Why Do I Let SyFy Continue to Hurt Me?

I really wanted “Heroes of Cosplay” to be a good show.

Cosplay is an area of fandom that has always fascinated and impressed me. I have a background in technical theatre, so good looking costumes and props will always catch my eye. I love the costumes that show up at Gen Con every year, and the Pathfinder Costume Contest and Costume Parade are two events I make a point of taking in. Highlights this year included an amazing couple with Captain America and Wonder Woman costumes…on stilts; some scary good StarCraft cosplay; and Balloon Cthulhu. Okay, that last isn’t cosplay, but it’s cool!

More than that, I wanted “Heroes of Cosplay” to be a good show because cosplayers have been taking a beating recently, especially female cosplayers. From sexual harassment to ridiculous “fake geek girl” accusations (just another form of sexual harassment dressed up as moral outrage), women cosplayers in particular deserved something that portrayed them in a positive light. And all cosplayers deserved to be shown as the passionate, skilled, and talented fans they are.

Prior to airing, I even had hope the show would be that positive portrayal. The advanced press played up the demonstrations of community, the passion, and most of all the kick-ass costumes. All the promos seemed to promise a positive look at cosplay and cosplayers, and I let myself get excited and interested.

I should have known better. I should have remembered SyFy is responsible for such gems as Sharknado and Ghost Hunters. I shouldn’t have let myself hope for a more documentary approach, when I knew deep in my heart they’d take the easier “Reality TV” option. And as we all know, the unwritten but always present prefix to “Reality TV” is “Not Based In”. But I did forget all that for a moment. And so I really have no one to blame but myself (okay, and SyFy) for my disappointment.

“Heroes of Cosplay” is at best a superficial pandering to the masses, and at worst actively harmful to the hobby it exploits. While there are nuggets of true fan love to be found (Chloe Dykstra and her honest enthusiasm shines as one of these), you have to do a lot of sifting through sludge to get to them. I’m not sure what they thought was being portrayed, and I actually feel sorry for the titular “Heroes” because I’m sure most took part in the show out of a love for the hobby. But the producers did them no favours with the editing and cutting, and few came away unspattered with “Reality TV” slime.

Here’s what I got out of each episode (they each followed the same formula, so there was no fear I’d experience anything new episode to episode): This Week’s Heroes are going to Con X to take part in cosplay. They decide on Difficult Costume, which they already know will be hard to finish in time for Con X. Because they exhibit poor project planning and time management skills, they struggle to finish Difficult Costume with varying levels of Drama™, said Drama™ sometimes including finishing/not finishing the Difficult Costume in the hotel room, just before the competition starts. The finished costumes take part in the competition, with Drama™ if they don’t at least place, and Joy™if they do. The unfinished costumes feel shame. Rinse, repeat.

The really sad thing is, I don’t think any of these people are as incompetent as the show’s editors made them out to be. They just couldn’t be. Yaya Han runs her own successful cosplay business; Holly Conrad and Jessica Merizan are the owners of CrabCat Industries, a prop and costume fabrication company. All three of these women would be expected to have reasonably developed time management skills. From my own experiences in prop building for theatre, there is just no way you survive in that business without it. For crying out loud, Crabcat fabricated kaiju costumes for Guillermo del Toro! You don’t get that gig if you are flaky on your deadlines.

And knowing how Reality TV actually isn’t is the only reason I’m aiming my criticism at the show and not the participants. Because if the show is to be believed, most of the “Heroes” portrayed are varying levels of neurotic, vain, approval seeking ubernerds with no sense of proportion. And while that might be the case (hell, I have to cop to a lot of those adjectives from time to time), I know that isn’t all they are. But well-balanced individuals don’t produce enough Drama™, so of course anything smacking of normalcy ends up on the cutting room floor (these days known as the Recycle Bin on your desktop).

And I could do an entire other post about the sexism inherit in the producers chosing to focus strictly on Hot™ female cosplayers.  Or the inherit racism of focusing almost exclusively on white cosplayers. Or the ablism of focusing on non-physically handicapped cosplayers. The genderism of excluding crossplay. The list goes on. Editing horse-shit aside, “Heroes of Cosplay” would fail on its merits simply for showing such a narrow, whitebread, pandering cross-section of the hobby.

The costumes? The costumes were great. There is no doubt in my mind these cosplayers have an excellent level of crafting ability. But really, good costumes can only take up so much of my time. And unless there was a fabrication “crisis”, the show spent so little time on the actual interesting parts of building these great costumes, they may as well have been crafted by elves in the night.

Someone somewhere (Nerdist? Geek & Sundry? SourceFed?) needs to get on board the making of a good, honest documentary about cosplay. They have the resources and the contacts to do a good job, and an established history of treating nerd culture with respect. They already have great web shows about cosplay (Just Cos, Try This at Home!, and Sachie, for instance), so I have to believe they’d have the wherewithal to pull off a compelling documentary series of cosplay and cosplay competitions. Because I know such a show could be done, without Reality TV crapping all over it.

Did you watch “Heroes of Cosplay”? What did you think? Give us your comments and we’ll discuss.

Humpday Links for May 29

I’m going against all tradition and declaring June the start of summer.  That allows me to justify calling this the last Humpday Link of spring!  …well it was important to me, anyway.

