16 December 2009

Devotion or madness?

I'm sure you've all either seen, or been in, this position before: You have just spent weeks (or months even) designing and creating the most amazing costume EVARRR! Black leather, chains, giant weapon, you are now ready to hit up the con with a vengeance, ready for your "debut," get your cameras out people, because here I come. You slug the entire behemoth of a costume across state lines in the back of your car (or drag it on a bus, you devoted fan, you), make last second adjustments and fixes, and now it's time! Time to show the con world your skills. You throw on the five pounds of costume glory and head outside...into a blistering summer sun with enough humidity to drain you of all your body fluids in less than ten minutes.

Of course, anyone with common sense would think it is insanity to want to overload yourself in pounds of unbreathable fabric during the hottest months of the year, and yet it happens. A lot. Every con in fact. Heat advisory be damned, it's vacation time, so let's kick it into gear! What could possibly go wrong?

Full story after the jump.
She had only three sips of Mountain Dew that hot summer day. It was Otakon time, around 1-2 in the afternoon, and her black leather Organization XIII outfit was getting heavy. What little A/C the Baltimore convention center had was not enough to cool the masses of people crammed into it. She had walked there with her friends that morning, through Inner Harbor, choosing to take a stroll rather than a taxi. After all, money needed to be conserved. But now, after a long morning, she had sweated herself dry and needed sleep.

Stumbling from the convention center, she decided to hail a cab this time, unsure if she could make the half mile walk back to her hotel. Sun beating down on her, she falls into the back of the cab with her purchases from the Dealer's Room, mutters an address and descends into a state of stupor. The cab driver asks if she is ok, she managed a rough nod and stares out the window, grateful that the A/C in the car is stronger than what little she felt in the convention center.

She arrives back at her hotel and fumbles around for a wallet. Concerned, the cabbie declines to take her fare, once again asking if she was ok. She thanks him and falls out of the cab, dragging her stuff back inside. Ten long steps to the elevator, she collapses inside. Her entire body is burning from the sun on her leather coat. Two people arrive behind her, ask if she is fine, but do not get on with her. Whatever relief the cool hotel air is providing is minimal.

Another few dozen steps to her room, and she sheds off every piece of clothing she had on. She has become delirious, her vision fuzzy. She runs the cold water in the shower and gets in. Icy water slashes at her hot body. She sits down in the tub, feeling her eyelids droop. She falls asleep under the cold water.

Some time later, her roommate shakes her awake, asking if she is ok. Her body is no longer on fire, she can see much clearer. She asks how long she has been out. Her friend tells her the time. She has been under the cold water for three full hours.

This tale of the con was told to me at AnimeNext, during my "Gone Connin" panel. She then told me she was lucky she didn't get heat stroke. But it taught her a valuable lesson: sometimes sacrifices are necessary for a good con experience, but nothing is worse than sacrificing health.

While there are anime conventions each and every weekend, summer is widely regarded as peak con season. For a three day festival, summer is ideal: vacation time abounds for adults, teenagers are off from school, there is little in the way of work to distract one from having fun, it's easier to travel, these are but some of the myriad reasons for summer con season. Unfortunately, for a fandom that thrives on escapism through fantasy identity, summer is also the worst possible time to dress up, especially when a lot of costumes are elaborate and heavy. Consider the following: Cloud Strife wears all leather and carries a huge sword; Sephiroth wears a greatcoat; so does Captain Jack Harkness; all of Organization XIII dons black leather and hoods; Gattsu is dressed in heavy metal armor; Soul Reapers wear traditional samurai-themed kimonos. In many cases, the size and bulk of the outfits and their props are tailor made to cause heat exhaustion in the hot sun. And yet this does not bother any of the people that wear it.

Some say they are used to it. Some say they can manage it for the commute from hotel to the air conditioned convention center. Others are first timers that want so much to cosplay a certain character that they ignore the dangers of summer heat. Which begs to ask the question: are these fans devoted or just plain mad.

It all comes down to a manner of perspective. If you feel such a strong tie to a certain series or character, then you might be willing to overlook some of the negative repercussions tied to summer cosplay. During the past summer, I avoided wearing my Doctor outfit for June because I knew the leather jacket would become an issue. When Otakon rolled around, I threw caution to the wind and wore it the entire weekend. The first day was a real eye opener: upon having to drag a few swords back to my hotel room, I found my body was wearing out and it was only 3 PM. I also found out that I was going to need a good deal of sports tape to keep my body from chafing under the heat, humidity and constant physical activity. When Saturday rolled around, I was much better prepared to handle the heat and the day was far more successful.

And indeed, a lot of the dedicated fans who cosplay learn from their earlier experiences enough to compensate. When I asked a few Kingdom Hearts cosplayers how they handled the heat, each one produced a sort of survival kit that included water, tape, washcloths, even ice packs. They had been doing it for so long that they knew what they had to bring. And by the time the next con had rolled around, I was carrying one as well. These cosplayers were devoted and knew how to maximize their con time while not dragging their bodies to hell.

But there are also cosplayers who, despite the risks, do not prepare for hot weather cosplay. One of them told me he just manages to survive. No tricks, no preparation, he just gets by on willpower on sheer determination. Of course, he also told me that he crashes after the con for about a week while his body recovers. He knew it was bad for him, but he didn't really care, he was young and he knew he could handle it.

So is it devotion, or is it madness. I say it's a little of both. To be a good cosplayer, you need to have devotion. You need to love your character, you need to love becoming them and playing them for it to be successful. But you also need to be a little bit mad. You need to be willing to ignore what your logical mind suggests might not be a good thing. And most of all, you need to toe the line. As wonderful as some devotion might be, you can't ignore the fact that some things cannot be overcome by sheer willpower. And if you feel you must "go the extra mile," then at least be prepared for it. I promise, your body will thank you for it later.

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