On Tuesday, August 13 at 10:30PM eastern, I attempted to watch the Sy-Fi channel reality TV show “Heroes of Cosplay”. I made it about a third of the way through the episode before having to turn it off for my own health. The show was causing a spike in my blood pressure and sent me ranting all over the house. By the way, cats do not care about my opinions and will not listen. Once I calmed down a little, I noticed something. This anger that I was feeling was somehow familiar. Like I had felt it before, but when and over what? Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had been here before.
If you would, please set your WABAC Machines for 1975. We’re going to join in on a quiet little revolution: Skateboarding.
Skating started as a means of individual expression. It wasn’t a team sport. You didn’t compete against anyone. You just rode for you. Kids would band together in support of this idea and would ride together either down streets or in abandoned pools (or at least empty ones). Then an observer took notice and offered a prize to the one that could pull off the sickest trick. The skateboarding competition was born.
Kids went from being kids to being rock stars overnight. They were touring the world on their skateboards. Some took fame well. Some, tragically, didn’t handle it well. However, through them and their skating, the popularity grew and grew. Also, keep in mind, this is before the Internet. We learned about things via word of mouth or in print media sources. So, the growth was slow compared to how things take off today, but for this time period, the popularity was exploding.
With all popular things, there is a group that sees it as a trend, and trends make money. Enter the corporate sponsored competitions. Now we could watch Big Air competitions on low level ESPN channels. Street competitions were getting brands slapped everywhere. Suddenly this means of individual expression had become a sport. Skateboarding even had its own public face in the form of the great Tony Hawk. A truly talented skater, but one that many regarded as a sell out.
Watching skating turn into a professional sport; seeing kids get into it just for the sake of making money; watching competitions become more and more cut throat was heart breaking. It made me very angry. This thing I loved, this punk movement, had gone and gotten a suit and tie. It had changed into something new that I didn’t like. Or had it?
That was the anger I was feeling from Heroes of Cosplay. They were taking cosplay, and making it into something else. Something ugly. Something that does not represent cosplay’s heart and spirit. Just like what they had done to skateboarding. Now this is not about skating or cosplay becoming mainstream. Please don’t think that. I want more and more people to see and do cosplay. Everyone should at some point. This ager is over the perverting of the heart and spirit: Taking forms of individual expression and turning them into high pressure competitions for fame and glory.
Alright, not set your WABAC Machines for the year 1999. By this point, my anger had subsided, and I had just resolved myself that this was the way things are now. I had even taken to watching the X-Games. The 1999 X-Games is one I will never forget. It was the best trick competition and Tony Hawk was riding. He was putting on an amazing show and was leading up to the then Holy Grail of tricks: The 900. In a 900, the rider spins 900 degrees around in the air. That’s two and a half full rotations in the air. A lot of us thought this was impossible, but you could see Tony trying it. His timer ran out before he could pull off the 900, but he didn’t stop. He kept trying. The TV cameras didn’t turn off. No other skaters went to file a protest that Hawk was taking up their camera time. The announcers didn’t question what they were watching. “Just let him have another try” was all that was being said. Then it happened. After regulation, when it technically didn’t count, Tony Hawk landed the first 900, but it didn’t count in the competition.
The celebration that came after was amazing. Everyone had been cheering him on, not hoping he would win, but wanting to see the trick. That’s when it hit me: Skateboarding hadn’t actually changed, at least not at its heart. Sure it had corporate sponsorship now and a cleaner haircut, but that spirit was still there. Skateboarding hadn’t really changed at all. So, if skateboarding can survive, so can cosplay.
Ultimately, the entire geek universe and culture is going through a really long growing pain. We’ve won mainstream support. We’re getting big flood lights pointed into our shadier areas. A lot of things are changing; some even for the better. Evolution can be painful, but we will survive. Stuff like Heroes of Cosplay has happened many times before and it will happen again and again.