Fri, Aug 25, 2006 - Page 14 News List

Time to dress up and get in touch with your inner child

By Jules Quartly  /  STAFF WRITER

Cosplayers pose down at a recent Comic World Taiwan convention held at National Taiwan University.

PHOTO: JULES QUARTLY, TAIPEI TIMES

Captain Jack Sparrow was enjoying the attention as she swaggered around National Taiwan University park, supported by a cast of hundreds dressed up as Hollywood stars, TV and comic personalities or puppets.

Photographers flocked for the shot that would immortalize their favorite model and there were competitions for the best-dressed character. The university gymnasium swarmed with customers buying manga comics, DVDs, pop star pictures and accessories.

The Comic World Taiwan convention earlier this month brought in more than 200,000 people, according to organizers. Another similar exhibition, at the World Trade Center last week, attracted 400,000.

While most of the visitors were guys browsing for anime or computer games, many of them went for the cosplay, which involves role-playing and is mainly practiced by 18- to 25-year-old women.

The word comes from contracting costume and adding play. Wikipedia suggests it began in the US at science fiction fan conventions, but cosplay has flowered most significantly in Japan and has taken root here.

While dressing up as a nurse or soldier is child's play and most people grow out of it before they get to university or take their first job, for these young enthusiasts donning a costume and transforming themselves into an anime heroine or hero is a liberating experience.

They practice their “looks” in bedroom mirrors, make their own costumes, form clubs and come the big day they will take a friend to help make up and meet other like-minded people.

Innocent fun, you would have thought, but not for a professor of psychology at National Taiwan University, who was shocked by the cosplay fans he spotted queuing up to get into the convention.

Professor Huang Guang-guo (黃光國) last week made a splash in the local papers by saying cosplay was degenerate and “as bad as smoking marijuana.”

The 60-year-old said dressing up as comic characters showed that students no longer had any aspirations in society and were therefore retreating into fantasy worlds.

It is tempting, for a minute and if it is in your interest, to agree with him and ask why?

Which is what National Taiwan University student union president Gao Min-lin (高閩琳) did when he responded by saying the reason students enjoy cosplay is because they are disenchanted with politics, society and reality.

Nearer the mark, perhaps, was National Chengchi University professor of education Feng Chao-lin (馮朝霖), who suggested Huang's criticism was the typical result of an older man not understanding the younger generation.

Equating cosplay with drug use is obviously wrong. Most parents would surely be relieved if their children preferred dressing up to puffing the weed, since there are no extant studies that claim looking like an anime character causes emphysema and may lead to class-A substance addiction.

From talking to a number of cosplayers and the businesspeople who rely on them, cosplay seems to be a variant of the desire for young people to explore countercultures through dressing up, like goths, faux punks or the terminally fashionable.

Women cosplayers typically say they want to look cute and be the center of attention, like a star. Since so much of our interaction with society is based on appearance it should be no surprise youngsters want to explore their options.

Learning how to put on clothes, apply makeup (perhaps) and act out a role are valuable skills that practice makes perfect. It's not so different from putting on a business suit and going to the office. Or dressing up to go clubbing.

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