GeekPlanetOnline’s Editor-in-chief, Matt Dillon, is a man of many passions - although most of them involve a joystick. In this semi-regular column, he shares his thoughts on life, love and the pursuit of video games (and occasionally other things).
It’s convention season! At least, it is for me; as I write this I’m on my way to the Sci-Fi Weekender in Wales, a con that I’ve been attending off and on for five or six years now. The con isn’t without its controversy, of course – few cons are – but it’s a rare opportunity to meet up with friends from all around the country all in one place, and frankly the organisers give away tickets like sweeties, since they make the bulk of their profit on the accommodation.
Like all SF/F-themed conventions, SFW is a bright, loud and colourful affair; the geek community loves to fly its colours, after all, and what better place to wear your fandom on your sleeve – often quite literally – than an enclosed venue surrounded by hundreds of like-minded people? There’s certainly nothing quite like a SF con to bring out the play in cosplay.
Sadly, however, there are always a few who spoil things for the rest of us, and at conventions, aside from the sorts of arseholes who treat costumes as consent – a whole other, sordid topic that deserves a column of its own – these are typically the Gatekeepers. You get Gatekeepers in every fandom, from sport to Star Trek; the sort of sneering bore who loudly proclaims that you can’t possibly be a real fan because you’re female/young/can’t draw on an encyclopaedic level of experiences to answer obscure trivia questions. However long you’ve been a fan, however much of the media that you have consumed, they are still a more experienced – ergo, better – fan than you.
Cosplay tends to attract the worse of the Gatekeepers; it’s not enough to have been a fan of your chosen franchise from the year dot, or to be able to rattle off fact after fact without having to check Google. It’s not enough to be dressed as your favourite character. Good LORD, no. In order to pass inspection, your costume needs to be screen or page accurate, down to the last stitch, and you need to have made it yourself. How DARE you walk around in your purchased costume? Never mind that somebody else made it by hand; you didn’t. You’re not a real fan! How very dare you! Away with you, and learn to sew!
And naturally – because they always do – people of colour (in particular, women of colour) bear the worst of the worst criticism. You can’t cosplay Supergirl, she’s white! Oh, you’re cosplaying Spider-Man? You must be Miles Morales, because you sure ain’t Peter Parker! Pffft! She-Hulk doesn’t wear a Hijab! Why don’t you cosplay Ms. Marvel instead?
For the record, if you so much as think things like this, you’re an arsehole.
And of course, I understand where this vile, abusive sentiment comes from. Geeks, as a rule, are generally battered people, whether from bullying, domestic abuse, mental health issues or a heady cocktail of all three; most of us grew up having our interests challenged, our fandoms questioned and our identities attacked on a regular basis, so it’s understandable that some of us end up inhabiting that fandom AS our identity. If you’re owning that fandom to that degree, instinctively you’re going to guard it jealously.
If you are one of these people, however, you need to understand something: you’re not protecting yourself or your fandom. You’re not protecting a franchise which only cares about you in terms of how much money that you spend on it*. All you’re doing is subjecting other people to the sort of crap that you endured growing up; pissing all over their enthusiasm just like your tormentors did to you. And trust me, nobody watching you thinks you’re cool, edgy or clever; most of us think that you’re an arse, or prefer not to think of you at all. You’re not impressing anybody, least of all the fellow fans that you belittle.
So here’s an idea for you; the next time you see somebody in a cosplay that, for whatever reason, doesn’t meet with your approval, try finding something about it to compliment rather than trashing it, even if that’s just the effort and love that went into creating it. Make that fan feel welcome rather than rejected. Become the friend, the defender that you didn’t have. Make the convention scene a better place, one act at a time.
Seriously, though, if you see somebody sexually assaulting a cosplayer feel free to drag them out of the con by their balls.
* A harsh truth, but one we all have to learn at some point.