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Costume cons.... And why they stopped being fun

Posted on 2013.06.05 at 14:31
This is probably going to be long winded and I am going to offend people, maybe lose some friends. My mind is wandering all over the place concerning it. But I feel like I should say something.

It stopped being fun. It had been brewing for some time, probably being there more than a year, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Maybe it was more that I didn’t want to put my finger on it. I lived in denial. I blamed it on other things, like my mood and said I would get over it. Ignoring a problem doesn’t fix a problem.

The cosplay convention community has changed and like a slow boiled lobster, I didn’t realize what was happening until I was well into the red. Now I look back at how things were when I began this hobby it doesn’t look that recognizable to when I started. I am probably like a lot of you out there. I was more than a little obsessed with my fandoms and in that there was a lot of loneliness until I met other people on the web and discovered that there were conventions that I could reach out and meet others similar to me. My first convention was in 2005. I brought one costume as an afterthought, just to participate in one of the bigger aspects of the con. It was a military uniform from the anime Fullmetal Alchemist. I still have it hanging up in a closet. It is a pretty smart looking costume and I didn’t realize how much I would get a kick out of seeing something in real life that I had only seen in animation. I met people that were fans of the show. We started talking, shared our love of different characters. It was a strange and yet wonderful feeling meeting people that were just like me. It felt like coming home.
A lot of us would trade livejournal names and we would follow each other. We continued to share our love of what we enjoyed, but we also took an interest in each other’s lives. As time went on we would share more, we would actually share our lives with those that we trusted. You would know who was going to make the innovative costumes. What they would make would become events. We would go to more and more cons if we could, sometimes adding more and more costumes. I was never going to be a model for a lot of characters I liked, but I would still costume some. I reignited my love of photography that I had since I was in high school and got a DSLR. Every con I went to became not just a social venue, but an opportunity to improve what I knew about photography.
The convention scene became a place where a reputation could precede you. Most people were creating websites to show what they were making. If you had 400+ hits to your site, you felt like superstar. The superbowl of costuming conventions was Dragon*con. We talked about it in hushed tones. You could see things there that you could not see anywhere else. You would see people that would look like they just walked off of the screen of your favorite movie or series. It also had a bit of a wild reputation, but as I came to learn that first year, you would only find that if you went looking for it.

And then things changed. Was it one event? No, but a lot of people had a hand in it. I guess I had a hand in it for what I said and didn't say. I have been talking to a lot of people as of late. It is interesting because so many people have the same feeling and it is coming from all sectors and demographics of the community. Things have changed and they do not feel cool with it.
So much of it has become ego. So much of it has become name dropping. So much of it has become jockeying for pecking order. It has become “how many likes do you have?” It has become a one way mirror where they want to be the star of their own reality show. Please watch me, but do not interact with me. So much of it has become "what can you do for me?" So much of it has become about sex. Now I am not a prude and I do like costumes representing sexy characters, but when it becomes that sex is the driving force, you are going to attract a less than savory element. You are going to bring in people that are not fans of anime, science fiction, comics or fantasy. They are there for sex. And these new people are having trouble distinguishing the difference between someone who is cosplaying a character and someone that they consider a stripper or a porn actress. Kickstarters that promise 15 minutes of conversation with a pretty girl are going to attract people that pay money to talk to pretty girls... and girls that want money to be talked to. And when they find out that they can get a lot more than just talk for that amount of money, we are going to get the buyers and sellers of people who are into that kind of business. I am not a prude. I have friends that do nude modeling and photography and they are worried. It is a huge changing dynamic that people have not thought through the consequences.

A lot has been made about "Cosplay does not equal Consent". I think that the growth of all of the troubles has come from the over sexualization of the scene. People who in any other circumstance would be as respectful as when they are in front of their mother are losing all manners and sense of propriety at conventions. They treat the people they meet like they are in a fraternity house or a strip club. And the more that association is made, the more people are going to act that way. It will not matter how many campaigns are held to try to stop that behavior, they won't see it because they are not there for the scene except to come to the cons. It is not just the men, there are some women that want that kind of behavior and will enable it. I know some amazing costumers that are seriously considering getting out of the hobby because they do not want to be groped or they are afraid that because they costume, there will be a presumption that they are not much different from people who are in the adult entertainment industry. There are consequences for this. They have lives both personal and professional that will be affected if those connections are made, fairly or unfairly.

