Looking Good in San Diego

The Crazy-Buck-Rogers-Stuff approach to reporting about science fiction fans is becoming rare, but apparently cosplayers are still fair game for sneering journalists. Surprisingly, the latest bad example is the cover article in the San Diego Reader, an alternative culture newsie in the city that’s home to Comic Con. If cosplayers can’t get love there, where can they?

Siobhan Braun is a Reader staffer who contributes “Street Style” fashion articles like last September’s “Anime Girls”. Braun got herself invited to ride along with a couple of cosplayers from that photoshoot to one of their regular local gatherings, but she evidently managed to alienate them even before she wrote this sequel:

Of course, I should be dressed as an obscure Japanese comic-book character, like everyone else at the Balboa Park cosplay meeting.

Five days earlier, I’d emailed 19-year-old Shannon Downer, a diehard cosplayer (“cosplay” is short for “costume play”) who agreed to allow me to tag along with her at Saturday’s event. I asked to borrow an outfit.

“So I can be part of the experience,” I explained.

From the tone of Shannon’s written response, it was clear she was not pleased with my request. As a result, on Friday night, with less than 12 hours until the cosplay event, she called off our interview. I had crossed a line. According to Shannon’s cosplaying friend, Marina MacDonald, “That is just not how cosplay works.” She said this with a heavy sigh, making it clear that I just don’t get it. Anime fans dress the way they do because they are passionate about it. Loaning out costumes is not something they do.

The article’s saving grace is the liberal use of direct quotes by people with sensible things to say about cosplay and its devotees. The reporter’s own narrative voice drips with condescension, and she belittles her subjects by including lots of extraneous material about their home life in a tone that makes it sound as if it was somehow singular that someone would have a Catholic mother.

The article also shows a shocking lack of research – which the commenters were quick to note. Consider this passage:

“What characters are you?” I ask.

“We aren’t really characters. We’re dressed in Lolita style.”

“Oh. You’re Nabokov fans?”

“Huh?” says the one wearing clunky black glasses.

“The author of Lolita,” I explain.

They stare blankly. The girl in the glasses turns her head and begins a conversation with someone else.

Even if one searches no farther than the Wikipedia one discovers that Lolita style is a Japanese street-fashion which originated outside of cosplay, and whose name may have a source in common with Nabokov’s character but otherwise has no connection to the novel.

Well, fans have survived reporters of this ilk before, and cosplayers will outlast this one.

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6 thoughts on “Looking Good in San Diego

  1. Hm. I interpret the Lolita conversation differently. To me it looks like she’s counting on readers not to know about Lolita style and grabs a chance to make the girls look stupid and illiterate.

  2. So you think the writer knew it was a bogus connection? Then she was taking quite a risk beause her piece was certain to attract San Diego cosplayers who know their history.

  3. But it isn’t the source of the name of the fashion. That’s the problem with the writer’s question.

  4. It isn’t? That’s what I thought and a quick googling confirms it – the Wikipedia article refers to a PhD thesis that states “Whilst Nabokov’s Lolita dwells within and hangs as a spectre over this topic this thesis is not about her per se. It is about a movement that takes its name from this character but reflects little in intention, I argue, to either Nabokov’s narrative or to the nature of the Nabokovian Lolita”. (http://aut.researchgateway.ac.nz/handle/10292/2448).
    Even if the origin is disputed, I think the author of the article can be forgiven for believing one of the camps.

  5. As a MOCK (mother of a cosplay kid) I was offended and replied on the Reader site. Personally, I think cosplay is a great thing for kids of all ages (age appropriate costumes of course).

    Me and my fellow mothers are just starting a website for parents who have concerns about their kids cosplaying. It is just starting and only has 4 articles so far, but we would love more participation and will be having a message board installed soon. Please, check it out and tell your parents. Thanks.

    MOCKblog.Net | Mothers Of Cosplay Kids

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