Reality Bites: The Future of Reality TV

Where do you think the future of reality television shows is heading?  Will new forms of technology for example make an impact?

Reality TV, documentary and all filmed versions of reality have always been subject to a reality_tv_collagedistortion of the truth, due to the perspective of the cameraman / director / producer. From Nanook of the North in 1922 to Real Housewives of Auckland, there has always been a difficult relationship with the need to make a coherent story and the fact that reality is, well, real. Often boring, complicated and built on circumstance, it is hard to present a real situation in an entertaining way. Reality TV as a concept is benign enough, but because of the complexities of filming real life, the bulk of it seems to lend itself to cheapness, exploitation and lazy filmmaking. However, there are positive developments in the field, and I believe there is hope yet for Reality TV.

downloadThe first actual documentary was the infamous Nanook of the North (1922) in which filmmaker Robert Flaherty changed so many details of the Inuit experience he filmed that he essentially created a new, whitewashed depiction of the race – one which permeated western beliefs for decades to come. John Grierson describes documentary as “The creative treatment of actuality,” (Bauer, 2019) and in this definition, we encounter the problem. It is impossible to free ourselves from the doors of perception (Huxley, 1963), so all attempts to film reality will always be coloured by the opinions/ beliefs of the filmmakers. There have been attempts, to be sure. High School (1968), directed by Frederick Wiseman, attempted to remain impartial, a few others tried too, but at the end of the day, even the simple action of cutting to another shot creates a Kuleshov effect (Hellerman, 2019), subliminally telling the audience what to think about a situation. By the nineties, filmmakers were so well aware of the way that Reality TV opened itself up to exploitation, they even made a movie about it – Reality Bites (1994), (Possibly the most nineties movie ever made). In it, despite all his good intentions, Ben Stiller can’t help but turn his girlfriend’s TV show into a shameless cash grab full of drama and bad music cues. Today, that sounds a lot like many of the 750 reality TV shows that America aired on cable TV last year (Bauer, 2019).

Flicking through channels one night, I counted 8 out of ten channels running reality abc-bachelor-season-23-meet-cast-1546889807-5291shows. The other 2 were re-runs and the News. It can often be depressing, especially when so many people are aware of the false reality presented by these shows (Bauer, 2019). Big Brother, Dance Moms, The Kardashians, Married at First Sight, The Bachelor… just a teensy little bite of the mass of controversial “reality” TV that is on these days. Dance Moms has been accused of child exploitation (Marthe, 2016), Kim Kardashian is a walking, talking controversy and The Bachelor has contestants speaking out about traumatic events on set (Brookes, 2019). Not to mention the awful Benefits Street (Lamb, 2016), which had measurable negative effects on people’s perception of poor people in Britain.

maxresdefaultBut not all Reality TV is bad. There are some that genuinely influence people in a positive way, and spread a positive message. RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009 – present) is self-aware, entertaining, and has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on acceptance of homosexuality, transgenderism and queerness in society today, bringing drag and the people involved in it into the mainstream. Fun, inoffensive shows like Nailed It (2018 – present), a show about regular people attempting to make professional cakes, are positive, safe and entertaining, and even shows like Extreme Home Makeover (2003 – 2012), while still rather exploitative, at least present their subjects in a sympathetic framing – reminiscent of Cathy Come Home (Lamb, 2016). I also want to point out that millions of people nowadays consume media online – through “Vloggers.” People who maxresdefault (1)are in control of their own filmmaking, editing and story structure, and therefore far more able to control their own level of exploitation. If you watch YouTube for example, the biggest online phenomena right now are PewdiePie, who is really just a guy who plays Minecraft and talks about memes, and Shane Dawson, who makes documentaries where he tries to humanise controversial YouTubers, and who people love because of how relatable he is, because of his multiple mental health and self-confidence issues (Ramasubbu, 2018).

To be honest, though there are plenty of trashy reality shows out there, I can see a much more diverse and interesting future on the horizon. With social media and the internet, people have more access to their audiences, and the mix of vlogging culture and reality TV could really make for some interesting content in future. Of course there will always be trash TV – as long as people make media, some of it is going to be bad. But it’s clear that people want to see other people just living their lives honestly, and we’ll continue to find new ways to do that.



Flaherty, R. (1922) Information retrieved October 30, 2019 from


Bauer, J. (October, 2019) Documentaries vs. Reality TV: How They Shape Truth – Wisecrack Edition. Retrieved October 30, 2019 from


Huxley, Aldous, 1963. The Doors of Perception : and Heaven and Hell. New York :Harper & Row, 1963.


Hellerman, J. (January, 2019) The Kuleshov Effect: Everything You Need To Know. Retrieved October 30, 2019 from


Marthe, E. (August 2016) The ‘Dance Moms’ Stars and Their Battle with Alleged Stalkers and Pedophiles. Retrieved October 30, 2019 from


Brookes, E, October 2019. Ex Bachelor contestant Naz Khanjani says dating shows are a ‘disaster’ Retrieved October 30, 2019 from

Lamb, B. February 2016. Cathy Come Off Benefits: A comparative ideological analysis of Cathy Come Home and Benefits Street, Journalism and Discourse Studies Journal. ISSN 2056-3191


Ramasubbu, S. July 2018. 20 YouTube Channels Your Kids Probably Already Follow. Retrieved October 30, 2019 from

Mai’s Wake Up Call – Fanfiction



Zuko was acting strange again.

They leaned on the balcony rail, looking out over the city. It was calmer at night, no shouting or carts squealing over stones, no fire nation soldiers barking orders at each other like overgrown dogs. Mai could almost have smiled, if only Zuko would tell her what was going on in his head these last few days.

Ever since Ember Island, he was different. His words were jumbled, he paced the floor, and whenever Mai tried to comfort him, he just looked at her with this strange, sad expression. Mai was an expert at pretending not to care, but Zuko was the one person who could get under her skin, who broke down that shield. It was usually a good feeling, having someone to love and care about, but lately, all she did was worry about him.

