The Ugly Side of Fandoms, Cosplay & Costume Clubs

#Fandoms, #cosplay & #CostumeClubs can be wonderful things: each draws a wide assortment of people together who share a common interest or love. Unfortunately, that wide assortment of people also means the potential for widely different points of view, temperaments, psychologies, beliefs and understandings (among other things) that can lead to a very ugly side of fandoms, cosplay & costume clubs: conflict and drama.

While this ugly side isn’t always active, it can brew just beneath the surface waiting for an opportunity to manifest, sometimes rearing its ugly head on the smallest of issues that can occur among groups of people that are only connected on a single activity of interest.

The ugly side of fandoms, cosplay & costume clubs isn’t something that members of these groups generally want to acknowledge or talk about publicly, but after it starts it can potentially become a public spectacle if it escalates. And guess what: escalation of drama & conflict within any of these groups can occur very rapidly. Further, once conflict & drama starts, it can go on for months or even years with little or no abatement.

But why does such intense conflict and drama occur within fandoms, cosplay & costume clubs? Consider the word “fan”.

From Fan to Fanatic and Fanaticism

The word “fan” was originally a shortened version of the word “fanatic”, but now there’s a fine difference in definitions between these two words:

  • A fan is “a person who has a strong interest in or admiration for a particular person or thing.”
  • A fanatic is “a person with an obsessive interest in and enthusiasm for something, especially an activity.”

Thus, the difference between a fan and a fanatic is that a fan has a “strong interest”, whereas a fanatic has an “obsessive interest”. In other words, if a fan’s enthusiasm & strong interest for a fandom, cosplay or a costume club transforms into an obsession, then that person is no longer simply a fan: that person has become a fanatic. And guess what: fanatics have a much larger propensity to initiate and escalate drama and conflict than a typical fan. This description from Wikipedia really sums it up best:

“The fanatic displays very strict standards and little tolerance for contrary ideas or opinions.”

From personal experience and personal observations within various fandoms, groups of cosplayers, and (especially) costume clubs, unreasonableness and obsession are nearly always at the core of the drama and conflict when it occurs.

And here’s something very important to understand: when you think about how intolerant a religious or political fanatic can become, unfortunately, fanatics within fandoms, cosplay groups & costume clubs can experience similar levels of intolerance. This is why conflict & drama can become so intense within these groups and why it can last for months or even years.

And that, ladies & gentlemen, is what drives the ugly side of fandoms, cosplay & costume clubs: fanaticism and the intolerance that it generates. But how does the conflict and drama get started? Let’s explore that.

How Conflict & Drama Often Begins

On June 4, 2018, Mandalore the Uniter posted the following statement on Facebook:

Words are typically the weapon of choice that most often instigates drama & conflict within a fandom, a group of cosplayers or between costume club members. Words are typically also the weapon of choice that leads to escalating the drama and conflict for months or even years at a time. Whoever said that words can’t harm others obviously never saw the harm that they can and do cause, including when they’re used as weapons on the Internet.

Now, for those of you who might attribute the start of a conflict or drama to a particular action, just remember: it’s often how the involved parties react to the offending action immediately afterwards that may determine whether it erupts into a full-blown conflict & drama. And, more often than not, those reactions will probably come in the form of words.

But words aren’t the only weapon that may be used. There have been cases where inappropriate phone calls have been made to employers to try and get people fired. There have been instances of falsifying evidence to get people in trouble when they did nothing wrong. Sometimes a conflicting party might even spy or get someone else to spy on the person (or people) that they’re fighting with. We even know of a case where an individual attempted to have another party arrested by claiming that that other party had stolen something even though there’s absolutely no evidence. Just imagine police coming to your door and asking you to go to a police station to be questioned for something you didn’t do. In the case that we know of, the police ultimately apologized to the party and no charges were ever filed because the person was innocent even though the accuser continues to make the false accusations years later.

The Different Parties Typically Involved in Conflict & Drama

When conflict erupts within a group, it usually starts between 2 of the group’s members. These individuals are typically referred to as the primary participants or the initiators.

As knowledge of a conflict begins to spread within the group (as it so often can), additional parties who weren’t present when the conflict began may allow themselves or they may feel compelled to also become involved. We refer to these individuals as secondary participants.

Together, the primary and secondary participants on both sides of a conflict can be collectively referred to as the active participants.

Now, not all conflicts are two-sided; some are one-sided. In a one-sided conflict, one or more individuals who are actively perpetuating a conflict are directing it at someone else (or possibly an entire group) who isn’t actively responding to the conflict. In this type of situation, the person (or group) that’s on the receiving end, but not actively trying to perpetuate any conflict themselves, can be referred to as an inactive or involuntary participant.

