Obligatory Rant about Fandom, Cosplaying, and People Who Ought to Know Better

This is a profanity-laden rant. Some day my daughter will stumble across this and be horribly embarassed. Future prospective employers will read this and inform me that the position has already been filled. My parents, who do visit this site, will sigh and tell themselves that they raised a good boy… mostly. You have been warned.

I should be working on NaNoWriMo right now. I have, at this moment, at least a one-thousand-six-hundred-sixty-seven word deficit, and it’ll probably grow larger than that, because right now, this very minute, I really can’t concentrate on the story I ought to be telling. I would dearly love to, but right now, this very minute, the Internet actually got to me. Well, a group of people on the Internet actually got to me. Not because they are The Most Evil And Detestable People On The Planet, but because They Ought To Fucking Know Better And They Obviously Don’t.

So let’s talk about Tony Harris.

If you’re not really into comics, Tony Harris is an artist. A pretty good one. One of the things he’s known for is a comic called Ex Machina, which is about a superhero who becomes mayor of New York City after 9/11 (that’s a gloss, the comic isn’t the point of this, let’s move on). So he’s a guy who has a certain level of recognition and credibility in the comics industry, and is also recognized and admired by fans of comics.

Now let’s talk about cosplayers.

“Cosplaying” is dressing up in costume as a character you like from a story you like. It’s not something I do (although ever since I started buying my own clothes I’ve worn black vests because HAN SOLO WORE A BLACK VEST, so hell, maybe I do cosplay) but it’s something both men and women do, and they seem to enjoy it. And why not? It doesn’t hurt anyone (unless they accidentally stab someone with a sword) and it doesn’t contribute to global warming (unless there’s a lot of hair spray involved) and IT’S JUST WEARING A COSTUME. There are, admittedly, poor costume choices that become topics of con merriment, but that’s a different article.

Now let’s talk about Tony Harris vs. cosplayers. Specifically female cosplayers.

A few days ago Tony Harris posted a little rant on his Facebook page. I won’t link to it, and I won’t even post it verbatim. I will, instead, break it down for you in bullet form, with a few liberties taken to clarify some of the salient points.:

  • This is something he’s said before.
  • He doesn’t care.
  • He likes attractive females.
  • He’s heterosexual.
  • Sometimes he likes racy stuff.
  • He is sick and tired of women who cosplay.
  • Some of his best friends are women who cosplay.
  • They’re ok.
  • But other than them he’s sick and tired of women who cosplay.
  • Most women who cosplay are preying on nerds and using their vile sexual energy in order pump up their own egos at the expense of geeky inexperienced boys who cannot handle the vile sexual energy but it doesn’t matter because the women don’t want anything to do with them anyway because it’s all a cruel game to them.
  • Also the girls are ugly.
  • They are on to you and your female plots.
  • Your secret weapon is your willingness to engage in acts of nudity.
  • Also breasts.
  • But you’re ugly.
  • But you’re pretty.
  • But you’re ugly.
  • But you’re pretty.
  • You just want attention.
  • He has noticed this, personally, as he has paid attention to you, so well played.
  • You know absolutely nothing about comics so you are worthless, worthless, worthless.
  • And when he tried to talk to you at a con you turned him down.
  • Wait, he meant when some OTHER guy who WASN’T HIM tried to talk to you at a con, you turned THAT OTHER GUY down.
  • Which concerned him greatly, because he’s a really sensitive guy who really cares about the well being of others, as evidenced by the abundance of courteous language in his post.
  • “Lying, Liar Face.”
  • “You aren’t comics.”
  • The only reason your cosplaying works is that a Comic Book Artist and a Comic Book Writer made the character up to begin with.

And then when he was called on it, he defended himself by saying that he wasn’t talking about women who were “real fans.”

Let’s just go ahead and acknowledge that this is not a coherent argument, and that cocaine is a hell of a drug. Honestly, this almost sounds like a mashup between a Homer Simpson drunken rant and Malcom Reynolds shouting “DIRTY DIRTY WHORE” over and over again in Trash. Let’s also recognize that for someone who claims to be defending fans of comics, protecting them from the evil succubi prowling the con landscape, he has a really piss-poor opinion of guys who like comics. Apparently every guy who likes comics has no self-identity and can’t, just can’t talk to girls! Can’t say hi! All he can do is follow along behind a pretty girl and drool and say “guh” because HE HAS NO WILL OF HIS OWN and by the way buy this art.

But if it were just some artist guy mouthing off, while I’d find the whole thing disgusting, and it would piss me off, and I’d nod in approval at the articles people wrote condemning him for being a misogynistic prick… I’d also think to myself “it’s just another artist who think’s he can pull a Harlan Ellison, but he can’t.”[fn]Not even Harlan Ellison can pull a Harlan Ellison any more.[/fn] I wouldn’t be moved to write this semi-incoherent rant.

But there’s more to this than just one successful artist being a Goddamn prick. His Facebook page was full of other people who liked his post, who congratulated him for making it, and who added their two cents about the sleazy whores who were preying on those poor innocent nerds at conventions who didn’t have a chance. They made it very clear that they felt their world was under attack, being polluted, the “purity” of conventions, and comics, and fandom was being polluted by crazed sexpots who used their Awesome Powers of Superior Hygiene and Exposed Flesh to destroy all that was good and holy in righteous in the world. These are the people who really ticked me off, because they ought to know better.

So let’s talk about high school.

