The Longterm & Ongoing Problem of Costume Club Elitism and How to Stop It

#Elitism occurring in #CostumeClubs is nothing new. For as long as costume clubs have existed, so has the problem of elitism within those clubs. The question is “why?”.

To begin to understand the problem of elitism, we must first define what elitism is. So, let’s start with a very simple definition:

  • Elitism is the belief that an individual or group is somehow better than a different individual or group based upon one or more differences that exist between those individuals or groups.

The definition is a variant of ones written in Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary. Those differences can range from differences in ancestry, race, political views, religious beliefs, wealth, intellect, special skills, experiences, or other intrinsic differences. This also means that there are different types (or flavors) of elitism, but they all share that same simple definition that we wrote above. What makes elitism bad is the negative “I’m better than you” attitude that it can lead to, as well as people may be mistreated as a result.

Interestingly, it’s a standard practice for costume clubs to clearly specify in their written charters (provided that they have written charters) that obtaining membership within the club and how members are treated within the club won’t be affected by their race, political views, religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

So, costume clubs do acknowledged and address specific types of elitism already; but these types of elitism are also the same types of elitism that are addressed by most societies today as a whole. In other words, listing that these specific types of elitism won’t be permitted by the costume club is simply complying with existing societal expectations.

What these written charters fail to address are the actual types of elitism that have and continue to occur within costume clubs today, but what are the types of elitism that occur in costume clubs today? That may sound like something that is too complicated to identify, but it’s actually very simple.

In general, what requirements does an individual have to meet in order to join a costume club? While some variations in requirements can exist, they usually boil down to only 2 common requirements:

  1. Is the individual a legal adult (18 years of age or older).
  2. Does the individual own a wearable costume that meets with the standards of excellence and accuracy that are defined by the costume club.

That first requirement exists for obvious legal liability reasons, but that second requirement is, in reality, the starting point for all costume club elitism:

  • The very process of joining a costume club means that the person who’s joining is suddenly different from the billions of other people in the world who don’t own a highly accurate wearable costume and, therefore, can’t join the costume club. (In reality, 99.9% of them probably aren’t interested in joining anyway.)

Now, just because someone has been approved for membership within a costume club doesn’t mean that they are going to develop a negative elitist attitude towards people who aren’t part of the club; but potential is there. And it doesn’t end there either.

  • Becoming an approved member of a costume club means that the newly approved member has access to forums and information that non-members don’t have access to.

Having access to private costume club information that non-members can’t view further separates costume club members from non-members and increases the potential for negative elitist attitudes to develop. And, again, it doesn’t stop there either:

  • Being a costume club member means being able to participate at events while wearing the approved costume. Someone who isn’t a member or isn’t invited to participate with the costume club members can’t participate at the event in costume.

For most costume club members, this is where most of the separation between themselves and the general public (the non-members) ends. But, for any costume club member who are local chapter officers, they are likely privy to additional forums, information and decision making that members who aren’t officers can’t access or do. This can then be taken even a step further with club-level officers who may have access to pretty much all of the club’s most private and typically inaccessible information.

In other words, gaining access, participatory privileges and potentially decision making privileges within a costume club are multiple levels of stratification. Stratification is often at the core of what creates the situation for elitism to occur, as we wrote in that simple definition earlier in this blog post.

Thus, the potential for negative elitist attitudes to occur are interwoven within every single level of a costume club. Yet, not one written costume club charter that we have ever read has ever explicitly mentioned elitism, nor have any of them explicitly stated that negative elitist attitudes resulting from being a member of the costume club are inappropriate and potentially subject to disciplinary action if problems result. Further, most costume club officers and founders that we have communicated either don’t want to discuss elitism or admit that it occurs within their clubs.

Problems don’t go away when you ignore them; instead, they usually get worse and can eventually manifest as even bigger and more embarrassing problems.

Case in point: last week’s highly embarrassing and humiliating situation for the 501st Legion Costume Club when “Star Wars” actors Ray Park and Daniel Logan both quit being honorary members of the club because of how poorly each of them have been repeatedly treated by elitist Legion members. Could this have been prevented? Well, ignoring the problem of elitism didn’t make it go away.

But this isn’t the only example: 1 year ago this month, the elitist leadership of one “Star Wars” costume club, without warning, decided to abruptly shut down the club. How elitist were these now former costume club leaders? They never at any time considered or obtained the wishes of the costume club members at large. In fact, they shut down that club in spite of the wishes of its members to continue operating the club. Those now former leaders did not care one iota how anyone else felt. They saw themselves as having the power alone to destroy that club with absolutely zero remorse.

