Those who know me realize I have long been an advocate of cosplay. People might be sick of hearing me say “cosplay is about fun” or “cosplay whomever you want.” For many of my friends, I’m preaching to the choir when I state that you can cosplay anyone regardless of your age, gender, body type, skin color or species (yes, I have seen dogs cosplaying).
So why am I talking about cosplays you should not wear?
Last year there was quite a bit of online buzz about two people who were at DragonCon and cosplayed the twin towers of the World Trade Center. They depicted the buildings on fire and used dolls to show people jumping to their deaths. No matter your thoughts on the attack and subsequent collapse of those buildings, thousands of people lost their lives. It was a tragedy that united a country and highlighted the heroic nature of those who responded to the crisis, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. (Oddly, these people weren’t the only ones who decided on this cosplay.)
These “cosplayers” were exercising bad taste and poor judgment. I’m not quite exactly sure if it qualifies as cosplay at all. Cosplay is a celebration of fandom, showing your enjoyment of a particular show, movie, video game or even a particular person (here I’m referring to those cosplayers who might portray Weird Al or Howard Stern). Do the costumes worn by these people show them to be fans of a tragic event? Are they celebrating it? I would hope not.
Yes, you can cosplay whomever or whatever you want. You don’t have to cosplay a person… I’ve seen people cosplay the TARDIS, automobiles and starships. These people were within their rights as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States to cosplay these buildings.
However, it is also the right of others to respond to such a cosplay and express displeasure with the choice.
This does not mean, as I have seen some internet posts suggest, that these people should be physically attacked. Lots of people said “If I’d been there, I would have done….” and then described whatever physical attack appealed to them the most. Honestly, I think most of these people are full of it. Plenty of people at DragonCon saw these people in costume and did not attack them and I think these people posting “what they would have done” would likely have done nothing.
It is my understanding (and please, if my information is incorrect, please correct me) that DragonCon sent security to remove these individuals from the con, but by then they had left. Was DragonCon correct to (attempt to) take such an action? Would they be violating the rights of these people? No. DragonCon is a private event and as such can eject someone from their convention for any or even no reason. They are very tolerant of cosplay, but if they receive complaints (they did) about certain attendees or decide those attendees are disruptive (I believe they came to that conclusion) to other guests, they can remove that individual. Rules for attendees can be stricter than legal requirements.
Is this censorship? In a way. But well within the rights of the con.
Getting back to these particular people who decided to portray the twin towers… they absolutely had the right to wear those costumes. If I had encountered them (which was pretty unlikely, since I had to skip DragonCon that year), I would have… likely told them I felt their costumes were in bad taste and suggested they reconsider them. Which I am sure many others did.
So what’s the bottom line? Just because you can wear a costume… doesn’t mean you should. The majority of cosplayers understand this. The majority of cosplayers wear costumes that celebrate something they love.
For those who aren’t sure… there are some things that you can do… but really shouldn’t. These are:
•Wear a costume depicting a tragedy such as the fall of the twin towers
•Wear blackface to portray a difference ethnicity.
•Wear the uniform of a group known for hate or atrocities. (Nazi unforms, Klu Klux Klan, etc.)
•Wear a costume that blatantly targets any group with the intent to offend
This isn’t a comprehensive list. But when putting together a costume, you should keep these things in mind… even if you might think it’s funny or “people will get it.” You should think about whether your costume celebrates a fandom or celebrates a tragedy or hateful behavior.
Do people make mistakes? Certainly. There have been some who have used blackface to portray characters of a different ethnicity and caused a lot of outcry. Some people say the offenders should have known better. Frankly, there are a lot of people who aren’t aware of the historical significance of blackface and were trying to be accurate. Most of these people, when they make this mistake, apologize and don’t do it again. I respect that. I would hope they might have friends to advise them against this, but maybe their friends don’t know. Making a mistake is understandable and can be forgiven.
Were the people wearing the offensive costumes at DragonCon just ignorant of their mistake? Perhaps. Were they insensitive to a tragedy? Yes. Maybe they realized their mistake and removed (and hopefully destroyed) those costumes. One can hope. Some feel these people were deliberately wearing the costumes to gain attention. That’s possible too, but I’m not sure that I would want to receive that kind of attention. I haven’t heard anything more about these people or their motivations… and frankly, it doesn’t matter. They are an excellent example of costumes you shouldn’t be emulating.
Cosplay is about fun. Even when you choose to portray a villain from a fandom, it’s still about fun. Let’s bring it back to that. And if you see someone in a costume that is offensive, you can tell them your feelings about the costume and move on. Or just ignore them. Don’t let their costume choice dictate your enjoyment of the event you’re attending.
In other words… have fun and cosplay on.
(NOTE: There are some people who might take telling someone their costume is offensive to mean if you don’t think the person looks good in the costume you should tell them this. That’s downright rude and not the intent. You can tell someone if the costume is offensive… do not take it as license to tell someone they don’t have “the body” or “the right look” for the character they are portraying. Yes, you have the right to say what you will. Just because you can say something, doesn’t mean you should. In other words… don’t be an ass.)