Costumed Role-Playing: Cosplay

Gunnels, Jen. “’A Jedi Like My Father Before Me’: Social Identity and the New York Comic Con.” Transformative Works and Cultures 3 (2009). Web. 8 June 2014.

steampunk_icon_for_Safari_by_yereverluvinuncleber-d4zhax0Very few venues exist for adults to play dress-up, with Renaissance festivals, comic and other media conventions, and live-action role-playing games comprising the bulk of these venues. This sort of behavior is expected of people in their formative years—children and teenagers—where they try on and receive feedback about the “range of possible extensions of the self” (Elliot 1986, quoted in Kaiser 1996:162). What might be the reasoning behind the behavior of adults doing so, especially after primary socialization has occurred? Susan B. Kaiser, in her study of clothing, wonders whether role-play dress is important “in terms of providing some means for ‘escaping’ from mundane daily routines, as well as for expression of creativity,” but she concludes that “little is known about fantasy dressing; this is an area with a great deal of potential for contributing to an understanding of creativity and self-expression” (1996:163). Very little has been written on the subject, beyond mentioning that this behavior happens. [1.2]

Adults engage in costumed role-play to explore an identity that may not be practicable in everyday life. … cosplay, as a performed identity, can provide a means of permitting individual agency and social commentary on current and past social stresses. [1.3]

ShD head steampunk blueSome identities can be performed and explored as cosplay. The study of cosplay and its practice specifically within the United States is sparse. Most studies of cosplay are framed within its expression within Japanese popular culture, particularly manga and anime, and its export to the United States and other points West (as can be seen at; other studies discuss cosplay in terms of gender. What has not been examined is its nature as performance and as identity play as found at sites such as conventions. [3.1]

When observing cosplayers, regardless of the universes they represent, some might wonder why they choose to connect with their fandom through performance, as opposed to other manifestations of fan engagement. Two reasons in particular come to the fore: the immediacy of the physical, and applying archetypes/fetishes to aspects of personal identity. [4.1]

Weeping Angel Suanna b+w Shd-2076Donning the costume, or even simply carrying a small prop such as a light saber, allows cosplayers to tap into the character as archetype and the costume piece as fetish: “The fetish is empowering, transgressive of the realm of the everyday and mundane, and transforms the user, thus marking a return in a sense to the original meaning of the fetish” (Wetmore 2007:177). Essentially, both become a totem, or a meaningful emblem or symbol, and “people will act towards totems in such a way based on the meaning they have given the totem.” Meaning will then manifest as social interaction (Garrard 2008:17). [4.2]

aspects of the character are specifically tied to donning the costume. He may not believe that he carries specific aspects of character identity [Obi-Wan] over into everyday life, yet they are available to his identity when in costume. [4.5]

Why do cosplayers choose the characters they do? How do cosplaying communities, like the 501st Legion, work on a larger scale? Are cosplayers at other comic cons portraying Star Wars characters for similar reasons? Why do people choose cosplay over other forms of fan participation—or do they participate in other fan areas as well? If so, to what extent? [5.1]

RMCF (Rhetorical Memory Cosplay Fandom)

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