Can Costume Clubs Stop Elitism?

We’ve posted before about how costume club leaderships often fail to address problems, as well as the qualities that separate good costume club leadership from bad leadership. We’ve also effectively already said what costume clubs need to do, but we’ll make very clear here.

Any costume club that wants to stop elitism from occurring and creating problems need only do the following:

  • Amend their written costume club charter to define what elitism is and to explicitly prohibit members from acting in a negative elitist manner towards others or face the possibility of disciplinary action.
  • Enforce the rules against elitism.

That’s it. Now, that won’t necessarily stop all elitism from occurring, but it will not only force it out into the open, it will ensure that people who choose to engage in negative elitist activity and attitudes may face unpleasant consequences. In other words, create a deterrent. That’s what all of the other written rules and codes of conduct are about: deterrents.

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Ray Park & Daniel Logan Both Quit the 501st Legion Costume Club

Only hours ago late yesterday (Oct. 5, 2018), #StarWars actor Ray Park (who played #DarthMaul) announced on his #Instagram account that he has quit being a member of the #501stLegion. (The “501st Legion” is the largest & oldest “Star Wars” #CostumeClub and Ray Park has been an active member for many years, as has actor Daniel Logan.)

On his Instagram, Mr. Park wrote the following:

“iamraypark #announcement I AM NO LONGER A 501st legion member. Reason: Disappointed!! However, A certain or a certain member spoiled it for me in Edmontont, 501 legion. I AM A STAR WARS FAN. I AM A FAN BUT NOT A FAN OF THIS! #sithlife #raypark #cancelled

Ray Park's Announcement Quitting the "501st Legion"

This same message is also posted on Mr. Park’s Twitter account:

Ray Park's Announcement to Quit the 501st Legion on Twitter

In response, the “501st Legion” on its #Facebook page issued the following apology:

“Ray Park, please accept our most sincere apology, from the almost 14,000 members of the 501st Legion. You deserve the utmost respect and courtesy, always. We hope that you and Daniel Logan can help us make this right. Thank you.”

"501st Legion" Apology to Ray Park

After learning about this, “Star Wars” actor Daniel Logan (who played the young Boba Fett and is also a member of the “501st Legion”) announced his solidarity with Ray Park Instagram and that he, too, was quitting the “501st Legion”:

Daniel Logan's Announcement Quitting the "501st Legion" on Instagram in Response to Ray Park

While not all of the facts have been publicly presented (but there’s a lot of hearsay), a recent article on Yahoo that was published only in September, 2018 may shed light as to the nature of what may have caused Ray Park to decide to quit:

“Ray Park, the British actor who first played Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, has defended his appearance in Solo: A Star Wars Story after receiving “a few fatty comments” about his return to the role.

Maul made a surprise cameo in Solo where it was revealed that he had survived his “death” in The Phantom Menace, and was behind the shadowy Crimson Dawn crime syndicate that looms over the spin-off film.

On Instagram Park says that, although he doesn’t care about the comments and he doesn’t need to justify his appearance in the film, he “worked his butt off” to play Maul once again. He’s also shared photos of himself looking absolutely ripped to silence the haters.

Unfortunately, Mr. Park removed that Instagram post to which the article referred, but we are definitely appalled that anyone would “fat-shame” Ray Park.

One individual wrote the following on Instagram. While we cannot verify it’s accuracy, it’s description is aligns with some our and others own experiences:

Unverified Statement

Since we first created our Facebook page and, later, this WordPress blog, we’ve posted numerous times about toxicity and bullying that occurs “behind closed doors” within costume clubs, and that includes the “501st Legion”. This situation with Ray Park and Daniel Logan is the most public display of just how toxic some superfans within these clubs can be. Poor & weak costume leadership is clearly a factor, which is something else that we have discussed in the past:

As we posted on our Facebook page on January 22, 2016 (also linked above):

“Being part of a costume club can be an enormously rewarding experience, but it can also turn into one of your worst nightmares in the blink of an eye. As long as things go smoothly and morale is high, you can be an active member for potentially years. But if things go awry with conflict & drama, regardless of how much time and effort you have invested into being an active member of the club, you have to know when it’s time to quit. This can be an extremely difficult reality to accept, especially for anyone who has been a member for years and invested considerable time and effort into the club. The key to remember is this: if the conflict & drama is causing a significant amount of stress for yourself, what impact is it also having on your family? We have witnessed several marriages end due in large part to unremitting costume club drama that one spouse is unwilling to step away from. Is a costume club filled with drama more important than your family? Probably not. Try to keep that in mind that sometimes the only realistic solution for yourself and the well being of your family is to walk away from the club. Not being a club member isn’t going to inhibit you from continuing to be an active costumer or cosplayer; but it will very likely restore it into being a fun an rewarding experience again.”