There is so much vulgarness and entitlement. People who have never had any responsibility in their lives are now suddenly given influence. People like their costume and/or like how they look so they can say what they want and do what they want. It is so ugly it is breathtaking. They can have a grievance with a costumer, a photographer or just someone they are miffed at. They mention it on their page and all of a sudden thousands of social misanthropes feel like they should go set that person straight without even knowing the details of what happened. They take those actions in the hope they might find favor with the person they are a fan of. There is no thought behind what can happen by careless words. It doesn’t even have to happen to me, I see someone else be mistreated and it just puts a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I can’t enjoy my time with someone that was just horrible to another person. Some people think they are speaking their minds when really they have thousands of people kissing their butts and enabling every word and action they take. A friend of mine who was a popular actor in Hollywood in the 50s and 60s said that "it can mess with your mind being told that you are awesome every moment". He had to go way down to become grounded again. But most people don't. They find validation through adoration. And the hobby that was originally done for fun becomes a vehicle to bring validation.

So what have I taken to doing? Hiding in my suite at Dragon*con mostly. There were times I would go down to the floor, the heat and humidity would be high, I’d look around and then go back to my room. I’d have my D7000 in hand and yet I wouldn’t snap a shot. I used to spend 90% of my time on the con floor. Now i spend 90% in my room. I think I longed for something else. A private shoot somewhere of my choosing, not the crushing mass of humanity that was the con. Some of the people I would meet I would just not trust. I wouldn’t trust what they would do with me. I would not trust what they would do with others, particularly the women who would be around me. My female friends place a lot of trust in me, they feel safe around me. I do not casually say “this is a good person” to them. And some of the people that would be trying to get close to me frankly were not good people. But they were popular. You would be told to not judge, not to take sides, but the trail of wreckage behind them was undeniable. People make their own choices. There is not much I can do about that, but I would not be me if someone I cared about became some of that wreckage because I didn’t speak up when I had the chance.
My life means something and for people who are near me, especially women, you are safe. You are safe in my house or room or presence. You do not have to do what you do not want to do and you do not have to feel coerced and you will always be a person, not a thing. When I introduce you to someone, it is not just because I like them and want you to meet them, it is because I trust them. It is getting harder to do that, getting harder to guarantee that. When I go to a convention I am not sure that the people around me are in it for the same reasons anymore.

I still like making costumes. I still like dressing up. I still like doing photo shoots both in front of and behind the camera. I like telling a story. I like people into the same fandoms that I am. I don't think that is going to change. How I find those people, how I express these interests might change. I think this is going to be my last Dragon*con.... and maybe my last big con outside of Star Wars Celebrations. I'll go to smaller cons like Supermegafest. Do private photo shoots, stay involved with the Rebel Legion and 501st. And wait for things to change.

Posted via m.livejournal.com.


slave_to_anime at 2013-06-05 19:32 (UTC) (Link)
I'm kind of impressed you managed to post that through an app rather than on a computer with full keyboard. That was indeed a sizable post!

I'm with you on all of that. Something changed, and made cons not particularly fun anymore. For me, part of that was definitely a growing up and getting old that just doesn't allow me to keep up with things. But a lot of the factors above you mentioned are definitely reasons for me too: the constant popularity contest, the massive egos, the disturbing level of sexualization of things, massive piles of sheer idiocy and acceptance of same... There's also the excessive partying, and just the creation of an atmosphere that really works against introverts like me as well.

I still probably have a few cons left in me, mostly because I just don't have the capability yet to host my own affairs and it really is hard to see some friends in person outside of a con, especially out east when they act more like coordinating events than anything else. but I'm definitely looking for an escape route. :|
Robert G. Barker
bobbarker at 2013-06-06 00:20 (UTC) (Link)
I tell people that you are still one of the best if not the best photographer out there in cosplay today. It is not just your technical talent, but your ability to tell a story because you are often a fan of the material. You are a good guy Jason and you will always be welcome around me.
tavariel at 2013-06-05 19:35 (UTC) (Link)
I said my likely farewell to Dragon*Con and conventions in 2010 for pretty much the same reasons. I was good at the LiveJournal community, the one on one community; I loved watching progress posts and sharing our lives together. I think Facebook definitely played a part in what has happened. You're exactly right; it's 'Follow my posts' instead of 'let's talk.' I have never been comfortable with that.

