‘Heroes of Cosplay': Nerd Culture Not At Its Best
I have a few bones to pick with Syfy’s newest nerd-based show, Heroes of Cosplay. Like, dinosaur-sized bones.
The art of cosplay, for the unenlightened, involves the meticulous crafting of costumes from pop culture; anything from TV, film, video games, comics, and loads of other media are fair play. Arguably one of the more expensive hobbies out there, cosplay combines hard work, craftsmanship, creativity, and a dash of theatricality. It offers a different kind of escapism, a chance to become your favorite character while building self-confidence. At the very least, Heroes of Cosplay succeeds in demonstrating these central tenements. The level of detail afforded for every costume unveiled on the show is staggering and gives me a decided inferiority complex as a casual cosplayer.
That being said, the way in which Heroes of Cosplay portrays each individual in its cast makes me worry that those previously unaware of the hobby are getting the wrong depiction of it. One need only watch a single episode to realize that your garden-variety reality show format has been forced upon an otherwise all-inclusive niche-gone-mainstream community. Quite frankly, it hurts to watch.
Just for a moment, put yourself in the mind of a TV producer. You’re responsible for making sure that Heroes of Cosplay is compelling and dramatic enough to keep viewers coming back for more. You settle on a weekly formula: follow half of the cast as they scramble to create elaborate costumes for a contest at an upcoming convention. Exaggerate the stakes (and the emotions) involved, and hope there’s a payoff at the end and someone wins the competition. See the problem here? Not only is the formula unreliable and the show’s ultimate goal fuzzy at best, but the unfortunate by-product is that the cosplayers come off as self-obsessed, catty, and more than willing to step on people on their way to the top.
As if that weren’t enough, Heroes of Cosplay tries to mount the artificial tension by insinuating that only good-looking people can cosplay. Case in point: a now-infamous conversation from the second episode, filmed up to and during Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, on the topic of body type. The conversation appears to show Yaya Han, a celebrity cosplayer (yes, they exist) saying that “as a cosplayer, you need to have the responsibility to know what you look like” to avoid the inevitable put-downs once your costume is photographed and slapped on the Internet.
Initially, the statement made me want to hurl my remote at the TV. I have to give credit where credit is due, though, because upon a closer inspection of Yaya’s Facebook page, I found she is much more encouraging of cosplay for all body types than the edit seems to show. The consensus among the cast members is that it was edited without context, and, with that information, I understand they’re saying that there will always be Internet trolls waiting to jeer at bigger people cosplaying smaller characters. Even if the cast members’ concern is genuine, however, it still feels a bit like a backhanded compliment. “I don’t want people to laugh at you for cosplaying outside your weight range” sounds suspiciously like “You’d be so much better-looking if you just lost some weight,”
Cosplay, in my opinion, has one rule: have fun. Yet Heroes of Cosplay sucks all the fun out of the craft and dumps on people who don’t do it for the popularity or the cash prizes. It further ostracizes the cosplay community and reaffirms the stereotypical obsessive nerd that society likes to rag on.