Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What Up Heroes of Cosplay?

My write-ups are finished for Heroes of Cosplay, the new SyFy television show that aired last night after a new season of Face-Off. I was asked by a few websites, costuming and geek related, to provide my opinion and analysis of the show. So consider this the full write-up because I have no limitations! It’s my personal blog. :D

I’m going to start out by saying the following: Reality television is not true reality. I made a similar statement about 2 years ago, but when it comes to “reality” tv, you might be amazed to find the number of producers, writers, and editors. Take for example, Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List that she even calls her "dog and pony show" of a low budget reality series. The crew of producers, operators, and editors is quite extensive. By no means as crazy as The Real World credits, but for as much “reality” as we tote these days, the bottom line is that this is a business. And what sells? Drama and people doing stupid things. That is what viewers will tune in to watch. To get a real day-to-day experience of a person on the Real World would be boring. No one wants to see a person making their lunch, going to the bathroom, or reading a book. They will only highlight the interesting events. And as our culture has become more focused on “reality” programming, we have come to expect fights and extreme performances. We are at that point where we expect the individuals on a show to act a particular part versus being their natural selves. The “reality” in reality television is no more than a sliver of life at its most extreme, and because we expect it, people make it into a much grander spectacle.

The bottom line is what Heroes of Cosplay showcases is a very tiny, tiny, tiny segment of the truth. Some of it felt fictionalized and overdone in order to play up for the cameras. Whether this was an editing choice or something that the individuals were directed to do, I can’t say. I have heard from others at the conventions where SyFy was filming that they requested certain actions be done, lines said, and what not. But it’s difficult to know for certain without having been there myself in person to experience it. I’m fully aware that a number of “reality” shows are scripted, on top of the heavy editing.

At the same time I’m trying to be respectful to all parties involved. There were two people that I knew in the premier episode that were featured and I truly believe they would have wanted cosplay and cosplayers to be exhibited in a positive light.

The truth is that yes, there are some cosplayers who are heavily involved in the competition scene and make it an important aspect of their cosplay hobby. Some are so involved that real-drama does happen. And there are quite a few people that I know personally who wait until the last minute to finish their costumes. Some people thrive on the pressure to complete something a week before a con. Others, like myself, would much rather spend 2 months on a costume and rest that week of a con so I’m not there scrambling. Personally, I don’t see the allure in spending 3 days on a costume and working on it at the hotel for a contest instead of walking around the con and having, well, fun. Because I paid for the fun, not to stress out over a costume. Again, that’s just me. There are a few people that love to do this so hey, if that floats their boats then that’s their deal. I won’t judge them for how they want to spend their time.

The “reality” aspect of Heroes of Cosplay that centers on competitions and people scrambling days before a contest to finish their pieces is true to form. It happens a lot (way more than any of us are willing to admit.) But that is just one tiny segment of the community. So let’s break down what the show is about. The focus on the show is on “top cosplayers” i.e. the people that are well known to other cosplayers or have a business revolved around this geeky hobby of ours. They enjoy something out of the contest scene that compels them to keep moving. And like any good business-minded person, why not use television exposure, good or bad, to help promote your brand?

From the first episode, it was made pretty clear that the show is going to center on people considered to be “the best” in cosplay because of their social networking fame, their notoriety in the geeky community, and are compelling to watch. You won’t see hours or days of people sewing. You won’t see people spending 3 hours at a fabric store comparing chiffons (been there!). You will never see the months, sometimes years, of planning out every costume detail. You won’t follow someone in the prop shop to make a staff from start to finish. You’re not going to see the weeks of heat forming Worbla to make armor. And you certainly won’t see convention floor hijinks unless it involves the people being featured and causes 1) interest 2) damaged costumes and/or 3) excess drama. This is strictly going to be about contests, watching people scramble to finish their costumes, and the fallout from the stress.

Now, having said all of that, I do feel that this isn’t properly portraying cosplay. From the opening credits, I was already shaking my head. There are a lot of misconceptions that were thrown out that need to be cleared up.

1.) “Cosplayers compete for top cash prizes for thousands of dollars at every convention.”
 
False. This was a statement made in the opening title screen. Most conventions have a prize that amounts to a title and maybe a physical item. That physical item is 9/10 of the time a dealer’s room leftover. When I won a Best Master’s award I received an ecci beach towel. I spent over 120 hours hand embroidering my costume and I got a towel for it. On the flip side, I have won some pretty cool stuff at other conventions. WonderCon was by far the best with my Star Wars package of posters, limited edition items, and a watch (only 5,000 were made and I have one!). Which was made even cooler once I had Ray Park, Darth Maul himself, signed one of my posters of this really cool Japanese scroll of his character in the film franchise. While a cash prize is amazing, most of us do not do it for the prizes. Because most prizes suck. We do it for the recognition and to test our skills. A lot of us just have fun with competing and it doesn’t matter if we win anything. We just want to show our stuff! 

2.)  Cosplayers spend thousands of dollars and years for a chance to compete.”

Not really. Most people in the community don’t like to be on the stage. They want to walk around a convention for fun. Very few cosplayers compete and even fewer are recurring winners. The competition aspect is a small subset of what cosplay is all about. I also found it amusing that “years” ended up being juxtaposed for days with the people they were following.

