Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tony Harris

A few weeks back, artist Tony Harris posted a status update on his Facebook page that was an open poison pen letter to fake geeks, specifically fakers who cosplay.  If you haven't read it, all you must do to read it is Google "Tony Harris cosplay" and you'll find his statement and the 3,803,728 rebuttals and scathing retorts.  

I've read a lot of the retorts and watched a lot of the YouTube commentaries regarding his comments.  And, I would like to say to the authors and creators of a lot of these retorts, YOU TOTALLY WEREN'T PAYING ATTENTION.  Granted, this is the internet, and taking only what you want to hear/read/believe out of a larger statement is commonplace around here, but everyone needs to just calm down and think about what is really going on here.  

First of all, the definition of his term "Cosplay-Chiks" is NOT "All cosplayers of every kind, ever".  Cosplay, or dressing in costume to attend events, is a cool thing when it's done by genuine people who genuinely love the characters they are portraying.  Or, people who create their own characters, or their own take on existing characters.  For example, anyone doing a Steampunk version of something, or one of those Ghostbusters groups that dress in Ghostbuster uniforms but who use their own names as though they are just another faction of the Ghostbuster franchise.  Yes, I used the words "Ghostbuster" and "franchise" in the same sentence on purpose.  Go ahead, say it out loud if you'd like, I'll wait for you...

Okay, moving on.

Cosplay is not a bad thing.  It's pretty neat to see people come up with their own ideas for costumes.  I have MANY photos of costumed fans that I've taken at cons over the years, but since I don't know any of these people, I don't really feel I should post them here.  But some of the cool costumes I've seen have been really fun.  One that sticks out in my mind was a girl dressed in a toga with a Bubo the Owl attached to her shoulder.  Bubo rules, and that's a great idea for a costume.  

I also know serious costumers who do things like visit children's cancer wards dressed as Spider-Man.  NO ONE thinks there is anything wrong with that.  That's a wonderful way to share your passion and love for stories and characters.  I also have friends who just love to dress up in costume, and who spend hours if not days creating the perfect costumes.  For these people, Halloween is not enough.  Conventions and festivals are the perfect place to showcase a well made costume, and seriously, if you spent your winter making a vest of chain mail by hand, by Grabthar's hammer you need to wear that sucker come summertime. 

The only thing to remember is that the stakes are high now.  Your cardboard and tempura paint Optimus Prime costume isn't going to beat out the Endor Leia with homemade dress, long hair with braid bumps and a stuffed Wicket.  

I truly don't believe that Tony's intention was to insult or discount the entire cosplay culture.  It's hard to sit at a table at a convention and not have fun watching the costumes walk by, so I really don't believe this was his message.  He was referring to a very, VERY small but prominent group of (usually) females who feel the need to draw attention to themselves.  

I'm going to tread lightly here as not to offend, but before I go further I'd like to remind everyone that I myself am a woman and quite a bit of what I am about to say next is true of myself as well.  

First off, let's talk about booth babes for a moment.  These are hot women hired by companies to dress in sexy, skimpy costumes and hang around the booth so people can be photographed with them, or to simply attract attention to the product.  These women often are NOT geeks, they are hired actors or models.  We need to take them out of the equation because these are just like any other convention employees.  You don't have to be a geek to work a con, you just do your job like it's any other event.  And until we can prove that beautiful people aren't good at selling things, we can't fault them.

So booth babes aside and dyed in the wool cosplayers being removed from the line of fire, who is left?  Well, this is where it gets tricky.  I'm a geek girl.  I can tell you that a lot of us have struggled or currently struggle with self image and self esteem issues.  Like who doesn't, right?  And as most females who are interested in things that have stereotypically and historically male centric audiences, I can tell you that it's sometimes surprising to go somewhere, like a convention where you are simply there doing what you love and being yourself, and be approached and talked to by strangers.  For some of us, this doesn't happen much in our day to day life.  We go from men never even noticing us enough to be polite and hold a door for us to men wanting to talk to us because we have common interests and they respect us.  Attention and respect is great and feels wonderful to have.  Therefore, at times, some women have been known to get caught up in this, and occasionally milk it a bit too long.

