The Sociology of Cosplay: Yes, It’s Self-Segregated and Cliquish

If it was possible to obtain a university degree in #cosplay, one of the requirements would have to include studies in #sociology. Certainly, while all of the artistic skills required to produce a #costume would be extremely important, understanding interactions between #cosplayers and how those interactions will impact a cosplayer’s experience in the hobby are equally important.

First, what is sociology? Let’s look at a definition derived from Wikipedia:

Sociology is the scientific study of society, patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture of everyday life. It is a social science that uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about social order, acceptance, and change or social evolution.

Replete with “patterns of social relationships” and multiple types of “social interactions”, cosplay is a subculture that, for many in the hobby, frequently becomes a part of their everyday lives. There is definitely a “social order” amongst cosplayers and acceptance within that social order begins when someone wears a costume at a public gathering where other cosplayers are also present.

Where does that “social order” amongst cosplayers begin? First, let’s assume that cosplayers are typically part of a broader fandom of a particular franchise. But what is a fandom?

Fandom is a subculture composed of individual fans who share feelings of empathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest. Fans are typically interested in even minor details of the object(s) of their fandom and spend a significant portion of their time and energy involved with their interest. This often is a part of a social network with particular practices.

As examples, there are fandoms for “Star Wars”, “Star Trek”, “Harry Potter”, “Lost in Space”, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, etc. Each of these fandoms are distinct subcultures within themselves and each one is comprised of individuals who share a common interest in the franchise that that fandom is focuses on. In other words, each fandom is a separate entity.

Let’s consider Spider-Man. Spider-Man is a costumed superhero that was co-created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, who (sadly) both died in 2018. There is a large Spider-Man fandom comprised of many individuals who enjoy reading the comic-books, seeing the movies and discussing Spider-Man and his various arch-enemies amongst each other. This broad fandom recognizes Spider-Man from his costumes, but as a whole, they don’t typically focus on the costumes themselves. However, Spider-Man cosplayers do. In other words, Spider-Man cosplayers become focused on Spider-Man’s costumes, which are a “minor detail” of the overall character. The same can be said of other cosplayers from other fandoms as well.

Thus, we can now make the following statements:

Sociologically, cosplayers are distinct subsets of fans whose primary interest are the costumes worn by characters from particular franchises.

Members of a broader fandom for a particular franchise may be less inclined to interact with those fans who are only interested in the costumes and vice versa.

Additionally, rather than being a single subculture within themselves, cosplayers are divided among multiple sub-subcultures derived from larger fandom subcultures where each fandom subculture is formed around a particular franchise. 

Of Cliques, Sub-Cliques & Cliquishness

Let’s let those above statements sink in for a moment. If you investigate the common complaints that many cosplayers have regarding cosplay and the cosplay culture itself, oftentimes one of the most common complaints is that cosplayers are cliquish. If we regard each fandom as a large clique brought together from a shared love of a specific franchise, then at the highest level, fandoms themselves are separate cliques of individuals. Then, within each fandom clique, there may be one or more sub-cliques based on specific costumes worn by particular characters.

Thus, cosplay culture is indeed cliquish because its foundation is based on cliques.

In other words, the cliquishness of cosplayers is unavoidable.

Let’s take a look at a journey that you may take if you want to wear a clone-trooper costume from “Star Wars”.

  • As you investigate how you can obtain a clone-trooper costume, you’ll undoubtedly discover that there are two different “Star Wars” costume clubs that feature clone-trooper costumers amongst their members: the 501st Legion and the Rebel Legion.
  • Because it may be easier to find someone who has a clone-trooper costume or a kit that you could purchase who’s also part of the one of these costume clubs, you may be drawn into wanting to join one or both of these costume clubs yourself, especially since the prop makers are inclined to sell to existing members or to individuals who plan to join.
  • Once you obtain a costume or a kit to build one, you’ll spend many hours putting it together and tailoring and modifying it to fit yourself. You may even obtain assistance from costume club members who own clone-trooper costumes in building your costume.
  • Once you’ve completed the costume, you’re going to want to have opportunities to wear it, which will further draw you into joining one or both of the costume clubs.
  • You’ll likely submit pictures and an application to join, be accepted, and then become part of the costume club.
  • You’ll get to know other costume club members, you’ll become familiar with the costume club’s unique internal culture, you’ll attend events in costume with other members, etc.

