So, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, a couple of my students requested that we have a lesson on costumes and cosplay on Halloween. Since that’s theoretically a lot of the research I’m doing for my dissertation and because frankly it just sounded fun, I agreed. Now I’m putting together that assignment and lesson plan.
The students will be reading a couple of essays. One is Michael Chabon’s New Yorker piece, “Secret Skin: an essay unitard theory” which talks about the practicality (and impracticality) of super hero costumes and why they are still essential to the trope of the superhero. The second is a selection from Barbara Brownie and Danny Graydon’s book The Superhero Costume: Identity and Disguise in Fact and Fiction which argues that the costume is a signifier of the heroic identity and that by assuming the persona of the hero they are impersonating, the cosplayer symbolically adopts a portion of the hero’s power.
I’m going to ask my students to expand upon that. Their assignment will be something like:
Read both of the articles. I would like your journal to be in two parts. First, explain how you think superhero costumes work (or don’t work). Address the ideas of Chabon, Brownie and Graydon, but feel free to agree or disagree. Why do you think comic book characters wear costumes? What makes them effective (on ineffective)? Are the necessary for you to consider a character a superhero (or villain)? Does the idea of a superhero work without the costume? Why or why not? Do you make assumptions about the character, the storyline, or the audience based on how the character dresses? Do changes in the costume — between different artists or stories or even when it is moved to a movie or video game — change the way in which you view the character?
For the second part of your journal, I would like you to find two pictures of real life cosplayers, one that you think is effective and one that you think isn’t (for those of you who asked about cosplaying for Halloween, you’re welcome to use yourself for an example. Or you can just find images on the internet). Why do you think people like dressing up in cosplay and what makes the cosplay work or not work? What is the effect of wearing the outfit? How do you view the person in costume? What makes the costume work and not work? Why? Does the practicality or lack thereof make it more or less successful? Does the sexiness matter? The craftsmanship? The accuracy? Originality? Humor? And what can we assume about the wearer and the reactions of the spectators?
I’m curious as to what other people think about all of this. Should I change anything about the assignment? What else do you feel like I should be mentioning in this lesson? How would you answer the journal questions? Of course feel free to link me to some of your favorite cosplay pics in your answers.
Some of my favorites from various cons I’ve been to for Cosmic Hellcats are in the gallery below.