Some men milk it too.  Soaking up attention is not an inherently female trait.  As Tony Harris himself says in his post, this happens to men as well.  It's just something that happens sometimes to people who don't get much attention in their day to day life.  For further humorous reading on this subject, I suggest this article from The Onion.

Long story short, anyone who goes from feeling unnoticed and unwelcome to feeling noticed and approved of is going to feel warm and happy.  Shannon Hoon showed us all how great it is to finally find our bee garden.  It feels great to be with people who get you, who like the same things, and who want to talk to you because you are who you are, not because of something superficial.  Hell, we're geeks.  We talk all the time to each other without ever even seeing each other.  We could all be heads in a jar and as long as we can all telepathically quote "The Simspons", we can still have parties.  

Of course, some people try too hard.  Or they SEEM like they try too hard.  These people are not the subject of Tony Harris' rant either.  These are quiet, shy people who are giving it everything they have to be social.  Sometimes it can come off as awkward, but everyone can sympathize with this feeling.  Sometimes people tend to make a big deal out of themselves for no other reason than trying too hard.  

But, there are those people who make a big deal out of themselves because they are aware that they have something that will grab someone's attention.  It doesn't matter if they are are genuine or not, they want attention and they are going to grab it.  There are some women, who when it comes to things that have stereotypically and historically male centric audiences, think that just because they are women they will have an easy in with the guys if they just show up.  Some women take that further and figure if they add skimpy clothing to the mix, their guarantee is even greater.  Make that skimpy geek costumes, and bam, you are IN with those nerdy boys, right?  Not necessarily.  

These are shallow women.  Women who go to conventions not because they like comics or sci fi or gaming or any other form of obsessive fandom, but because they consider these geeky guys to be easy pickings.  They think that simply because they dress cute in a skimpy costume (or just a skimpy outfit, it doesn't have to be Zatana or Leeloo) they can get the attention of the men at the convention because hey, these are geeks!  They don't date, right?  They never leave the computer for long enough to have a girlfriend, right?  And hey, aren't some of these guys rich?  

Seriously.  I've been to a lot of cons.  I use the women's bathrooms.  I know what goes on in the minds of some of these women.  I'm pretty sure that this small percentage of shallow women are about whom Tony Harris is referring.  The casual fan who thinks a convention would be fun and hey, I'll go get The Hulk's autograph while I'm there isn't going to be all bombastic and shallow and dress in a way that shows skin, not appreciation for a character.  And it's totally okay to be a casual fan.  Geekdom is not this exclusive club that requires a test or initiation for membership.  That is a common misconception.  Did you dig The Avengers movie?  Do you remember loving the Batmobile when you were a kid?  Then come on down to a convention sometime and have some fun.  Conventions are fun, and being a geek is fun.  Anyone who "quizzes" you before they allow you to speak to them isn't a geek, they are a dick.  Some geeks are dicks.  But dicks are everywhere, and we shouldn't let them ruin things for the rest of us.  

The geek community is full of people who have been shunned or made fun of for being themselves.  As a whole, we are a welcoming group and we always love to meet new friends with common interests.  

But I digress.

Back to the part about people who are shallow.  When a woman thinks that she can just have her pick of geeks simply because she dresses cute, it's insulting.  It's insulting to the men they are after because it assumes that they are these un-fuckable trolls with no hope for love so they are as such, desperate and will cling to anything that speaks to them.  It is insulting to other geeks and fans because it means we have to deal with your insincerity and listen to you bash us.  And, it's insulting to the women who are true fans of this geeky stuff.  And by true fan I mean we actually like it on an every day basis.  We may be new to it, just learning about a new thing, just finally getting into something old, or an expert.  Our "level" of fandom isn't what makes us sincere.  It is the fact that we are at a convention because we like the stuff inside.  Some geek girls are super hot and look great in their Sailor Mercury costume.  But the real fan has at least seen an episode or read an issue. 

What Tony Harris is upset about is shallowness.  And who can blame him?  Think about all of those photos you see on the Failbook that are captioned "Me and Superman!  I'm such a nerd!" and it's a photo of a girl next to Spider-Man.  That is annoying and embarrassing.  Imagine a girl in tattered rags with green skin walking around a convention saying "Look at me, I'm Lady Hulk!"  That shit gets real old real fast. 

