Public Perceptions of Costumers, Cosplayers & Furries: Who’s Responsible?

All #costumers, #cosplayers & #furries share one common responsibility: public perception. That public perception applies to the fandom(s) being represented by costumers, cosplayers & furries; the perceived reason(s) why costumers, cosplayers & furries dress up in #costumes; and (most importantly) the types of activities that costumers, cosplayers & furries engage in while in costume.

Any time that costumers, cosplayers or furries are in costume in a public space, members of the general public who are not costumers, cosplayers or furries themselves will also be present and they will be able to observe what the costumers, cosplayers or furries are doing while they are in costume. A public space could be a public park, a city street, a convention center, a hotel lobby, etc.

Who are the members of the general public? They are, in all likelihood, a combination of adults and underaged children. Also, members of the general public are going to be a cross-section of society itself, which includes a myriad of beliefs, as well as a myriad of ethical, moral and political points of view.

While there will always be a wide variances in the points of view that different people have, there are also going to be some points of view that are probably going to be commonly held by most people when they pertain to intimate behaviors between people who are in a public space and how acceptable those intimate behaviors are.

  • Some types of intimate behaviors that are likely going to be regarded by most people as being acceptable while in a public space include a couple holding hands; family members or friends hugging each other; someone kissing another on the cheek; a brief kiss on the lips between adults; etc.
  • Some types of intimate behaviors that are more likely going to be regarded by most people as being unacceptable while in a public space include very long passionate kisses on the lips; physical contact that is more than a simply embracing or hugging; touching parts of the body that are never shown while in a public space; etc. At this level, these types of intimate behaviors can cross over to being regarded as sexual; and anything construed to being a sexual activity or imitating a sexual activity while in a public space is probably not going to be an acceptable behavior.

Let’s ask a question: what may happen if people (the ‘participants) are observed by others (the ‘observers’) while they are actively participating in unacceptable intimate or sexual behaviors while in a public space?

Obviously, many (if not most) of the observers are going to quickly develop a very poor opinion of the participants. But it doesn’t end there: if the participants are identified as being part of a specific group, there’s a good chance that many of the observers are also going to associate other members of that same group with that behavior, then apply the same poor opinion to other group members even though they weren’t involved. It also won’t necessarily matter if the group as a whole doesn’t condone that type of unacceptable public behavior: they’ll still bear the burden of that low opinion caused by the actions of a few.

Now, let’s take this up a notch. We live in a very interconnected society thanks to the Internet and smart phones that include cameras capable of taking both pictures and videos. If an observer takes out his or her smart phone and takes pictures or or video of the participants as they are actively engaged in an unacceptable public behavior, then that observer shares those pictures or video on the Internet, what’s going to happen? Within a matter of seconds the total number of observers will increase from a handful of people to potentially millions of people.

As we have discussed in past posts, some costumers & cosplayers are members of costume clubs; and many costume clubs have written charters that include codes of conduct that define specific types of behaviors that are not acceptable for costume club members to engage in while in costume or otherwise representing the club. Why? To maintain a positive public perception of the costume club and its members. Members who engage in an activity that violates the costume club’s code of conduct face potential punishment that could include suspension from the club or even banishment.

Similarly, many businesses and corporations require their employees to take annual training in order to prevent the employees from engaging in behavior that could potentially cause a negative public perception of the company,  which could undermine the company’s bottom line: it’s ability to conduct business and make money. If an employee violates a company’s policies, he or she may be suspended, be put on probation or possibly be terminated.

So, who then bears the responsibility of public perception in the costuming, cosplay & furry communities? We all do!!!

Are there any examples of what could go wrong when one or more costumers, cosplayers or furries engages in unacceptable behaviors while in a public space? Unfortunately, yes; and the most recent occurrence that we are aware occurred at “Furry Weekend Atlanta” (FWA) two weeks ago. Ironically, our previous post was about the dance contest that occurred at FWA.

2 weeks ago, 2 individuals (presumably men) dressed as human pups (by wearing what is typically viewed as being fetish attire) started to play with each other as puppies in the hotel lobby where FWA was occurring. The 2 individuals wrestled with each other and then one got on top of the other and remained there for roughly 30 seconds, which gave the appearance that some sexual stimulation was occurring in that position. As these 2 individuals were engaged in this actively, other furries were walking by, as well as members of the general public. Then, one of the FWA attendees who was on a balcony overlooking the lobby took video of the 2 individuals and did what? Posted an edited video emphasizing the 30-second period when one of them was on top of the other onto their personal Twitter feed. The backlash was immediate and includes an unflattering article in a well-known British publication.