The door opened and brought with it Ty Li and Azula. Mai sighed inwardly but sat with them as she was told.

“The day of Black Sun is upon us, ladies – and Zuko,” snapped Azula. “If you would care to join us?”

Zuko pouted but joined them, sitting close to Mai and holding her hand.

“Ugh, you two are such a miserable pair of Squirrel-Toads,” Azula said with an upturned nose, “It’s hard sometimes even to look at you.”

“Get to the point, Azula,” said Zuko.

Mai loved him for that, for the fact that he could talk back, he could say the words she was too afraid to. She kept her face blank, but her hold on his hand tightened.

“Tomorrow, myself, Zuko, Father and his personal guard will all be taking cover underground – as you know, the Avatar planned to invade on the day of the black sun.”

“Zuko killed the Avatar though, Azula,” said Ty Li, her eyes wide and confused.

Mai felt Zuko’s pulse quicken.

“He sure did, Ty Li,” Azula said with a sly grin in Zuko’s direction. “But just in case his little friends try anything, we have taken precautions.”

Mai looked from her to Zuko and a flash of realization hit her. She covered her emotion by asking a question. “What about us?”

Azula stood and told her orders from above them, pacing the floor with her hands behind her back, just like an army general. Mai hated her pompousness, but of course, she would never say so.

“I will wait in the main bunker,” she said. “But as my guard I will have the Dai-Lee.”

Ty Li protested, but Mai just shrugged.

“You two will be in the Western bunker, in case they come through that way.”

“You’re wasting your time with all this nonsense,” said Zuko, rolling his eyes.

“Perhaps our family’s safety doesn’t matter to you, dear brother, but I am unwilling to take chances.” She spat. Always smiling that goddamn smile, thought Mai. Always trying to screw with our heads somehow.

After the plan was settled and the others had left, Mai turned to Zuko one last time.

“Zuko, something is wrong,” she said. “You believe the Avatar is alive, don’t you?”

His eyes widened, he began to protest.

“Shh,” she stopped him. “I don’t care, Zuko, I know you don’t want Azula to know, I won’t tell her. Zuko, please, tell me what you are planning on doing!”

He looked deep into her eyes and pulled her in close, his face the picture of pure turmoil.

“Mai, I love you so much,” he said, and he kissed her softly. She heard a tremble in his voice. “The walls have ears in this city,” he whispered. “I can tell you this much: I know my destiny, and I will fulfil it no matter the cost.” He held her tightly, then pulled away and walked out the door.

“Don’t, Zuko,” she blurted out. “Whatever it is, don’t do it. Just come back and we can pretend I said nothing.”

She thought she saw a tear run down his cheek as he turned his head, but then he was gone and she knew he meant not to come back.

At midnight, she paced the room, trying to settle the turmoil in her mind. When she was younger, she would throw knives at the wall to express the rage in her heart. Now she was older, and nothing helped anymore. The rage just kept building. Just like Zuko, she was here for her family, but they had never cared what she wanted. She stalked the room, knowing he was about to do something drastic, but what? She needed to find out somehow.

 She was a Lion-Vulture in a cage, every moment was controlled by the fire nation, every emotion inside her was a ticket to a prison cell.

A prison cell! That was it! Zuko’s uncle Iroh would know. Zuko always said Iroh knew him better than he knew himself.

Mai pulled on a black cloak and slipped out the door. She picked her way easily through the streets; she was one of the best trained assassins in the nation, breaking into a prison was no harder to her than picking a lock and knocking a couple of guards out cold.

Once she was in the cold dungeon, it took a little while to find him, but he was unmistakable. The Dragon of the West, the man who was so revered by all the kingdom ever since she could remember, but now he squatted in the corner of this stinking cell. She didn’t believe he was as bad as they all said. Zuko loved him, and refused to say a bad word about him, so she had to believe that he was still a good man.

She picked the lock easily and closed the door quietly behind her.

“You are not a prison guard,” his gentle voice came from the lump of clothes in the corner.

“No,” she said. “I’m Zuko’s girlfriend.

“I see,” he said. “I am glad you two got together, you were always good to him, and I know he was always besotted with you.”

Mai actually blushed in the dark. “Thank you, but I’m here because, well, because I’m worried about him. He’s so conflicted, he hates himself, he’s so angry all the time.”

“That sounds quite normal, to be completely honest,” said Iroh, sighing. “Surely you’re not just noticing it now?”

“No,” she said, frustrated, “I mean more than usual. Tonight, he… it was like he had made up his mind about something, but he wouldn’t tell me. I know he’s afraid of Azula, but I wouldn’t tell her, I love him.”

Iroh looked up at her and smiled with his whole face. It was an exceptionally comforting smile. She could see why Zuko loved him so much.

“It is a good thing to know about yourself – where fear ends and love begins. You will do well to remember this in the coming times,” he said.

“What times?”

“Zuko is a person who lives on a knife’s edge. He wants to do the right thing, but it is hard for him to see what the right thing is. If you want to help him, you have to know, too, which is the right path to take.”

“You fought against the fire nation to protect the Avatar,” said Mai, “is that what you mean when you talk about the right path?”

Iroh smiled again, a sad smile.

“I only tell you to choose love over fear. What that looks like is up to you.”

There was a rattle of keys and the door opened. Mai was up behind the door in a flash, and Iroh was lying on the floor, a snot-bubble at the end of his nose, looking for all the world like a lunatic in an asylum.

“You!” snapped the guard. “Who are you talking to?”

Iroh looked over at him blissfully. “Why, you can’t see him? My dear friend the Dirt Spirit? He is an extremely well-travelled companion – come and join our tea party!”

The guard made a face of disdain.

