Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween: Blurring the lines between costume and cosplay

Alright, so you read the title and you thought "What the heck is this guy talking about?  Cosplay is for weirdos.  Halloween is absolutely normal."  Or, you may have thought, "What the heck is cosplay?"  Or perhaps even, "Does this guy have a girlfriend?  Because he really, really needs one."  I will respond to all but the last possible questions on your collective mind.

So folks, I'm going to try and sound smart while digging into the past of Halloween, the history of cosplay, and the present amalgam that they make up, in order to show that though they may seem very different, they are in face becoming nearly synonymous.

We'll start with Halloween.  Surprisingly, it's much simpler.  Traditionally the costumes used on Halloween are of supernatural characters; ghosts and goblins, vampires and werewolves, dwarfs and elves, etc.  Going "guising", as it was called, became popular sometime the late 19th century in Ireland and Scotland, and by the early 20th century the concept had crossed the Atlantic and become vogue in American circles, for adults as well as children.  Mass produced costumes started in the 1930's when trick-or-treating became popular among children.

Now, onto the history of cosplay.  First, a definition, from the ever-wise source of Wikipedia:

"Cosplay (コスプレ kosupure?), short for costume play, is a performance art in which participants called cosplayers wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character or idea that is usually identified with a unique name."

Ok, so that's a good little review of what it is.  Here's where it gets interesting.  The common conception is that the hobby of cosplay is Asian in origin, specifically from Japan, but costume play was already a hobby in the United States before it reached Asia.  That's right, someone dressed up as a "Mr Skygack from Mars", a science fiction comic character in 1908.  (You can look it up, but he really was a comic book character, and someone really did dress up as him.)

Although it was almost certainly something odd and unknown in those days, now cosplay has become quite prevalent.  Take the recent Salt Lake Comic Con in September for example.  It had over 120,000 attendees, and Stan Lee, the comic legend, purportedly declared it "the greatest comic con in the world."  It was an incredibly popular and huge event...and many of those 120,000 who attended were doing cosplay.

Now, we introduce Halloween a month or two later.  In the past, perhaps we would have expected costumes of vampires, ghosts, the Reaper, Frankenstein's monster, maybe a ninja or something.  But now?  Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and many other comic book characters are the most prevalent.  That's certainly not part of the classic Halloween tradition.  I mean, last time I checked Iron Man wasn't a supernatural figure.

So what's happening?  Is Halloween just becoming another excuse to cosplay?  That's how the trend seems, but I don't think that many will think of it as cosplay.  And yet, as geek become chic, more and more children and adults will unwittingly start wearing costumes that 20 years ago would only have been seen in a comic convention.

To be fair to all those hard-core cosplayers who are out there, cosplay is a lot more than just dressing up in a costume.  It's acting the role, paying homage to the persona that you are emulating.  Sometimes, those who dress up for Halloween enjoy doing the same; in that case at least, their actions do seem to indicate that they are stepping into the shoes of a cosplayer.

I can imagine you, right now, right brow arched ever so slightly, with smug grin plastered on your face, saying "This is such a dull subject; I simply cannot fathom how it could be of interest to anyone but you" in a rather British, aristocratic accent.

And I can imagine me hitting you in the face with a pie, sticking my tongue out, and saying "I don't care I thought it was cool so there meany-head!"

I'm a lot less mature inside my head.

But either way, I don't mean to bore you this Halloween night with this story.  I hope that you had a great time with friends and/or family.  I hope that you have a great weekend.  But also, I hope that the next time you see someone dressed up, cosplaying as some guy or girl with crazy hair, your first thought isn't "Wow, that guy (or girl) is a total loser".  I hope that you don't mock something that is no stranger than dressing up as a vampire or ghoul just because you don't understand it.  I hope that you don't put down or demean those who honestly enjoy those kinds of nerdy things.

Because we've had enough of that, thanks.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

All's fair in love

Ok, so this is a real life story, which will be told in as accurate a way as possible.  (Names, demeanor, and/or gender may or may not be changed)  ;)

I work at the Harold B. Lee Library, as many of you may know.  If you don't, suffice it to say that it's a big library at Brigham Young University, and I'm a security guard.  Now, usually, this involves sitting at a desk and telling people not to bring Jamba Juice into the library, but this last Saturday I was persuaded to help out a co-worker by working at the BYU-UNR football game.  