Beyond the active (and possibly involuntary) participants is a third group: the bystanders. Bystanders are people who may be unaware of the conflict, or they may be individuals who do know about it, but have chosen to not take sides and remain neutral.

To remain neutral, a bystander must avoid showing any favoritism towards either side of the conflict. A bystander can express a desire to see the conflict end, but anything beyond that has the potential of drawing the bystander into the conflict itself as an active participant. It’s not uncommon for active participants on one or both sides of a conflict to approach bystanders in an effort to get them to take sides and become involved themselves.

Within a conflict, active participants can take on one or more roles. Some of these roles are more common with the primary participants, while others may be more common with the secondary ones. Some of the roles are listed below.

  • Initiators are the individuals that started the conflict in the first place. These are the primary participants.
  • Defenders are typically secondary participants who become involved to defend one of the original primary participants in the conflict.
  • Instigators may be primary or secondary participants, who want to intensify an existing conflict.
  • Trolls are primary or secondary participants who attempt to attack one side of a conflict online. Sometimes they attempt to do so anonymously.
  • Stonewallers are primary or secondary participants that perpetuate the drama & conflict by ignoring people perceived to be on the other side of the conflict.
  • Fault-Finders are primary or secondary participants that look for fault (real or fabricated) with anyone on the other side of the conflict with the intent of exploiting it for their side.

Recent Ugly Examples in the Public Eye

Some ugly, obsessive, unreasonable, racist and even threatening “Star Wars” fans recently made it into the news when actress Kelly Marie Tran decided to delete all of her posts on the social media site Instagram because of continuous abusive posts that she had been receiving from disgruntled fans who didn’t like her character. Some of the harassment that Tran faced online includes an incident in which her character’s description on the Star Wars ‘Wookieepedia’ website was altered to feature offensive, racist language.

Similar to Kelly Marie Tran, fellow “Star Wars” actress Daisy Ridley completely deleted her Instagram account in 2016 after she began to be harassed by people over a post she wrote about gun violence.

“Star Wars” actor John Boyega was attacked in 2014 for being the first on-screen black stormtrooper, and this was coming from franchise fans; but he effectively defended himself.

And let’s not forget about what happened to “Star Wars” prequel actor Jake Lloyd. In 2017, renowned “Star Wars” actor Mark Hamill expressed his dislike regarding how Jake Lloyd was treated by critics following the 1999 release of “The Phantom Menace”:

“I couldn’t believe some of the things they wrote about the prequels, you know. I mean really, beyond I didn’t like it. I’m still angry about the way they treated Jake Lloyd. He was only ten years old, that boy, and he did exactly what George wanted him to do. Believe me, I understand clunky dialog.”

And that doesn’t even include how the fans have viewed him or his performance. Not only did Jake Lloyd quit acting after “The Phantom Menace”, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Could all of the verbal abuse that Jake Lloyd received due to his acting in “The Phantom Menace” have been a contributing factor to his schizophrenia? We may never know, but words can cause a lot of damage.

Then there’s the recent public admission from “Star Wars” actor Ahmed Best (who played Jar Jar Binks) that he became suicidal at one point from how angry fans were with his character. Thankfully, other fans came forward to express their support and he thanked them.

Director Christopher McQuarrie has publicly said that he now never wants to direct a “Star Wars” (or superhero) movie because of how ugly the fans can become. In his own words, the toxic fandom has “cured” him from wanting to become involved in the franchise.

All of This Conflict & Drama Is So Unnecessary

Even though we have posted in the past that all of this obsessive, ugly behavior is completely necessary, it can be very difficult if not impossible to get fans-turned-fanatics to stop their negative behavior. What you can do, however, is to avoid becoming embroiled in any conflict & drama yourself as the damage that can ensue may be unrepairable. Friendships destroyed and people leaving the cosplay & costuming hobby altogether are not uncommon results from excessive conflict & drama.



National Stop Bullying Day (Unity Day)

We urge all #costumers, #cosplayers & #CostumeClub members to remember that today is #NationalStopBullyingDay. #Bullying is a topic that we have posted about many times in the past and it remains an ongoing problem, not only against children, but also against fellow cosplayers, costumers & members of costume clubs.

Bullying is essentially repeated physical, mental, and/or emotional abuse. While most associate bullying with children, many adults are subjected to a variety of forms of bullying. The American Psychological Association defines bullying as “a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words, or more subtle actions.”

