Sunday, March 30, 2014

Has fandom become too prudish and unoriginal? (NSFW)

I happened across some photo galleries of cosplaying (although there wasn't a word for it back then, it was just "wearing costumes") from science fiction conventions in the 1970's. It made me wonder, has fandom gotten too prudish and puritanical, too Politically Correct, and too slavishly imitative of mass media?

(NSFW below the fold)

She's running around
barefoot! The hussy...
First of all, take a gander here and here. Both of those are very NSFW, by the way, unless you work with Zak, that is.

That's what fandom used to be like. It was wild, and it was free, and it was inventive, and it was Bohemian (or, perhaps Hippie might be a better word), and it wasn't afraid to show tits, and asses were okay, too, and the occasional untrimmed bush. Those were the days when conventions needed to say "no costume is not a costume", and "food is not a costume" (presaging Lady Gaga and her meat-dresses).

Morning Glory, who invented the term
polyamory, and Oberon Zell,
founder of the Church of
All Worlds, itself based on
a book by Robert Heinlein.
More to the point, it was a time when sex was still fun, and at least in the fandom community, we were open to such things, and Feminism meant that women were free to express - nay, revel in - their femininity and sexuality.

Hell, I see a couple of photos in there of Oberon Zell and Morning Glory, who helped jump-start the hedonistic neopagan movement in the 1960's and 70's. There was a marvelous cross-pollination between science fiction/fantasy fandom, paganism, the SCA, and early Renfairs. There was even a large amount of crossover with the gaming community, especially as D&D took off. The Panzerblitz crowd was, admittedly, a little more stodgy.

There are some notable exceptions, without doubt. But they are constantly under siege, and the prudish forces of Political Correctness are ever pushing against them.

But if you can, look beyond the boobs and nipples in these pictures, and the many more in the links above. How many of those costumes are trying to emulate things that some studio produced? I see a Luke and Leia, and a Wonder Woman, and maybe one or two others, but for the most part I see original costumes, or costumes based on descriptions in books rather than slavish restatements of costumes seen in movies or on TV. I don't see lots of absolutely-authentic Logan's Run costumes, or spacemen out of Forbidden Planet, complete with ribbed chest-pieces and huge shoulder boards.

I see a lot of original characters.

Contrast that with today's cosplaying scene. Oftentimes, the criteria for judging costume contests is how strictly a costume adheres to the original, usually seen in a movie, television show, or cartoon. I've been in contests where you were expected to provide a picture of the character you were cosplaying. There's some lip-service paid to doing OC cosplaying, but the message is clear. "Don't tell me about your character." If you doubt me, just look at the winner of San Diego Comic Con's "Best Original Design" award in 2013, "Marvel Mumbai":

Gender-bending and cultural appropriation makes a
design "original," apparently.
I realize that we don't live in the sexually permissive 1970's any more. AIDS opened the door to a revival of Christian Right puritanical "sex is dangerous" thought, and Third Wave Feminism ironically allied with them, shutting that door tight against healthy expressions of feminine sexuality, essentially decreeing that women shouldn't try to make themselves sexually desirable to men. But does showing some tits (or parading around in a loincloth, for that matter) really hurt anyone? Can we possibly get back to embracing the Bohemian, Hippie, and sex-friendly culture that fandom used to embrace?

Try this at Comic-con
today. I dare you.
And hand-in-hand with that (or whatever body part you choose to use) is the embrace of originality. Let's not just do endless repetitions of Batman, or the Avengers, or Master Chief, or whatever. Let's get back to our creative roots, and embrace characters that were created in our imaginations, rather than some corporate conference room.

I would love to get back to a place where fanzines published original fiction (or at least fan-fiction that didn't involve trysts between Kirk and Spock, or Obi-Wan and Annakin). Back when there was a bit of the Wild West in fandom, and anything went, sex and sexuality was a Good Thing, and people were a lot less judgmental and a lot less tied in with the corporate-decreed "look" of what fandom was supposed to be.

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