Have you ever encountered #CostumeClub members while you were in #costume? Did they talk to you about your costume or #cosplay? Did they start to critique your costume and you make feel uncomfortable? If your answer to the last question was “yes”, you’re not alone.
The practice by some costume club members critiquing & criticizing other people’s #costumes & #cosplays is a common occurrence. Not all costume club members do this, but enough of them do it that it’s periodically a topic of conversation amongst people who aren’t costume club members or who are members of other costume clubs. While there is high likelihood that the critical costume club members are part of a #StarWars costume club, the real question is why do any costume club members behave like this?
Let’s begin with the fact that costume clubs typically base approval for membership on what its members have deemed to be a “high quality” costume, which generally implies that the costume has been constructed using durable materials that allow the costume to be long-lasting and worn many times while showing little or no damage as a result of repeated wearings. “Star Wars” costume clubs (and some others) also require what their members often refer to as “screen-accuracy”, which means (in essence) that the costume appears so accurate that it makes the wearer look like he or she walked off of a movie screen or comic book.
“High quality” and “screen accuracy” also mean something else: that such a costume isn’t necessarily common and was very likely rather expensive to obtain. The use of “high quality” (durable) materials and a screen accurate appearance isn’t something that you can just run down to a specialty costume/party store or department store to purchase. Instead, the wearer probably had to seek out private prop & costume makers, expensive commercially-licensed professional costume suppliers, or some combination of the two; plus obtaining other items, such as appropriate tools, in order to have and wear that costume. In other words, they spent a lot of time, money and effort to have a “high quality” (and probably “screen accurate”) costume just to get into the costume club’s door.
Now, while there are many other costumers, cosplayers and #fursuiters who have spent considerable time, money and effort to have the costumes that they wear, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to start behaving in a critical manner towards other costumers, cosplayers & fursuiters. Mind you, it can and does happen, but there’s another layer that contributes to the false sense of superiority that some costume club members develop: the “specialness” and “privilege” of being an approved member of that costume club.
Each costume club creates its own internal subculture that’s unique to that club. That subculture includes access to events and information that isn’t available to people outside of the club; the use of special “jargon” that developed internally within that club; access to members-only message boards & groups; the ability to purchase, own and wear members-only swag that is unique to that club; etc. All of these aspects (combined with the fact that the member owns at least one expensive, “high-quality”, “screen accurate” costume to be a member of that club) can sometimes make that member feel overly “special” or “privileged”. This sense of being overly “special” & privileged that can develop may lead to some very negative qualities: arrogance, conceit, vanity, condescension, snobbery, etc.:
|“Look at me: I’m special. I have an awesome costume and I’m part of such-and-such costume club and can access things that you can’t. This makes me better than you because you’re not a member and can’t see these member-only things.”|
Now, while not everyone who joins a costume club subsequently becomes condescending and snobbish after joining, when someone outside of the club encounters any costume club members that are, chances are high that that person may conclude that most (if not all) of that club’s members are the same way. This is especially true if the snobbish & condescending members acted patronizingly towards the person, or were observed by that person being patronizing towards someone else.
|Costume club members who publicly act arrogantly, conceitedly, condescendingly, patronizingly or snobbishly towards non-members ultimately damage that costume club’s reputation.|
Usually, only fellow costume club members are privy to the full, unbridled extent of how arrogant, conceited, vain, condescending & snobbish some costume club members can become because they can exhibit those qualities without fear of reprisal in the perceived safety and privacy of members-only groups and message boards. The degree of arrogance, conceit, vanity, condescension & snobbery displayed in those members-only groups & message boards would surprise outsiders as it often surprises newly approved members who never realized that this occurred until after they joined. Sadly, some new members can and do get pulled into having the same negative behavior and self-aggrandizing views over time.
Reading this, you might ask, “Don’t costume clubs discourage this kind of behavior?” As an example, at the very beginning of Section 1 of the “Code of Conduct” of the 501st Legion’s “Operation Protocols” (or bylaws), the following is written:
“The 501st Legion recognizes that its costumes represent characters from the STAR WARS™ films and as such, costume-wearers carry the responsibility of portraying these characters professionally and tastefully while in public. For these reasons, all members are prohibited from acting in a manner disrespectful towards the image they are portraying, towards fellow organization members, or towards the public at large while in costume at any event where the 501st Legion or its sub-units and members are official participants.”
While this all sounds very good, one only has to read the fine print at the end: respectful behavior is ONLY required “while in costume at any event where the 501st Legion or its sub-units and members are official participants.” Thus, when 501st Legion members aren’t in costume or aren’t directly representing the 501st Legion at an official event, they can act as disrespectfully as they want. And, sadly, some of them (as well as the members of other clubs with similar rules) do exactly that.