Common forms of adult bullying are as follows:

  • Physical bullying. This includes physical intimidation, threat, harassment and/or harm; such as physical attack, simulated violence (raising a fist as if to strike, or throwing objects near a person), extortion, date rape, marital rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment at work, personal space violation, physical space entrapment, physical size domination, and numerical domination (ganging up on a victim).
  • Tangible/material bullying. This involves using one’s title or position or material leverage (such as financial, informational, or legal) to intimidate, threaten, harass, and/or harm in order to dominate and control the victim.
  • Verbal bullying. This includes threats, shaming, hostile teasing, insults, constant negative judgment & criticism; or racist, sexist, or homophobic language.
  • Passive-aggressive or covert bullying. Probably one of the most insidious & difficult to prove forms of bullying, this involves subtle bullying while pretending to behave normally on the surface. Examples include negative gossip, negative joking at someone’s expense, sarcasm, condescending eye contact, facial expression or gestures, mimicking to ridicule, deliberately causing embarrassment & insecurity, the invisible treatment, social exclusion, professional isolation, and deliberately sabotaging someone’s well-being, happiness, and success.
  • Cyber bullying. Various types of tangible, verbal & passive-aggressive bullying mentioned above can also all be carried out behind the sometimes anonymous computer keyboard via social media, texting, video, email, on-line discussion, and other digital formats.

Sadly, we have directly observed all of the above types of bullying occurring within the costuming & cosplay communities, most often between members of costume clubs (and not necessarily within the same club), as we have posted earlier this year on this blog. Sadly, the bullying that occurs within costume clubs is often ignored by leadership even after multiple complaints are filed. Then there was the publicized case of an Overwatch cosplayer being bullied for being black.




Overwatch Cosplayer Bullied Online for Being Black

You’d think that #racism wouldn’t occur in the #cosplay & #costuming community, but it does & here’s a sad example: #Overwatch #cosplayer #bullied because she’s black. It doesn’t matter what race, what culture, what religion, what gender, what sexual orientation, what age or what size you are. Anyone can cosplay any character that they choose to cosplay and it’s time for this community to unite against the bullying, racism & bigotry that continues.

As a cosplayer or costumer, what do you want this hobby to represent? The freedom for anyone to express themselves through the wearing of a costume, or people trying to tell others what they can or cannot wear because of the color of their skin, their gender, or anything else that makes them different from the character that they’re cosplaying?



Bullying & Costume Club Leadership 

More often than not, #CostumeClubs turn a blind eye to #bullying (#AdultBullying) occurring within their membership, even after a victim reports it.

There are various reasons why internal #CostumeClub bullying can occur unhampered:

  • Victims don’t always or are unwilling to report the bullying that they’re being subjected to. This may happen because they may feel too intimidated or afraid to report it for fear of additional reprisals. This can be especially true in cases where the bully is friends with or has strong influence with current leadership, or if the bully is part of the leadership structure.
  • Costume club leaders are not often willing to handle issues of internal conflict. A typical response from leadership to the victim who filed a complaint of harassment or bullying is, “Don’t do anything and it will probably go away.”
  • Costume club leaders may claim that the club’s charter (or equivalent) lacks enforceable rules regarding harassment & bullying of members by other members.
  • Costume club leaders upon receiving a complaint from a victim of bullying may blame the victim and, again, do nothing to stop the bullying that’s occurring.

Unchecked, bullying can go on for years because the bully(ies) is an adult, so they’re not going to “grow out of it”, which is a typical excuse used for child bullies. The person who bullies others obviously enjoys what they’re doing. This shows that they’re sadistic & compassionless. They may be narcissistic, sociopathic, a combination of the two, or have additional mental disorders.

When leaders fail to do their job of handling internal costume club conflicts, bullies can continue their bad behavior for years.

As recently deceased concentration camp survivor & long-time human rights advocate Elie Wiesel (1928-2016) once said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

There are ways to remedy & make it difficult for adult bullies to continue their sadistic behavior within costume clubs:

  • Costume club leaders must never ignore when a member reports being harassed & bullied, especially if the member has well-documented specific incidents of bullying.
  • If you are the victim of recurring bullying in a costume club from another member, accurately document every occurrence of being bullied before filing a complaint against the bully with costume club leadership.
  • If the bully is a friend of, has strong influence with or is a member of leadership of a costume club’s local chapter, don’t file a complaint locally. Either go to the leadership of a neighboring local chapter or take it directly to the national or international costume club leadership. Just make sure the complaint is well documented before filing.
  • If a costume club’s charter fails to address the issue of internal bullying, the it is imperative that the costume club’s charter is amended to address the issue to include specific penalties for any member found guilty of bullying.

Ironically, most costume clubs will make public announcements (especially in social media) that they’re against bullying while failing to address the problem of internal bullying that may be occurring.