All right, so I admit that as a cosplay writer and contributor at Comicbooked, it should ultimately be my job to report on any number of things related to cosplay, both good and bad. That includes highly dramatized – both on screen AND off – topics, like SyFy’s new “docuseries” Heroes of Cosplay. In fact, it should really be prioritized because of the high media attention it’s getting, mostly negative, and therefore pretty viral.
Man though, I tried.
I have lots of opinions on the show. I had a ton before I saw it and a lot more after the first episode, wherein I stared blankly at the screen in some kind of shock for a good three quarters of the episode.
A lot of the outrage I felt was mirrored by my friends and others online. How did they manage to get such popular cosplayers? Isn’t this supposed to be a documentary series, not a reality show? Is there any dialogue at all that isn’t scripted?
I spent the past week or so trying to explain myself and my thoughts. I started an article four times.
In doing so I’ve realised that my problem with writing about this show is one of the core problems I have with the show in general: Syfy’s Heroes of Cosplay is not a show about cosplay. It’s a show about drama.
It’s reality television in a comic convention setting, but the cuts and the edits, the scripts and the dialogue, that’s not what cosplay is. More importantly, it’s not what cosplay is to me.
Immediately, the show alienates the core community they’re drawing from to begin with. I fought with this for a few days. I tried to think about it objectively and forget the part that it was supposed to be a docuseries and not reality television. I’ve never really been in a situation where I’ve been able to look at a reality show that represents some part of my life that I hold dear. Project Runway, to a certain extent, categorizes some of my life in that I graduated with a fashion design degree, but it’s separated enough from me, as a costume designer, that I could look at it and see the flaws but appreciate the work within it.
The point is Heroes of Cosplay was the first time I looked at a reality show with first-hand experience on what it actually is like at the events depicted. Is this what happens when an Alaskan fisher watches Deadliest Catch? Does he have just as many issues with that show as I do with this one? Is this just what happens when all reality series are made?
I don’t know.
What I do know is this: on the surface, the show seems to be about cosplayers and the costumes they’re rushing to make before conventions. That’s accurate. But the rest of it? It’s so skewed and over-dramatized, and look. I’ve been in the same situations that they have; we all have! I’ve thought it was a great idea to start a costume two weeks before a convention, and had a nuclear meltdown when it wasn’t going according to plan. I have definitely looked like tantrum fodder out of Toddlers & Tiaras and I’ve laid on my bed, limbs outstretched and furiously staring at the ceiling in total, absolute frustration over whatever the hell I’m making.
Is that cosplay?
Yeah, it is.
But it’s only one part of cosplay. It’s part of the process, but it’s not every step of the way. You could have spent an hour on each of the contestants documenting the processes they went through for their costumes individually. It could have been the whole series, an individual (or pair) each episode. The pattern-making, the fabric decisions. The anxiety over whether the first muslin test will be good enough or if you’ll have to spend more time making another. The elation over cutting final fabrics and the first assembly of what you’re really, actually making. Like everything else, there’s a ton of trial and error in cosplay. There’s a lot of mistakes and unexpected problems. Hell, there’s definitely drama and over-reacting.
But there’s also successes. Not just at the end, but throughout the process. Little things that you put together and hold up and just smile, because finally. Something looks right. The little successes are sometimes the only thing that keeps you going.
Shows like Project Runway have proved that the creative process can be interesting to mass media, whether they’re cosplayers or accountants or both. It’s a total crap shot for SyFy to demean cosplay, to doubt whether the content they have is capable enough to withstand the media and therefore, must be stuffed with scripted filler to engage and add superficial drama.
I want to write about a show on cosplaying. I want to watch how other people assemble costumes, the processes they go through and the ways they differentiate from mine. I want to feel their stress and their anxiety, the worry they’re not good enough. I want to share their joy and their pride when they complete a step or see themselves in the mirror for the first time, wearing everything.
I want it to be inclusive just like cosplay is – a kind of fan appreciation that really, anyone of any skill level can participate in if they want to.
The teenager who’s just discovered anime for the first time and excitedly pieces a costume together from his mother’s bedsheets is just as much a cosplayer as Yaya Han, as the guy who slaves away for months in his garage studio, vacu-forming individual armor he first constructed via 3D software on his computer.
And that is why I do not like this show, why I could not write about it. It’s not inclusive. It makes cosplaying out to be some cutthroat competition that’s all about the prize and not also about the characters, the craftsmanship, the actual act of wearing something you’ve spent days and hours on.
That teenager is watching that show. He’s looking at his clumsy stitching and his uneven seams and he’s not feeling the pride he felt before. He’s not looking at his costume and seeing the care and love he put into assembling it. I want that teenager to wear that costume to a convention. I want him to keep making costumes. I want him to improve because he’s learning by doing. I don’t want him to stop because he’s looking at the cattiness that goes on and the firefights online about it, and thinking cosplay might not be for him. That it wasn’t what he thought it was.
Maybe it’s not. Maybe he will have too soft a skin and will walk away and find a different interest. But what if he didn’t? What if he wore that costume to his convention and felt pride for it? And then ten years down the line, he’s that guy vacu-forming armor in his garage?
I want him to have a chance at that.
(i’ve been told the 3rd episode is different from the first two, so I’m going to give it a try to see if Syfy’s changed things around thanks to media attention. I really do hope it’s a step in the right direction.)