5. What are some of the tensions between productions like Sy-Fy Channel’s Heroes of Cosplay and fan-led Cosplay Music Videos (CMVs)?
Cosplay, at the core of its identity, has involved reappropriation and negotiation between performer and the source material from which each performance is inspired. As argued in my previous response, this relationship can be considered an intertextual form of détournement where via the cosplay community’s subversions and expansions, new understandings of source material is permanently altered. This fundamental interplay that occurs here has facilitated a certain set of cross-cultural characteristics which define the cosplay community and the hobby as a whole. Performers often play roles which are of a different gender to theirs within the source material, meaning gender roles are often challenged or disregarded both within performances and generally the community itself. This has seemingly manifested in a more progressive space which is supportive of a variety of gender and sexual identities. Similarly, race of characters is often subverted in cosplay performances, constructing a space where racial stereotypes, expectations and representation are openly discussed and frequently criticised. This subversive undercurrent leads to an implicit agreement within the fandom that cosplays are celebrations of source materials, not necessarily faithful reproductions, as such, physical and resource limitations are not points of contention between most members. These features encourage a generally supportive environment where values revolving around community, inclusivity, collaboration and experimentation are encouraged. Even in fashion/cosplay tournaments where this is a modicum of competition, the vast majority of the time a level of ludic and irreverence is present which prevents the more toxic modes of competition from occurring. As Mountfort (2018) suggests, the cosplay community when assessed by its best qualities is a “socially progressive/transgressive space where fans enact a kind of collective détournement.”
For the most part, static (or image based) cosphotography as a practice has done nothing to impede these values while providing a treasured means for cosplayers to show off their technical and creative talents in a non-competitive means. Due to the anonymity and far reaching nature of the internet, online dissemination of cosphotography has tragically enabled the proliferation of harmful gazes such as those that sexualise unwilling performers or those which are critical or mocking of a performer’s ‘ exotic geekiness’ or inability to faithfully replicate the source material. These negative consequences, although harmful, have more to do with the nature of the internet than cosphotography, and cosplayers can mitigate the effects of these gazes by selecting more judiciously who can see their performances. This relative harmlessness cannot be equally applied to the newer genre moving image cosphotography. When it comes to moving image, there is a tense conflict between various types of cosphotography and how they depict the practice and community. According to Lamerichs (2015), CMVs (cosplay music videos) are predominantly an extension of the cosplayers showing off their passion, while also enabling greater performative control on the side of the performer. CMVs being performer mediated also means that cosplays are able to transcend their traditionally fragmentary performances to create more purposeful and complete narrative explorations, enhancing the core role of cosplay as subversion and expansion of cited materials. When cosplay media becomes no longer performer mediated however, especially in regards to video content, a number of issues can arise where the creator misunderstands the core identity of cosplay and the community surrounding it. This is certainly the case for the Sy-Fy channel’s Heroes of Cosplay and similar non-performer created media.
Mountfort (2018) suggests that while most cosplays and by extension CMVs are acts of détournement, they are at threat of falling victim to the opposite phenomenon – récupération – where radical and fringe subcultures are subsumed and co-opted by the mainstream and corporate. This is what can often occur in outside productions such as Heroes of Cosplay, where marketable elements of cosplay are elevated while others are diminished. In the instance of Heroes of Cosplay, common criticisms suggest that sexual appeal, competition and craftsmanship are emphasized due to their ability to attract casual audiences while neglecting the primarily inclusive, supportive, collaborative and subversive nature of cosplay (Scott, 2015). This selective portrayal of cosplay leads to a form of moving image cosphotography which is decidedly corporate in its over-dramatization and problematic depictions of beauty standards and gender roles (Hanson, 2013). With this in mind, tension can be said to exist between CMVs and larger non performer mediated productions because while they tend to share the same medium, CMVs extend the inherent purpose of cosplay as citational acts which expand upon and subvert texts, while their corporate counterparts act to diminish it. It can be argued these corporate acts of récupération act to undermine the very identity of cosplayers and the cosphotography, such as CMVs, which they seek to create, by constructing false characterisations of the practice in pursuit of monetary gain.
Mountfort, P. (2018). Cosphotography and Fan Capital. In P. Mountfort, Peirson-Smitth, Anne, & A. Gaczy, Planet Cosplay (pp. 45-74). Bristol: Intellect Books.
Lamerichs, N. (2015). The remediation of the fan convention: Understanding the emerging genre of cosplay music videos. Transformative Works and Cultures, 18. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2015.0606.
Scott, S. (2015). Cosplay Is Serious Business: Gendering Material Fan Labor on Heroes of Cosplay. Cinema Journal. 53(3), 146-154. https://doi.org/10.1353/CJ.2015.0029
Hanson, B. (2013). Seven Reasons Why Heroes of Cosplay Is Terrible. Topless Robot. https://www.toplessrobot.com/2013/09/seven_reasons_why_heroes_of_cosplay_is_terrible_1.php