[quote]“When you cosplay, you’re not a nobody...You’re not a stranger. You’re suddenly a character that everybody here knows and loves and wants to interact with...like you’re an old friend.” [/quote]
---Briana Roecks, Comic-Con cosplay participant
Fantasy is no longer relegated to the nerdy fringes of society. Just look at the growing mainstream popularity of Comic-Con, an event that recently took place in San Diego (and for which The Onion offered a fitting faux-itinerary). Once a primarily comics-centric convention when it started in 1970, it now happens in multiple cities and attracts hundreds of thousands of people interested in all aspects of pop culture -- but with a decidedly Sci-Fi focus.
Some of the Comic-Con attendees opt to “get into character” for the show, dressing up like their favorite superheroes or comic book characters. This sort of cosplay -- or “costume play” -- involves dressing up as a fanciful character. For a moment, they are literally “living in a fantasy.”
Not limited to superheroes, cosplay has all sorts of niche enthusiasts, and chances are you’ve encountered at least one. If you’ve ever been to a Renaissance Fair or Disney World (which may not really be that magical after all), you’ve experienced a form of cosplay. Furries are into anthropomorphizing animals, and Bronies are into dressing up like My Little Pony (yes, this is a thing). One Russian woman aspires to embody a real life Barbie, and there are anime-inspired cafes in Japan where guys get “special attention” from women dressed like anime and manga characters. (But before you roll your eyes: Japan may be onto something -- exposure to “cuteness” can actually be therapeutic.)
More performance art than Halloween costume, cosplay has been called the modern form of western orientalism. But what motivates some of us to step outside the reality of our everyday lives and slip into a fantasy-inspired persona? Some think only an outcast would do such a thing -- but the scene is far too popular for us to be so dismissive of its complex allure. In costume, traditional societal categories like gender, race, and socio-economic circumstances fade behind the mythic grandeur of the character. As kids, we look for opportunities to engage in this sort of dress-up on a daily basis. Wearing a costume changes our sense of self -- of who we are and what we’re capable of. And sometimes even adults need to feel like a heroic avatar.
Want to learn more about the world of adult dress-up and maybe even try it out? Here are some suggestions:
Read: Check out Fandomania: Characters & Cosplay by Elena Dorfman and get an in-depth understanding of the cosplay phenomenon.
Watch: Tune into Heroes of Cosplay, a six part series debuting on the Syfy network on Tuesday, August 13th.
Wear: Dip your toe into the scene by wearing one of Adeen’s anime-inspired pieces.
Do: Venture to the Mother of all fantasy gatherings: Burning Man (Aug. 26 - Sept. 2). Or go to a local Kostume Kult event. If what they do doesn’t define and prove the mainstreaming of cosplay, I don’t know what does.