We learned about this incident from the World of Rooview YouTube channel:

One very important distinction that Roo points out is the difference between fursuiting and the adult activity known as “pup play”:

  • Fursuiting is the creation of anthropomorphic characters through costuming. Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities, including animals and animal characters.
  • “Pup play” is an adult activity in which one or more humans behave like a puppy. It is a type of zoomorphism, which is the attribution of animal behaviors and characteristics to humans (or other things). Thus, it is the opposite of anthropomorphism.

While the 2 “pup play” participants that were publicly wrestling with each other in the hotel lobby were not wearing fursuits at the time they were filmed, there is a presumption that they were also FWA attendees because they were wearing fetish pup play attire. Whether or not they were actually FWA attendees, they’re costumes associated them with FWA, other furries in attendance and the broader furry community at large. Had these 2 individuals only engaged in this activity in a more private location (such as their hotel room or some other site away from FWA) then this would not have become an issue. Also, had the person who filmed their questionable public activity taken their concerns to an FWA representative instead of posting it online for millions of people to see, then this would not now be associating FWA or the furry community as a whole due to the actions of only 2 participants.

Our request here is simple: if you are in costume in a public space, please do not engage in behavior that could be deemed as sexual, imitating sexual activity or be otherwise interpreted as being inappropriate or unacceptable in a public setting. Because if you do, it can reflect poorly on everyone in the hobby.

References:

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What Are the Rules of Costuming & Cosplay?

What are the rules of #costuming & #cosplay? If you ask this question to any #costumer or #cosplayer, they’ll likely say that there aren’t any. While this is true in the sense that there is no universal costuming & cosplay group that has established any rules nor would it be possible for such a group (if it existed) to enforce them, there are rules that costumers & cosplayers should follow or face potential consequences for failing to do so, because some have.

What are these rules? Ones that apply to everyone (not just costumers & cosplayers) because they come from established laws or are established by venues, conventions, movie theaters, etc.

Wearing a costume or cosplay (including carrying props) in public does not exempt one from obeying established laws.

The Basic Rules That Apply to Everyone

1. Laws Governing Indecent Exposure

Indecent exposure is the deliberate exposure in public or in view of the general public by a person of a portion or portions of his or her body, in circumstances where the exposure is contrary to local moral or other standards of appropriate behavior. Social and community attitudes to the exposing of various body parts and laws covering what is referred to as indecent exposure vary significantly in different countries. It ranges from outright prohibition to prohibition of exposure of certain body parts, such as the genital area, buttocks or breasts.

Local, county, state, provincial & national governments have typically established laws defining indecent exposure that apply to everyone that is within their jurisdictions. If a costumer or cosplayer decides to go out in public wearing a costume or cosplay that violates indecent exposure laws, then there’s a good chance that the costumer or cosplayer is going to be arrested.

So, before wearing a costume or cosplay in public view, be sure that it doesn’t violate any indecent exposure laws that could apply.

2. Laws Governing the Wearing of Masks

Anti-masking laws refer to legislative or penal initiatives that seek to stop individuals from concealing their faces, who often do so to conceal their identities while committing a crime.

Now, while costumers & cosplayers have no criminal intent while wearing a mask (or other face-covering item, such as helmet) as part of a costume, many criminals do wear masks or helmets when committing crimes.

For this reason, if a costumer or cosplayer goes out in public wearing a mask or helmet that completely conceals their identity and it’s not Halloween or the intent of why as mask or helmet is being worn isn’t clear to the general public, then that costumer or cosplayer could find themselves being arrested or getting into trouble. We have reported multiple such instances on our blog & Facebook page. Here are 2 examples:

Here are other articles we’ve shared about people wearing costumes while engaged in criminal activity:

Thus, it is very important to know when it is and is not appropriate to wear a mask in public. 

3. Laws Regarding Civilians Wearing Military Uniforms & “Stolen Valor”

In the United States, federal laws concerning the wearing of United States Military uniforms by people not on active duty are published in the United States Code (USC). Specifically, 10 USC, Subtitle A, Part II, Chapter 45, Sections 771 and 772.

Section 771 states:

Except as otherwise provided by law, no person except a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps, as the case may be, may wear –

(1) the uniform, or a distinctive part of the uniform, of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps; or

(2) a uniform any part of which is similar to a distinctive part of the uniform of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps

Section 772 lists some exceptions, the most important of which that is applicable to costumers & cosplayers is listed below:

(f) While portraying a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps, an actor in a theatrical or motion-picture production may wear the uniform of that armed force if the portrayal does not tend to discredit that armed force.