I'd done this once before, and while it was a long and exhausting experience, I didn't dislike it.  At least, not that much.  So, with some dragging of my feet, I took my post at the crosswalk between the Marriott Center and the LaVell  Edwards Stadium.  The job was simple; keep the pedestrians from crossing when they shouldn't and/or getting themselves killed.  So, I directed them in a friendly fashion from 5:45 till 8:15, when the game was going to start.  

Alright, that was all kind of back story.  Here's where it gets meaty.  A young man was standing at this crosswalk, asking any and all who passed by,

"I need two tickets!  Does anybody have two tickets?"  

And so on and so forth.  A few stopped and told him that there was a man further down selling tickets, but he glumly replied that he didn't have any money.  A few others asked why he needed tickets, and he said that they were for his mother and sister.  

This continued for about 2 hours, until finally an elderly man came and pulled out two tickets.  I was standing nearby, and as the tickets exchanged hands, I casually asked him,

"Why did you need those tickets?  Is it terribly urgent?"

"They're for my sister and my mom."

He seemed annoyed at my question.  Something seemed fishy, but I dismissed my apprehensions.  After all, the kid had a right to beg for tickets for his family, right?  Maybe they're just really poor , hardcore BYU fans, right?


After about 10 minutes, I spied this youth on the other side of the crosswalk, holding the two tickets up in the air.  I wondered why he would be doing that, and so I crossed over to that side.  

"Hey!  Do you need more tickets?  What are you doing with those ones?"  

He glared at me, and muttered, "I'm selling them."  

I must admit, my jaw dropped a few inches, at least in my mind.  He must have noticed, because he defensively said, "I need a new scooter, alright?"  

I stared at him, aghast.  Then, I turned to the people gathered at the crosswalk.  I was angry.

So I said, "HEY!  Anyone want some tickets?  Two tickets right here, freshly begged off of some guy just 10 minutes ago!  Anyone?"  

He glared at me more fiercely, and the crowd stared at me and at him, looks of confusion and bemusement on their faces.  He turned and scurried away.  

"Good riddance" I said to myself.  

This was not the end, however!  30 minutes later, I see him again, with an older buddy on the other side of the crosswalk.  Tickets exchanged hands, and they began hawking their ill-gotten wares.  

So, I did the only reasonable thing.  I went over and tried to help advertise.  

"Ladies and Gentlemen, we have tickets here for sale, freshly begged from fans like you!  Anyone need some tickets?"  

The older boy (should I say man?  No, he must have been at least 20, but no.) came up to me and started to rant angrily.  

"Hey, looks like we've got a real DOOFUS here!  Yeah, this guy's a real fool!"

Then, he got about an inch away from my face, and hissed, "What's your problem, huh?  We're just trying to make a buck, so back off!"  

"Well, I'm just trying to help you advertise.  What's the problem with that?  After all, I saw you beg those tickets off of other people for your 'family'"

"You wanna punch me, huh?  Punch me!  Punch me, big man!"  

"Why would I want to punch you"

"What's your problem, man?"  

"Oh, just that I believe in human decency and honesty."

He threw his arms up in the air and sneered. "Decency!  Wow, we've got a real doofus here!"

I just shook my head and left, resigned to the fact that he would not be dissuaded from selling the tickets.  There's an epilogue to this story.  After the game, when I was at the same spot, the second boy came up to me, yelling, "How much did you make, huh?  How much did you make?

Okay, so that's pretty much the end of the story.  However, I fear that this is not an isolated event.  It seems that human decency takes leaves when the game starts.  During the game, I saw grown men hurling infantile insults at the players.  Why?  Because they happened to make a good tackle.  I saw a 50 year old man blatantly ignore the words of a security officer and climb under the rails like a child, rather than walk the 15 feet to the stairs.  What is this?  Is there some secret agreement in society that I've never heard of that accepts childish and idiotic acts as long as it's at a football game?

Now, before you just assume that I'm completely naive and have never run into rude people before, let me assure you that I have been insulted, physically spat upon, and punched in the face by very rude and angry people.  But, for some reason it didn't seem to affect me as much.  Maybe because they didn't act like it was something that should be acceptable.

Who knows?  Maybe these specific people are the same way.  But I'm afraid that statistically, many of them are likely members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  And as a member of said church, I expect a certain degree of "human decency" out of fellow brothers and sisters.  A level of decency that condemns the begging of tickets under false pretenses in order to turn a profit.

Was it legal?  Probably.  But hey, I'm no lawyer.  Was it moral?  Absolutely not.  Those who proclaim to be honest in their dealings with their fellow men would not do such a thing as this.  He seemed to view his wheeling and dealing as equivalent to my job.  I was hired to protect people.  He was lying to get gain.  There is no equivalence.

