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Cosplay is a craze both in Japan, the USA and many other nations. People dress up as science fiction characters or anime characters and go to conventions. Do an image Internet search for "cosplay" and you find a remarkable set of odd pictures. People in fancy dress often look silly and funny. Elena Dorfman plays on this in her foam-bound book Fandomania: she photographs people against a black background, staring into the camera, looking awkward. They have spent a great deal of energy and money trying to look like these fictional characters, and often they resemblance is strong. Yet we also see the creases on the fabric of their clothes, and the way they hang stiffly. The fake ears and colored wigs often look especially cheap. The people in the pictures often look pleased with themselves, and sometimes they look very self-conscious about being photographed. Generally they are clearly far from the same bodily type as the characters they portray. Sometimes that is because they are fatter and have skin that isn't smooth or muscles that are not so big. In some cases, there are men dressed as female characters or vice versa, which is curious and interesting. Dorfman isn't making fun of her subjects, but she is trading on the viewer's discomfort at her pictures. This becomes clearer when one considers her other work, especially her Still Lovers series which shows female life-size dolls posed in sexualized positions. Here it is quite apparent that the viewer is placed in a position of a voyeur of bizarre images. The Fandomania series does exactly the same. Some of the portraits are very unflattering, and it is hard to imagine that the subjects are pleased to be seen that way. Yet these portraits are the especially interesting ones, since they raise questions of how they think they look, and whether they are happy to look like that. You also have to wonder what possesses people to dress up in this way in the first place: clearly doing this brings them into a community of others, and it keeps them busy. Presumably though, they would take up some other hobby if those were their only goals. These characters must fulfill some fantasy of the subjects, or at least some playful exhibitionistic part of them. One may have to know much more about anime characters in order to understand the fantasies behind the costumes, but one gets some sense of what must be going on in them from the surface of the pictures. They do convey compassion for their subjects; these individuals, after all, are being for open about their fantasy life than most of the rest of us.
Link: Elena Dorfman website
© 2007 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.
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