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Mav’s Costumes and Cosplay class Post-mortem

Ayana, Mav & BrooklinWay back when I started teaching my Sex, Violence and Comics class, the students actually requested a class focusing on cosplay. Then a couple days ago I asked for people’s thoughts on the homework that I’d be giving for that class. We did it on Halloween. Some people asked if I could share some of the students’ feelings on cosplay, so I asked them and got permission.

First of all, I should point out that way back when I first posted about it, I asked what the Over/Under was on people dressed as Harley Quinn. Averaging out all the answers, the Over/Under was 8. Well, only 2 people did… or 3, if you count me (Which Joe Kalash specifically guessed I would do in the comments). So congratulations if you chose the Under… You win… well, nothing. So like… congratulations, I guess.

Anyway… It was an interesting class. As a general rule, the students are pretty open minded about cosplay (though most of them didn’t bother to dress up… which I expect accounts for the smaller than expected number of Harleys). The general impression is that it is an art and that it is amusing to watch (because people watching is fun) and that “haters” make to big a deal of it. It’s just people having fun, so why should anyone else care. Pretty refreshing there.

Some interesting points that came out of the discussion and the homeworks is that the student’s tend to praise accuracy and craftsmanship on more or less equal levels. They are impressed by cosplayers with fine attention to detail and who “look like the characters” but they don’t seem to be particularly concerned with the actual physical attributes of the cosplayers. For instance, in the picture I have posted here, Brooklin, who is white and blonde and therefore arguably looks more like Harley Quinn is “supposed to look” than Ayana (the other student) or myself, noted that the key to actually getting the cosplay right was “hairstyle, color scheme and symbol.” So, at least in her view, even though Ayana and I are both black, and I’m a boy, the outfits worked. (The students did appreciate that despite my hair being relatively short I did make sure to have Harley’s trademark pigtails… or as close as I could come)

nigri1On the other hand, their views of what constitutes authenticity and creativity were interesting. There’s certainly an amount of respect for people who can create a picture perfect replica of an outfit. That appears to be pride in craftsmanship. But they also intend to appreciate a certain amount of creativity. As a group they appear to be fairly accepting of the idea of modifying costumes in order to present the greatest level of creativity for the cosplayer or to take care of aspects that don’t necessarily “work.” In real life. For instance, in the case of portraying characters that aren’t realistic.

One of the most interesting stances was given by my student Alex, who used cosplay model Jessica Nigri as his example of both good and bad cosplay. And the reasoning that he used was pretty interesting. Nigri is known for her sexy cosplay outfits. In this example, where she is dressed as Gnar from League of Legends, Alex felt that the impersonation worked. Since Gnar is a completely not only non-human, but not even humanoid, Alex felt that here, Nigri captured the essence of the character. It felt like she was going out of her way to reinvent the character of Gnar as something that might be a human female and still remain true to the characteristics of Gnar.

nigri2On the other hand, Alex did not a all like Nigri’s similar performance as Pikachu. In his own words he felt that “Besides a pair of ears and an out of shot tail no part of the character is added or portrayed, I don’t think good cosplay necessarily needs to be high quality in fact I think some of the most memorable cosplays are sometimes the humorous low budget joke cosplays. But a lack of effort to capture or put your own spin on a character makes it somewhat ineffective.” For Alex, it isn’t so much that Nigri made either character sexy that makes the outfit work or not work. It’s that in the first example she is “sexy Gnar” but in the second example she is simple “sexy Jessica Nigri” who happens to be dressed in yellow and with Pikachu ears. I believe he is essentially arguing that in order for the cosplay to be effective some kind of transformation is necessary.

sl1The students did not seem to have the level of distaste for sexualized costumes that I expected them to have. In fact, even those that hated the level of objectification that was prevalent during the Bad Girl movement of comics were relatively ok with sexualized costumes on both men and women. Not only were they ok with hypersexualized costumes in general (Powergirl, Witchblade and Starfire were all examples we spoke of) but they pretty much ok with the cosplayer hypersexualizing a character that is not normally portrayed in that manner. For instance, in this picture of slave girl leia style Disney princesses, they felt that this was perfectly ok. I expected some complaint about only having sexual options for female characters (they made similar statements about the Bad Girl comics when we were reading them), but instead they saw this as a means of allowing the cosplayer to express her own sexuality. Since there is certainly a non-sexualized version of the character available, the fact that the women CHOSE to be perceived this way was very important to the students. They also felt that it was somewhat clever to combine two disparate ideas (the Disney princess and slave girl Leia) into one. What they were not ok with, however was having Elsa in line with the other Disney princesses. Apparently Elsa should NOT under any circumstances be considered a Disney princess and some people have very real and very sensitive feelings about this.

