communities collectively construct a shared “imaginary”- an imagined set of values, laws, symbols and practices.  Members of the community then abide by and work within the space of those imagined parameters to function as citizens.

In the United States, one could argue, part of our social imaginary is the deeply held value of the right to free expression. And we (as a group) get very angry, defensive and accusatory of members of our community who challenge that value. (Hence the recent backlash against “political correctness.”

I wonder, if similarly, creating a new character violates the shared imaginary in a way that crossplay or creative versions of canonical characters doesn’t.  For example, do the fandoms accept Steampunk Darth Vader because he is a version of a part of our social imaginary already?


Not the one I saw at cosplacon, but impressive.

And then do we refuse to accept brand-new additions because we didn’t arrive at them collectively?


What I know is that most of my characters when I cosplay are OCs.  I have a steampunk pirate/smuggler who I based on members of my own family history, and an elf from the Tolkein Simarillion whose name I can never remember at conventions. (I admit. I picked a cool elf name from the text, because she loved trees. I love trees too).

2014-06-14 13.52.57

For the record: Melian.

And I enjoy cosplaying both, and probably get away with it because I’m not encroaching on anyone’s beloved canon.

But I suspect that if I tried to insert my original character into a beloved fandom, say……Firefly

My smuggler, Amelia Elizabeth Hawkhurst Avery, and Captain Mal. I was excited. Amelia and I are both Browncoats.

My smuggler, Amelia Elizabeth Hawkhurst Avery, and Captain Mal. I was excited. Amelia and I are both Browncoats.

That’s where I’d start to get shamed.

So as much as Amelia Elizabeth loved meeting Cap, I’ll keep them separate for now.

and continue being thankful for my daughter’s guidance into the world of the pop culture imaginary.