“What has become of you-” he started, but Mei had him out cold with a jab to the temple.

“I better go,” she said, and pulled the door closed behind her. She hesitated, then whispered through the bars.

“He misses you very much.”

The old man said nothing, but the light showed his sad smile before she quietly slipped away.

The eclipse loomed over everyone’s faces the next morning, and no-one spoke to her. Zuko hadn’t been at breakfast, but she hadn’t expected him to be – he would be with the Firelord underground already. She sat in the bunker with Ty Li, staring glumly at the wall, waiting for the Avatar and his little friends. Time ticked by slowly. She mused on Iroh’s words, and slowly but surely, an idea grew in her mind.

“Ty Li?” She said.

The circus girl had been practicing backflips. “Yes, Mai?”

“Say… say I had a friend who wanted to run away and join the circus, right?”

“Do you?”

“No, it’s just a hypothetical.”

OK, sure, sounds like a fun game!”

“Yeah, sure.” Mai grimaced. “So this friend is really worried about the ramifications for her family, but also she really loves the circus. What would you do?”

“Hmmmm.” Ty Li sat on her front with her legs over her head. “Well, I did just that, but my family didn’t really seem to mind. What kind of ramifications do you mean?”

“Oh, just the usual, treason accusations, shame and dishonour, that kind of thing.”

“Oh of course.”

At that moment, Azula burst in, panting and laughing maniacally.

“They fell for it! They’re so stupid!”

“Is it over?” Asked Ty Li.

“Fell for what?” Asked Mai.

“That idiot water tribe boy – all I had to do was spin a story about his girlfriend crying in prison and they were all just putty in my hands!” Azula laughed and draped herself over the high seat at the table. “Oh man, people are so easy to control when they’re in love, it’s hilarious!”

Mai swallowed her response. It was over. Her idea had become a plan.

Azula sat up. “They’ll be taking prisoners on the shore now! Oh let’s go and see, quick! I want to see the look on their faces!”

Mai followed them to the outer door and watched a while, then excused herself, claiming to be bored.

“Ugh, surprise surprise, Mai. Nothing interests you, does it!”

Mai tried not to run as she neared her house, her heart pounding. She would pack light, take some coins from the vault and find Zuko. He was leaving, she knew it, and she was too. They would find the Avatar together and help him defeat the Firelord. She was done with the fire nation. It was horrid, this stifling kingdom of lies and deception. She wanted to fight, she wanted out, and she knew Zuko did too.

She tiptoed through the door, not wanting to be seen. In her room she pulled out a bag from the bottom of her closet. She stuffed in some clothes and her weapons, picked out a change of outfit, then flung the bag on the bed.

There was a note from Zuko.

She stared, heart pounding. No…

“I’m too late,” she whispered into the heavy air.

An hour later, Azula battered her fists on Mai’s door.

“Where is he?”

Mai opened the door to her and Ty Li, tears streaking her face.

“You think I know?! He abandoned me just as much as he abandoned you!” Mai shoved the letter into Azula’s face and flung herself on the bed.

Azula was so shocked at the show of emotion, she didn’t know what to do. Ty Li stepped in.

“Mai, I’m so sorry.” She sat down on the bed and put a hand on her friend’s shoulder, signalling for Azula to do the same. Bewildered, Azula awkwardly sat next to them.

“What can we do to make it better?” Asked the ever- loving Ty Li.

“I don’t know.”

“Do you want to order some servants around?” Asked Azula.

Mai sniffed. “Maybe. I dunno. I need a drink.”

“We could steal some of your parent’s best fire-whiskey and get drunk?” Suggested Ty Li.

“Yeah, I guess.”

Azula nodded in agreement, and in ten minutes they were toasting to Zuko’s destruction.

“Don’t you worry, Mai,” Azula said with that horrid smile, “we’ll punish him for leaving you. For leaving all of us. We’ll catch him before he even reaches the border.”

Mai toasted and drank with them, gritting her teeth and wincing against the sting of the spirit – and the poison she had slipped into it.

In ten minutes, she knew, they would all be violently sick, so much that they would have to take to bed. It had to be all three of them, otherwise Azula would be suspicious of her. The illness would last a week, just long enough for Zuko to escape the fire nation.

Mai was the first to feel it, and as her two “friends” mopped the sweat from her brow, she realised that this was the first time she’d ever sacrificed anything for someone else. This was the first time she had chosen love over fear. Despite the fever taking over her body, she finally felt some of the rage subside. She finally felt happy.

My Story Commentary.

The heroes journey as defined by Vogler (1998) is a staple of storytelling that is used from Star Wars to Rick and Morty, and while the different stages hold to language that describes more mythical stories (innermost cave, return with elixr) the metaphor of such stages works for countless stories. In my story I have used the model to describe a mostly inner journey for a character I’ve loved for years – Mai from Avatar: The Last Airbender. The journey I have written happens in episodes 50 and 51, Day of Black Sun parts One and Two.

In the TV series, we never see where Mai is during these episodes, so I imagined her going through a similar change of heart to her boyfriend Zuko, but not being able to act on it like him. He breaks up with her and leaves the fire nation to train the Avatar to help defeat the Firelord. A few episodes later, Mai finds him and switches sides to aide him, getting imprisoned for her efforts. I wanted to give more depth to that character arc, because it made sense to me that she would have her own reasons to hate the fire nation. Here are the stages as I have written them in the story.

1: Ordinary world. “They leaned on the balcony rail, looking out over the city.” In these two paragraphs, the norm is established, and with it, all Mai’s troubles.

2: Call to Adventure. “Mai looked from her to Zuko and a flash of realization hit her.” In this moment, Mai realises that Zuko is hiding something and that his plan is going to deviate from theirs.

3: Refusal. “Don’t, Zuko,” she blurted out. “Whatever it is, don’t do it. Just come back and we can pretend I said nothing.” Here the refusal is an inner one, a denial that something is changing.

