If it Weren’t for you Pesky Cosplayers

26 Sep

and your dogs, too, I’d have a million hits a day on this blog, and would be surrounded by legions of devoted fangirls.

All right, that’s probably (definitely) a lie. I get that Denise Dorman is upset. The costs to attended even local and semi-local conventions are going up – particularly when you’re not an invited guest who gets their hotel comped etc.. I’m just not sure why, other than the fact that they’ve been the convenient whipping girls (and boys) of the past couple years, she chooses to focus on cosplayers as a, let alone the, source of the problem.

Is she ignorant of history? I ask that in all seriousness, because according to his Wikipedia entry (not the most reliable of sources, I know) Dave Dorman has been illustrating professionally since 1979, got his “break” in 1983, and has attended 27 consecutive Comic-Cons. Ontologically speaking, comic conventions are simply a subset of the broader concept of science fiction and fantasy fandom conventions, as are such things as Transformers-focused conventions etc. Sci-Fi/Fantasy conventions have a long tradition, and some still continue this tradition, of featuring such things as cringe-worthy filking, fan guests of honor, fan panels, and any number of other ways in which fans were transformed into an active feature of convention programming.

And that’s presuming that we accept the erroneous assumption that fans, in any role, are simply passive consumers of the convention. During her essay on Bleeding Cool Mrs. Dorman asserts:

The hard-working artists and creators who are the very foundation of this industry…the reason there even is an industry…. those creatives who have busted their asses and spent money they perhaps didn’t have to spare in order to be there exhibiting for–and accessible to–the fans…have been reduced to being the background wallpaper against which the cosplayers pose in their selfies.

Those fans, including the selfie-taking cosplayers, are what allowed Dave Dorman and just about every other creator to be there. There is no level at which media consumption is truly passive, and the case of creator <–> fans among areas of geeky fandom the lines are particularly blurred, because what is often being produced are incredibly niche products that simply wouldn’t survive outside of that niche. While Dave Dorman likely could have taken his not inconsiderable skills and gone to work any number of places, he elected to enter a series of industries that are enabled solely by the fans. And as someone who has in the past done work in one of those industries (rpgs), he’s profited significantly more from it than any number of other people.

I don’t begrudge the man that career, though I do take umbrage at Denise Dorman’s casting of fans as passive consumers merely there to absorb a product. Not the least reason being because it’s a rather insulting and objectifying point of view, and because it doesn’t accurately reflect the ways in which consumers do engage with media both in what we (incorrectly) consider the “passive” mode of consuming it, as well as in the “active” mode of engaging with conventions and fan cultures.

In fairness, she does touch on the rising costs of conventions, but if these are a problem for guests/vendors/exhibitors, many (though certainly not all) of whom have their various costs either comped by the convention or offset by sales etc. how much more of a problem is it for fans? Fans, including cosplayers, don’t get to attend these events for free. In addition to the costs of admittance their are all the costs for travel, accommodation, and food, and that’s before you even get into the issue of having additional disposable income to make purchases at the event itself. For many fans these conventions, particularly larger conventions like Comic-Con, Dragon*Con, GenCon etc. are where they go rather than a trip to Vegas or Aruba. If I am already out hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to simply be there, how much more do you expect me to drop at your table particularly when everyone else is expecting the exact same thing? This isn’t even to mention the work that some people put in, whether it’s to help with organizing, run games, or yes, make and present costumes – work that isn’t always offset in any way (yes, some conventions provide free admission, or accommodations etc. in these circumstances, but it’s far from universally true).

So yes, I can understand why Dave and Denise Dorman, alongside other creators, are upset at the current state of affairs, and there should be conversations happening about what we can do to change things. But to blame these problems on cosplayers not only ignores the history of conventions and fan culture, but it both avoids engaging with the actual problems while implying that at least some of the creators involved have an incredibly unhealthy attitude toward their fans.

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Posted by on September 26, 2014 in Comics, Geekery, Pop Culture


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