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Shortage of “Star Wars” Cosplayers for Wedding Appearances

According to the #WallStreetJournal, there’s a shortage of #cosplayers for couples having #StarWars themed weddings. Since the typically most popular #cosplayed characters are #DarthVader & #stormtroopers, the requests for appearances often go to the #501stLegion, the #CostumeClub that specializes in “dark side” & Imperial characters.

With the enormous popularity of the recent “Star Wars” movies, a lot more couples are wanting “Star Wars” themed weddings. This has placed a strain on local chapters of the “501st Legion”, whose members make costumed appearances purely on a voluntary basis and who typically request that a donation be made to a charity for the appearance.

Some local chapters (referred to as garrisons within the 501st Legion) have adopted policies of no longer accepting requests to appear at weddings due to the growing number of such requests, though internal communication regarding these locally-adopted policies does not appear to always be disseminated to all members.

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What Motivates People to Want to Become a Costume Club Leader?

The world’s largest #CostumeClub is currently holding its annual elections for leadership positions, both club-wide and for local chapters. While the requirements for who can run for the various leadership positions are clearly spelled out in the club’s written charter, the requirements don’t represent the reasons why members of a costume club may choose to run for a leadership position.

From what we have observed in several different costume clubs, the reasons why people choose to run often fall into one of the following categories:
  • Some candidates choose to run because they feel that they have been slighted by their opponent or by other members of the club’s leadership. In this scenario, the individual often has a personal vendetta and may be seeking to gain a leadership position in order to exact some kind of revenge. Is this the kind of person who should be elected? We’ve seen this happen and it often leads to more problems down the road for everyone.
  • Some candidates choose to run to stroke their own egos. These individuals want to be in the spotlight and have others tell them how great they are. They’re running because they want to be something, not because they want to get something positive accomplished. They want a title and they want people to be impressed by that title. The worst examples of this are individuals whose egos are so large that they truly believe that they know better than everyone else and want to impose their will on others. Is electing such a narcissistic person a good idea? We’ve seen it done and the results weren’t good.
  • Some candidates choose to run because other costume club members have talked them into running. But, here’s the catch: often, the members who convince someone to run may be seeking to pull strings from behind the scenes. Those that talk others into running for a leadership position may not want to be in the spotlight themselves, or they may know that they couldn’t win if they ran on their own. By finding someone else to run not only gives them an opportunity to influence or control decisions from behind the scenes, it protects them from taking the blame if other club members later decide that they don’t like who they elected. In fact, it’s entirely possible (and we have observed this actually happen) that those who got the person to run will deliberately start to complain if that person doesn’t do what they want him/her to do in order to sabotage their ability to run again. In other words, the winning candidate becomes their patsy. Alway be wary of who is trying to get someone else to run for a leadership position.
  • Some candidates choose to run because they genuinely want to make a positive difference. When someone like this is found, it can lead to some truly positive changes for everyone; but as John Lydgate’s saying goes: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”[1] Over time, anyone in the club that is seeking to cause drama may eventually damage this winning candidate’s reputation and the longer that someone holds a leadership position, the greater the likelihood that this situation can occur. Our advice to anyone wanting to run for office in a costume club is not to hold the office for too long a time: know when it’s time to let someone else lead.
Care must taken in deciding who should be in costume club leadership positions. Electing or appointing the wrong person could have detrimental effects on members’ interest to participate in club events. We’ve seen it happen. People join costume clubs to have fun, not to satisfy someone’s need for revenge, to boost someone’s ego or to be manipulated by secretive backseat drivers that want to remain anonymous.
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Questions That Should Be Asked Before Creating a Costume Club

Before going through the complex process of creating a new #CostumeClub, several important questions should be asked first:

1. Is a new costume club necessary/why is it being created? If another (or several other) costume clubs exists that already includes the costumes that you are wanting to have in a new costume club, then the creation of another similar costume club seems unnecessary. Something should be unique to justify the creation of another costume club.