4: Crossing the Threshold: “Mai pulled on a black cloak and slipped out the door.” Mai has always been the kind of character that does what she is told. Slipping out of the house at midnight is a step over the line for her.

5: Meeting the mentor. “Once she was in the cold dungeon, it took a little while to find him, but he was unmistakable. The Dragon of the West” Iroh, in this part of the series, is in prison, pretending to be mad and weak. Mai’s visit to him shows she knows Zuko better than anyone else, because Zuko has outwardly cut ties with his uncle.

6: Tests, Allies and Enemies: These moments are rolled into the previous two stages, with the prison guards, and then come into play with Azula and Ty Li’s characters. The tests and enemies are only highlighted in her mind, because outwardly she still appears to be on the side of the Fire Nation.

7: Approach of the Innermost cave: “Mai tried not to run as she neared her house, her heart pounding. She would pack light, take some coins from the vault and find Zuko. He was leaving, she knew it, and she was too.” This is the moment of revelation for Mai. She has found her strength and made the change.

8: Ordeal: ““I’m too late,” she whispered into the heavy air.” Mai hits her low point as the worst possible outcome comes true.

9: Reward: “The illness would last a week, just long enough for Zuko to escape the fire nation” Mai’s reward is her knowledge that Zuko is safe.

10: The Road Back, 11, Resurrection and 12, Return with elixir all happen in the same paragraph. It is Mai’s moment of growth as a character, when she has turned from a petulant child to a grown up capable of selfless acts. “as her two “friends” mopped the sweat from her brow, she realised that this was the first time she’d ever sacrificed anything for someone else. This was the first time she had chosen love over fear. Despite the fever taking over her body, she finally felt some of the rage subside.”

Fanfiction is pulpy by its nature. I personally enjoy bad fan-fiction better, because it tells me more about the writers than the characters. Most of the research I did for this assignment came from Jenny Nicholson and Folding Ideas on youtube (references below), and the book Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet. All Avatar references can be checked online, although you have my assurances that the characters and timelines are spot on.

Cheers and thanks for your time.



Avatar Wiki:,_Part_1:_The_Invasion

Vogler, C. (1998) Excerpts from Myth and the Movies, Stuart Voytilla, Retrieved 29 October 2019 from

Bronzite, D. (n.d.) The Hero’s Journey – Mythic Structure of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth. Retrieved 29 October 2019 from

Nicholsen, J. (December, 2018) One Direction during The Purge. Retrieved 29 October 2019 from

Olsen, D (December, 2018) A Lukewarm Defence of Fifty Shades of Grey (The Movie) Retrieved 29 October 2019 from

O Brave New Parallel World! What are we, really?

What other TV shows or movies can you think of which have sinister doubles in them and which of the above category do you think they belong to?

Science Fiction has long been the genre used to explore morality in technology, medicine and science, and the doppelgänger is an endlessly fascinating trope that poses a lot of 91t6fMTfRwL._RI_questions to mankind. Since Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, we’ve been grappling with the question of morality in artificial life, and the question of what it is to “Be Oneself”. Modern TV shows like Misfits, Living with Yourself and Star Trek ask these questions, and movies like The Island, Us, Blade Runner and Gemini Man, explore the concepts too.



To categorise these representations by Paul Mountfort’s definitions (2018), I will start star_trek_mirror_mirrorwith the Quantum Double. This is a character that lives in a parallel universe, a version of you on the coin toss of a multiverse split somewhere along your timeline. This is explored in the Star Trek episode Mirror Mirror (1967), where Spock and Captain Kirk encounter their evil counterparts in a naturally occurring phenomenon of quantum physics. A similar theme is explored in Fringe (2008 – 13), where a similar thing happens, albeit this time not via mechanical malfunction. The moral being explored is the idea of one’s self identity. What would it feel like to meet a version of yourself that was less moral, or more sexually attractive? How about a version of you that was evil? What would it take in your life to change your character so fundamentally? These are valid questions, and by no means did these two shows fully explore all the possible answers – good as they are.


M_124051In the series Misfits (2004 -) we see a doppelgänger Mountfort describes as the Synchronic Double. The Characters Simon and Alesha become trapped in a perpetual cycle as “future” Simon comes back and falls in love with Alesha, then dies and Alesha then gets together with “present” Simon. When she dies, present Simon goes back to be with her in the past, accepting his fate and perpetuating the eternal love story. The difference in the two characters from their future counterparts is a rumination on how people change as they grow up. Simon starts as an antisocial nerd, but ends as a sort of comic book hero – strong, mysterious, super-smart; the guy everyone wants to be.


Mountfort describes Synthetic Doubles too, who crave the reverence of life that is given MV5BNzQzMzJhZTEtOWM4NS00MTdhLTg0YjgtMjM4MDRkZjUwZDBlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjU0OTQ0OTY@._V1_to humans, but denied to them. In the style of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, we have media such as Better Than Us, A.I., Being Human, the game Detroit Becoming Human, and of course, Bladerunner. These all ask the question of what consciousness is and whether humans have the right to “play God,” in the same way Mary Shelly asked it so many years ago. To be honest, though, all these shows end up pretty firmly on the side of the robots – that life is sacred no matter whether it is synthetic or organic. I think it would be hard to find a piece of writing that didn’t have that message.


