Is Cosplay a Form of Theatre? | Idea Channel | PBS Digital Studios


Here’s an idea. Cosplay is a form of theater. It is that time of
year again– opened fire hydrants, beautiful sunny
days at the park or the beach, ice cream for days,
and comic cons. Comic books, lines, getting to
meet your favorite artists, fun and interesting panels– I am lurking! —more lines. Maybe getting to
see Nathan Fillian? That’s fun. All crammed into
a massive building with upwards of 100,000
fans, many of whom will be dressed in
100% rad cosplay. Cosplayers buy or
construct the garb of their favorite
fictional characters. And come heat, nor
weight, nor unwieldy prop, they don it in a dense
but excited crowd to celebrate that character. Not every cosplayer,
but a fair amount, also perform their character,
adopting their mannerisms, affect or attitude. Deadpool is probably the
most well known example of a character that comes
with a “personality” when someone dons his threads. This makes the goal of
cosplay several fold– to celebrate a character,
to make something awesome, to look and feel
awesome yourself. And for some people,
to sort of just become someone elsee–
someone powerful, or heroic, or complicated, or
heinous, or just not you. I’m not even going
to question it, man. I’m just going to let
you do your thing. Or to express yourself in a way
that you might not, normally. Maybe it’s a boost
of confidence, or a simple change of pace. But like, for real, if I’m
cosplaying as Loki or America Chavez, you better
believe there is a feeling of being
pretty in charge that comes along with that. And if I’m at a con, there’s
a set of situational norms that would justify me behaving
as though I am America Chavez. Anyway, it’s this performance
and other aspects of it that lead me to ask if the group
of people cosplaying at a con can be considered,
collectively, theater. I mean, classically at
least, the resemblance is pretty far off. There’s no script or action. There’s no director or
production team, as such. There’s no real
stage or audience. And you could argue that
there aren’t even actors. Acting. Good night. And if we’re calling
cosplay theatre, are we then on some slippery
slope toward calling Halloween theater, or Santacon? What is the world coming to? Oh, come on! Cosplayers might
create spectacle, they might be performing, but
we don’t call dance busking or stand up comedy theater. Cosplay might be a form
of performance art, but really at this point in
a post-James Franco, Joaquin Phoenix world, the
genre of performance art is so broad that it is
essentially meaningless. Two people sharing the bucket. So if we’re going to
stick to the theater route, let’s work from the ground up. Theatre is, roughly
speaking, a group of people working in
concert to present an intentional experience
to an audience in a place. So we have a group
of people in a place, they’re the cosplayers. And I think it’s
fair to say that we have an audience, at
least of some kind. But theatre is, like we said,
a necessarily collaborative art form. Are those cosplayers
working together? Are they collaborating? In some situations,
especially where friends have a
themed cosplay group, the answer is clearly yes. But if we’re talking about all
of the cosplayers at one con, are they all working together? I still think the answer is yes. They’re not working on
one agreed upon script or central performance, no. But they are working
together to bring various fictional universes
into our significantly less fictional universe. Of course, it is
worth pointing out, especially given
what I’m sure is the occasionally less than
positive experience of being a female cosplayer, that
cosplayers are not around simply for the
amusement of others, in a way that there is respect
between performer and audience in most situations. I think it’s fair to say
that that should also exist between cosplayers
and general con-goers. Cosplayers may not
intend to create theater, but they do intend, I think,
to bring something to life. And if they’re
doing it at a con, it’s in a situation with
norms and an understanding about why there is a dude
dressed like a giant robot roaming the expo floor. At a con, that is totally
normal, even expected. You would be confused if
that wasn’t happening. Meaning, the collaboration
between all cosplayers at any given con might not
be intended or explicit, like people working
together on a theater production in a theater. But that doesn’t mean
that it’s not emergent and that its effects
aren’t palpable. The biggest challenge
you could offer, I think, is that there’s no stage. But, I mean, hey! Isn’t all the world– All the world’s a stage. —a stage? All the world’s a stage! No. But, for real, theater
hasn’t needed a stage in quite a while, actually. Theatre can happen in homes
and warehouses, in the park, on a train. It can happen around
town, in the marketplace. Theater can happen
anywhere, especially if you don’t care about
securing the necessary permits. Theatre has gone from
mimesis to in-your-faces. Not gonna lie, I
laughed at my own joke when I wrote that down. And on that note, cosplay
actually has a lot in common, I think, with something called
“geurilla theater,” which, though it was first theorized
by mimes, is still cool. I promise. Mimes don’t– Kill him! —deserve the bad rap they get. Oh, wait! Mostly. You know, a mime is a
terrible thing to waste. R.G. Davis of the SF Mime
Troupe first wrote about guerrilla theatre in 1966,
and he described its aims as, roughly speaking,
the following. To go out and find audiences,
not expect them to find you. To create theater which was
politically and socially conscious, and to make it with,
quote, “people,” not actors. Davis recommended starting
guerrilla art troops on the foundations of commedia
dell’arte because of its use of masks, bright colors
and, quote, “gags.” He suggested that people use
the practices and material developed by commercial
theater and media to help guerrilla art
achieve its goals. Is any of this ringing a bell? Those goals are to
un-hem the performer and to teach the
audience something. To, quote, “gather
and excite audiences into being provoked
and confronted.” Davis was talking about high
political and social causes. But what about cosplayers? What are they teaching? What are they provoking
and confronting? Well, the easy
