Author’s note: I would like to preface this by saying a) I am a bit of a social media apologist… but I work in social media and my experiences running my own social media accounts (as well as those for local conventions) helped me get my job. b) I make an honest effort to be a positive force in the community, but I am not perfect, nor will I ever claim to be.
I’m newer to the cosplay world than most of my friends. I began going to cons in January 2009, and began cosplaying in April of that same year. When I look back on it now, I think this is just when things started to change. Facebook fan pages were a controversial topic (why are YOU so important that you need a FAN page??) I ordered my first wig from Cosworx (which became what is now the Cosplay.com wig store, for you newbies), Wonderflex was the thermoplastic of choice, and I would wave hello to Jessica Nigri in the hallways at small, local conventions.
2009-2011 really was the tipping point. The community here in Arizona reflected those changes. 2009 was the last year Ani-zona ever happened (a local convention that many of my friends attended and still speak fondly of to this day). In 2010, Tucson got its first anime convention (Con-nichiwa) and Phoenix Comicon moved from Mesa to the Phoenix Convention Center (this was A Big Deal). In 2011 SabotenCon (now the largest anime convention in Arizona) moved from a small Mesa hotel to a beautiful Phoenix resort, and TaiyouCon hosted its inaugural year. This year alone saw the addition of two new comic conventions (Fan Fest and Comic & Media Expo) and Sabo is moving to the Sheraton in Downtown Phoenix, a hotel that PCC uses (again, this is A Big Deal). I’m almost used to seeing local cons in new venues and new events added every year… but when I look back I’m always amazed at how our backwoods state has cultivated a thriving geek and convention culture. If you were active in your local community in these years, I’m sure you witnessed a similar phenomenon.
I guess I don’t feel nostalgic for those simpler earlier years because I grew up alongside the community. I don’t remember what it was like when you could only buy wigs in one shade of blue, but I remember when having 500 likes on your page was a big deal. I don’t remember taking a disposable camera to Walgreens after the con, but I do remember staving off post-con depression by scavenging Facebook for my hall shots. As my costumes slowly got better, so did the photographers who captured them. As I became pickier about my materials, things like Worbla and budget-friendly lace front wigs went up for sale In many ways, I was lucky to start cosplaying when I did. The community was smaller and so was I. We grew up together – maybe that’s why I’m so defensive of it as it is now.
As I mentioned, the majority of my friends (including non-cosplayers) have been attending cons far longer than I have. So it’s not uncommon that I hear about how much “better” things were back in the day. No social media, no business cards, no competing for the attention of certain photographers, etc. “I feel sooo bad for new cosplayers, the community isn’t about friendship anymore whine whine whine!!” I get so angry when I hear this. If I was new to cosplaying, I’d certainly be turned off by the rat race for popularity… but I’d also be sad to hear the people I should be able to look up to saying, “it’s not fun anymore. It’s not about fun anymore. It used to be soooo much better.” Instead of condemning the current state of the community, why not work to improve it for everyone, veterans and newbies alike?
And as I said in a post I made not two days ago – social media is not the problem here. It’s the people who use it, and how they use it. Social media didn’t ruin cosplay, shitty people using social media to amplify their shittiness is what ruins the hobby for many people. If you buy likes, constantly beg for share-for-shares, or determine a cosplayer’s worth on their likes especially to the point where you won’t invite them as a guest or take photos of them because they don’t have a certain amount – YOU are part of the problem. You are helping to perpetuate the idea that any number can present a single snapshot of a cosplayer’s friendliness, helpfulness, and talent. A preposterous belief in and of itself, made even more so by the fact that likes and followers can be easily bought with real money and are therefore almost meaningless.
Just as easily as social media works as a shit amplifier… it can also be used as a means of spreading positivity. It can be difficult to cut through the noise, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Thanks to social media I’ve met amazing people, joined cosplay groups could only dream of, done things and been places I never imagined. We can find tutorials, meet new photographers, and find that perfect wig (or wig stylist!) with relative ease. Social media isn’t leaving. You don’t have to be crazy like me and meticulously update all your social media sites AND your website on a regular basis… but you can learn to adapt. And you can choose to be one of the good people in this community. And you can learn to use social media to amplify that.
So as a new-er cosplayer, I beg of the veterans – tell us what the old days were like. Before cosplayers had access to 3D printers and professional photographers. It’s truly amazing to hear how far our hobby has come in just a few years! But don’t say that the community is worse off now and in the same breath complain that all the good people are gone. That attitude helps keep the “good people” scared off. If you can’t find the good people, you can choose to be one. Share your knowledge and help newer cosplayers. Leave a nice comment on your kouhai’s photo. Invite the shy kid to be part of your cosplay group. These are things others have done for me that have helped shape my outlook on the community – and in return I want to do the same for others. Veteran cosplayers have a bigger impact on the newbies than they probably know. It’s probably not a responsibility you asked for… but it’s there. So I hope you’ll help leave this community as good as it was when you found it… or it really will become the hate-filled cesspool so many think it is.