Cosplay, Social Media, and "Fame"

I started writing this post a long time ago, but I couldn't decide what direction I wanted to take it in until recently, thanks in part to Chaka Cumberbatch's article on Nerd Caliber titled "The Pursuit of Cosplay Fame". Cumberbatch writes about the positive and negative effects that today's modern, easy-to-use social media has effected the cosplay community and the way we see each-other. She points out how social media has both brought cosplayers together and also unfortunately spearheaded it into a beauty contest.

It could be argued though, that cosplay was always a beauty contest, it just wasn't as in-your-face. After all, cosplay is a visual media, with the common goal being to represent a character, who usually has a pre-determined look. While that look might not always be, and usually isn't, conventionally beautiful, the closer someone gets to that look, the more appealing it is to fellow fans. How has social media influenced this?

First and foremost, social media is intensely in-your-face, and it's constant. An article on cosplay.ph on ways to become cosplay-famous raises an interesting point, "3. Persistence - ...This also applies to online presence as well, especially if your internet name is firmly connected to your cosplay costumes or any cosplay related activities." Social media makes it easier to cosplayers to promote themselves, as opposed to before the mass outbreak of social media, when a cosplayer had to be remembered by only being seen for a day or two at a convention. Now a cosplayer can make a cosplay-specific fan page on facebook or a cosplay-specific tumblr or twitter, and you can follow them without invading their privacy the way you would if you had to follow their personal social media site or if you could only contact them via e-mail.

Personally, I love cosplay fan pages on facebook, even though I don't have one myself. I enjoy seeing other people's updates without having to see their personal updates. I also like the fact that I can 'like' pages of cosplayers across the spectrum of skill and experience. If only spectacular cosplayers were socially allowed to have fan pages, I would only see those who have skills vastly superior to my own, and while inspiring, it can also be discouraging. Sometimes, seeing cosplayers who are far beyond my skill range makes me think, "I'll never be that good, why do I even try?" Luckily, I can also see cosplayers who have around the same amount of experience and talent as myself, and even a few cosplayers who are just starting out. Sometimes the newer cosplayers are even my favorite, because I can watch them grow, but it raises the question of why someone just starting out would make a fan page (or similar social media account) for themselves if they haven't really done much for people to be fans of.

Besides the obvious reasons, like wanting to keep their personal social media accounts separate for family and job security, I think that the basic reason comes down to validation. I hesitate to use the words "validation" or "praise" because they're usually used in a derogatory way, but I can't think of any better words. We all enjoy praise for our work, we like our efforts to be recognized, whether it's in cosplay or in everyday life, it's nice to get recognition. Normally with cosplay, we get that praise from our friends, family, and occasionally a random convention-goer or two. If you compete, you'll get praise from the judges and probably a few more people who watched you compete. For the most humble of people, that's more than enough, but where's the harm in getting a little bit more recognition?

With the help of social media, a cosplayer can get compliments from strangers on any random day. For me, it's nice to log on to the computer and find a comment here on this blog or on cosplay.com, it encourages me to continue cosplaying (and writing about cosplaying). It's not that we need the attention, but it's encouraging. In addition to compliments, with a fan page or other public profile, you can easily ask people for help on something you're stuck on, and you'll get many more responses than if you were limited to only asking people you know. Similarly, if you're stuck and look up how to do something on the internet, you can find other cosplayers' public profiles where maybe they've already posted how to do whatever it if you're trying to do, or at the very least you'll find a method of contacting them to ask. The perceived "problem" here is that people can become cosplay-famous (pseudo-famous, or e-famous) largely in part to their social networking, and some people don't like that.

Personally, I think that most of the hate toward famous cosplayers is jealousy. Of course there's a good amount of exceptions to this generalization, but it's as good of a place as any to start. The most common complaints I see and hear about e-famous cosplayers are things along the lines of, "He doesn't deserve the attention, he's not that good," or "She didn't work that hard on her costume, why is she receiving so much praise?" The underlying context here is clearly, "I can do better," or "This other person has done better." It's hard not to get frustrated when we work so hard on a cosplay and someone else gets more attention, not because they're cosplay was more work or looks better, but because they're better at social networking.

There's really not much to be said on this. People who are, for whatever reason, better at social networking and meeting new people will always know more people. For some people it comes naturally, and for others it takes a bit of work and effort. Some people don't have time to devote to social network, with making their cosplay, a job to fund cosplay, personal life, sometimes school as well, there aren't enough hours in a day. It's safe to assume the most avid of cosplay social networkers, arguably the most well-known cosplayers, make time to do social networking, presumably by cutting out one of the previously listed activities. Some are lucky enough to get well-known enough that their cosplay funds itself. Isn't that something we'd all really love? So couldn't it be rationalized that hatred toward that is mostly jealousy? (It should be noted that professional cosplaying will not make you enough money to support yourself, at most you could support your hobby, you'd need another job to afford living expenses.)

So ultimately, is internet social networking a positive or negative thing when it comes to cosplay? I stand by my previous implications that it's positive. We can communicate with other cosplayers, and even get non-cosplayers interested in the hobby. We can share construction techniques or buying information freely, and we can keep up with each-other's cosplay lives without intruding on personal lives or having our personal lives intruded on. Yes, there are drawbacks to posting all of your cosplay business on the internet, it makes it easier for people hiding behind a screen to insult you, and when cosplayers get e-famous, we see them on multiple social networks whether we like them or not. In the end though, it comes down to eat of communication, which in my opinion, is definitely a good thing.

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