So, how do you think arrogant, conceited, condescending, patronizing & snobbish costume club members react when confronted about their behavior towards others when they’re not in costume and otherwise not representing the club in their eyes? They become defensive and often resort to rationalizations and confirmation biases in an attempt to justify their disrespectful & self-aggrandizing behavior.
Back in the year 1997, a professor named Robert Fuller coined a more generic term to describe all kinds of disrespectful & self-aggrandizing behavior: “rankism”, which he defines as the “abusive, discriminatory, or exploitative behavior towards people because of their rank in a particular hierarchy.” Rankism is what people who regard themselves as “somebodies” do to people whom they regard to be “nobodies”. Rank-based abuse underlies a broad spectrum of negative phenomena, such as #bullying, #elitism, #racism, #hazing, #ageism, #sexism, #homophobia & more.
Rankism can occur in any social hierarchy (such as governments, corporations, families, non-profit organizations, and universities) and tends to feed on itself within a group context. Two of the many characteristic examples of rankism that apply to costume club member snobbery & condescension include the following:
- Using rank as a shield to get away with insulting or humiliating others with impunity.
- Exporting the rank achieved in one sphere of activity to claim superior value as a person.
|The victims of rankism experience it as an affront to their personal dignity.|
Incidents of rankism (arrogance, conceit, condescension, snobbery, etc) occur within costume clubs more frequently than their leaderships & members would care to admit. Examples of rankism that have been directly observed within more than one “Star Wars” costume club include (but are not limited to) the following:
- People wearing costumes constructed from materials that the costume club generally regards as being “low quality” (such as EVA foam) are often viewed with derision & disdain.
- Convention attendees wearing costumes or cosplays made from such materials may be directly criticized for doing so by some costume club members.
- Costume club members may express their negative views regarding such costumes & materials on costume club message boards that are typically only accessible to other members.
- The members of other costume clubs that permit the usage of materials regarded as being lesser quality may also be subject to criticism and derogatory names. Derogatory names such as “garbage-can Mandos” and “bathrobe Jedi” are two examples of how some members of one particular “Star Wars” costume club sometimes have referred to the members of two other “Star Wars” costume clubs.
- Individuals who built customized versions of “canon” costumes may also subject to criticism by members of costume clubs that don’t permit customization and view them as not being “screen-accurate”.
- Members of costume clubs that don’t permit customization often criticize similar costume clubs that do.
- Costumed convention attendees who aren’t costume club members may find themselves and their costumes being critiqued by members of a costume club who take it upon themselves to let those attendees know what they did wrong and what they should make their costumes more “screen-accurate” or on par with the level of quality that their costume club requires for membership. More often than not, the costumed attendees probably never asked or even approached the costume club members or asked the members for their views on their costumes. Out of arrogance & vanity, some costume club members believe it’s their duty to impose their unwanted “expertise” upon others because they’re so convinced that everyone ultimately wants to join their club, which isn’t true.
Criticizing others due to the quality or appearance of their costumes or the types of materials that they used may sound like a familiar type of negative behavior that we have spoken against in the past: #CosplayBullying. For example, while the 501st Legion’s “Code of Conduct” (as we referenced above) lists several types of unacceptable harassment by its members (including sexual harassment, racial prejudice and sexual orientation prejudice), criticizing or harassing people due to the perceived quality or accuracy of their costumes is not specifically listed. Thus, the “Code of Conduct” of the world’s single largest costume club fails to address the problem of cosplay bullying. And, cosplay bullying is often at the heart why some people stop cosplaying altogether.
As a whole, costume clubs have failed in their responsibility to encourage members to behave respectfully towards others even when they’re not in costume or not otherwise directly representing the club. While they may not view these “out of costume” times as being enforceable, they could (at the very least) educate their members that their behavior (both in and out of costume) can reflect poorly on the club (and themselves) when they act disrespectfully towards others and are self-aggrandizing. They could stop members from behaving arrogantly, conceitedly, condescendingly & snobbishly towards other in their members-only message boards & groups, but by failing to do so, they enable the behavior instead of discouraging it.
Cosplay bullying is never acceptable, regardless of the form that it takes.
- Rankism article on Wikipedia
- What is Rankism and Why Do We “Do” It?
- 501st Legion’s Operations Protocols (Bylaws)
- 5 Things You Should Know About Cosplay Against Bullying
- What Makes for a “Good Cosplayer”?
- Revisiting Why Cosplayers Stop Cosplaying