Aside: I’ve made costumes for less than $50. I just finished one where I’ve spent a grand total of $30 only to cover the cost of the wig. The fabrics were all remnants and you wouldn’t be able to tell until I pointed it out.

 3.)“Where contests can make you famous.”

Yaya Han is infamous in our community and she did use to enter a number of contests and win. But you know what? She’s one of the very few cosplayers that has gone through this route to create a business and a brand based off her winning status. Most others such as Jessica Nigiri, Vampy BitMe, and prop makers, like Vorpal or Repercussion, are not cosplay competitors. They are models and sculptors that embraced their hobby and have turned them into a business. They don’t enter their pieces into contests. Instead, they act and treat themselves like a brand and market where they can. Word of mouth and social media has pushed them to secure home businesses following their passions. They don’t need, nor ever needed, to be famous on a costume stage. General marketing techniques outside of the contest room have proven to be very effective for them.

Here is the truth: No one really cares about who wins a contest at the end of the day. I’ve won a number of them and if you ask anyone “hey, who won that contest at NakaKon in 2011?” they won’t remember my name. I am only known to friends and a few fans that follow my zaniness on Facebook and DeviantArt. Contests are about the costumes and the performance. Most spectators file out after the runway show. Very few actually stick around for the awards presentation. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve stood on a stage and have seen a nearly empty audience staring back at me during the ceremony, when the place was packed just an hour ago for the stage walks. Trust me. There is no glamor in competition.


So that was just the opening credits and I found three issues right off the bat. Does not bode well for the show!

For as much hate as the Twitter and Facebook sphere have been throwing around about Heros of Cosplay, I do want to say that there are a few real things to take away from it. Body image, for example with the Merida cosplayer. She spent a portion of the episode concerned about her weight and taking the time to exercise to fit the character. That is a fact that many cosplayers face. In accordance to everyone else out there, we need to look a certain way: be thin, pretty, and busty. Very few cosplayers embody that image, but that is something expected of us. And honestly? I thought she was beautiful long before she started to focus on her weight. It’s an important message to all cosplayers out there is that your size does not matter. Anyone and everyone can cosplay. The discussion of body issues didn’t really delve into it too much with the show, and I do appreciate the fact that this particular female cosplayer went the healthy route by exercising and dieting, but not on a crash diet system. But it should have been equally important for others to say that anyone can cosplay. Size, shape, color, religion, it doesn’t matter! (It was good to see that Futurama group, who had no affiliation with the SyFy show, win a prize at the first contest showcased because they had cosplayers of different body types.)

Another positive: Cosplayers have each other’s backs. For all of the “cattiness” real or fake that the show displayed, we did see a few instances of cosplayers taking a moment to help each other out. When Scruffy Rebel decided to take a break for a night out and a bit too much drinking, the Merida cosplayer stepped in and helped her out of a potential bad situation. We are a group that watches out for one another, friends or not. I know of very few other communities that are willing to help a person in need. This may be small thing to have noticed, but it says a lot about who we are.

There is so much more that I could discuss, but I don’t want to ramble on for too much longer. Yeah, it’s my personal blog, but we’re recording an episode for CosPod about this topic over the weekend as well. I need to save SOMETHING for the show. :D

If there is anything to take away from Heroes of Cosplay, it would be the following: Don’t take it at face value. There is so much more to the hobby then what is shown on television. Remember that they only focused on a small facet of  what these cosplayers went through. All of the normal, mundane, and sometimes boring times (because how long can you watch someone sew a straight seam?) are not going to be seen on television. They will focus on what tells the best story. More often than not, that will be the “drama.” But don’t dismiss it for being so narrow-minded. There are other things that have crept in that do bring up some good points and concerns that our community faces such as body image and the impact social media has had.

What you will see with this show is just a fraction of cosplay. So don’t completely dismiss it nor the people being highlighted. I’ve met and worked with some of them in the past and they are amazing to be around. Maybe not so much under stress, but that was the point of this show though: to see what happens when you are frantically sewing and crafting before a deadline. I’ll be watching for the rest of the season. The context won’t change, but I will be curious to see what else manages to work it’s way in.

Repercussions: Well we'll just have to wait and see. The responses I have seen on Twitter seem to fall into the following categories: Needs more Boobs. This isn't how cosplay really is. And, is that what cosplayers really do?


If you’re looking for an alternate take on cosplay, PBS Atlanta has released their documentary Cosplay! Crafting Secret Identity on their website. This aired on their station just about a month ago and has been promoted by a few of us crazy cosplayers. The focus of the documentary is on the Atlanta cosplay scene and DragonCon. When they released a 5 minute excerpt a few weeks back it made me smile. This is something that gives the reality of cosplay; the good, the bad, and everything in-between and it shows real people not just the models we idolize. I’d strongly recommend watching it (just under an hour long) if you are looking for a more accurate depiction of cosplay.

3 comments:

  1. Well said! I've come to hate this show (although I force myself to watch it) and I think you've articulated all of my reasons. Plus, you've pointed out some positives buried in the ... refuse.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much!

      I've been watching this show as more of a guilty pleasure. I know it's not accurate and there are some things going on that make me cringe. At the same time, I know that a few good points can come from it. Heck if it can encourage one more person to cosplay, then it's done it's job.

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