2. Who is the costume club being created for? The creation of any club should, first and foremost, be for the people who join the club. If a costume club is being created for any other reasons than for the people who join, then it should probably not be created.

3. Will members have a voice in how the costume club operates? If the members who join a new costume club ultimately have no say in how the club operates, this suggests several things about those who created the costume club: possibly a lack of empathy towards others, a need to control others, a lack of trust towards others, etc. As stated above, a costume club is first and foremost about those who join the club. Hence, those that join must be given opportunities in how the club operates.

4. Will protections exist to keep the costume club together? A costume club that operates without a written charter or with a charter that doesn’t specify sufficient procedures and protections for the members, then the possibility exists that the club could be irreparably damaged or disbanded when problems occur. Anyone who creates a costume club must do so with the understanding that problems could occur and that protections must be in place before the problems occur. While no one can predict what may happen, looking at what other costume clubs have done to protect themselves through their written charters should give you some idea as to what you will also need.

If the answers to any of the above questions do not favor the members who join a costume club after its created, then it should not be created in the first place. Creating a costume club is a responsibility to those who join. They are the reason the costume club should exist.

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Why Costume Clubs Fail: A Learning Opportunity

With the abrupt & unexpected shutdown of a #CostumeClub last week, we want to explore the various reasons that can contribute to a costume club failing & use it as a learning opportunity. The failure of a costume club is probably not going to be due to a single reason. Rather, a combination of negative factors can so weaken a club or its leadership to such an extent that it simply implodes. That is essentially what happened last week when a costume club chose to disband without warning.

So, with no further ado, here are some of the reasons that might lead to a costume club failing.

1. Inexperienced Leadership

Probably one of the most significant reasons that can lead to a costume club’s downfall is inexperienced leadership. Before someone is elected or appointed to a leadership position, the individual should be able to demonstrate that they are qualified to handle the responsibilities of the position. This is especially true if the position is equivalent to being a club president.

This is no different when someone applies and potentially interviews for a job at a business. Hiring an unqualified person into a job means that the job isn’t going to be done well, correctly or at all. For a business, this can result in loss of revenue, loss of credibility with customers, loss of business, etc. The negative impact to a costume club can be similar.

While a resume is the typical way that a job candidate demonstrates their abilities & qualifications for a job, listed below are some (certainly not all) qualifications that could potentially demonstrate someone’s qualifications for being in a costume club’s leadership position:

  • Length of membership. Someone who has been a costume club member for more than a year (for example) would be more qualified than someone who only joined a few months before because they would have more experience in how the club operates. Time spent in a costume club is akin to on-the-job-training & experience.
  • Participation. If someone doesn’t participate frequently in costume club events, how can they demonstrate that they have a firm understanding of how events are organized and how members should conduct themselves at events? Someone who attends nearly every event would be far more experienced than someone who only participates once or twice a year, even if the person who has participated at more events hasn’t been in the club as long as the person who rarely participates. This is also akin to on-the-job-training & experience.
  • Costume club charter familiarity. Someone who isn’t familiar with a costume club’s charter isn’t going to be as prepared to know what can or cannot be done than someone who is very familiar with it. Rash decisions and decisions that are inconsistent with a costume club’s rules are more likely to happen with someone who doesn’t know the club’s charter.
  • Personality. Someone who doesn’t form interpersonal relationships as well as someone who can won’t be as effective a leader because they won’t be able to interact with the members as effectively. Also, someone who is more argumentative is also not going to be the best choice for a leadership role. Costume clubs thrive when the members are having fun; member morale & participation drops when they don’t want to be around argumentative members, especially when they are the ones making decisions for the club.

The club that shut down last week did not have the most experienced or qualified people in the top most leadership roles. This was a red flag. 🚩

(For additional reading, on Jan. 6, 2016, we wrote a post on our Facebook page describing the differences between good costume club leadership and poor leadership. We may update and re-post this soon on this blog.)

2. Top-Heavy Leadership Structure

Any costume club that concentrates leadership at the top and doesn’t distribute & delegate decision making adequately is only setting itself up to fail as the number of members in the costume club grows. This paradigm may work when there are only 50 or less members, but once a club has over 100 members and the numbers continue to  grow, the ability of the leaders in a top-heavy structure to make decisions and keep up with the increasing responsibility can become overly stressful and lead to collapse, especially when those leaders are unwilling to either step down or be willing to start delegating decisions and responsibilities to others.