genderbend_ariel_teaser_shot_by_detailed_illusion-d7kvhczAs I predicted when Amber Love and Tara Polk asked about it on the previous post, they weren’t very big on body shaming. I knew from previous class discussions that this wouldn’t be much of an issue. There weren’t many people who addressed it at all really, and those who did mostly mentioned in only in passing (i.e. body shape isn’t important if the costume is accurate). They are also extremely accepting of gender bending costumes. In fact they appear to like them a lot. Several noted a connection to Mulvey’s male gaze theories, wherein women who perform in gender bended cosplay typically do so either in order to hypersexualize the character whereas males do so generally as a joke. They did acknowledge that there are some examples from both genders which simply does the gender swap with no real concern for humor or sexiness (my male Harley Quinn for example) but they noticed that pattern of “girl as boy is sexy… boy as girl is funny” more often than not. However, much like Nigri’s sexualized Gnar, they didn’t have a problem with the hypersexualization. If anything they praised the men who appeared in hypersexual costumes (gender bent or not) and wanted more men to try.

20-of-the-most-hilarious-cosplay-costumes-ever-5They didn’t seem to like sloppy costumes, or costumes that appeared to take little effort. I found this odd because, as I said, most of them did not bother dressing up (it was optional), though in the spirit of Halloween some did have a superhero t-shirt or a funny hat. But I don’t believe they would have considered themselves “cosplaying” instead they had a problem with costumes that appeared to be “trying” but weren’t put together well. More than one student referenced this homemade Ironman costume as being bad because it “made no attempt to get the essence of the character” and was sloppily constructed out of duct tape and construction paper. It is as though the perceived lack of effort bothers and offends the spectator. That said, one student, Steven noted that although “It seems like the person did not put much effort into being Iron Man. The mask and the tape also show that the person is not very crafty,” he still had to “commend the person though because he dressed up on a budget and has a humorous costume. He is obviously in a poorly done outfit and probably knows that his costume is poorly done….People will probably love this costume because of how bad it is. Sometimes people love seeing poorly done things because it might make them feel better about themselves or just might think it is funny.” So he appears to have some level of respect for the joke of having a poorly constructed costume if it is clear that the wearer is in on the joke.

All in all, it was a pretty interesting discussion. Even with the criticism that they were doing in the class (which, to be fair, is the nature of the class… criticizing is what they’re there to learn to do), the students do seem to have a great deal of respect for the idea of cosplay. One student, Elysse, specifically said in her homework journal that “I am going to interpret “effective” as being as close to resembling the character as possible. (As a note, I think pretty much any cosplay is good cosplay, just because I know I don’t have the time or money to be extremely detailed and on the nose, and neither do a lot of people. But there are people whose costumes are more impressive than others.)” A pretty excellent way of looking at it.

40 comments for “Mav’s Costumes and Cosplay class Post-mortem

  1. avatar
    November 1, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    I agree that Elsa should not be considered a Disney Princess.

    • avatar
      November 1, 2016 at 3:03 pm

      I must confess to some confusion over this. Why should she not?

    • avatar
      November 1, 2016 at 3:06 pm

      She is a Queen

    • avatar
      November 1, 2016 at 3:10 pm

      Ah, I see. I thought we were being non-specific about the “princess” title — as a Disney branding phenomenon, that is — rather than specific.

    • avatar
      November 1, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      Well, I can’t speak for everyone who has an issue with it, but for me, it is specific.

    • avatar
      November 1, 2016 at 3:30 pm

      Actually I think it’s more being old fogies. Even though they’re in their early twenties.

      They see Elsa and Anna as “not originals” so they count less.

      For the record, btw, I don’t think the queen thing matters. Mulan isn’t technically royal at all.

    • avatar
      November 1, 2016 at 4:36 pm

      Not original. So no Tiana or Jasmine or Ariel either?

    • avatar
      November 1, 2016 at 5:09 pm

      I agree with Joy about the Queen thing (although one could argue that she is both a princess and a queen in the movie). But I find it particularly interesting that the definition of “original” is almost definitely generational… like when you ask people about the best cast of SNL =P For me, the only one of the people in that picture who qualifies as a Disney Princess is Belle.

