LocalCon 2015, and The Darker Side

GraniteCon-2014-Black-Canary-Harley-and-Red-HoodOn Saturday the family and I (myself, my wife, daughter, and my brother) went to the local “Granite Sate ComicCon” (ComiCon? ComicOn?) which is held at the Radisson in (semi) beautiful downtown Manchester. On a scale of “collector’s basement” to SDCC, I’d say this rates much closer to the former. This year’s claim to fame, though, was Billy Dee Williams in honor of the “Year of Star Wars“. We also hosted Larry Wilcox (“CHiPs” for those old enough to remember), Dawn Wells (From “Gilligan’s Island” for those who are even older), and a few other, more comic-con worthy guests. There’s also local and semi-local artists and authors, and booths selling all kinds of geek stuff.

I don’t have any pictures, sadly, since we did a basic circuit of the floor, and then went off to get lunch. Thankfully it wasn’t too expensive to get in for one day. The intent of a “comic book convention” was, of course, the artists and authors and the guests, but since my daughter is a budding cosplayer, one of the real draws was for her to see other cosplayers “in the wild”. We had attended the Boston Anime Con earlier this year and there were plenty of cosplayers there, especially anime cosplayers (which is my daughter’s particular focus), but the more she sees them in action, I’m hoping the more comfortable she’ll be in participating (she didn’t dress up today, though).

But we sat outside the building this afternoon, since we had fantastic weather today, and other attendees had the same idea. There were a lot of people outside, milling about, coming and going, and a lot of them were cosplayers. I was watching them while hanging out there, and I thought something weird:

I’ve been a lifelong geek, before it was “cool”, and still am today. I write a blog on video games. I wear geeky clothing (even to work, where no one probably knows what the heck it all means). I go to these conventions now that I have folks lined up to go with, and now that they’re semi-near me so I can travel to them with minimal expense. But watching those cosplayers, standing out in the courtyard of the building, about 500 feet from one of the main streets in the city of Manchester, I realized I would never be as hardcore as those folks.

I grew up when being a geek wasn’t something you advertised, but even now that I’m an adult, and believe that people can generally go fuck themselves with their contrary opinions on the value of being a geek, I still harbor some vestigial reluctance to go as far as cosplayers do. I can understand “professional” cosplayers who have name recognition, because they (probably, I dunno) get paid to show up and associate their brand with the event they attend, but 99% of the people I’ve seen do it because they love it, and they love to show it, and they have zero issues with people thinking ill of them. That has to be an incredibly liberating feeling. Not only that, but there are all kinds of people — gender, size, shape — that cosplay how they want, and because they want. No one is going to shame them into feeling bad about their choice of character or their craftsmanship. They all have some serious dedication to their art, and to the geeky lifestyle.

I’ve written about it before, but I’ll reiterate it here: sometimes I wish I’d been born later in life, because while I have the extended experience in the field of Geekology, there’s baggage that I (and others like me) carry that I think prevents us from reaping the full benefits of our long-term dedication. I don’t know that we should pat ourselves on the back and say that “we fought for the privilege of others” to go out and cosplay with confidence, but I think that had I been born later my circumstances would probably be different having grown up in an environment where this kind of activity isn’t as “weird” as it would have been when I was younger.

*  *   *

I had written the first half of this post on Saturday night while the idea was fresh in my mind, but this addendum is being added on Monday morning because I’m still angry about it.

Sunday my daughter was invited to her friend’s house, so my wife and I dropped her off after our weekly breakfast with my father. Her friend lives in Manchester, and I think we’d consider her parents to be friends of ours, or at least very close acquaintances,  which means we always end up chatting with them after my daughter and her friend have gone off to watch anime.

Let me see if I can summarize what lead up to what I want to talk about: My daughter and her friend are both interested in cosplay. There’s an anime convention coming up in Manchester in October that my daughter’s friend and another friend were planning on attending. However, my daughter’s friend got herself grounded, and her punishment was that she can no longer go to this convention. OK, that’s a good summary. This story lead us into talking about cosplayers.

My daughter’s friend’s parents (we’ll call them The Parents for short) have a very dim, very…let’s say offensive view of cosplayers that they freely related to us in that tone that tells you that they expect you’re in on the joke and are going to naturally agree with them. They said that they always viewed those who dress up for these events as emotionally stunted people who couldn’t let go of their childhood. Basically they stopped short of calling them “mentally retarded”, but the insinuation was there. They then tried to divide me from them by saying something to the effect that even though I play video games and “wear Spider Man pajamas” (which I don’t, but I’ll relate the story that sourced that gem at another time), I was an otherwise normal, well adjusted human being.

