So tonight (as of the time I’m beginning to write this piece) is the premiere of the SyFy Channel series Heroes of Cosplay, which follows a small group of ‘well-known cosplayers’ (more on my use of the quotes in a few minutes) as they create costumes, wear them, and compete in Masquerades. At least, that’s what I glean from the information provided to me about the show. Now, discussion of this show is pretty ubiquitous around the internet -especially in the various cosplay communities- and opinions are rather divided about the show and its potential impact on cosplay. Even as of writing this I’m still ambivalent about if I’ll check out the first episode, or just ignore it. I’m highly mixed about this series; I don’t feel it will portray cosplay in a particularly good light, but it may have one or two positives.
The biggest positive I can think of is to shine a light on cosplay and possibly educate people in general about the hobby. When most people think of cosplay, they really have little to no clue of the time, money, and energy that go into the hobby (among other things). Some think it’s an ‘easy’ hobby to get into, while others look down on cosplay for simply being ‘weird’. So giving it exposure and allowing people to learn about it (and further research it, I hope) can be a good thing.
However, that’s where my list of good things about this show ends rather abruptly. As I said before, I have a number of issues with the show as it has been advertised. This does NOT mean I take issue with those who are featured in the show. I have nothing but respect for them as fellow human beings and fellow cosplayers, especially since this hobby can take its toll on people at times. These are simply my personal hang-ups with the show and its premise.
~Diversity: Dictionary.com defines ‘diversity’ as ‘the state or fact of being diverse [of a different kind, form, character, etc.]; difference; unlikeness’. When I look at the cast lineup for HoC, however, I don’t really see diversity more than I see tokenism. Their take on ‘diversity’ consists of one Asian woman (Yaya Han), one man (Jesse Lagers), and seven relatively young women who are a) conventionally attractive, and b) predominantly white (or able to pass easily as white). In truth, the cosplay community is as diverse as any other community; it has members of many different ethnic backgrounds, sexual identities, and appearances. What would have been wrong with having one or two black cosplayers in the lineup? Or how about adding one or two more men? (Believe it or not, there are a lot of men in cosplay who sew their own costumes, or do as Jesse does and make their own props, weapons, and armor.) Or how about cosplayers who aren’t the ‘typical’ size 8 or who are over the age of 30? Also, I realize SyFy is predominantly an American channel, but what about featuring a few cosplayers from other countries? This isn’t just an American hobby; there are brilliant cosplayers living all over the world. As I said before, this hobby has an amazingly diverse array of members, and this show does that diversity a grave disservice by only focusing on such a tiny, homogenized sliver of it.
~The Title: I’ll be blunt, I have a hard time picturing any of these cosplayers as ‘heroes’ of mine. The one who would fit that term closest for me would be Ms. Han, and I wouldn’t call her a ‘hero’ of mine. She is someone whom I have met and admire for her hard work and for her encouragement of others in the hobby. But me calling her a ‘hero’ feels like way too much of a stretch. To me, a ‘hero’ is someone you place on a pedestal and worship; they can neither do nor say anything wrong in your opinion, you agree with them regardless. Ms. Han, for as amazing a cosplayer as she is, certainly has said and done things that I personally do not agree with. They don’t make her a bad person or a bad cosplayer, I simply do not agree with them. As for the rest of the cast, I had heard next to nothing about any of them prior to this show being announced. If I were to meet them at a convention, I’d love to shake hands, chitchat, and invite them to join me for pizza. However, I’m hard-pressed to think of any of them as ‘heroes’, especially by the mere virtue that they’re part of some arbitrarily ‘better’ tier than I am.
Well, on that note, moving on….
~The Cast Choice/Focus: Along with my issues on the (lacking) diversity in the cast, why are they only focusing on individuals whom they deem the ‘best of the best of cosplay’? Asides from the subjective nature of who or what is ‘the best’, that attitude strikes me as incredibly boring. See, one thing I love about going to conventions is seeing cosplayers of all stripes and skill levels wearing outfits they love and are proud of. One of my favorite things to do is go a day or two in street clothes, take my camera, and take photos of cosplayers; when I do, I tell them how awesome their outfits are, ask them for tips on how they made them if they’re doing characters I plan to do, and so on. So what if they aren’t 150% accurate and perfect? People are having fun, and that’s what matters. Also, why focus so heavily on the Masquerade/competition aspect? The number of cosplayers who do competitions is only a small fraction of the community population, and there’s nothing wrong with that. By pushing the competition angle as being much bigger than it is, it also makes the ‘petty catfight’ drama that much bigger. I realize that tends to boost ratings, ‘makes for more compelling television’ and all that blather, but it certainly doesn’t paint the hobby in the best light when the women are shown as being catty and cutthroat to themselves and to one another.
Now, if you know me well enough, you know I hate and despise Reality TV. If I were to create a show like this, however, I’d scrap the competition focus and focus more on the cosplayers themselves. I would focus on a couple of cosplayers at each ‘level’ and show how they pull together their cosplays. This would be my sample lineup, which to me would seem much more interesting:
-A couple of first-time cosplayers, who are either sewing their first cosplay or pulling it together from found items.
-A couple of cosplayers who have a few costumes under their belts, but may be relatively new/only cosplay every so often/etc.
-A couple cosplayers who have been in the hobby for some time, have lots of experience under their belts, and have a decent number of cosplays they’ve made/pulled together.
-A couple of ‘professional level’ cosplayers.
If I did have any focus on the competition side, it would be downplayed, and would more show them gearing up for their performances, deal with how they felt during, and show them after the competition ended. Cosplayers are human too, and most of us support one another during Masquerades and other events. Why not focus on the positive, as opposed to goading the negative?
So in spite of the purported glitz and glamour of this show, I plan on avoiding it as much as possible. There’s little appeal in it for me, since they really only pulled it together for ratings as opposed to trying to be even slightly accurate about portraying the hobby. For the amount of time I could spend watching this, I’d rather watch something that shows a better representation of cosplay.