Drama in any community is about as rare as a needle in a pincushion; you might have to squint a little to spot it, but it’s usually present. Being a relative newbie to the cosplay community (via transitioning from RenFaire), I’ve been an observer of different types of drama, the majority of which is really easy to ignore. There is one minor bit that rears its head every so often, and it’s one that tends to grate on me to hear. I sometimes hear whispers from those in the ‘Costuming for Historical Reenactment’ camp that the term ‘Cosplay’ is, for lack of a better description, a four-letter word in the minds of a few of their members. These individuals look down on the cosplay community, thinking them to be no better than a group of immature, talentless children.
My first response to this attitude is ‘Why? Isn’t historical reenactment similar to cosplay in some respects?’ To try and figure out an answer to this, I turned to my trusty friend Google. After several minutes of searching and reading about cosplay and historical reenactment, I can say I have something of an answer?
Is historical reenactment cosplay? Under the technical ‘umbrella’ definition of cosplay, yes. As read on Wikipedia and other sites, the definition of cosplay is ‘a type of performance art in which participants wear costumes and accessories to represent a specific character or idea.’ There is an additional sentence on the Wiki page that I found interesting. It states that ‘Any entity from the real or virtual world that lends itself to dramatic interpretation may be taken up as a subject.’ What this can be interpreted to mean is, if you are taking any sort of character -fictional or historical- taking the time to research and recreate clothing they wore, and wearing that clothing while adopting their mannerisms and characterization, then you are cosplaying. It doesn’t matter if it’s Sailor Moon, Pinkie Pie, Marie Antoinette, or Ulysses S. Grant and ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, if you are recreating and assuming that character, then that is technically considered ‘cosplay’.
Now, does that mean they are one and the same? No. In fact, I would actually call them ‘kissing cousins’ under the umbrella of cosplay. Generally speaking, historical reenactment is used to educate as well as entertain. Think of Renaissance Faires and Civil War reenactments, for example. While some of the groups may be fictional, there are others that are based off and around historical figures or groups, and they base their activities around those groups. It isn’t always the people in the fancy outfits either; some groups revolve around day-to-day activities like spinning yarn or military drills. Cosplay is often merely fun-based, a way for people to pay homage to characters they love while broadcasting that appreciation to others. In that way, fans can co-mingle and learn about media and stories they were unfamiliar with, which can turn them into fans. It may not be education of people or events that occurred decades or centuries ago (with a few exceptions), but it is education nonetheless. There are a few series I’ve learned about due to cosplay, and I appreciate the chance I had to speak to fans of these series and learn more about them. Education takes a back-seat to fun, however, and this dichotomy is what often differentiates cosplay (as people typically think of it) from reenactment.
My other major thought was ‘What right do you have to look down on others for not living up to your expectations?’, paired with ‘How do you know cosplayers are inferior?’. I’ve seen people who hunt through thrift stores for hours on end to find those perfect costume pieces for a My Little Pony cosplay. I’ve seen people spend weeks -sometimes months!- researching historical clothing so they could recreate the full outfit an Inuyasha character wears for five minutes in the series. I’ve seen foam armor and weapons so well-crafted they could almost pass for kevlar and other real-world body armor. In short, while there are many cosplayers who do the bare minimum, there are many more who put as much time and effort into their costumes as a historical reenactor does into theirs. And yet, the reenactor gets praised while the cosplayer is looked down upon, simply because it’s seen as ‘better’ to reenact a historical character than a fictional one.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m getting a little weary of all the divisive lines in geek culture. It doesn’t matter if you play a character who was a queen 400 years ago, or you play one who will be queen of future Tokyo in a millenium. What matters is this is a hobby people are drawn to for their own reasons. As long as they’re having fun and not harming anyone, lets knock off the elitism and let them have their fun. It’s a big enough sandbox for us all to play with our toys together.