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.

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