Now, while on the surface, these laws seem pretty plain, the reality is that no court has ever really defined what a “theatrical production” is. Hence, is Halloween or attending a comic con a “theatrical production”? While this isn’t clear, the only court case where this topic has been addressed had a very liberal determination.

In addition to the laws cited above, there’s also the issue of stolen valor.

“Stolen Valor” is a term applied to the phenomenon of people falsely claiming military awards or badges they did not earn, service they did not perform, Prisoner of War experiences that never happened, and other tales of military derring-do that exist only in their minds.

If you are going to wear a military uniform as a costume or cosplay, leave out any actual medals and don’t pretend that you ever served in the military. Otherwise, you can very quickly be seen as someone stealing valor. The U.S. government passed the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 to address issues of people attempting to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefits by convincing another that he or she received a military award.

4. Laws Regarding the Wearing of Law Enforcement Uniforms, Badges & Insignia

Without going into a lot of detail, it’s generally not a good idea to wear authentic law enforcement uniforms, badges or insignias. To do so could be construed as impersonating a law enforcement officer. If you want to read on this subject further, we recommend starting here: Legal information and links to U.S. Federal & U.S. State Laws and regulations as well as Foreign National Laws governing Badges, Emblems, Uniforms, Insignias and Names.

5. Laws Pertaining to Weapons

As many costumes & cosplays include prop weapons, it’s important to remember that those prop weapons shouldn’t be carelessly taken out into public where they could be misconstrued as being real weapons. Not only could you be potentially arrested, you could imperil your own life should a law enforcement officer decide to fire his/her weapon if the officer feels that he or she (or the general public) is in some way threatened.

For specifics on laws pertaining to types of weapons, the following links are useful:

It also goes without saying that it would be highly unwise to be carrying a prop that looks like an explosive device in this day & age, especially one that looks realistic.

6. Zero-Tolerance Policies at Schools

Most public school districts maintain very strict zero-tolerance policies for weapons & drugs. Even toy weapons (that are often used for costumes & cosplays) fall under this type of policy, as well as masks & helmets.

The bottom line, don’t take any prop weapons or wear masks to or near a public school.

Venue or Convention Specific Rules

Venues and conventions often have specific rules pertaining to costumes & props. As these rules vary widely, it is the responsibility of any costumer or cosplayer planning to attend to understand the specific venue or convention rules ahead of time. While its true that some conventions change rules at the last minute, it’s very important to stay on top of them for that very reason.

Any costumer or cosplayer whose costume or props don’t meet the rules of the venue or convention won’t be allowed to enter, and these rules (especially with regard to prop weapons) have been increased considerably since the unfortunate incident of the armed man who entered Phoenix Comic Con earlier this year. Phoenix Comic Con still has very strict rules. We have written posts regarding venue & convention rules:

Movie Theaters that Ban Masks and/or Costumes

Most movie theaters continue to ban any costumes that conceal the wearer’s face following the unfortunate shooting incidents that have occurred over the past couple of years.

Concluding Remarks

No one likes being told what they can and cannot do when it comes to costumes and cosplays, but applicable laws and rules can impact what individual costumers and cosplayers are planning to do. The most important thing is to be aware of them ahead of time. If the laws & rules are too restrictive for what you were planning to do, consider doing something different. You’ll still have just as much fun without the fear of getting into trouble.

Cosplayers

References

Masked “Star Wars” Costumed Student Prompts School Evacuation

WI: freshman student wearing a masked #StarWars stormtrooper #costume to a public school prompted a school evacuation. The student, wanting to celebrate #MayThe4thBeWithYou (a popular date with “Star Wars” fans to celebrate the franchise due to the date’s similarity to the well-known “May the Force be with you” line that’s often said in the movies) as a way to express his love of the franchise, instead caused a concerned parent to contact police and prompted a school evacuation.

As we have posted multiple times before on our Facebook page, it’s not always appropriate to wear a costume in public. Public schools are an especially inappropriate place to wear a costume due to the emphasis on student and staff safety, and wearing a costume unannounced (especially a masked one), combined with a backpack, can lead to an immediate concern for the safety of the students and staff as it can easily be perceived as being a potential shooter situation.

The parent who observed the freshman student entering a back door of the Ashwaubenon High School and called police did the right thing. The nature of the costume also gave the impression of a possible bullet-proof vest or flak jacket being worn underneath. However, once police and school administrators understood the costumed student’s reason for wearing the costume, they treated it as an honest mistake and the evacuation ended an hour later with students allowed back into the school.