A few weeks ago, I was scrolling down my Twitter timeline when I stumbled upon what appeared to be a landmine of tweets regarding the finalists chosen for the Less Than Three professional gaming and cosplay group. The tweets fell into two categories – of the congratulatory and celebratory variety, and of the…well…not so celebratory variety.
I watched as fellow female cosplayers complained about the finalists that had been selected. Many of the tweets were bemoaning the plight of the “cosplay underdog,” claiming that the chosen finalists were “already popular,” that they had “enough fans already,” and alleged that you already had to have a sizeable cosplay fanbase to garner any recognition within the community.
It got me thinking about the emphasis we as cosplayers have been placing on fan pages and fan bases within the community. Lately, it feels like we’re starting to prioritize “fans” and “likes” over such archaic concepts as “passion” and “craftsmanship.” As cosplay has begun to garner the attention of mainstream media – landing us on reality shows and in national news coverage – have we started to approach this hobby more strategically? Are we still cosplaying for fun, or are we cosplaying for fame?
On any given day, my Facebook newsfeed is typically a technicolor smorgasbord of cosplay fan page posts, mostly because I enjoy supporting my friends and following cosplayers whose work I admire. On one hand, I think the influx of fan pages on Facebook – brought on in part by the mass deletion of cosplay profiles last year – can be a good thing. It allows us to exchange information with people we meet at cons and gives us a safe, easy way to keep up with each other. Full disclosure: I have a cosplay page myself, and I love sharing pictures, links and talking about all sorts of things – cosplay related or not – with the people who choose to follow my page.
But on the other hand, I think in a lot of ways, the marriage of cosplay and social media has turned our hobby into more of a popularity contest than ever before. Now, cosplayers solicit and compete for likes. There’s more significance placed on physical sex appeal and on glamorous, heavily edited images. The higher the fan count on their page, the more talented the cosplayer is perceived to be. Cosplay Photographers are starting to become highly sought after rock stars in their own regard – which, considering all the work they do, is well deserved – but in many cases, they’re treated as nothing more than a stepping stone for exposure. Recently, many of my photographer friends have struggled with the fact that some cosplayers don’t even give them credit when sharing the pictures they took.
Yaya Han recently touched on the effect social media has had on the cosplay community in a series of tweets. “Social Media has made cosplay more about surface glam,” Han tweeted. “It’s easier to hide your flaws and show off your good side.”
“It’s brought cosplayers around the world closer,” she went on to tweet. “But we are no longer measured by our costumes, but by our page likes.” Truth be told, when my own page’s fan count was in the below 500 range, it was oftentimes difficult for me to be taken seriously within the community – by both cosplayers and photographers alike. Is there something I’m missing? Do fan page numbers really mean that much? In a community filled with people who share a hobby that is still pretty heavily side-eyed by society in general, why do we treat people differently based on how popular we think they are?
If someone is considered too popular, we call their devotion to their fandoms, their costume work, even aspects of their physical anatomy into question. She got here by being pretty, we say. She’s not deserving of her success. I am forever blown away by the fact that Jessica Nigri had to post pictures of herself holding power tools, in the process of working on her costumes on her page in an attempt to get people to stop saying she doesn’t do her own work. She shouldn’t have to do that. None of us should.
But on the other hand, if someone isn’t considered popular enough, we dismiss them. One of my new favorite cosplayers has about 200 fans on her page, tops. Yet, her work is incredible – and doesn’t need thousands of people to like her page to prove it. Another one of my favorites doesn’t have a social media presence at all, beyond a personal Facebook profile for friends. She’s phenomenally talented and I would kill for even a fraction of her skill – but she doesn’t have a fan page. Does that mean she’s not legit? Is she unworthy of your time because she doesn’t have thousands of people following a Facebook page?
Don’t get me wrong – networking within the community is fine. I do it myself. Developing your own personal cosplay “brand” is fine. I do it myself. There’s no denying that the somewhat newfound interest by the mainstream media in our hobby means that if you position yourself correctly, you can find yourself on the receiving end of some pretty sweet opportunities – we might as well be upfront about that. But there’s definitely a divisive line being drawn between cosplayers who are considered “popular” (which oftentimes leads people to believe they aren’t deserving of their ‘fame,’ which is another post entirely) and cosplayers who are not. And we’re pitting ourselves against each other, when we really shouldn’t be.
“I think it’s important to mention why I even have a cosplay page,” Cosplayer Marie Grey wrote on her fan page recently. “I’m not here to generate likes and become ‘cosplay famous.’ I’m here to share my work with others, teach those who seek my help, and learn from those who came before me.”
Mad respect for this girl. I think she’s got the right idea.