Now, let’s ask a couple of questions from this example:

  • Will you be interacting with Spider-Man cosplayers are you put a “Star Wars” clone-trooper costume together and join one of the “Star Wars” costume club? Unless you have a strong interest in also wearing a Spider-Man costume, probably not. In fact, you may not interact with any other cosplayers from other franchises or even many costumers & cosplayers who are also “Star Wars” costumers, but who aren’t wearing clone-trooper costumes.
  • How many cliques could you become part of by wearing the clone-trooper costume?
    1. You’d already be part of the overall “Star Wars” fandom.
    2. You’d become part of the “Star Wars” costumers and cosplayers as a whole.
    3. You’d become part of the 501st Legion costume club if you chose to join that one.
    4. You’d become part of a local chapter within the 501st Legion.
    5. You’d become part of the “Clone Trooper Detachment” within the 501st Legion.
    6. You’d become part of the Rebel Legion if you chose to join that costume club.
    7. You’d become part of a local chapter within the Rebel Legion.

So different amounts of time would be devoted to different cliques that you’d become part of. Things that you might discuss within one of the above cliques you may not discuss in the others. People that you interact with in each clique could be different also.

If you want to wear a Spider-Man costume, then you’d be interacting with a completely different set of people and be part of completely different cliques than if you wore a clone-trooper costume.

Sociologically, the people, groups and cliques that you will interact with will depend highly on the type(s) of costume that you choose to wear.

Additionally, events, actions, conflicts, etc., that occur within one cosplay group (or sub-subculture or clique) tend to remain isolated to that cosplay group. 

With regard to that 2nd statement above, it is not uncommon that when a costumer or cosplayer becomes disillusioned with one cosplay group, that costumer or cosplayer may join another cosplay group that is completely unrelated to the former. If the new cosplay group that that cosplayer or costumer joins does interact with the former, then that cosplayer or costumer won’t actually have succeeded in removing themselves entirely from the situation of the former group.

Cosplayer Self-Segregation: It’s a Personal Choice

No, we’re not talking about segregation of races. What we’re talking about is this:

When a cosplayer chooses to wear a particular costume, he or she (whether they’re actually aware of it or not) has chosen to segregate themselves in terms of who they will be interacting with based upon the costume they want to wear.

In other words, each cosplayer self-segregates themselves and that self-segregation can encompass multiple forms and multiple paths depending upon the costume, the group (or groups) associated with that costume and other personal choices.

Cosplayers don’t necessarily ever consciously realize that they have self-segregated themselves and how that self-segregation has impacted them socially and sociologically, but understanding this can make a huge difference in how that individual cosplayer chooses to behave and how much the group’s influence will have upon that cosplayer.

By choosing not to join a costume club, for example, a costumer or cosplayer becomes less self-segregated and, thus, less cliquish. By choosing to associate with friends across multiple franchises, a costumer or cosplayer broadens their own experience and may be less likely to become embroiled with conflicts that may arise within a franchise’s costuming sub-subculture that he or she may be part of. By choosing to maintain friendships, hobbies and activities outside of costuming & cosplay, a cosplayer maintains connections and other priorities that, again, make becoming embroiled within a costuming or cosplay related dispute or conflict less likely.

Choosing to be less self-segregated and less cliquish is a personal choice.

How involved and how devoted you become to cosplay is a personal choice.

Always bear that in mind and you won’t lose yourself in the hobby.

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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?

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