On 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.
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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”.