answer, I think, is that they’re challenging the
idea of who, in fact, brings a character to life. Is it the creators,
or is it the audience? But in the true guerrilla
theater sense of, quote, “directing change
towards the system,” cosplayers’ interpretations of characters
show the system of media how fans view and
interpret their work and characters– what’s
exciting, or important, or lacking. It’s true that lots of it
does reinforce the system. Lots of attack on Titan
Survey Corp cosplay? Well, that’s popular. Let’s make more of those. But there’s also cosplay
as comment or critique. People who reimagine the look
or history of the character they’re cosplaying, who rethink
their attitude or affect. Cosplayers who change a
character’s race, or gender, or other thought to be
fundamental characteristics. The critique here
isn’t always active. I’m not saying that if a
black woman cosplays a Sailor Moon, or a dude as Lady
Satsuki, that they necessarily have an agenda other
than to have fun. But rather, agenda or not, their
versions of those characters necessarily raise questions
about how and why characters are written and drawn
the way they are, what is and is not
acceptable in fan culture, and what the bounds
of cosplaying are. This type of cosplay,
just like a real theater, asks questions and provokes
the various systems in which it exists or comments on. Not the least of which
is the system of epoxy, holding everything together. Lots of provoking there. Endless challenges
to that system. What do you guys think? Is cosplay a form of theater? Is it guerrilla theatre? Let us know in the comments. And if you subscribe,
maybe I’ll feel motivated to finally put
together my America Chavez cosplay. Where am I going to
buy those shorts? I really wish there were
a better global situation in which we could be
responding to these comments, but unfortunately
that’s not the case. Let’s see what you guys had to
say about sports replacing war. Scott Mitchell makes a
really astute observation, and points out that
while sports can be organized on the nation state
level, generally war is not. That there are third
parties who do not represent entire nations, are
representative of nations that do not or have not
existed, and that that is a very big roadblock,
let’s call it, to the eventuality of
sports replacing warfare. Yeah, that’s a
really good point. There were three
pieces of media that came up in the comments
a lot that people felt were huge oversights
that we didn’t mention. Joshua Haverman pointed out that
we didn’t make any reference to robot jocks. Which, I’ve never
even heard of it, so I’m going to go watch this. Novataros and a
bunch of other people pointed out that I
essentially described the premise of G-Gundam, which I
knew about but have never seen. So now I have a very good
reason to go and watch that. And finally, MagnumForce51
and a couple other people pointed out that the
anime “No Game, No Life” is a possible instance
of a situation where sports or games, as the
case is, can replace war. I watched some of
“No Game, No Life,” and it seems to
me the premise is that there is a kind of deity
that actually physically prevents people from
harming one another, right? There are still rules. And you cannot get to
that ultimate sacrifice of threatening someone
with bodily harm, because the universe
actually prevents that. So, right, we’re never going
to have that situation here. Lutranereis says that this
will be a moot point when we have robots fighting for us. And, I don’t know, maybe this
is just me being really cynical, but I can’t see– like, if
there are two nations that are fighting one another
on the field of battle and one decimates the
other’s robot forces, but the one with the decimated
robot forces still has, like, bombs and
planes and stuff, and the stakes are really,
really high, what’s going to stop them from
going for the human beings controlling the robots
on the other side? Like, that seems like
something that would happen. That we wouldn’t respect the
outcome of the death of robots, that is, unless we start to
have extreme moral concern for our robots. Didn’t someone talk
about this recently? Excalibur01 brings
up World Cup riots, which, yeah, is kind of the
ultimate rebuttal to this. That when things do not go
the way that people want them to in a sports match,
and sometimes even when they do go the way
that people want them to, physical violence
is still a result. So not a hope-inducing thing. Really, we’re not
a hopeful group at all in this comment
response section. Allison Ryan asks whether
or not it would be possible, if we’re not able to
replace war with a game, if we can replace
an element of war– specifically if we can signify
death, instead of actually create it. And I wonder if this
thing, like this idea, is the very difference
between, like, war and game. As soon as you start
signifying the things instead of actually
engaging with them, you move from capital
W “War,” to like, war games, like war sports. M. Rowan Meyer gets
on a similar idea, and points out that in order for
this kind of thing to happen, there would have to be something
like an uber Geneva Convention. And that you could implicate
arms manufacturing this that they could
change their products. But yeah, is that
ever going to happen, dot, dot, dot, a
billion question marks? Kiernan McClelland makes
a really great point, and says that many times when
a nation is engaging in war, they are attempting
to destroy or expend the resources of their opponent. And that insofar as
that is a major strategy or factor of war, no
sport will ever actually be able to destroy
resources in the same way. And so, because of that, the two
will never be interchangeable. Is was a really great comment. Links to this one and all
the others in the doobly doo. Maybe we can have a
friendly game of sports to settle this bet? I know. I know it’s football. I know. This week’s episode
was brought to you by the hard work of these
very peaceful individuals. We have a Facebook and
IRC and a Subreddit links in the doobly doo. And the tweet of the week
comes from Mr. Joe Hanson, who pointed me towards a funny
poem about [INAUDIBLE] hairdo, amongst many other things. I laughed. But, you know, it’s [INAUDIBLE],
so you kind of have to.

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