For me, it was wearing my Elphaba Act II gown, which I spent 3 years making and was so tremendously proud of - I couldn't wait to wear it, and when I finally did, it was awful. I could barely move in the hallways, it was so hot, I couldn't find any of my friends, and not to sound vain, but nobody cared. Photographers and fans were flocking around the plethora of naked girls and largely ignoring the quality costumers (not to say the two are mutually exclusive; it's just how I felt at that moment.) There were hardly any costumes; just a massive throng of looky-loos, and they weren't looking for me. I felt alone and alien at an event that used to be where I felt most at home.

I've been costuming and attending conventions since 2001 and the culture completely unrecognizable to me now, even repulsive. "Wait it out." That's exactly my sentiment, too. I know this sounds horribly pretentious, but I can't wait for this 'geek chic' movement to be over and for the masses to move on to the next fad. I hope that I will be able to someday find the enjoyment that I once did in the hobby, because I miss it terribly.

Edited at 2013-06-05 07:40 pm (UTC)
Robert G. Barker
bobbarker at 2013-06-06 00:25 (UTC) (Link)
I would argue that the people there just for the naked girls were not going to be there for anything else. And that is ok as long as they keep to themselves and are not overly disruptive for everyone else. Sadly, more and more often, they are not.

I have no trouble with geek and nerd activities going mainstream. It is the pursuit of fame for monitization or other goals that makes me roll my eyes.
tavariel at 2013-06-06 00:31 (UTC) (Link)
I wouldn't have a problem with the explosion of mainstream geek culture if there were room at the conventions for everyone, but for me there's not. I felt like I was being pushed out of my own club by strangers.

I don't have a problem with the naked girls, either, but when the crowd of 'mundanes' makes up 70% of the convention, it's hard to find people who are excited about costumes. I was always 100% about the costumes; I wasn't that into the panels or the dealers room or the partying. I think that's why I exited earlier than a lot of other fans, because the costuming culture was one of the first things to go.

TLDR, I'm sad that you are feeling a similar sentiment towards the cons and I hope it gets better for both of us.
Robert G. Barker
bobbarker at 2013-06-06 00:41 (UTC) (Link)
I think it will get better for us, but it is going to be different for a while. We just have to change our venues, go back to the well and seek out people who are like minded. In those groups it doesn't matter what happens in the rest of the world, the people we care about the most will have our esteem.
musicboxwaltz at 2013-06-06 04:54 (UTC) (Link)
who the hell is going to be to themselves and not overly disruptive, when alcohol and pack mentalities are involved?
tk7602 at 2013-06-05 19:55 (UTC) (Link)
I stopped going to D*C in.... 2007? 2008? Even back then it was too much.

I'm not a fan of the cosplay celebrity trend, or of people trying to "become cool" through it. I'd write more, but you pretty much said it all.

I'm a bit worried that my local cons are starting to bring in "professional" cosplayers from around the country. I fear what this means for us.
Robert G. Barker
bobbarker at 2013-06-06 00:30 (UTC) (Link)
I had another version of what I wrote that I almost published. In it I named people who did this for the right reasons, where incredible in their craft and were shining examples that drew others into the hobby. You were at the top of that list, but I held back rather than causing your grief without asking your permission.

The smaller cons might attract the bigger name costumers, but it will only be the larger cons that bring in the unsavory element that seems to follow them. And who knows, maybe the smaller cons could show these people some of the better reasons to be in the hobby.... not just the fame monster.
saber_rider at 2013-06-05 23:01 (UTC) (Link)
I think I've been doing cons about as long as you have, and I'm feeling the opposite way. I like cons more and more these days. The charm I felt in the past has grown. Not that I don't agree with you on how there are a number of problems. Not that the cons of yesteryear (small by today's standards but huge at the time) didn't have their own charm and appeal, either. Things certainly HAVE changed. But I would blame the internet more than anything else.

Back when LiveJournal was king, social networking was still something you did mostly at home, mostly when you weren't doing other things, mostly when you wanted to check up on friends. Now, it's more of an always-on thing, what with everybody having a cell and a bunch of different accounts on various websites. Back then, people would go home, post photos, post a thought or two, and that would be mostly it until the next con. Now, cons just linger on for weeks and months because everybody's super-connected (at least though informational bonds, less so emotional ones). The effect has been to put everything on overdrive.