I won’t speak for anyone else in the universe, but the simple fact of the matter is that I really didn’t enjoy high school. There were parts of it that were great—I made some good friends, got to do some interesting and fun things, it wasn’t all horrible—but I was a geek. In the ancient days of the mid 80s, “geek” and “nerd” meant exactly the same Goddamn thing, so I was also a nerd. And I had the pleasure of experiencing a lot of really fun things as a result.

I liked to read—I preferred reading to just about anything else, really. I liked to read science fiction and fantasy books, I liked comic books, I preferred listening to the Beatles to anything else in the world. I wasn’t physically fit, I was all of five-foot-two-inches tall until my Junior year in high school[fn]I am now exactly five foot eleven and a half inches tall because DAMN YOU IRONY[/fn], I wore braces until my Senior year in high school, wore glasses (eventually contacts) and had horrible acne. I was painfully shy around people I didn’t know, I was always sarcastic, I hated authority figures, and desperately, desperately wanted people to accept me, and they really, really didn’t.

I never got a swirly, never got stuffed in a locker, and never got a wedgie, but I got to experience a lot of “fun” things. My nose was broken freshman year because I almost took a swing at the Captain of the wrestling team[fn]OK, I admit that was tactically unwise.[/fn] because in gym class he kept shoving grass in my ear just to see what I would do. He thought it was funnier than I did. Another guy spit on me just to see what I would do. Kids threw rocks at me when I was walking home from school because they thought it was funny, one guy actually tried to “abduct” me—followed me in his car, waited till I was 20 feet from my house, then tried to drag me back up to the top of our neighborhood so I’d have to walk it all over again—because he thought it would be funny. I had people demand that I let them cheat off me in class. I had people demand that I “loan” them money. All that kind of crap. I had people pretend to try to set me up with their girlfriends, because it embarrassed their girlfriends. It could have been worse, but it wasn’t great.

And why did it happen? Because I was a weird, opinionated, idealistic dreamer who wasn’t very skilled socially, was physically weak, lousy at sports and didn’t care, liked reading and telling stories, and being a wiseass more than anything else. And the people who were higher up the social ladder, they had an aesthetic that they held up as the ideal, the way things should be, and I did not match that aesthetic. At times I was antithetical to that aesthetic. So they decided I was not One Of Their Tribe, and like most other people who found themselves in the same situation, I had to struggle to keep my sense of identity, had my successes and my failures, and then four years later it was over. I went on to college where things were better but not perfect, graduated into the real world my life actually started. Things got better. High school went away.

So let’s talk about the real world.

For some Goddamn reason that I currently cannot fathom, I always assumed that the stuff I went through in high school was a common situation for people who have had to live with labels like “geek” and “nerd.” I also assumed that anyone who found themselves in socially awkward situations had to struggle through the judgmental sneers and cruelties of people who decided they were better, and I further assumed that those kinds of struggles were never really forgotten. Finally, I assumed that as a result of that, these people would be more inclined to live and let live when it came to others who were enthusiastic about things that might appear “weird.”

Apparently I was naïve. It never occurred to me that somewhere along the line the same people who failed the litmus test for “high school cool” would set up their own fucking litmus test to decide whether you were allowed to like something they liked.

Apparently it’s not enough, these days, to see a picture of someone doing something exciting, wearing something exciting, and be swept up by that image alone, and decide that you want to adopt that image, for a time, in a venue where—in theory—it’s OK to do that. No, these days in order to be allowed to do that you have to prove that you belong to the secret cult of hidden knowledge, whose members recite issue numbers and throw continuity errors back and forth like religious mantras, and argue over the schism between artist a and artist b, and whether the writer in issue 55 was drunk, or whether issue 155 jumped the shark, or over the use of pencils in panel four of the crossover issue. Apparently it’s not enough to think that wearing a corset and carrying a sword at the same time is exciting and playful and neat and interesting and something you’d like to try, just to see what it’s like. You have to prove your street cred before you can do anything like having fun.

For the record: if you think the phrase street cred carries any kind of importance or weight in this world when it comes to enjoying entertainment and art, fuck you.

This shit has been around since the beginning of time. There were assholes in ancient Greece who said “Yeah, Lysistrata, but I knew Aristophanes back in his Acharnians days.” For the longest time I assumed those guys were the same as the cool kids from high school who were still playing popularity games. I don’t think that any more. I think those guys were geeks, just like me, only they forgot what it was like to be mocked, or maybe they remembered and just wanted a turn on the other end of it. Either way I have no patience for it, because you don’t get fans who are born, fully-formed, into fandom. Every single person on this earth tries something before they decide they like it. They play with it. They put it on. They see how it feels. And the more they decide they like it, the more they do it, the more naturally it fits.

So… someone dresses as Batgirl at a con because she’s been reading Batgirl for most of her life? A fan. Someone dresses as Batgirl because she’s vaguely aware of Batgirl, and thinks it’s a cool costume? Well leave her the fuck alone. She’s playing. And she’s allowed to play, and she doesn’t owe you an explanation for it. Nor does she owe you: the time of day, a conversation about the weather, her phone number, or a roll in the sack. You don’t get to decide whether she’s a fan, or how true a fan she is, or whether the thing she’s a fan of is even legitimate fandom. You don’t get to decide that. You are not sitting at the cool kids table. Fandom is not high school. There is no street cred. People deserve better than to be treated like that, and you deserve better than to be That Guy.

Those of you who are not That Guy, good on ya.

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