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Tuesday 16 July 2019
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Cosplay: The reality of fantasy

Last week Wednesday, the TT Photographic Society held its first presentation for the year. On the roster, photographer Sarita Rampersad spoke on Finding your Photographic Style while Jason Winter-Roach a photographer who shoots cosplayers spoke on Cosplay in Trinidad. Having never heard about cosplay, curiosity encouraged me to stay on to hear what it was all about. My initial response as the talk began was "but don’t we already have a tradition of cosplay in Trinidad. After all, isn’t this what Carnival was/is about? Early Carnival featured American Indians, Greek and Roman mythology, Sailors and such. Why this fascination with cosplay which seems to be just another imported concept that has found a market here because it’s ‘foreign’?"

I admit that I was confused for most of the talk as I grappled with Carnival as cosplay and what I thought was a very intriguing phenomenon of people dressing as comic book characters and a photographer who thought this important enough to shoot. This comment sounds elitist to my ear nevertheless I proceed. After grappling with the "why important", the walk away from the room allowed me to stand back and review the talk. Standing apart should not have been this difficult, however, for when I think back on my love for literature, comics played a major role in that development.

As someone who believes that comic books are an ideal medium through which to learn a new language and will also argue that it is a useful tool for teaching creative writing to kids; who read all the Tintin comics at age eleven (for the obvious fact that he was a journalist who travelled around the world); who, at the age when everyone was looking at Sesame Street, thought it was depressing and chose to look at Star Trek and Dr Who instead, and who is crazy in love with dragons, though I am not necessarily committed to Japanese animation or anime as we term it here in the west, I can certainly identify with the fascination. One can also identify with the attraction of costuming as will most of us, for we all role-play in our lives. From fashion to speech patterns, we adopt roles to fit social situations even if we are not conscious of it.

Cosplay, for those who, like myself, are unfamiliar with the term, is a combination of costume and role play and has its roots in Japan. Cosplayers dress like anime characters but given the appeal of American popular culture as well, Marvel heroes and Disney characters also feature in cosplay. Some of the photographs from Winter-Roach highlighted players dressed as Wonder Woman, Alice in Wonderland, Princess Leia of Star Wars, and even Amy Winehouse. As he explained, "this just isn’t about photographing a costume. The players actually get into character and I am responsible for bringing that to life." Bringing that to life involves appropriate location; editing for mood and character, which is legitimate for cosplay photography; and the photographer’s own understanding of the character, to name a few of the important pre-requisites.

However, what is intriguing about cosplay is that it provides an alternative space for role-play on a public forum. It is no surprise therefore, that cosplay found a place for the first time, in the 2018 Carnival celebrations in the launch of the band Mystical Realm.

Although we can all agree that cosplay has a counterpart in the form of Carnival, it now adds another dimension to performance culture in Trinidad. For myself, the intriguing characteristic about cosplay is its modern, trendy outlook and its relevance to the growing interest in gaming, digital narratives and fantasy worlds among youths and some older folks alike. Moving past the view of comics as childish and useless, cosplay is just as much about performance as it is an indication of movements in local and world culture and education. Massive open online courses such as Online Games: Literature, New Media and Narrative (Coursera), Transmedia Storytelling: Narrative Worlds, Emerging Technologies and Global Audiences (Coursera), Fantastic Places, UnhumanHumans: Exploring Humanity Through Literature (edX), acknowledge that the digital world is a reality and has a significant impact on the way that we think through our place in the world as well. Where once comic books and gaming would have been considered geeky, today, these have found themselves properly entrenched in popular culture and growing in momentum in performance culture.

The local adoption of cosplay is also a testament to the creativity of our citizens. Cosplayers are, as Winter-Roach explained, not necessarily wealthy people but most design their own costumes with extraordinary detail. Cosplayers therefore are proving through their self-affirmation that creative power does not belong to a "one per cent". Our passion, whatever it is, and our desire for self-expression grants each one of us that power.

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