MV5BYjIyYWVkY2UtZDkxOC00NTE4LWFhZWUtZGYwMmJjNDA3YmVkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTkxNjUyNQ@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Finally, there are the good old-fashioned clones, Mountfort’s Genetic Doubles (2018). There are many ways to look at this moral question – in Michael Bay’s (surprisingly decent) The Island, the “Victor Frankenstein” stand in character has grown a tonne of living people from the DNA of the filthy rich, as living, breathing, health insurance policies. The new series Living with Yourself asks the question: What does it mean to be you, if you could make an exact clone with all memories intactbrave-new-world-9 – but this version of you is more attractive to your friends and family? I like this one the most, I think. It’s like asking what the difference is between you on a bad day, and you on a good day, and then getting them to fight each other. Then there’s Brave New World (1938), which asks what the point of life is in a world where everyone is a clone and no one is sad. Actually, that one is the best. Brave New World, for all it’s pessimism, sure has a good message about the need to be a fully-rounded human being (Dicken, 2011). To choose all the joy and suffering that comes with humanity is a powerful message.

Oh and I was going to talk about Gemini Man, but honestly, I don’t think Director Ang Lee really knew what he was trying to say except “clones are cool.”

The doppelgänger story is a long, deep, twisty system of roots upon which a good story can grow. Science Fiction has it’s claws in pretty deep to this genre, but it is branching out. Misfits wasn’t science fiction, really. Of course, this is all just the recipe base for good storytelling. Choose the moral question you want to ask, then choose which doppelgänger best answers that question.




Mountfort, P. (2018) Science fictional doubles: Technologization of the doppelgänger and sinister science in serial science fiction TV. Journal of Science & Popular Culture Volume 1 Number 1 © 2018 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/jspc.1.1.59_1


Blackford, R. (2019) Science fiction and the moral imagination: visions, minds, ethics. Retrieved October 29, 2019, from


Diken, B. (2011). Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ – and ours. Journal for Cultural Research, 15(2), 153-172.


The Art of Cosplay

What is a workable definition of cosplay?

BRLTW45JKU0N1508366402637Cosplay is an incredibly popular phenomenon of culture, and while it has so much in common with other costume based art forms, there are some specific characteristics of cosplay that have turned it into the unique beast that it is today. People dress as characters from movies, comics, books, fanfiction, and anything that is recognisable in pop culture. They put immense amounts of time and effort into their art, and have their pictures taken, all to varying degrees of expense and professionalism. The cross-overs of creative industries and rise of conventions for fans of sci-fi, anime and fantasy have helped in the boom of cosplay, and the people involved in it define it by what it is – and what it isn’t.

cosplay1Cosplay as defined by Mountfort, Peirson-Smith, & Geczy, (2018) is “…a performance medium in which embodied textual citation and photographic practices come together and sometimes collide.” So… let’s work on rephrasing that. It’s about bringing characters to life through costume. However, in this medium, it’s not necessarily any character. There is a reason people go to cosplay conventions as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016), but not as the same character from the Pride and Prejudice BBC series (1980). It’s hard to pinpoint, but it seems to be to do with the “camp” nature of cosplay. Camp, as in the “spirit of extravagance”, that doesn’t take itself too seriously. (Singh-Kurtz, October, 2018) Let me be clear here – cosplayers themselves can be very serious about the effort they put in to their art, but the artform itself is intrinsically playful. Genres like science fiction and fantasy lend themselves more to the visual medium of cosplay far better than literature and “high art.” It is similar in this way to Drag- and indeed, “Crossplay” is a subgenre of cosplay- Drag being a hyper-exaggerated form of gender costuming, and cosplay a form of character costuming. (Nichols, 2019)

Speaking of Drag, which has also enjoyed a recent boom in popularity, the competitive f1e47e3ccbe9d7fe5538f9ef000d7f74side of the two artforms is worth looking at as we decide on our definition. Drag history is deeply rooted in pageantry, offering queer people a safe place to play with gender and costuming, then adding a competitive element for the sport, and for audience participation (Firkus, 2018). Cosplay often feels similar to drag in many ways, there is an acceptance of weirdness and artistic licence, and respect for the story that a costume can tell (Nichols, 2019). However, when cosplay competitions are set up, often the judgements can be problematic; sexism and body shaming came into the mix when the reality series Heroes of Cosplay (2015) aired, and while there are plenty of different versions of cosplay competitions out there, criteria for fair and unbiased judging just haven’t reached the level of nuance that Drag competitions have managed to find (Christofí, 2015).  Cosplayers seem not so much to look for validation through of a panel of judges – the satisfaction from cosplaying is largely in the audience it reaches – through the lens of a camera (Mountfort et. al, 2018).

65448827_2147197025409164_7818625496322583041_nPhotography is to cosplay what milk is to cereal. You could enjoy the cereal alone, but the experience is not as satisfying. There is a catharsis that comes from having a photograph of oneself in the garb of a fantasy world – everyone who’s ever dressed in a Halloween costume knows this. Of course, there is a dark side to the symbiotic relationship between cosplayers and cos-photographers – birthing the movement known as Cosplay is not Consent, which aims to remind people that touching and taking pictures of those in costume must be consensual (Romano, 2014). One (less sinister) reason for this is that often, costumes have been styled so that they work best from a certain angle- it can be very disheartening for cosplayers to work for weeks and months on a design and a synchronised pose only to see a photo of themselves online in said costume with their shoulders slumped over as they check their phone.

So, we put all this together, and what have we come up with? The main themes are of creativity, costuming and playfulness. As with all art-forms, there is a sort of bleed into other popular current mediums, and the flexibility of cosplay is one of its many charms. Perhaps a good working definition of cosplay is this: A modern form of costuming art centred around pop culture texts, created for pageantry and widely consumed through photography. Even that could be tweaked a bit. One could call it post-modern in many ways, if one were inclined to sound clever. I won’t, though. I’m not that serious. In truth, Mountford et. al. nailed it right out of the gate – but as with all art-forms, there’s always plenty of different ways to say the same thing.



Christofí, H (2015). Cosplay Contest Judging Criteria, Cyprus Comic-con. Retrieved on September 30, 2019 from

Nichols, E. (January, 2019) : ‘As if’: women in genres of the fantastic, cross-platform entertainments and transmedial engagements. Retrieved 01.10.19 from

Mountfort, P. Peirson-Smith, A. & Geczy, A. (2018). Planet Cosplay: Costume Play, Identity and Global Fandom. Chicago University Press.

