Sometimes it’s possible to have an opinion about something based exclusively on external observation, and still be fairly accurate in your assessment. You do not need to be mauled by a bear to understand that it would probably not be a pleasant experience. At other times however, you can roll out your jump-to-conclusions mat and end up using that shiny red Swingline to staple yourself to it in a rather embarrassing way. Such is the case with this ill-informed and ill-advised piece on the pop culture phenomenon of cosplay, and its impact on the U.S. economy.
By no means am I an expert on either economics or, more importantly for the purposes of this post, the world of cosplay. Sure, I put on a Superman suit for Halloween, or to shoot funny photos for use as Twitter AVI’s (profile pictures); I play-act the persona on social media when it suits my purpose, which is usually to make people laugh and to poke fun at myself. However, I’ve never been to any of the conventions or other, similar events held annually around the country by those interested in things like comic books and sci-fi/adventure.
What I can say, based on interacting with a number of cosplayers over the past couple of years, is that they are not what you would expect from reading the article linked to above. They enjoy dressing up as their favorite characters from print or film, and attending conventions or other events with those of like mind. Yet classing these people as unemployed, disillusioned millennial layabouts is either based on faulty reasoning, or the fact that the author didn’t think it worth the bother to actually see whether the category of people he was writing about matched his description of them.
In my travels through social media I’ve come across all sorts of people who enjoy cosplay; as it happens, not a single one of the ones with whom I interact on a regular basis is unemployed, or lives in their parents’ basement. They all have jobs, in many cases they have their own families, and cosplay is just the way they enjoy spending their free time. Many of them, far from being anti-social couch potatoes, exercise and eat well to stay in shape, so that they can look right for the cosplay they intend to do. They also donate their time to charitable causes, whether visiting the sick or participating in fundraising events in full costume, to the delight of those who love having their picture taken with Wonder Woman, Gandalf, or Darth Vader.
In my experience, cosplayers are often entrepreneurially-minded people, who appreciate and encourage creativity in themselves and others. When they come up with an idea for a character they want to play, they research it thoroughly, and either make their own costumes and accessories from scratch – from Batman’s cowl to Captain America’s shield to Thor’s hammer – or they seek out people who are good at making these things, and collaborate with them to achieve the desired effect. They work with everyone from photographers and independent film makers, to makeup artists and lighting designers, to have fun acting out their adventures.
All of this activity touches on a rather salient point, which was apparently lost on the author of this cosplay hit piece: cosplayers and their fans generate a lot of money. You see, those folks in tights and plastic body armor are not only contributing to the economy themselves, in many cases running their own home businesses on the side, but major industries recognize that the cosplay crowd can make or break their business. The growth of the various conventions from places where a few geeks would gather to talk about vintage comic books, to the massive media events they are now, demonstrates this purchasing power.
For example, the latest installment in the multi-million dollar “Superman” franchise hasn’t even finished filming yet, and won’t be released until 2015. Nevertheless, the director and cast showed up at a comic book convention earlier this summer to meet fans and take their questions, as well as give a sneak peek of a brief clip from the forthcoming film, a bootleg of which went viral and generated millions of hits, posts, and re-tweets. This, for those who do not understand how marketing and advertising work, is called “buzz”, and it can make or break an investment, whether that investment is a movie or just about anything else.
The cultural reasons why people choose to engage in cosplay are for another post, but dressing up in costume is by no means an unprecedented source of revenue in Western history. If cosplay is economically worthless, then I suppose we must also consider not only the Palio di Siena, but the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia to be full of lazy good-for-nothings, whose elaborate expenditures contribute nothing to the economy of their respective cities. The same holds true for Morris Dancers in England, Karnival troupes in Bavaria, Holy Week penitents in Andalusia, Civil War re-enactors around the Mid-Atlantic, and so on. I could say this, except common sense dictates such an argument is rubbish, especially when the hotels are fully booked and the bars and restaurants are jammed.
People who dress up and participate in these kinds of events, cosplayers included, not only enjoy themselves, but they generate significant revenue in the communities where they engage in their activities. Rather than denigrate and dismiss those who choose to pull on the hobbit feet and go tramping about convention centers in San Diego or Baltimore, perhaps something more than a mere cursory consideration of what cosplay is might have generated a better blog post than that linked to above. For indeed, what the author has no doubt unwittingly done in his piece, is make an argument for the abolition of all professional sporting events, which are based on little more than fantasy.
After all, when you consider how much time and money is spent in this country on athletes, stadiums, tickets, “Fantasy” football and “March Madness” picks, clothing emblazoned with logos of teams which fans will never be members of, or for that matter the names of individual athletes whom they will never get the chance to meet, are these two segments of the economy really all that different?