UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Convention cosplay : subversive potential in anime fandom Taylor, Jayme Rebecca


Conventions featuring anime (Japanese animation), manga (Japanese comic books), video games, and related merchandise have accumulated fandoms (fan communities) through the provision of a supportive environment that facilitates consumption of imported products. Anime conventions in the U.S. and Canada attract consumers from across North America. Attendees frequently utilize cultural and symbolic capital to express their enthusiasm as fans. Some fans create elaborate handmade costumes and perform as their favorite characters during the convention. This activity is commonly called cosplay (or “costume play”). Cosplayers borrow directly from Japanese popular culture media texts and aim to make the best possible realization of the characters. Drawing on Bourdieu’s Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (1996), theorists of fandom have examined the consumption of popular texts, such as television, magazines, or books, with regards to dominant cultural standards, or taste. Some fan theorists profess that fan subcultures challenge the institutionalized cultural hierarchy. Fans invest time and money in the consumption of devalued products, namely popular culture. Consumption of popular texts and the fan activities associated with them are denigrated by dominant culture. This thesis draws upon Bourdieu’s concept of taste to examine how conceptualizations of “good” and “bad” taste relate to gender and physical attributes, such as body size and skin color. Cosplay is a social activity where fans temporarily assume and perform a fictional identity. However, interviews with cosplayers indicate that a cosplayer’s decision making is informed by dominant social standards of beauty, based on physical appearance, body size, and to some degree, ethnicity. Conventions provide relatively safe places for the transgression of normative concepts of gender and sexuality. Cosplay provides an opportunity for gender ‘play’ and self-invention through the performance of alternative personas. Cosplayers are stigmatized by dominant society for their inordinate interest and consumption of a devalued commodity. The activity involves skill, time, and devotion that mainstream society prescribes for a career or in some way contributing to the economic system. Fan activities, including cosplay, and online fan communities contribute to an alternative discourse about desire, sexuality, and gender that challenges dominant, patriarchal social norms.

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