Singh-Kurtz, S. (October, 2018) Susan Sontag’s 54-year-old essay on “camp” is essential reading. Retrieved on October 6th, 2019 from

Firkus, B. (September, 2018) InQueery: Trixie Mattel Breaks Down the History of “Drag”. Retrieved on October 6th from

Romano, A. (October, 2014) Cosplay Is Not Consent: The People Fighting Sexual Harassment at Comic Con. Retrieved 6th October 2019, from

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: The Intrinsic Value of Nature.

In what ways is Nausicaä intended as a warning, and what attitudes does it express towards humanity, nature and the future?


8.jpgNausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is an acclamation of curiosity, and a warning against impulsivity. While one might read it as a simple story of human vs. nature, on closer inspection it is deeper; Nausicaä’s message is that humans who respect nature and seek to understand it will prosper over those who only see nature as capital to be exploited. Hayao Miyazaki is well known as an environmentalist (Anderson, 2005), and while his stories have many themes and merits to be explored, the theme of environmentalism is continued not just by his later works but also by other animated films and series inspired by this very idea: that nature has intrinsic value (Bauer, 2018).


A warning against the exploitation of nature.

1_wrdzyZry-R3A1lJZ4Gt46wNausicaä is clearly a tale of caution. Miyazaki felt that there was an environmental crisis on its way, even in 1984, and he weaves his stories around this (Chan, 2015). Nausicaä is set in the future, in a poison forest that plagues most of the earth, caused by a legendary event called the Seven Days of Fire. The clear allusion here is that mankind is the culprit, perhaps through nuclear war or simply global warming, and the majority of humankind has been wiped out. It’s not really necessary to go into detail about the history, thematically, because that isn’t the point of the text. To quote Jeff Goldblum: “life uhh… finds a way” (1993). The movie is saying that the world will continue, whether or not humans are a part of the ecosystem or not; if it is more beneficial to nature to poison all humans, then nature will do as such. Even the blind rage that the Ohm fly into when provoked is representative of the wrath of nature. In later works, Miyazaki uses characters such as spirits to represent the intentions of the natural world, like the boar in Princess Mononoke (1997), but the Ohm in Nausicaä have much the same effect.


A celebration of curiosity and science.

3943_4Princess Nausicaä is a kind-hearted young woman and strong leader, yes, but first and foremost, she is a curious scientist. Our introduction to her is in the poison forest, collecting specimens and remarking on the beauty around her. She is wide eyed and introspective, open to the possibilities of the environment. One particularly notable moment is when she uses her gunpowder and trigger in an unusual way – not to shoot something, but to help her study it. She uses the tools of nature, but only if they don’t harm the living beings. She takes the time to appreciate nature for its intrinsic value, and doesn’t get angry at animals for being afraid of her at first, like the little fox-squirrel. She uses technology such as her glider and her laboratory to help her understand and work with the world around her. This is presented in stark contrast to the Tolmekians, who use technology to push back against forces they don’t understand, threatening destruction because of their ignorance.

Nature as valuable in and of itself.

e8632bbbbdb48075367ff0c80b884ffaMiyazaki’s films often point out the intrinsic value of nature over it’s monetary or capital value. Princess Mononoke and My Neighbour Totoro (1988) depict elements of nature as forest spirits or soot spirits, who have no desire to harm or destroy, as long as they don’t feel threatened, they leave the humans be. There are strong themes on interconnectivity, or kami, the interconnectedness of the world as understood in Shintoism (Anderson, 2005). All spirits depend on each other, as an ecosystem, and those systems need to be held in balance with each other. In Nausicaä it is revealed that there is a wealth of clean air beneath the poison forest, and that nature is, in fact, the best one at solving the problem of pollution, if only humans would stop and pay attention.


Miyazaki’s Legacy

I want to take a moment to point out that Miyazaki has clearly had a long lasting impression on western filmmakers. So many other stories spring to mind on watching Nausicaä, all clearly influenced by the values that Miyazaki purports (Smith, 2015). Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008) is all about restoring the natural balance of MV5BNzNiNTliMjItMmY0ZS00YTMzLTllYTQtMzE2ZDM1YTgwZjlmL2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTEwMTkwOTI@._V1_the forces of nature, Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest (1992), a labor of love by Jim Cox, is all about the destructive force of pollution and the intrinsic value of the forest. Even Pocahontas (1995) has similar intentions in its text, though it arguably doesn’t fully achieve a sense of genuineness. The point I want to make, however, is that there is something powerful in Miyazaki’s message. It clearly has lasting value.



Nausicaä as a warning is a fairly optimistic one, in a way (apart from the implication that most of us are going to die in a nuclear holocaust). The optimism is in the titular character, and the curiosity and gentleness of the human spirit. Miyazaki does not necessarily believe that humans are all heading toward oblivion, but he does believe that a value system which favours nature for its own sake over its capital potential will inevitably serve humanity much better.




Anderson, M. (2005) Miyazaki, Shintoism & Ecology. Retrieved September 23, 2019, from

Bauer, J. (June, 2018) The Philosophy of Miyazaki – Wisecrack Edition. Retrieved September 23, 2019, from

Chan, M. (August, 2015) Environmentalism in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke. Retrieved September 23, 2019 from’



The Colonialist Imagery of Tintin

What issues do Hergé’s albums raise in terms of representation of ‘race’, and particularly ethnic and cultural stereotyping?

Congo-Cover-Poster3It is difficult for many to look upon nostalgic images of history and come to terms with their problematic qualities. This is particularly profound in Tintin comics, which many people remember fondly from childhood, yet find difficulties with as adults. But as a cultural icon of Belgium, the issue is even more difficult- as the country grows ever more cosmopolitan, the old comics, now in their 90th anniversary year, are becoming harder to look at without criticism. The imagery of white superiority is too prominent. Modern Belgium, and indeed, the modern world, is taking issue with Tintin.


