On Becoming a Scholar-Fan

As my final for one of my M.A. classes, I opted to do a research project about cosplay. During my research project, I found Tanya Cochran’s dissertation “Toward a Rhetoric of Scholar-Fandom” and it spoke to me.

In her prologue, she shares her personal history and development as a fan and a scholar, which I found particularly helpful to better understand myself:

Can an academic feel “at home”? I mean, feel so at home that there is no distinction in her mind between public and private, no difference between what she does and who she is, even if what she does is write and teach in academia and who she is is a Christian, a woman, a scholar, a feminist, and a fan? (11)

I share all of Dr. Cochran’s labeled identities, though I would add medievalist and cosplayer to the mix. What does it mean to be all of these things and is there a way to synthesize these facets of myself in order to better understand myself as a whole, singular identity, rather than the sum of parts?

As I move forward as a cosplayer and an academic, I’m going to look for ways to meld the two since I am but one person with many varied interests. I want to feel at home as any of my identities in all of my interests. I hope to share my work as a scholar-fan, applying my academic skills to my fandom life.

I’m still working my way through her dissertation because, as a burgeoning scholar-fan, I want to read the whole thing. I’m still thinking about the ways that I can speak authoritatively as a negotiator between was Jacqueline Jones Royster calls “contact zones.” And, perhaps most excitingly, I’m looking forward to the ways I will participate in fandom as an academic and in academia as a fan.

Works Cited
Cochran, Tanya R., “Toward a Rhetoric of Scholar-Fandom.” Dissertation, Georgia State University, 2009.
Royster, Jacqueline Jones. “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own.” The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Ed. Susan Miller. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009. 1117-1127. Print.

An Open Challenge to Cosplay Audiences

I’ve seen a few people talking about their discontent with cosplayers who do choose to put their bodies on display. While I’m sympathetic to the frustration of talented seamstresses being overlooked in order to favor “sexy cosplay,” I’m not comfortable placing any blame on the cosplayers themselves. Sex sells – unfortunately. Instead of pointing fingers at cosplayers who are comfortable with showing off their bodies and/or may not care about more elaborate costumes, we should consider our audiences and the consumers who lavish attention on the “sexy stuff.” The impetus is not on the cosplayer to change or censor themselves. While I have personal reasons for choosing to not do “sexy cosplay” and I like to see elaborate craftsmanship rather than lingerie shoots, I will no longer fault cosplayers who choose to do “sexy cosplay.”

If you are frustrated with the proliferation of “sexy cosplay” and would like to see more craftsmanship, I encourage you to feature cosplayers you admire. Kylee of Colfox Cosplay & Photography suggested this to me last week and I think it’s a magnificent idea. For the record, this is something that @PrincessBilbo on Instagram has been doing regularly and I perk up every time I see her feature posts! Sam Skyler will be starting a new cosplay positivity art series this week and I can’t wait to see what she does. You can also read through Ginny Di’s post about new cosplay blood and check out the new feature page, Up & Coming Cosplay.

Now, for my own part in promoting amazing cosplay craftsmanship, here are three cosplayers whose skills I greatly admire (in alphabetical order). Share a cosplayer whose work you admire in the comments so I can check them out!

I’ve been following Ginny Di since she did the Doctor Who Regeneration Carol with Matt Eleven. Her Arya Stark costume is impeccable and her One-a-Day-Cosplay week was so fun to watch! Find her on Twitter and Instagram @itsginnydi and see her perform with Geekiarchy.

ginny
Ginny’s 2015 cosplays, shared on Facebook.

I recently found Major Sam on Instagram, but she’s also on Facebook (which I just found out). I love her progress documentation and she makes hats! She makes hats!! Her detail work inspires the hell out of me and I really really want to see her costumes in person one day.

sam
Three of Sam’s works, shared on Facebook.

Jennifer of Tangled Threads Designs primarily does commissions but she has a closet full of phenomenal Disney princess dresses! I’ve known Jen for over 10 years and it has been an honor to watch her skills develop since then. Find her on Instagram @aurorahermione.

jen
Commissions Jen made in 2015, shared on Facebook and Instagram.

Thinking Through Cos-Politics

Photo credit (left to right): Ed Litfin / Zipdodah, KNP Photo / Colfox Cosplay & Photography, Craig's Cosplay Corral, KNP Photo / Colfox Cosplay & Photography.
Photo credit (left to right): Zipdodah, Colfox Cosplay & Photography, Craig’s Cosplay Corral, Colfox Cosplay & Photography.

I’ve been cosplaying and attending conventions for over ten years. Sewing is a way for me to release stress and I’ve been able to meet some absolutely wonderful people through this hobby. But it isn’t always pretty and it isn’t always fun.

To be blunt, the cosplay community (at least in southern California, where I’m from) can be vitriolic, spiteful, and filled with people who thrive on putting others down. I’ve experienced both sides: being hated and being hateful. Neither is healthy and it’s important that cosplayers (especially those who have amassed any kind of following) participate in the conversation so these behaviors can change. In the past few years, the community has shifted from a place where you can meet like-minded people and build friendships to a competition where too many people hope to attain “cosfame” to the detriment of others.