I remember ten years ago, there was quite a bit of the same popularity contests, sex appeal, and aggression that's a problem today. It was smaller in scope, because the community was smaller, but it was certainly still there. These days, it's harder to escape it, and even harder to find somebody who wants to escape it as well. The game has changed, and I'm comfortable changing with it. But to be clear, that doesn't mean I think it's a change for the better.

I still enjoy taking photos -- if anything I probably take more these days than in the past. I even want to get back into cosplay -- grad school just pegged me down that I had to put it aside for a while. And perhaps most importantly, I'm meeting a lot of people these days, just the same way I always have, though friends or friends or just serendipitous meeting with strangers. At the same time, I have to wonder how long it'll last for me like that. As it's already happened for you and many of our friends, cons are becoming so much less like what we started going to them for, and I may cut out, too. In some ways, I have; I travel to see specific friends now instead of hitting up every convention I reasonably could.

So... we'll see how things go.
Robert G. Barker
bobbarker at 2013-06-06 00:39 (UTC) (Link)
you have kept a big foot still in the anime community. I have completely removed myself from there and sometimes I wonder if I am missing out from that. I guess I am talking about the bigger scifi and comic cons.

Heh, you have always been loved and respected Olie. Not sure if you knew. You were and still are a fixture with so many conventions and the best people who attend.

I don't want to leave costuming or costuming photography.... I think I'll just go back to the well.... and the well is seeing people that I love. That doesn't necessarily have to be in a con.
musicboxwaltz at 2013-06-06 04:51 (UTC) (Link)
so much truth here,

"Please watch me, but do not interact with me. So much of it has become "what can you do for me?" So much of it has become about sex. Now I am not a prude and I do like costumes representing sexy characters, but when it becomes that sex is the driving force, you are going to attract a less than savory element. You are going to bring in people that are not fans of anime, science fiction, comics or fantasy. They are there for sex."

1ucifer at 2013-06-06 13:54 (UTC) (Link)
I mulled over all this, and you are right. Its sad, but yes, things have changed. Not for the better, but I will say there is something deep down still alive and makes the fun worth it. Just takes alot of work to find it, or a big dose of 'fuckitol'.

It seems one just can't care about anything to have fun, if that makes any sense. The most fun I had at a convention was wearing a comfy costume of something I truly loved, and just goofing around with friends. Does it annoy me how everyone now seems to focus on the sex aspect of cosplay? Hellz yeah. But after seeing the shit that is the modeling community (and how its invading into cosplay), my lack of caring has kept the creativity alive...at least for another year.

Honestly though, when it costs SO much money to attend these things, if its not worth it, one needs to get out. I think when the trend dies down, what once was will return. But until then...
Isabella Cullen
isabella_cullen at 2014-02-26 06:38 (UTC) (Link)
I'm sorry to be seeing this so late, but it's been awhile since I've interacted with livejournal. I'm thankful to see it's still used by some people.

I agree with every single thing that you said. Dragon*Con has ceased to be enjoyable for me anymore because it's too overcrowded. People are pushy. So many more are drinking excessively. And the majority of my friends who are "cosfamous" are too busy to hang out because they're getting photos taken or they're at some famous person's room party.
The whole scene is sickening and disgusting. I used to pride myself on being a cosplayer, and would look forward to going to conventions every year because I would get to see friends and people I only ever got to see a few times a year. Cons have ceased being about that now, and I've found myself wondering why the hell I'm even there anymore. The hobby itself is still enjoyable, but as I responded to a friend's comment on FB about photogs only approaching you if you had a shit ton of followers is just straight up ridiculous. I remember back when I first started cosplaying I was ecstatic to find cosplay photos of myself on photographers websites because that was the only real way I could have any photos of my costumes. Nowadays I'm ignored by photographers because I'm not shooting to be a cosplay idol. It's made me almost hate cosplay, and the people in it.

Anyhow, I'm hoping to make some changes to my new Rogue 11 Jaina costume and join up with the Rebel Legion finally. It's something that I've been wanting to do since 2007, but I just never managed it.

I'm thankful to see that the cosplay community hasn't lost all of it's good people. :)
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