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 February 20

Another Odin’s Day is upon us, and with it the traditional offering of electronic links, as it was in ancient times.

But first, the news.  I reached my fundraising goal for the Hair Massacure with a nail-biter of a finish.  A huge thank-you has to go out to everyone who donated to the cause; I just paraded Imagearound in pink hair for a month but you guys made this fundraiser work.  Thank-you so much, and I hope you’ll keep the support going next year.  As you can see by the pic, I need to get going on growing out the hair now…

Also, the “My Patronus is a d20” t-shirt I created to support the fundraising did not get enough pre-orders to print, which is sad.  What isn’t sad is that I re-started the campaign with a Imagelower price, longer duration and lower pre-order minimum.  Proceeds still go to the Stollery, it just won’t be part of the Hair Massacure donation.  But I wanted to make sure the T-shirts printed this time, to reward the stalwart few who wanted them.  So click on the T-shirt image (or here) to go to pre-order and get your very limited edition nerd shirt.

Okay, less blather, more links!

Ernie Gygax Jr.’s home has burned down. Thankfully no one was hurt, but he could use our help.

Wizard’s of the Coast is set to re-print the original D&D white box set.  On the one hand I’m happy that a new generation will see where our hobby started. On the other…hey WotC, how about some new gaming material?

– Dragonchow (makers of my favourite dice bags) is undergoing a fantastic change as it turns three years old.

Weregeek creator Alina Pete has a Kickstarter going for her fifth Weregeek collection.  It is already on to stretch goals, so jump on board now!

– You’ve likely seen the “Chaos” teaser for the return of Game of Thrones. But it’s worth another watch, right?

– While you await the return of GoT, maybe you can hug these Jon Snow and Ghost plushies.

– If you’re like me, you love the old pulp sci-fi covers.  Now you can make your own.

SyFy is set to adapt Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” as a four-part mini-series.  I’d write more, but I think that is the punchline.

– Paizo Project Manager Jessica Price gives a great article on how the gaming industry is getting less sexist.

– Wondering who the nominees for the Nebular Awards are?  Let SFFWA President John Scalzi tell you.

– If you are going to Gen Con (or even if you aren’t), why not book a few extra days and stay in a castle?

– If you like to doodle, why not give it a try in three dimensions?

– Ever wonder what Star Trek would look like if Pixar took the reins? Wonder no longer.

That’s all for this week, stay tuned for more bloggy goodness and don’t forget to be awesome.

Why SyFy Needs a Eureka Moment

If you are a geek, the news that SyFy cancelled Eureka probably isn’t news anymore (If it is, well, better we ripped that band-aid off before you kept reading).  And you likely know that the PTBs have “graciously” granted the show an extra episode in it’s sixth season to wrap everything up.  Which, quite frankly, is the least they could do, considering they waited to announce this decision at the end of shooting for Season 6.

The cast and crew of Eureka have publicly been very positive about the whole thing, despite some of them finding out about the cancellation via Twitter (sorry, Erica Cerra).  And really I would expect nothing less from the people that have entertained me so well over the seasons.  They are consummate professionals, wishing to leave the series with their heads held high and not mired in acrimony.  Being neither professional nor answerable to SyFy, I don’t have that problem.  So speaking only for myself, but likely echoing a number of Eureka fans, I just have to ask:

What the @%$# is your problem, SyFy?

Eureka is one of their most popular shows, with (if the reaction to cancellation is an indicator) a varied, enthusiastic and loyal following.  Even SyFy acknowledges that, claiming the only area in which Eureka under-performs is cost.

Okay, valid point.  No matter how popular the show, if it costs too much to make then SyFy has to drop it.  Sure, I can buy that.  It isn’t as if there were other projects that could be down-sized or even scrapped in order to free up funds for a more popular show.  After all, how could we expect them to put aside quality movies like Meteor or Stonehenge Apocolypse in order to properly fund a series watched as more than drinking-game fodder?  Why, that kind of thinking would have deprived us of Killer Mountain, premiering this Saturday.  And obviously they should cancel Eureka before losing any of the three Ghost Hunter shows they carry.  God bless SyFy for keeping us safe from the phantom menace (though not from The Phantom Menace, sadly).

Or could it be that Eureka got cancelled because it was so popular?  It doesn’t take a GD scientist (pun intended) to see that Sci Fi…sorry, SyFy, has been re-branding themselves.  Bad enough they shame-changed their name. (SyFy? Really?  That’s like that annoying kid in your high school named Steven who spends one summer break in Europe, and insists his name is now pronounced “SteFAWN”.)  But the addition of shows like WWE Smackdown and a kludge of paranormal/urban legend “reality” programming shows that SyFy’s heart just isn’t in science fiction anymore.  And if it continued to carry a great sci-fi show like Eureka, they might be in the awkward position of supporting something they don’t really care about anymore. Heck, we geeks might even insist they make more great sci-fi, and then they’d really be in trouble.

So for me, it comes down to one of two possibilities. Either the people in charge at SyFy are making a tremendously stupid business decision, or they are following their re-branding strategy.  I could be completely wrong on both counts, and there could be a third or fourth possibility I don’t see from my position outside looking in.  But for right now all I see is a station cancelling a hit television series based on their bad economics.  Whether that’s from stupidity or malevolence, doesn’t matter much to me.

But SyFy, I think you need to take a second and consider your future.  There are already many stations carrying the reality-porridge you are so eager to add to your line-up.  And there will always be people ready, willing and able to make bad sci-fi, disaster and monster movies (cthulhu bless them!).  But there is no one out there doing what you used to do, back when you went by Sci Fi; you wowed people with your Dune mini-series, for instance.  You have a chance to create truly unique programming, about subjects and in ways that both entertain and make people think.  If you were truly focused on your job, we’d be watching Walking Dead and Game on Thrones on you, or some other equally amazing series we hadn’t heard of yet.  Maybe you need to take some time to think about that.

Maybe you just need to take your own slogan to heart, and imagine greater.

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Comments? Counterpoints? I’d love to hear them!