I think that’s what they said; I couldn’t really hear very well over the sound of my rising blood pressure. Under every other circumstance with The Parents, I keep my mouth shut when they go off on one of their tangents (they’re pretty vocal Conservatives, and I don’t care to get involved in political quote-discussions-unquote, no matter what), but this time I kind of let them have it. I was proud of myself; I didn’t use any swears. But I told them that they were way off base. Cosplayers are normal people who are very passionate about their hobby, and are very talented and dedicated. They form communities with communities, they make friends, trade tips and stories, and they don’t do it because they’re unable to function at an adult level. Some people do it professionally, and get paid for it. Their craftsmanship is top-notch, professional special effects/professional costumer grade that could be on TV or in movies, and they do it on a budget that makes ILM look like it was run by the government. Even the street-level cosplayers who we saw the day before, whom I’ve seen at PAX and Anime Boston, put a whole lot of time an effort into their craft. It’s really no different from people who fix up old cars, or (gawd help me) those who paint themselves up for football games. It’s all about creativity and expression, not about some feeble-minded clutching of childhood.

Even now I’m still pissed off about it: that they are so ignorant, and latch on to the first and easiest possible explanation they could bother to come up with as a blanket rationale for how to refer to a legion of people. To make it worse, my people from my community who love the same things I love, and who have the balls (literally and figuratively) to express their creativity and love of their hobbies in ways that make even me feel like a poseur. It also made me angry because this is the kind of attitude that surrounded me when I was growing up, although this time it was carefully neutered in an attempt to not be directed at me, and delivered in a faux-conspiratorial manner assuming that I was in on the joke this time. It was still the same hate and the same bullying and the same narrow-minded ignorance, just covered over by a pitifully thin veneer of “adulthood”.

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5 Responses to “LocalCon 2015, and The Darker Side”

  1. Stargrace says:

    I take a lot of heat for some of my tendencies. A lot of people consider them ‘child like’ and have told me as much to my face, implying that there is something “wrong” with me because I like anime, because I (still) collect stuffed animals, because I colour, or whatever else it is they happen to latch on to that I’m not “supposed to do” as an adult. It bugs me. These things bring me happiness and joy and in no way affect anyone outside of myself. I hold a full time job, work hard, have friends and family, and yet somehow these hobbies are ‘bad’. I hate this narrow minded view. I’m sorry that you had to deal with theirs.

    • Scopique says:

      That’s a great point, though. If these folks were just going to work, coming home, having dinner, watching TV, and going to bed, then I suspect The Parents wouldn’t have a bad thing to say about them. Knowing what I know, of course, there are kids who are cosplaying, older kids, younger adults, and adults who are old enough to be in careers. To me, they’re doing it right by being productive and all that, so beyond the “responsible member of society” part, who the hell cares what they enjoy? Legally enjoy, obviously XD

      I guess being steeped in this echo-chamber, then, has kind of blinded me to the reality that despite video games making billions, despite the fact that more people know who Sauron and Black Widow are today than ever before in the history of humanity, there are those who just can’t accept geekdom as a legitimate hobby and, for some, a lifestyle and even an integral part of people’s identities, the same way football and music are for others.

  2. That bites. I could understand your frustrations with people who like to bundle things they don’t understand or comprehend into nice clean little tidy packages that they can process in their on way. Cosplay, Comic books, geeky things are ways to expand your imagination. Something that Mr Rogers has been telling kids since well, before I was a kid. Who creates all this geeky stuff? Very successful adults who use to be kids that grew up to be like the people they admired in the business, be it video games, art, anime, cosplay etc. Some people just don’t understand the vast business and income these kind of things actually bring in. People go watch a Avengers movie and never have any idea that all that came from comics in the 70s. I think because the video game industry and Comic Movies that geek has started to take on a whole new meaning. People want to be geek, embrace it and be a part of the culture and people who didn’t grow up with it, like us, and don’t understand it want to say these people were stunted emotionally. Its a same that they lack imagination.

    • Scopique says:

      “Who creates all this geeky stuff? Very successful adults who use to be kids that grew up to be like the people they admired in the business”

      Truth.

      And even folks who DO enjoy the Avengers movies, or who even sit through movies on TV that are sci-fi or fantasy, yet still deride the culture that brought those movies to them.

  3. You’ve captured a lot of the emotional confusion about modern geeky culture perfectly. Growing up, I was the quiet kid content to be in my own little world reading books that were too weird for others. I’m pretty solidly middle-aged now, but I still feel that childhood sense of wonder when I see some amazing new anime or other work.

    The modern reality is confusing, though. One one hand you have the cosplayers who dress up in crazy outfits and give 0 fucks about bad things other people have to say. Then you have The Parents who still think the whole geeky/nerdy thing is for people with mental problems. I think the latter attitude is an artifact, dying a slow death. But, it does feel odd to those of us who have been passionate geeks for a long time now.

What do you think?