    • avatar
      November 1, 2016 at 6:20 pm

      The thing is, they’re younger than us. They were kids when Disney Princesses became an official thing (2000). So for them, the original line up does include Jasmine and Ariel. And Tiana was added soon afterward (2010). Assuming they’re between 19 and 22, that’s still long enough ago to be in their childhoods. Frozen on the other hand was 2013, so late enough that they’d be 16 or older and so not really thinking of them as part of their childhood princesses. So I imagine that matters a lot. I mean, if you wanted to go with ONLY original, then it would just be Snow White, since all the others came after her.

      Oddly enough, Disney doesn’t yet include Elsa and Anna in the official princess lineup. They are associated characters but they haven’t been coronated yet (this is apparently a thing). This is appear in some of the materials, but until they are officially coronated they are not part of the line. it’s apparently a big thing among Disneyphiles. (in addition to Tiana, Merrida and Rapunzel HAVE been added)

    • avatar
      November 1, 2016 at 6:21 pm

      But what about Leia?!?

    • avatar
      November 1, 2016 at 6:22 pm

      Nope… not associated at all… though I do have an unofficial t-shirt with her drawn in the style

    • avatar
      November 1, 2016 at 6:24 pm

      In all seriousness, I know for a lot of people, the cut-off is the dead time before Little Mermaid. So I agree with your assessment that it’s often a generational thing.

    • avatar
      November 1, 2016 at 6:26 pm

      right… but that’s just us being old fogies. I mean, they have an official thing that is “the disney princesses” and Ariel is clearly in it and has been since the beginning.

    • avatar
      November 1, 2016 at 6:27 pm

      agreed. And get off my lawn!

    • avatar
      November 1, 2016 at 8:40 pm

      Well, if we insist that only actual princesses (non-ruling female royalty) can be “Disney Princesses”, then that eliminates a LOT of the “Disney Princesses”, including Tiana, Elsa, and Mulan. Therefore it seems more reasonable to assume that “Disney Princesses” is a general brand name for female protagonists of Disney movies. In which case, Elsa is *also* a “Disney Princess”.

      The whole thing is marketing mumbo-jumbo, anyway.

    • avatar
      November 1, 2016 at 9:06 pm

      well, Elsa is of royal blood. But yes, it is a general marketing brand name. Or kind of a “club” in their story world. Technically Mulan and Pocahontas aren’t really princesses in any royal sense at all in their movies.

      For now, Elsa and Anna don’t really need the “brand” because they’re more popular on their own. I imagine they’ll be folded in eventually, and like I said, they do sometimes appear as well… notably in the video games.

    • avatar
      November 1, 2016 at 9:57 pm

      Huh. When I read your message, I thought the objection was from the opposite direction: Elsa/Anna fans believing that they represent a new style feminism, women who aren’t defined by the system. That while technically royalty, they’re a break from the “little girls want to be princesses and find a prince” concept, and defining them as “Disney princesses” is demeaning.

    • avatar
      November 1, 2016 at 9:58 pm

      G. Sumner Hayes : That (possible) interpretation was also the source of my original question in this thread.

  2. avatar
    November 1, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    I <3 your pigtails!

  3. avatar
    November 1, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    For the record, I put the over / under at 2.5, which means I almost perfectly nailed the number. I should guest lecture 😀

  4. avatar
    November 1, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Mav I thought you were doing a mash- up cosplay of Negen and Harley Quinn.

    • avatar
      November 1, 2016 at 6:22 pm

      Nope. Just Harley. She uses a bat like that sometimes (most notably in the Suicide Squad movie from this summer)

    • avatar
      November 2, 2016 at 2:42 am

      I know it. It was I couldn’t see the full picture right away……so only seeing half the picture it looks like a mash up which would totally work on you.

  5. avatar
    November 1, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    Very interesting! Especially regards the gender bending. One of the most interesting ones I know about is the guy who decided to faithfully gender bend Slave Leia. Did you talk about him at all? Here is the initial post: and a very thoughtful follow-up on a year of con-going and unintentional internet body celebrity as well:

  6. avatar
    November 1, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    I’m just excited that I’m clearly winning the Mav trivia contest!

  7. avatar
    November 2, 2016 at 4:43 am

    seeing you as harley quinn has damaged emotionally.

  8. avatar
    November 2, 2016 at 6:30 am

    I must admit, this does sound slightly more interesting than the Principles of Accounting classes I teach right now

  9. avatar
    November 2, 2016 at 8:50 am

    That was really cool. I’m glad that you got the level of discourse despite a lack of cosplay participation. Rock on.

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