There has been a growth of conversation around cos-positivity and cosplay bullying – rightfully so. But I’ve also noticed that some of the people promoting cos-positivity are precisely those who also perpetuate cosplay bullying, shaming culture, and a hostile environment for both fans and creators.

Anastasia cosplay by Caitlin. Photo by Geri Kramer
Photo credit: Geri Kramer

This is not endemic of cosplayers but rather of the systemic competition, gender politics, and overall power inequalities in modern society. When we think about the classroom, the workplace, and even some family dynamics, there is always-already a culture of competition even among ‘equals.’ From my personal experiences, there’s little room for actual collaboration that does not result in something that benefits one party over the other(s).

In the cosplay community, it seems to me that collaboration doesn’t occur among friends. Instead group cosplays or collaborative projects become more of a business transaction: if you do this with me, it will help grow your brand. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that kind of interaction, as long as everyone involved knows. People want the ‘A,’ the promotion, the parent’s favoritism, but no one wants to admit when it causes them to belittle and degrade their peers, colleagues, or siblings. And, within the cosplay community, many who want prestige and fame have a tendency to seek it out to the denigration of others.

This happens all over the place. I didn’t watch Heroes of Cosplay but I’ve heard that the SyFy cosplay reality series focused on the competitive aspect of the craft. And, as a reality series, the show likely manufactured drama among cosplayers, highlighting animosity among the community (an animosity that seems to be running rampant now). Similarly, costume competitions are gaining attention at conventions. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to showcase your craft but that isn’t the only reason to attend a convention. When I started attending cons, they were more like a geeky meet and greet than a catwalk. Exhibit hall, artist alley, various panels, game rooms, etc. are all part of con life. Making cons only about showing off your cosplay means that you miss out on so much. More and more cosplayers want to be guests of honor and cosplay competition judges without recognizing how detrimental that can be to the community. The connotations behind the word “judge” are enough to wreak havoc.

Additionally, too often we start to think “Well, mine will be better” or “So-and-so did it better so why should I even bother?” Of course we should bother because it’s not about being the best – it’s about doing something you love.

I’ve been on both sides of this equation. I’ve been part of an “in group” that criticizes other cosplayers out of jealousy and anger. I regret the ways I engaged in privately criticizing other cosplayers because it seemed like it was the thing to do. I regret the ways that I allowed myself to be pressured into contributing to this negative environment. It isn’t healthy and it doesn’t belong in this community.

mer
Photo credit: Estrada.

I’ve likewise been the object of antagonism, accused of using my friends for whatever they can give me in some desperate attempt to amass fame. I’ve been cosplaying for over ten years and, at this point in my life, I don’t care about having a following. That’s not why I cosplay. If you like my work, great. If you don’t, that’s great too.

You may be thinking “Okay Caitlin, so what do we do?” That’s a great question. How can we change behavior within the cosplay community? We start by changing our own behaviors – both within cosplay and within other social groups. We have to point out when our friends and acquaintances are perpetuating a cycle of toxic attitudes. We have to be willing to say “this isn’t okay” right next to “here’s how we change it.”

I’m ready to see something shift. I’m ready to promote cos-positivity while acknowledging the fact that I used to participate in the negative snickering about people my friends didn’t like. I don’t want this community to be a place of hostility, antagonism, and competition anymore. Do you?

ss
Photo credit: Colfox Cosplay & Photography

My Fear of Sergers

I learned how to sew when I was 15. I grew up with my mom and grandma constantly making things for me, so when I decided I wanted to learn how to do it too, I did. I primarily use a Brother Ex-660 because it was the machine given to me for my birthday that year, though I’ve also dabbled with other machines (including but not limited to Viking, Bernina, Singer).

But I never learned how to use a serger.

Both my mom and my grandma have sergers and both of them use them from time to time. About half of my sewing friends have sergers, which they’ve let me use for straight lines under their supervision. But I have no idea how to use one and reading the manual for my Singer Ultralock (a gift from a former coworker who had never used it) did not help me an ounce. My biggest issue is with threading the machine and an even greater concern is in accidentally unthreading it. I’ve read the guides, watched the youtube tutorials, and tried time and time again to thread both my and my mom’s sergers. I just can’t figure it out.

Hopefully that will change. As I’ve been working on new projects this year, I want to have clean seams wherever possible and vastly improve my personal craftsmanship. I have plans for projects that use velvet, satin, organza, spandex, and even more fabrics where a serger will be helpful. And I want to make use of the machine I was given so it doesn’t just gather dust.

I wish I could say that “No Fear” from The Swan Princess plays through my head but this serger has been a desk ornament for the past few months precisely because I am full of fear. Since I don’t want to let a perfectly good machine be a paperweight, I’m going to reread the manual for the umpteenth time, scour countless online tutorials, and do my best to follow the color-coded numbers that tell me exactly where I should place each thread.

Wish me luck.

visual of serger thread guide
After threading the machine & successfully sewing a few lines! (Sorry for the lint.)