Just because Tony Harris doesn't like this kind of behavior, and just because this kind of behavior is seen most often in women, this does NOT mean he is a woman hater.  He is far from it.  He is married with daughters and he adores them.  I would be willing to put money on the fact that a lot of people who are really ticked off about his post had never even heard of him before reading about this post.  This is not to say anything bad about Tony or his work, I just know how the internet works.  It's anger before understanding.  

The thing is, I agreed with his post when it came up on my wall.  I don't like people who are insincere.  I don't enjoy seeing people who are obviously not in to something but act like they are simply for attention.  I don't care what gender they are, this is a description of a person with whom I am not interested in having a conversation.  Frankly I was surprised at how upset this made so many people, because I thought his message was obvious.  He's not bashing cosplayers or women or geeks who aren't "geeky enough".  He's bashing people who try to get attention by putting on a front.  Sure, he may have singled out women who dress skimpy at cons but aren't fans, but that doesn't mean ALL women or ALL costumed fans or ALL geeks or ALL people who are new to geekdom.  People HAVE to start understanding that this is not a black and white world.  It's not all or nothing.  

People who don't like comics but go to comic conventions in skimpy costumes are the non drinkers at an AA meeting.  They are the childless people at a single parent support group.  They are insincere and only there because they want something and think it will be easy to get from this crowd.  

When reading comments like Tony's, it is best to check your baggage beforehand.  Girls have a tough time sometimes.  Geeks have a tough time.  Cosplayers have a tough time.  Just because we've all been bruised doesn't mean we should have these knee jerk reactions because we happened to see one word used in a rant.  Just because a rant uses the term Cosplay Chick, it doesn't automatically mean that 100% of people in costumes and 100% of females are the suck.  Keep reading.  Keep listening.  Pay attention beyond the buzzwords.  

I would now like to reply to YouTuber ALB who said that if male geeks "Had their way, women would NEVER be accepted into geekdom." and who went on to say "Women's worth in geekery in your eyes is our looks.  Not our contributions to fandom, but our looks. Whether it's positive or negative, our looks are the determining factor of success in your eyes."  ALB, you are full of shit.  I'll agree with you that fat guys who can't remember to shower are hypocrites when they wear buttons that say "No Fat Chicks".  Again, this is not all male geeks.  This is another example of a dick.  Some people are dicks, this is true.  But most geek guys have NO ISSUE with geek girls.  Most of my geek friends are married or in long term relationships with other geeks, and both parties cherish the fact that they can share everything with their partner.  And if all that male geeks care about is how a woman looks, then explain to me why the 2 time Eisner Award winning comic book artist and comic book fan Chris Sprouse has been married to this for the last 10 years?

Because they are both geeks, that's why.  They are insanely compatible and have tons of common interests, mainly geeky interests.  The only thing they love more than Star Wars is each other.  Suck on that, ALB.


Charles Skaggs said...

Great post, Xan.

My own take on this is that Tony Harris made some valid points that were unfortunately buried in the tone from his poor phrasing. These days, it seems it only takes the offended disapproval of a few notable female geeks on Twitter or Tumblr to completely discredit someone on the subject of female fandom before the rest of the horde starts piling on to be sensitive and/or supportive against the latest outrage.

Miko said...

Excelling Post, Xan.

xtian.rine said...

great post, Xan. sharing on the Tumblr machine. : )

Amy said...

I love the post!!

Joan said...

Ok, I read the whole post,I checked my baggage on this stuff a LONG time ago, and I still feel that his statements are off base. I have heard of Tony, I lived with a penciller for Marvel, I know inkers and writer's oin the industry as friends, I schooled Gaelen Green, I have had dinner with Elaine Lee.More than once.
The note I sent still stands. This is not the apology women in fandom or women in geekdom deserve. and I agree wholeheartedly with Albon. I have a daughter, and a step daughter. And nieces and girls who look up to me and I don't care, a father doesn't just "Get this stuff" by having daughters. He doesn't. Men can "adore" the women close to them and be miogynists. Judging those women as shallow, as you are doing and as he is doing is fucked up. It is wrong. Who died and made you two God?