Lately, I've been witnessing a disturbing trend. It tends to happen most often with females; particularly the type who compose endless posts about “the injustices of the fake geek girl myth.” The trend is an attitude of “geek elitism” in which the cosplayers see themselves as “the ultimate fans” because the amount of work they put into their costumes show their dedication.
Here’s the thing; and I think that this may actually play a part in some of the “fake geek girl” debate: I don’t think that dressing up as comic book characters makes you a bigger fan of comics. In fact, I don’t think it automatically even makes you A fan of comics. There’s this sense of massive indignation regarding any doubt that certain cosplayers are as in to comics as other people who don’t dress up, but I think that what doesn’t get acknowledged is that a lot of times, it’s an apples and oranges thing.
Some cosplayers dress up like characters because they love the characters. This isn’t about them. But PLENTY of them dress up because they like dressing up. They like making costumes. They like crafts. They like pageantry. And don’t misunderstand me, there’s nothing remotely wrong with that. That’s your passion. That’s your little corner of geekdom, and that’s great. But crafts and pageantry are not comics. In my eyes, “I only had two hours of free time a day these past two months, and I spent every one of them crafting the perfect Deadpool costume” is impressive, but if we’re talking purely about who’s the bigger fan of COMICS, “I only had two hours of free time a day these past two months, and I spent every one of them reading every appearance of Deadpool in chronological order” is by far the bigger feat.
In short, spending a huge amount of time making a costume doesn’t make you a bigger geek, it doesn’t make you a “superior” geek, and it doesn’t make you a bigger fan of whatever the source of your costume came from. It just makes a different KIND of geek. And if it isn’t accompanied by a genuine love of the source material, it’s not going to automatically earn you a place of honor in groups whose main interest is in discussing said material.
The more I think about it, the more I wonder if the cosplay scene could actually be one of the driving factors in the controversy over the "fake geek girl" stereotype. One of the accusations that gets flung - one of the accusations most complained about at least - is that females at cons are accused of "just being there for the attention."
Cosplayers are unique among comic book fans, because where the traditional fan attends a comic book convention to talk about comics, acquire comics, trade comics, and meet people who read or write comics, for dedicated cosplayers, the primary reason for being there is to show off their costume, which does, in fact, equate to attention. I'm not saying it's unreasonable to want to show off something you worked so hard on and are really proud of, but let's call a spade a spade, deserved or not, it's about drawing attention to yourself and the outfit you made. And I think that for a lot of them, that IS the real appeal of it - the attention.
Consider, if you will, fan sites made by cosplayers vs. fan sites made by traditional comic book fans. You go to a comic book fan site, what do you see? Panels from comics. Pictures of characters. Drawings. Theories on stories. Debates about who would win in a fight between Spider-Man and Batman. Because that's what's important to them: the comics.
Now, go to an avid cosplayer's site. What do you see? Gallery after gallery of pictures of the person and their costumes. Because that's what's important to them: having people see them in their costumes.
Now, I'd like to address the argument I most often here from people who are offended at the notion that there are cosplayers who dress up - and in particular dress sexy - for attention. I have two words for you: Princess. Leia.
In Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, Leia spends most of the movie in a white princess gown. It is iconic, it is elegant, it covers everything without being painted-on, and it is still beautiful. On top of this, I haven't spent any time with a stop watch (I'm thinking of actually doing this experiment), but it seemed to me like she spent more time in that outfit than any other.
In Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, Leia begins in the uniform of a military officer. I'll discount this one as she's on Hoth and wearing basically a snow suit, and that would suck at a hot convention. But after that, she wears basically street clothes.
In Episode VI - The Return of The Jedi, she starts out wearing the uniform of a bounty hunter, when she embarks on her mission to rescue Han. Then, later, she wears a camouflaged uniform, in which she actually fights the empire. In this outfit, she proves herself to be quite capable on a speeder bike and with a blaster.
In other words, girls wanting to dress up as Princess Leia have a wide range of iconic outfits to chose from. But when you actually SEE girls cosplaying as Leia, let's be honest, how many do you see in those outfits? I have seen a few in the white dress; I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but for every one girl I see dressed as "respectable princess gown Leia," I see 20 dressed as (and I think you all know where I'm going with this) slave Leia.
Specifically "gold bikini/loin-cloth Leia." Instead of dressing up in any of the outfits that Leia chose for herself, instead of wearing her regal garments which she wore longer than any other outfit, instead of dressing up like her as a proud warrior, they dress up as her during that 10 minutes or so when she was captured, enslaved, and FORCED to put on a skimpy outfit specifically to degrade and sexualize her for the pleasure of a slimy gangster-slug-monster.
Now you tell me: why, if all these girls want to do is to share their passion for Star Wars and this character, if they're not largely doing it for attention, why would they so overwhelming chose to portray her at her absolute lowest, most degraded, most sexualized point?
There's culture-clash here, because the traditional fans are used to simply blending in. In fact, that's traditionally part of what drew people to cons - they felt like they fit in because they were just like everyone else. They didn't WANT to stand out. Suddenly (well, not "suddenly," it's been growing for several years, but suddenly in the context of the the past few decades that saw the rise of comic conventions) there's this growing in-flux of people who want to stand out, and are shifting some of the focus from what used to just be about comics to "comics, pageantry, and general pop culture."
Perhaps this accounts for some of the feelings of resentment female fans often sense.