The club that shut down last week was very top-heavy by design. This was yet another red flag. 🚩

(For additional reading, on Jan. 28, 2016, we wrote a post on our Facebook page showing differences between democratic & oligarchical costume club leaderships.)

3. Poor Decision Making

Any leadership that deliberately deceives other members or doesn’t take the time to verify the validity of information it receives before acting on that information is not only unqualified to lead, it may be making very poor decisions that damage the club’s credibility or it’s ability to operate at all.

It is our understanding from interviewing several individuals that were part of the club that disbanded last week that the decision to disband was a combination of unverified information, as well as possibly deceptive information being used to support disbanding. This was another red flag. 🚩

4. Unresolved Internal Conflict

This is something we have touched on before. Any time costume club leadership permits unresolved internal conflict to flourish or directly participates in it, members will stop participating. Sometimes, members will leave en masse. The whole purpose of a costume club is to have fun and (quite often) participate in charitable work while wearing costumes.

When a costume club’s leadership fails in its responsibility to resolve conflict (both internal and external), it is demonstrating that it has completely forgotten the costume club’s mission or that that mission is no longer relevant to them. Either way, the result will be bad for the club and its members.

It’s our understanding that some serious internal conflict occurred within the costume club leadership that disbanded last week only a few weeks before its leaders voted to disband. This would have been a very large red flag. 🚩

5. Lack of Regard for the Membership

While this may be more difficult to detect, when a costume club’s leadership doesn’t have much regard for the club’s members, the leadership may make decisions that are not in the best interest of the members.

Disbanding a club without warning would be the most obvious example, but impossible to do anything about once it has occurred. Leadership that is not particularly transparent or doesn’t regularly communicate with the members are two other methods that the leadership’s amount of regard for the members could be revealed.

6. Vaguely Written Club Charter

A costume club’s charter is equivalent to a constitution. It defines how the club operates, how new members can be approved, how members are expected to behave, how disciplinary action is handled, etc.

But, what happens when a costume club’s charter is written so vaguely that many procedures aren’t really defined or some procedures aren’t defined at all? In this situation, such a charter grants the leadership relatively unlimited power because it doesn’t limit what they can do or define how things are supposed to be done.

This is precisely how the costume club that disbanded last week was able to do so with impunity: it’s charter did not define a procedure for how the club could be disbanded, so all that was needed was a simple majority of its now defunct council. The defunct costume club’s vaguely written charter was another red flag. 🚩

Concluding Remarks: A Learning Opportunity

We could go on, but suffice it to say that before joining a costume club (as we have advised in the past), make sure that you understand how the club is organized beforehand. All of the things explained above are potential red flags and the more red flags that exist for a costume club, the more better off you probably are by not joining it. If you do join it, just be prepared that its future may be questionable. The prime example is what actually happened one week ago today: if a club’s charter doesn’t explain how it can be disbanded, then it’s entirely possible that it could be disbanded in the blink of an eye by its leadership with no warning to the members.

There is a silver lining: failure should always be regarded as an opportunity to learn.

While the costume club that disbanded last week will never have the opportunity to learn from its mistakes since it no longer exists, it is still a learning opportunity for all other current and future costume clubs to understand how this particular club failed so that they don’t make the same mistakes that lead to its downfall.

Let that be the legacy of the failed costume club: for all other costume clubs to have a far better chance of long-term success.

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Costume Club Destroyed from the Inside Overnight

On Oct. 15, 2017, a #StarWars #CostumeClub announced with no warning that it had shut down. As of today, it’s entire social media & internet presence is gone. The posted reason for shutting down the club originally claimed that it was due to LucasFilm, Ltd. (LFL), but that was quickly found to be an invalid statement. Once this was discovered, the 3 council members who had apparently voted to disband the club without warning applied a “scorched earth” policy to remove it’s entire online presence as quickly as possible as if it had never existed.

The club, which had over 100 members, had been resurrected in June, 2016. It appeared to be operating well and growing, but the people in charge (which no longer included any of the founding members) clearly wanted nothing to do with it. Reports of internal drama and conflict are likely to among the factors that lead to this.

In the end, the 100+ members who had made costumes to join the club and participated at club events woke up to it being completely wiped out. In this situation it is clear that those who decided to suddenly disband the club neither had the members’ best interests at heart nor did they care about them. Our sympathies are to the members who found themselves completely stripped of their club without warning or notice.

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