Your Humpday Links!

If this discovery is actually true, there are some pretty serious implications. Mammoth farming, anyone?

– Gamers, if you’ve ever found yourself saying any of these things online, just stop and delete your comment.

This is the kind of cosplay that makes me think, “How am I going to top this!?”

– Yep, this is how I remember Expedition to the Barrier Peaks playing out…

Holy crap, this is a lot of Lego!

– I will be stealing this location for my next gaming session.  Call of Cthulhu, anyone?

– Want to turn your hobby into a business?  Etsy has some ideas.

– Creators, I present to you the Don’t Be A Dick public license.  Which now covers this site.

– Guys and Dolls, I can’t recommend Sexy Nerd Girl enough!  She’s Canadian, funny as hell, and local favourite Mark Meer appears in some episodes.

– If you play Pathfinder RPG, and a spellcaster in particular, I highly recommend Perram’s Spellbook for all your spell-tracking needs.

– Want nicer gaming maps, but aren’t an artist? This article is for you. (I’m certain I posted this before, but tuff beans, it’s a good article.)

– Here’s a list of writing myths that I touch back to every once in a while.

– We are all going to die. Joss Whedon says so.

That’s a baker’s dozen, and if that isn’t enough…I’ll likely come back and post more later.  Or you could post some links in the comments.  So there!

Fanboy Confessional

I’ll be honest, when I first saw Fanboy Confessional commercials pop up on Space, I rolled my eyes.  It looked like yet another show lampooning the more extreme members of our fandom.  But however badly conceived and executed, shows about geeks don’t come around very often.  So I locked it in to the PVR, and expected the worst.

I will admit without reservation that I was wrong.

Having watched four episodes so far (Space airs two half-hour episodes back-to-back) I admit to being truly impressed, both with the respect given to the topics and the obvious enthusiasm towards the subject material.  Narrated by Aaron Ashmore (yes, Jimmy Olsen from Smallville) and directed by Michael McNamara (no stranger to documentaries; you may have heard of 100 Films and a Funeral), each episode focuses on one genre in the greater fan continuum.  In the four episodes I have watched so far, the show has examined cosplay (focused mostly on anime/manga cosplay, but touching on other kinds as well), steampunk, horror fandom and super-heroes/real-life super-heroes.

Each episode follows two or three people or groups, as they go about their geeky lives enjoying whichever fandom is the topic for that episode.  In the case of the cosplay episode, for instance, we are introduced to a group of four friends who are relatively new to anime cosplay as they plan and prepare to attend Anime North; at the same time we meet a few more experienced cosplayers, as well as staff from Anime North responsible for the cosplay contest at the con.  That, in fact, is one of the things that has kept the episodes interesting for me, that range of experience inside each of the genres.  As someone who has been inside fandom for a while, it is good to be reminded that there are always new fans coming up behind you, as well as elder fans cutting the path ahead of you.

But what I love the most about the show is the thing I was wrong about.  None of the episodes I have watched have lampooned or derided anyone.  Obviously it would be very, very easy to grab some footage of “that guy/gal” (and every aspect of fandom has one) and use that to represent all the rest of us. Instead, each episode gives us a broader spectrum of fans, presenting a much more complete picture of the people rocking that genre.  More than that, each episode is skillfully shot to show all the enthusiasm of the fans without making them look like, well, nuts.  And I’m not saying fans are nuts (we are, but I’m not saying that) but you and I know how easy it is for us to appear nuts when shown out of context.  Fanboy Confessional keeps the context clear, and so the fan joy shines through.

I was most surprised by was the Real Life Super Hero episode.  I had heard, of course, about extreme comic book nerds taking to the streets in costume and extracting vigilante justice.  You know, the idiots that at best make comic book nerds look bad, and at worst get themselves/others hurt, or get arrested because they are breaking the law.  Here is a tip, and I know this will come as a shock: you don’t get to break the law just because you are wearing a costume. Sorry.

But the FC episode didn’t talk about those guys, except for one person who mentioned them in order to distance their group from them.  Instead, we were shown a group called “The Skiffytown League of Heroes”, a group of real-life super heroes that perform public services in cities and towns all across the States.  Then the episode focuses in on two members: DC’s Guardian (the city, not the comic company) and Thanatos (A Vancouver-based RLSH ).

Both of these gentlemen work in public, in costume, trying to spread a very positive message.  DC’s Guardian spends his time talking to people about citizenship, making sure people are involved in their government, that they’re voting and generally working to get people involved in their country in a positive way.  Thanatos is equally public-spirited, volunteering his time in one of the poorest, crime-ridden areas of Vancouver.  But instead of doling out vigilante justice, he brings water and energy bars to prostitutes and street people on hot days, and comes back in the evening to bring care-packages to the homeless.  Both of these gentlemen are just open and earnest about connecting with and helping people.  Not only was I impressed with the episode itself, I was blown away by these two heroes and thrilled to know that people like this exist.

If you are a geek I cannot recommend Fanboy Confessional enough.  It is a funny, engaging and reverent look at our collective fandom, and it is well worth your time and mine.  You can catch it Wednesdays on Space, 8pm and 8:30pm (MST).  Or if you can’t wait until next Wednesday you can get a little taste on the Space website.

My name is Brent, and I am a Fanboy.