Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Heroes of Cosplay 1.5 Wrap-Up

My review of the Heroes of Cosplay 1.5 is done. Handed it in to the editor. Now! I can give my opinions. Huzzah! Marcus, if you’re reading this, I promise to keep it clean for re-posting.

I’m going to end up repeating myself a lot. Reality television is never “real.” Tens of thousands of hours of footage are recorded, and it’s up to the director and editor to take those tapes and create a story from it. Why? Because no one wants to watch 8 hours of a person sleeping, 2 hours of them eating, and their day to day normal routine. It’s boring. So the production team is going to take that footage and craft a story that will provide interest. Drama, fights, cattiness, backstabbing, pain, anxiety, fear: all of these factors make for a much attractive basis to start a story. And, as much as we dislike this, we are more inclined to watch something if it has that catty drama then a happy-go-lucky, everyone should be friends, plot. It’s an unfortunate fact of U.S. television. (Also, holy crap! Look at the number of staff for Heroes of Cosplay. Small crew my ass!) 

Having said all of that, and knowing that Heroes of Cosplay does indeed only showcase a tiny fraction of the spectrum of the hobby, I do have to say that I appreciate the direction of Season 1.5. I don’t know if it’s because of feedback from the community or from fans that enjoy the show in the first season, but the story telling has changed. It’s less about the fights and more focused on cosplayers being a community, helping one another, and general enjoyment of being in a costume/cosplay contest; versus Season 1 where it did harp more on conflict between certain people, cosplayers that didn’t get along, and out-of-context cosplayer bashing. This 1.5 break between seasons was nice. And it included more male cosplayers, who do make up a large portion of the community, despite what the internet would have you believe. Hell, we even got a Texas cosplayer in the mix. Rock on.

In an interview I had with Yaya Han for CosPod, she summed up her reaction to Heroes of Cosplay best: the fact that we have a show about cosplay on television shows just how far this hobby has come. We should be proud of that, and continue to work together as a community to bring a positive light to cosplay and cosplayers.  

Whether you follow Yaya Han, love her work, or dislike her after Heroes of Cosplay, she has a good point. Even a year ago, cosplay was considered a “thing” that some people did and we were still looked down upon by the general public (sometimes by the con-goers as well). But now that it’s out there, some people are more accepting of it. I have co-workers who would never consider talking about costuming who are now asking me questions to help out their kids who have become enamored by the show.

Another positive is the portrayal of the lead cosplayers in 1.5. Having met a number of these people on several occasions, I can say that they were given a more accurate representation on the show then in the last season. Yes, Chloe really is that nice and sweet. Yes, Holly and Jessica are like the odd married couple. Yes, Jesie is a funny smart ass, and I mean that in the nicest way possible, because smart asses can be hilarious people to hang around. But we don’t see enough of those moments on the show. We missed out on the cast members talking to other cosplayers, but at least we did get a more natural version of their personalities then what was presented in Season 1.

Now we get to the nitty gritty. The issues with the show.

The rumor mill on the internet started very early with Wizard World New Orleans, which was hosted in November of last year, where the last two episodes of Heroes of Cosplay took place. And just like Season 1, they split it into a 2-parter, claiming that the single and group contests were separate events on different days. They weren’t, so that’s one thing I wish SyFy would stop lying about. Most cons don’t split the single and group contests. The only ones that I’m aware of are the ultra big cons like SDCC and DragonCon (which I think has 5 different contests? I need to check the site again before I head out there). I only know of one, very small, local con that has separate dates for cosplay (single plus group) and skits. Otherwise, it’s unusual to have that occur. So just tell the truth SyFy. It was a one day event that took more than 6 hours to run through. There has to be SOME reality left in Reality Television. Quit altering a story so much that you have to make up how the sequence of events occurred.

And in prep for the misnomers in the episodes, Holly and Jessica of CrabCat were ready to go with their rebuttals via Tumblr to clear up confusion. There will be some people who will not believe them, and everyone is entitled to their own opinions. What it pairs down to is your personal point of view and trying to take in as much information as you can before you derive a conclusion.

The issues going on at Wizard World are mufti-faceted. It’s not just Heroes of Cosplay crew and cast, but the staff at the convention itself. Based on the Tumblr schmorgesborg post rebel666 was kind enough to compile from stories around the internet, it seems as though miscommunication was the biggest problem amongst everyone. This is where I have to point out that not all of the stories posted were bad. One was from a cosplayer who had a very real world approach to it: multiple parties were involved, so it’s not just one person/group to blame. Wizard World has received a large amount of criticism over the years across multiple events with how staff members treat convention goers and cosplayers, even having some insane photography rules (if your camera looks too professional you can’t go in, what?). Based on the accounts that have been posted online, I’m not surprised to read that so many people had problems with the costume contest. But Wizard World also has been featured on the show in Season 1 with Wizard World Portland. Is it any surprise that they want more marketing to the geeks of SyFy in turn for letting a camera crew in to film?

Money. It makes the world go round.