Here's my plan.  If you go to BYU football games, just don't play into the system.  Buy your tickets ahead of time, and try not to buy extras.  If you have extras, try to give them to someone that you know and trust.  Because as long as people keep giving out tickets and buying them like this, the corruption will continue.

And if you happen to be reading this and you deal in this chicanery?

You should be ashamed.  And I hope that you can recognize that before you carry your deceit into something a lot more important.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Internet Privacy! (Or the lack thereof...)

I’m back, and I’ve got a new post for all of my adoring fans! (most likely my Mom and possibly my little sister.)  I realized that hey, life’s too short to agonize over writing great blog posts.  Maybe my blogs will be grammatically wild, filled with a glut of syntactic faults and void of literary merit.  You know what I say to that?
Pppppphhhht!  Yeah, that’s right.  Lickitongue cares not for your haughty English ideals!

Alright, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get down to business.  (To defeat!  The Huns…)

No!  I’m going to stay focused.  Well, here’s the story anyway.  I was walking around in my uniform as a security officer at the Harold B. Lee Library when I ran into an employee who started to talk to me about an article that he was reading on the web.

He said, “Do you have a smartphone?”

I replied.  “Yes.”

He said, “Do you have a flashlight app on that smartphone?”

I replied, with some trepidation, “No.”  

He relaxed a bit, and said, “Oh.”

I waited for him to continue.

“Well, I’ve been reading about how they are using these apps to spy on us, through our telephones.  Isn’t that something?  Using the devices that we buy to spy on us.”

I smiled a bit and turned around, commenting as I left, “That’s the price we pay, I guess.”
I got to thinking about this, though, since the issue of internet privacy has been tossed around a lot in the past few months.  And here’s what I thought.

First of all, I do believe that we have to pay a price to have access to the knowledge that we have.  Nothing is free in this life, though many of us are led to believe the opposite.  Knowledge gained without any sacrifice is usually knowledge not worth having in the first place.  We have access to a great deal of knowledge through use of the internet and other digital means.  But, generally, to access this information, we have to be connected to the network(s) that provide it.  And that connection can lead to a loss of privacy.

Now, I realize that there are many important pieces of data that we keep on the internet, such as our banking, business, and professional information that we obviously want to keep private.  I’m not going to address that right now, since that’s a whole ‘nother scope of this issue.  I’m just going to talk about the morality of internet relations.  

We can’t have the “best of both worlds” (Sorry, I know that the trope is horribly overused).  I could isolate myself and thus avoid the negative influence of everyone and everything that could possibly affect me, but the second I allow another person into my existence, I run the risk of losing my privacy.  And the risk is multiplied exponentially when I allow (potentially) millions of people to have access to information about myself.  

This in no way justifies the immoral actions of others when they invade my privacy.  In a rapidly expanding technological world, to function in society it is practically a necessity to be connected to the internet.  And I think that it will only become even more necessary.  I can’t imagine our world heading a direction in which the internet will become obsolete, unless it were replaced by some other form of international and intercultural connection that is even more accessible and useful.  

With that somewhat bleak image in mind, it can be frightening to consider the kind of people you can run into on the internet.  Believe me, I’ve been to 4chan.  The mask of anonymity spawns vileness and immorality like a plague, and there is little that any one individual or government can do to stop that.  And I don’t think that is the answer, nor can it possibly be the answer.  

What if my phone got hacked, right this instant?  What would I fear?  Would I be afraid that the cruel messages I write about people I know get posted on the internet?  Would I be afraid that others could see inappropriate pictures that I view?  Would I be afraid of the shame and social stigma that this would cause?  

No, because I simply don’t do things like that.  

The issue is not whether the world will know about the bad things that I do or not, it’s whether I do them or not.  Morally, I could broadcast any horrible thing that I do over the internet or be the only one on earth that knows about it, but in the end, it doesn't matter.  It’s still horrible.  So I shouldn’t do it.  That’s my personal moral code and my decision.  

So, in conclusion, we need to realize that there are bad people on the internet.  And often, they will not care about your privacy.  And although that is lamentable, it is a fact.  So, if you really want to avoid losing control of something embarrassing that you’ve done, just don’t do it in the first place.  Or if it’s already done, don’t post a video of it on Youtube.  

Okay, that was a long rant.  Sorry folks, sometimes things like this happen.  Feel free to comment, at least, if you can.  I’d love to know what you think.