Why Do I Let SyFy Continue to Hurt Me?

I really wanted “Heroes of Cosplay” to be a good show.

Cosplay is an area of fandom that has always fascinated and impressed me. I have a background in technical theatre, so good looking costumes and props will always catch my eye. I love the costumes that show up at Gen Con every year, and the Pathfinder Costume Contest and Costume Parade are two events I make a point of taking in. Highlights this year included an amazing couple with Captain America and Wonder Woman costumes…on stilts; some scary good StarCraft cosplay; and Balloon Cthulhu. Okay, that last isn’t cosplay, but it’s cool!

More than that, I wanted “Heroes of Cosplay” to be a good show because cosplayers have been taking a beating recently, especially female cosplayers. From sexual harassment to ridiculous “fake geek girl” accusations (just another form of sexual harassment dressed up as moral outrage), women cosplayers in particular deserved something that portrayed them in a positive light. And all cosplayers deserved to be shown as the passionate, skilled, and talented fans they are.

Prior to airing, I even had hope the show would be that positive portrayal. The advanced press played up the demonstrations of community, the passion, and most of all the kick-ass costumes. All the promos seemed to promise a positive look at cosplay and cosplayers, and I let myself get excited and interested.

I should have known better. I should have remembered SyFy is responsible for such gems as Sharknado and Ghost Hunters. I shouldn’t have let myself hope for a more documentary approach, when I knew deep in my heart they’d take the easier “Reality TV” option. And as we all know, the unwritten but always present prefix to “Reality TV” is “Not Based In”. But I did forget all that for a moment. And so I really have no one to blame but myself (okay, and SyFy) for my disappointment.

“Heroes of Cosplay” is at best a superficial pandering to the masses, and at worst actively harmful to the hobby it exploits. While there are nuggets of true fan love to be found (Chloe Dykstra and her honest enthusiasm shines as one of these), you have to do a lot of sifting through sludge to get to them. I’m not sure what they thought was being portrayed, and I actually feel sorry for the titular “Heroes” because I’m sure most took part in the show out of a love for the hobby. But the producers did them no favours with the editing and cutting, and few came away unspattered with “Reality TV” slime.

Here’s what I got out of each episode (they each followed the same formula, so there was no fear I’d experience anything new episode to episode): This Week’s Heroes are going to Con X to take part in cosplay. They decide on Difficult Costume, which they already know will be hard to finish in time for Con X. Because they exhibit poor project planning and time management skills, they struggle to finish Difficult Costume with varying levels of Drama™, said Drama™ sometimes including finishing/not finishing the Difficult Costume in the hotel room, just before the competition starts. The finished costumes take part in the competition, with Drama™ if they don’t at least place, and Joy™if they do. The unfinished costumes feel shame. Rinse, repeat.

The really sad thing is, I don’t think any of these people are as incompetent as the show’s editors made them out to be. They just couldn’t be. Yaya Han runs her own successful cosplay business; Holly Conrad and Jessica Merizan are the owners of CrabCat Industries, a prop and costume fabrication company. All three of these women would be expected to have reasonably developed time management skills. From my own experiences in prop building for theatre, there is just no way you survive in that business without it. For crying out loud, Crabcat fabricated kaiju costumes for Guillermo del Toro! You don’t get that gig if you are flaky on your deadlines.

And knowing how Reality TV actually isn’t is the only reason I’m aiming my criticism at the show and not the participants. Because if the show is to be believed, most of the “Heroes” portrayed are varying levels of neurotic, vain, approval seeking ubernerds with no sense of proportion. And while that might be the case (hell, I have to cop to a lot of those adjectives from time to time), I know that isn’t all they are. But well-balanced individuals don’t produce enough Drama™, so of course anything smacking of normalcy ends up on the cutting room floor (these days known as the Recycle Bin on your desktop).

And I could do an entire other post about the sexism inherit in the producers chosing to focus strictly on Hot™ female cosplayers.  Or the inherit racism of focusing almost exclusively on white cosplayers. Or the ablism of focusing on non-physically handicapped cosplayers. The genderism of excluding crossplay. The list goes on. Editing horse-shit aside, “Heroes of Cosplay” would fail on its merits simply for showing such a narrow, whitebread, pandering cross-section of the hobby.

The costumes? The costumes were great. There is no doubt in my mind these cosplayers have an excellent level of crafting ability. But really, good costumes can only take up so much of my time. And unless there was a fabrication “crisis”, the show spent so little time on the actual interesting parts of building these great costumes, they may as well have been crafted by elves in the night.

Someone somewhere (Nerdist? Geek & Sundry? SourceFed?) needs to get on board the making of a good, honest documentary about cosplay. They have the resources and the contacts to do a good job, and an established history of treating nerd culture with respect. They already have great web shows about cosplay (Just Cos, Try This at Home!, and Sachie, for instance), so I have to believe they’d have the wherewithal to pull off a compelling documentary series of cosplay and cosplay competitions. Because I know such a show could be done, without Reality TV crapping all over it.

Did you watch “Heroes of Cosplay”? What did you think? Give us your comments and we’ll discuss.

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