Comic Con Communion: Gender, Cosplay, and Media Fandom

Comic Con Communion: Gender, Cosplay, and Media Fandom

Robert Andrew Dunn, Andrew F. Herrmann
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3323-9.ch003
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The present research explores gender, cosplay, and media fandom in a media fan convention context. Researchers for the present study surveyed 227 attendees at two media fan conventions. As expected, convention attendees found the words “nerd” and “geek” to be badges of honor. Contrary to research expectations, women rated themselves higher as fans than men. Women did, as expected, see fandom as an escapism opportunity more so than men. Male cosplayers thought they looked more like their costume character, but female cosplayers thought they shared their character's personality and were more likely to refer to themselves as “we.” Cosplayers were more likely to tie their fandoms to their friends' enjoyment of it and to tie their fandom to sharing it with large groups of people more so than non-cosplayers. Cosplayers also rated their fandom as being a good time more than non-cosplayers and their fandom as improving their self-esteem more than non-cosplayers. Implications are discussed.
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Participatory fans and individuals engaged in cosplay at fandom conferences are members of an under-investigated, yet quickly growing subculture. Increasingly, today’s media audience members seek more involvement related to their favorite movies, television shows, comic books characters, etc. Once stigmatized and relegated as “geeks” and “nerds,” these fans are not content to be passive consumers of media, but often take an active approach, engaging in endeavors related to their fandom. Two such activities are convention attendance and cosplay, literally “costume play,” dressing up and performing as their favorite characters (Gunnels, 2009; Lamerichs, 2010; Norris & Bainbridge, 2009). This study will investigate participatory fandom and cosplay, examining how media fans identify themselves, what motivates men and women who are media fans, and what motivates cosplayers who attend media fan conventions.

Media Fandom

To delve into research of media fandom, one must understand what is meant by the term. “Media fandom is the recognition of a positive, relatively deep, emotional connection with a mediated element of popular culture,” (Duffett, 2013b, p. 2). Media fandom blossomed almost from the time mass media – phonograph, film, radio – began (Duffett, 2013b). But to fully grasp the concept of media fandom today, one must consider the multi-faceted nature of the current state of fandom. Passionate fanbases surround TV shows (Koppa, 2006), movies (Duffett, 2013b), popular music (Duffett, 2013a), video games (Wirman, 2009), comic books (Schelly, 2010), anime/manga (Hills, 2002), and all other aspects of popular culture.

Much of our understanding of media fandom today can trace its history to science fiction fandom from the past. According to Coppa (2006), historians cite the origin of science fiction fandom as the reader letter section of Amazing Stories science fiction magazine, which began publication in 1926. Fans were able to communicate for the first time with each other as the magazine published addresses for readers who sent in letters. From magazine to the small screen, science fiction fandom would expand and evolve into media fandom with the introduction of the shows The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which ran from 1964 to 1968, and, of course, the ubiquitous Star Trek, which ran from 1966 to 1969. Fans of these shows would go on to write fan fiction based their beloved characters, edit fan magazines (zines) dedicated to their favorite programs, and ultimately would find their way to fan conventions. “Media fandom, now a gigantic international phenomenon, clearly began life as a very small pool” (Coppa, 2006, p. 44).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Fan Convention: An in-person gathering of enthusiasts hosted to celebrate fandom, to allow for cosplay, to obtain autographs with creators and artists, to buy branded merchandise, and to commune with their fellow fans.

Filksongs/Filking: Ballads written and sung (filking) at fan conventions often in a folk style and representative of and often dealing with subjects germane to the fantasy literature genre.

Fan: An enthusiastic supporter (fanatic) of a celebrity, a sports team, a musical group, or a media product.

Cosplay: A portmanteau of the words “costume” and “play,” an activity in which one dresses in costume to roleplay a favorite character from a book, comic book, TV show, movie, video game, or other media.

Media Fan: An enthusiast of media properties such as books, comic books, TV shows, movies, video games, and similar vehicles of modern storytelling and the characters that inhabit those worlds.

E-sport: Competitive video gaming where participants play alone or in teams to compete for cash and prizes.

Fanboy/Fangirl: An often-derisive term for someone who is a very enthusiastic (often seen as rabid or too enthusiastic) fan of a media product, such as comic books or video games.

Manga: Japanese comic books and graphic novels.

Anime: Animation of Japanese origin often based on Japanese manga comic books.

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