Sunday, September 14, 2014

cosplay etiquette: maintaining perspective

Fair warning: this is probably the only time you'll ever see the words "country singer Trace Adkins" and "cosplay" together in the same blog post. I guarantee it's the only time you'll ever see me mention a country-themed cruise to Jamaica. So bear with me--I'm actually going to make a point about cosplay.


Back in January of this year, country music star Trace Adkins had a confrontation with a fan on a cruise ship where Adkins was supposed to be the headlining act. It's not clear whether Adkins lost his cool because he'd been drinking, or whether the persistent tomdickery of this single white fanboy (who was singing karaoke and signing Adkins-like autographs at the time of the incident) knocked Adkins off the wagon after 12 years of sobriety. But all accounts agree that it was a public, verbal dressing-down, and Adkins got off the ship and checked himself into rehab as soon as they reached dock.

This is the kind of story that makes me squirm for all involved, but after putting myself in both parties' shoes my sympathies are 90% with the celebrity. This fan was following Adkins around and pretending to be Adkins. Though I can't say whether any laws were broken, a good lawyer could probably make a case for likeness rights violations, stalking, and identity theft in a civil lawsuit.

Of course, all of us cosplayers and fan-art-makers are violating copyright to one extent or another, but at least we're mimicking imaginary people. To cosplay a living person and to show up at his shows… that's just creepy. 

(I know I'll be creeped out the first time I see somebody cosplay one of *my* characters. Think how horrific it will be when some dude appears at my autograph table dressed as Jacob Tracy and expects me to be his Miss Fairweather. I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.)

Now, how does this apply to cosplay, where most of us are playing imaginary characters? Well again it has to do with appreciating the line between reality and fantasy. We all get into cosplay because we like to imagine ourselves as another person in another place, but the sad reality is we're still living in boring old Kansas. Any time you stop playing the character and start presenting yourself as the character, it's a potential problem. And that particularly applies to meeting the actors and/or creators of said character. 

Look, you're already a guy/gal wearing a costume in public. If you go around acting like you really are in Rivendale or Hogwarts or the bridge of the Starship Enterprise people are legitimately going to suspect there's something wrong with you. So here are a few guidelines to know if you're taking it too far:

Scenario A. You're in costume and somebody asks you for a picture. You whip out your best hero pose, brandish your weapon, and snarl. Pic snapped. Cards exchanged. Back to being a guest at a con. All very normal.

Scenario B. You're in costume and some little kid calls you by the name of your character. You immediately fall into character, kneel down and talk to the kid and pose for a couple of cute pics for the kid's parents. You're on your best behavior, the kid's happy, the parents are happy, you feel vindicated. Kid goes on her way and you revert to being a guest at a con, only with a well-deserved sense of done-good. 

Scenario C. You're dressed as Wesley Crusher because you have the chance to meet Wil Wheaton! You're going to get his autograph and a pic and a handshake and WHEEE you'll be the bestest friends evah! Personally, I wouldn't do this. But I know people do, and I think the best approach here is to behave as normally as possible (i.e. Be Yourself) when meeting your idol. Say you like their work. Say their portrayal of the character inspired you. Probably best not to be too confessional here, and definitely don't try to trump the actors' performance with your own impersonation of the character. (I used Wil Wheaton as an example here because he's known to be super-welcoming to his fans. But still, I say, don't expect the celebrity to be your dancing monkey. Wil Wheaton is not your bitch.)

Scenario D. You're dressed as Lady X on the way to meet the creator of Lady X: super-hot comic artist/writer John X. Doe. Many creators love this, but some hate it. Do some research and approach your author accordingly. Again, if you're in costume, probably best to speak to the creator in your own voice, not try to impress them with how much you resemble Lady X and how well you know her back story and how much you'd love to pose for the next comic book and can he help you land the role in the upcoming movie. Not smooth.

Scenario E. There was a story about a year and a half ago about a teenager who was denied admittance to Disney World because her Tinkerbell costume was too accurate and the park management didn't want child guests thinking she was the 'official' Tinkerbell. This, to my mind, falls into the same category as the Trace Adkins cruiseship story above. There are appropriate times and places for cosplay. Don't infringe on the original's territory or you may find yourself bitch-slapped by an angry behemoth.


But Holly! you're whining, Why are you raining on our parade? Isn't cosplay just for fun? Shouldn't we  be allowed to have fun and make-believe? 

Sure. But keep in mind that your reality, and your rights to enjoy that reality, don't really extend beyond your own skin. When you start demanding that other people validate your reality, it gets uncomfortable in a hurry. 


Jan Gephardt said...

I don't think I've ever seen it summed up quite that nicely before, but you've offered a clear delineation of what's fun, vs. when it slides over into creepy.

Holly said...

Thank you Jan!