Is cosplay a cool pastime to hone creative self-expression or a nerdy and expensive way to escape pressures of the world? And do you care either way?
CosPlay 101 for the uninformed and misinformed
What the heck is CosPlay? Sounds like a new online video game or a new Facebook apps like Farmville to you? Well, no. CosPlay is a combination of two words: "Costume" and "Roleplay." Therefore, a Cosplayer is a geeky, not necessarily good-looking somebody who assumes the role of a character from an anime show, a video game, comics, manga, comic series, movies or TV series. These cosplayers step into the shoes of the characters that have inspired them or they think is really cool and copy their costumes, prosthetics, make-up, hair and uber-cool accessories. Here's what really surprised me, cosplayers not only have to look like characters, they have to act like, sound like and essentially be the characters they portray down to the last giggle.
There is this issue among cosplay elders as to how and when this social phenomenon really started. However, they seem to agree on one thing - the origin of the word Cosplay. Most of the elders agree that the journalist Noboyuki Takahashi, first coined the term in the article "My Anime," after attending the 1984 World Science Fiction Convention and seeing a bunch of Trekkies (Star Trek fans) strutting their stuff. From there, cosplay has evolved into a subculture among enthusiasts of anime, manga, comics, movies and basically everything fun and fictional under the sun and elevated into an art form and subculture in various countries. In the Philippines, the popularity of cosplay has also spiked in the last few years.
Cosplay and The Modern Escapist
"I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which 'Escape' is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?"
-- J.R.R. Tolkien--
I'm no card-carrying psychologist or sociologist, but I can tell you roughly on the observations I made that cosplay is now part of the modern escapism. Mr. Webster defines escapism as the habitual diversion of the mind to purely imaginative activity or entertainment as an escape from reality or routine.
I'm sure you will agree that the world in which we live is full of stress, threats, constant noise, irritating soap operas, unhealthy fast-food junks, dizzying billboards, and overnight facebooking. Hence, we all need to escape - to refocus our attention on things pleasant or enjoyable, as opposed to the hard realities of the everyday world. When we are stressed we want nothing more than escapism, and cosplay certainly offers that for others.
It is nice to add a bit of fantasy to an otherwise boring or stressful world. Yet, translating someone's fantasy into reality can be tricky. I don't know if parents should really get worried about their teens' expressing strong desire to live in fantasy world of anime, perhaps they should consider that as healthy and part of today's social reality. And that the desire to 'escape' is part of the complicated process of discovering ourselves. I think we are all escapist in different ways.
This is where I got myself into the most trouble-of-judgement. I failed both to understand how important the notion of escape is to many cosplayers and to clarify the exact type of escape I was addressing. I admit that many Filipinos nowadays participate in cosplay not mainly to avoid their own personal wars such as their jobs, relationships, school pressure and other life hassles, but rather to have fun, compete, and even make a living.
The Magical World of the Escapist
"Harry goes off into this magical world, and is it any better than the world he's left? Only because he meets nicer people. Magic does not make his world better significantly. The relationships make his world better. Magic in many ways complicates his life."
Is there a difference between healthy and unhealthy escapism? In today's reality, we cannot do our ancestor's way of escapism - which is telling stories around the fire or do writing on the caves. We now escape the woes of the world by reading books, watching soap operas and movies, browsing the internet, blogging and so on and so forth.
As I said earlier, cosplay is a new and modern form of escapism. Unlike other forms of escapism, cosplay is much more involved. Other "characters" are directly playing in their magical world, interacting using their assumed personality. Events, such as regular conventions and gatherings, also take place in this new form of escapism that is directly dependent on the authors of the anime characters.
Fantasy Self and the Anime World
Therein causes the problems of the cosplayers. This is just my theory OK. The assumed character, which I will call the Fantasy Self begins to rival the real world. Because of the sheer complexity and magic of the anime world, the Fantasy Self may continue to rely on the cosplay as his or her form of escapism. There is a possibility that the Fantasy Self will treat the anime world as a large part of the person's real life and may dominate the real world.
When the anime world becomes part of the their real world, any stress from the anime world will be brought with them when they enter the real world. Now, no longer does the cosplayer have to be concerned with only real world, but also must be concerned with the happenings in the anime world. Such cosplayer are those who come home so stressed and depressed after attending a cosplay convention - when it is supposed to be just a fun day walking around in costume and be someone extraordinary for a day.
The Collapse of the Fantasy Self and Real Self
The other possibility that might occur with prolonged stay in the anime world as a form of escapism is the collapse of the Fantasy Self into the Real Self. I repeat, this is just a possibility, I'm not a psychologist - but I do read psych books - and it's just my theory. This is the situation when the cosplayer loans money to buy costumes, skip classes or work to attend cosplay conventions, and if they started claiming that cosplay is more than just costumes. Actions such as these are clear demonstrations of where the cosplayer's priorities lie.
The trouble with this sort of collapse is apparent. As their real lives are no longer the focus of their attention, their grades in school will falter, their health will falter, their performance at work will falter as will their social lives - often sacrificing time with friends and family for time with cosplaying.
The Cut-off Point
I guess the cut-off point is whether it can be a healthy means for not getting completely depressed by reality, and on the other side, in its extreme form, whether it results in obsessive behaviors that make people completely ignore reality to their detriment.
After all, I'm not the final arbiter of what counts as healthy or unhealthy, and more importantly, I can't claim to know everything about cosplay- I am not a cosplayer myself. I just want to give my comments and learn surprising things about what is happening around me. For people who are more extreme than I am, I respect their choice to be that, just as I hope they respect my theories and opinions I make regarding my observations or what I prefer to keep as leisurely pastimes.
I can safely conclude that Cosplay, can be a healthy form of escapism and a great opportunity in developing creativity and self-confidence. Of course, extremes have bad effects.