White Superiority


Screen Shot 2019-09-11 at 9.28.51 pmHergé presents the famous character Tintin as a well-travelled, clever, polite fellow, and there is no doubt that Tintin is likeable. The problem is not in the titular character, it’s in the presentation of the world he inhabits. Every depiction of a non-white race prior to Blue Lotus, and many beyond, is a negative stereotype, a caricature. (Mountfort, 2012) Now, today’s multicultural world is far better at understanding the nuances of culture and race, and it has to be recognised that Hergé was caught in the crossfires of the European propaganda machine that led to WWII, (Van den Braembussche, 2002) so I prefer to hold back the judge’s hammer on the artist. However, just because a text was created in a different time does not mean that it is immune to the critiques of today. To draw a quote from Mountfort (2012), “…Hergé unthinkingly reproduces the dehumanising racist stereotypes used to justify Belgian colonialism, including the now notorious ‘white man’s Angry_King_in_Tintinburden’ motif: in one panel Tintin is attributed the ‘Wisdom of Solomon’ when he breaks up a tussle between a pair of Africans who are arguing over a hat by cutting it in two, handing half to each. They respond, as the English translators have it: ‘White master very fair! Him give half-hat to each one.’ (1930; Hergé 1991: 47). The text, intended or not, is still offensive and the depiction of black people as imbecilic, intended or not, forgiven or not, is still deeply problematic to it’s audience.

Modern Belgium

C01 62 A_enHergé became aware of the “paternalistic” depictions of his art later on in his life, citing a “bourgeois prejudice” (Mountfort, 2012), and appeared to regret many of his narrative choices. His rightist beliefs were stirred by the political climate – it would be overly-simplistic to call Hergé a mouthpiece for rightist propaganda, or even a reformed racist – to quote from the text: “As Apostolidès (2007: 55) has argued, ‘Hergé placed Tintin in charge of soothing the concerns of a rightist Europe caught in the conflict between communism on one border and capitalism on the other’ and that ‘[u]nregulated capitalism was abhorred even more than communism’ (Apostolidès 2010a: 9).” (Mountfort, 2012). Hergé was a white francophone who lived in Belgium, and his understanding of race and culture was a reflection of his time and country – a colonising power coming to terms with a new cosmopolitan Europe. Now, I have to mention this, Belgium is still sorting out some pretty heinous historical racial issues. Last year the Royal Museum for Central Africa dedicated memorial space to the seven Africans who died in the abhorrent Human Zoo of 1958 (Al Jazeera, 2018)(Boffey, 2018).

I just want to reiterate this: Belgium had a Human Zoo.

A Zoo, full of 598 black people from the Congo.

In 1958.

Belgium is absolutely a country with a problematic history when it comes to the dehumanisation of black people (Van den Braembussche, 2002), but to focus in, the album Tintin in the Congo (1930) draws black people in Jim-Crow-esque, “juju lipped” uniformity, (Mountfort, 2012), the ugliness of the form serving to make it’s white protagonist look more attractive by juxtaposition. Images like this have gone down poorly in Belgium today, and for good reason – they infer that whiteness is more inherently attractive, and that blackness is tantamount to uncivilised savagery and ugliness (Green, n.d.). Belgian activist Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo has been campaigning for over ten years to get this particular book banned, saying that it should not be read to children, as it could negatively affect the way they interact with black people in their community (Mountfort, 2012), (Al Jazeera English, 2019). Currently, the country is celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the series with an extra-large scale exhibition on Tintin as a cultural icon (Al Jazeera English, 2019). It is a nostalgic and interesting series that has touched many readers’ hearts over the last century. But alongside that fact, I hope Mondondo’s campaign gets another bout of publicity. I think his concerns are entirely valid – especially considering that Belgium had a Human Zoo full of black people in 1958.

It’s exactly how it sounds.

To dissect a series as massive as Tintin and all its imagery- good and bad – would make an entire thesis and then some. This little sliver on its depiction of Central Africans is only a drop in an ocean – but it is still important. It shows how important stories are, how much of an impact books can have on people’s lives. Even if the nostalgia feels tainted, it still moved people as children, and if some of the messages in the text are problematic, it is important to acknowledge them.



Mountfort,P. (2012).‘Yellow skin, black hair … Careful, Tintin’: Hergé and Orientalism. Australasian Journal of Popular Culture Volume 1 Number 1. doi: 10.1386/ajpc.1.1.33_1.

Channel 4 News. (September, 2018) Inside the world’s ‘last colonial museum’ in Belgium. Retrieved September 11, 2019 from

Boffey, D. (April, 2018) Belgium comes to terms with ‘human zoos’ of its colonial past. The Guardian Retrieved September 11, 2019 from

Al Jazeera English. (January, 2019) Tintin 90 years on: Belgian comic book stirs racial controversy l Al Jazeera English. Retrieved September 11, 2019 from

Van den Braembussche, A. (2002) The Silence of Belgium: Taboo and Trauma in Belgian Memory. DOI: 10.2307/3090591

Green, L. (n.d.) Negative Racial Stereotypes and Their Effect on Attitudes Toward African-Americans. Ferris State University. Retrieved August 21st 2019 from





Game of Thrones: The Once and Never-Again Cult Following.