Not having been there to experience it, I don’t want to take a personal stance on the events of Wizard World New Orleans. But I do think the producers of the show need to take their heads out of their butt and stop lying about the chain of events. Please don’t try to convince me otherwise that they are not lying. When you blatantly state on the show that the individual contest is on one day, and the group is on another, but in the real world it’s not, that’s a lie. HOC could really use a nice injection of more reality, giving people a chance to see what actually happens at a costume contest, the waiting, the pain, and the frustration. Isn’t that what they were trying to go for anyway?

Because of these issues, and how heavily staged the contest felt, it almost seems like SyFy was cheating the home viewers on an opportunity to see a real cosplay show. Yes. Those contests did look set up to a point that I could not believe that what I was watching was a cosplay contest. (Has anyone else noticed that 1.5 focused more on comic book shows and less on anime cons? I’m wondering if it’s because comic shows are easier to transform and adjust to the show’s needs where as anime cons have structured rules and requirements for their contests.) Having competed in dozens of contests of different varieties and levels, worked staff, judging and press, this is what I can say was really weird about how those contests are featured on Heroes of Cosplay:

1.                Interviewing contestants on stage. 

This is odd. I have only been to one contest where this has happened in the past 9 years. And they only did this to help stretch out time. Five contestants entered, instead of the 20+ they were hoping for, and since they had the room for 2 hours, they gave the cosplayers a chance to talk to the audience about their process. Okay. That’s completely feasible given the small number of entries, and it was kind of cool to learn how people made their garments. When it’s 50+ contestants? No way. No time. That’s insane. What bothered me even more is that they only featured the HOC cast. We almost never saw the other contestants being asked questions, so it felt even more staged (did they even interview the other contestants on the stage or were they ushered off?)

In fact, the only contest where I saw judging  and stage display that is atypical of a convention was the Ottawa Pop Expo. That was a fairly normal scenario. 


2.                Hosts and judges special entrance.

When judges are announced, they will usually stand up from their seat at an unassuming table in the front of the audience, wave a hand, and sit back down. The same applies to the host of the show. They’ll get a round of applause and its back to business. Never is there a spectacle of introducing each one out to the stage. The final episode where Yaya Han got her own walk-on catered to her character to announce her as the co-host was unusual on a new realm. That is when I really felt the “this is staged” moment, because it no longer appeared like an authentic contest. It was too manufactured; too prettied up. Most big name starts in anime and comics don’t get that type of entrance – just an overhead announcement, stand up, wave, and sit back down. It felt like HOC was trying to push the specialness of SyFy being at the con. And having a professional cable tv crew there made the con more willing to bend to their needs.


 3.                On stage judges.

This does occur sometimes, but not as often as HOC made it out to be. I rarely see judges placed on the same stage as the contestants. Why? The event is about the cosplayers, not the judges. And in giving them that respect, the cosplayers are allowed full use of the stage to bring their costume to life. It’s not unheard of, and a few cons that I have attended would do this because of space issues (small room, lots of audience members), but more often than not, judges are out in the front row with the audience. And personally, I like that experience as a judge better. When you’re on the stage, you feel that more of the focus is on you, not just from the people viewing but the cosplayer themselves. They’re more interested in you and less likely to show off their garment to the people watching (because you have prizes, they don’t). It does their work disservice when they can’t perform to the audience. And as a judge in the crowd, you get a better understanding for the cosplayer when they act for everyone, not only to reserve themselves to the judges on the stage.


4.                Pre-set judges appearing at multiple cons.

Jason David Frank needs to be given a gold medal in his participation on the show. He was at several of the judging’s and man, by that last round he looked like he had been beaten down. I bet he was tired of the cameras constantly around him. This isn’t a rant against Frank. He is one of the coolest celebrities you will ever meet. Ever. Humble, honest, and loves having fun with his fans. There is no better person to hang with. But the constant badgering by the crew for judging a cosplay contest, surely annoying.

Anyway, it was odd that a lot of the same people made the rounds as judges for HOC. Ivy Doomkitty. Jason David Frank. Just to name a few. This isn’t meant to bash on them in particular, but this is almost unheard of to have a group of people consistently judge costume contests around the country. Mostly because we need variety, but even the best judges has some form of biased view. They’re more likely to choose the same set of winners or types of costumes. That’s why we like different types of judges: it gives everyone equal footing to win in the contest.  It appears that SyFy specifically requested those particular people and paid for that right, because they provide good content for the cameras. Just a thought…

And then you have the general complaints overall: Most cosplayers don’t wait until the week of the con to work on their costume. These guys aren’t real “heroes”; talk to the 501st or the Superheroes that visit children’s hospitals. People don’t stalk the front doors waiting on cosplayers to walk in and bombard them with photo requests (btw, SyFy, I’m sure there are other camera flash noises that you can use by now that is in the free library. Change it up a bit). I’d never been allowed late to a contest, and to leave at my leisure. Etc. I’m not going to rehash them. These are much stronger opinions that people hold and my point of view is not going to sway you one way or the other.

As a whole, HOC has improved. There will be controversy and lots of questions thrown about. Personally, I’m interested in seeing what will happen with Season 2 as it continues to develop as a series. I leave you with this parting through that I keep repeating (like I said I would be): if this show can convince one person to try cosplaying, then it has done its job.



If you'd like to read an alternate point of view from someone who was at the contest, I'd recommend this one from Nerd But Flirty that has been posted on a few Tumblr and Twitter feeds.

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