  1. Discuss how Hill’s three characteristics of Cult TV can be applied to a recent TV series.

cq5dam.web.1200.675 When the millions of fans of HBO show Game of Thrones air the final episode on May19th, 2019, the internet collectively let out a resounding scream of frustration. Within a week, an online petition to remake the last season with competent writers had reached over one million signatures (Chatterjee, 2019). The immensely popular show, a fresh take on a tired old genre, meticulously crafted, narrative subverting, darling of cult TV threw away all its themes, all its clever dialogue, all its intrigue and in the process it’s definition as a cult show. Let me explain. In Defining Cult TV (2004), Matt Hills specifies three characteristics of Cult TV: specific qualities like genre; wide ranges of secondary texts that lend to the primary; and a strong liege of fan got_eq27practices and activities. Today that means fantasy and sci fi shows, subreddit pages and wikis, video essays and comment threads on lore, world-building and theorising. Game of Thrones fit perfectly into these definitions, until season eight was released, and the endless dissection of world-theory turned into an autopsy of the legend that almost was. (Cole, 2019).


Hills used the term Hyperdiegesis (2004) to describe a narrative world that is never fully explored; the audience gets hints of a vast world that goes on beyond the line of sight of the characters. Game of Thrones does this in droves, using primary text, secondary texts, fan theories and so on. The story begins thirteen years after the overthrowing of the MadKing Aerys Targaraen, who belonged to a wide family tree with thousands of years of history. The map of Westeros reaches far beyond the audiences experience (The shadow lands beyond Assaii, The Free cities etc.) and has entire languages and cultures that are created in the background, to stand as assistance for the main plot lines. The show writers even pay homage to fan theories and online memes in the primary text- at one point in season seven, Gendry Baratheon shows up again to the cd3quip “thought you might still be rowing,” reflecting a meme thread (Urquhart-White, 2017), because it was the last thing the character had been seen doing since his leaving in season three.



The kinds of genres that tend to become “cult” TV are generally fantasy and science fiction, which have the capacity for vast world-building possibilities, and therefore endless fan theories (Pearson, 2003.) In such worlds, Hill (2004) says, the rules of the world must maintain a delicate balancing act between maintaining believable continuitygame-of-thrones-infographic-why-did-they-have-to-die-1 and surprising the audience. GoT did that – until season eight. If you haven’t watched the show, it is hard to explain just how vast the world is- suffice to say that named characters reach from between 109 to 503 depending on your interpretation of the word “relevant” (Muoio & Renfro, 2016). In season eight, the characters with dialogue have been whittled down to twenty odd, and the discussion of in-world lore has drastically dropped- in fact dialogue itself has dropped, with the final episode reaching a whopping 70% of runtime as dialogue-free (Nguyen, 2019). I won’t get too deep into the why of it- that has been done countless times online on reddit, YouTube and every blog site in the world. (See Ellis, L, 2019). However, here’s a basic outline: the TV show is based on the book series A Song Of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, who hasn’t finished the books as yet, promising the last two books sometime in the future. In season five, the TV show had largely deviated from the books in many ways both minor and major, and in season six, the story was entirely up to the show’s producers – who still had enough of a maxresdefaultuniverse built to make that season and season seven on top of that. The main problem cited for the overwhelming disappointment of season eight was producers’ D.B. Wiess and David Benioff (or D&D, as they are called online)( Nguyen, 2019) pushing for a fast track to end the show at eight seasons, because they both wanted to move on to work on Disney’s next Star Wars film. That’s the short version – the long version would have us here for days. Anyway, the reason I mention all this is simply to give a basic explanation as to the why of the whole mess – but the reaction of fans to the butchering of their story has resulted in a particularly idiosyncratic result: the importance of the Hyperdiegesis of the Game of Thrones universe has been registered null in void. Online there are now blogs dedicated to finding dropped storytelling threads or narrative cul-de-sacs that have turned out to have no point to the overall plot or theme of the universe (Hein, 2019). One blogger said that on re-watching, there is none of the original joy she experienced, because now that she knows the ending, she knows that it is meaningless (Ellis, 2019.)


The world of Game of Thrones was arguably as popular as Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, and has plenty of secondary texts to add to it. Plenty of fandom sites, articles and the like that discuss at length details as minute as the meaning of a single word or the colour of the grass in a different part of Westeros (Ellis, 2019). For the GoT TV series, almost all those conversations ended after the finale of season eight. The response of fans turned from discussion over the politics of the world into a discussion of the politics of the people writing the story. I would like to add a side note- the discussion of theory over the books is still going strong- some could even argue stronger- despite the show’s shortcomings (Cole, 2019). This is the point, though, that the fourth wall has been well and truly broken. The fans who had invested so much emotion into their characters felt short-changed, and re-watching’s, lore discussion and the like have stopped. Game of Thrones had a cult following, but, for whatever reason, the show turned into something different and that cult just… stopped following.



Chatterjee, P. (May, 2019) Sophie Turner Responds To Petition For ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 8 Remake Like A Queen. Retrieved September 11, 2019 from

Pearson, R. (2003) Kings of Infinite Space: Cult Television Characters and Narrative Possibilities. Retrieved September 11, 2019 from

Hills, M. (2004). Defining cult TV; Texts, inter-texts and fan audiences, in R. C. Allen & A. Hill (eds) The Television Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge.

Cole, V. (May, 2019) Game of Thrones Post-Mortem of “The Iron Throne” Retrieved September 11, 2019 from

Urquhart-White, A. (August, 2017) ‘Game Of Thrones’ Made A Gendry Rowing Joke, Breaking The Fourth Wall In A Big Way.  Retrieved September 11, 2019 from

Muoio, D. and Renfro, K. (April, 2016) It’s crazy how many more characters are in the ‘Game of Thrones’ books than shows. Retrieved September 11, 2019 from

Ellis, L. (June, 2019) We Need to Talk About Game of Thrones I Guess Retrieved September 11, 2019 from

Nguyen, H. (May, 2019) ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 8 Marks All-Time Low for Amount of Dialogue Spoken in the Series. Retrieved September 11, 2019 from

Hein, M. (May, 2019) ‘Game of Thrones’: Story Loose Ends Left After Series Finale. Retrieved September 11, 2019 from