The girlfriend from the video, dressed as slave Leia

Cosplay is fine, girl, as long as you cosplay for me.

This post addresses the trend I discussed in my post on geek girls and the problem of self-objectification.

This post is cross-posted at The Cosplay Feminist.

My friend Lola showed me this video from CollegeHumor (lyrics are available at the website, just scroll down and click the “LYRICS†tab), a parody called “Cosplay with my Heartâ€:

In the first part of the video, the male white singer revels in his girlfriend’s cosplay, because she dresses as Leia from Star Wars, presumably something he’s a fan of. Having a real life Leia is a fantasy for him:

Oh her dress, her dress
It’s so true to film I can’t believe it
Her buns, her buns
How’d she get them both so even?
She’s so accurate
Though I prefer when she does slave

Yeah
I’ll go as Solo
When we walk the con floor
People don’t believe it
And I know these photos
When you search for her
Will be the first ones you see

The line “I prefer when she does slave [Leia]†makes it clear that the singer prefers his girlfriend in the “sexy†versions of cosplay, and he enjoys her cosplaying because it puts his girlfriend’s conventionally beautiful, thin, white, abled body on display for his consumption. The “her buns, her buns†line also contributes to this interpretation; the video shows first her butt, then her hair done in Princess Leia buns. The implication of this little entendre is that, while the singer is supposedly talking about the technical aspects of her costume (her hair and its evenness), he is actually just staring at her ass, and enjoying her body. And, there’s nothing wrong with a man enjoying his partner’s body. But this particular man is enjoying only her body. He parrots talk about authenticity and craftmanship because that’s what he thinks she wants to hear (after all, she really likes cosplaying!) but every time he does that, he follows it up with some reference to her sex-object status, like “She’s so accurate/Though I prefer when she does slave.”

What the singer finds exciting about his girlfriend cosplaying is not that she has fun, or that they share a geeky passion, but that she dresses in sexy costumes from geeky franchises he likes. While he pretends to care about authenticity, he is seems more concerned with the fact that her photos will show up on the internet and that people will envy him when they walk the convention floor. He’s enthusiastic about her hobby because of the benefits he gets: a sexy object-girlfriend and envy from other geek men for obtaining said object-girlfriend.

In the video, as her cosplaying moves further and further from this ideal—she dresses as a fantasy for him—he gets more and more freaked out by it. The first unambiguous “she’s a little crazy†reaction from him comes during the lines

Oh you know, you know, you know
I’m really into the scene
But she is REALLY into it
You know what I mean
But hey don’t get me wrong you know I really can’t complain
She likes anime

His discomfort escalates from here. Her next costume is Viking-esque (I don’t recognize the character), with a gold breastplate covering her breasts and torso, and a big-ass axe. He grimaces when she comes out, and again when she playfully and slowly swings the axe toward him. The next costume she puts on is a full-body mouse suit, and while he never says “furry,†it’s implied:

Whoa
Okay you’ve crossed the line
This may be your thing but it’s not mine
Cause girl you are crazy
You’ve taken it too far
Thought there was no such thing
As a girl who’s too nerdy
But now I’ve met her
And she cosplays and LARPs

The jokes about LARPing and furries are, I think, shorthand here. This video is only partly about a geek finding out that his girlfriend is more geeky than him, and more about how gross it is when your girlfriend starts acting like an actual, fully-developed geek, a person who decides what she likes without referencing your desires first, and explores those interests because she’s a person and that’s what people do.

Once we move past the HAHA FURRIES AND LARPERS ARE WEIRD aspect of this video, it’s disturbing. Because he could have stopped at LARPing, and it would have kept its humor, but the writers of this song thought it necessary to include a fursuit. And what’s important about that, I think, is that furry fandom is often portrayed as a sexual subculture, as about sexual desires. The video begins with the singer talking about his sexual desires, fulfilled by his sexy cosplaying girlfriend. And it ends with her supposed sexual desires, which are framed as “crazy†and “tak[ing] too far.†When he says “this may be your thing but it’s not mine,†it wouldn’t make any sense if he was just talking about LARPing (unless he’s a total asshole who thinks his girlfriend should only do things he enjoys), but it makes more sense if he’s talking about being furry in a culture that assumes monogamy and also often believes male sexual desires should determine a couple’s sexual activity.

Think about what this video is saying. Cosplaying is fun and cool if you dress as a “sexy†character of a geek franchise I like. Yay slave Leia! All the other boys will be jealous! But as soon as the girlfriend makes it clear that this is her thing, not his, and a passion she has, maybe even a kinky one, and one that she would like to share with him, she’s crazy. She’s too nerdy, and taking it too far. The line of excess here isn’t even drawn at getting sexual pleasure from cosplay, because he does that very thing in the beginning of the song. The line of excess (too nerdy) is drawn where the woman cosplaying gets any pleasure from cosplaying (and role-playing) that is outside of what he likes. And her getting sexual pleasure from it is, well, “crazy.â€

This is pretty damn offensive to geek women, even if they aren’t cosplayers or “really into the scene.†The humor of this song relies on the assumption that geek women should express their geekiness by positioning themselves as sexy objects for male geek consumption. And that assumption is a big fucking problem, and not at all funny.

(Do not go down in the comments to tell me how LARPers or furries are weird or gross or whatever. It will not get published because I don’t care. People should do what makes them happy, and feminists should not make it their job to police other people’s kink.)

18 thoughts on “Cosplay is fine, girl, as long as you cosplay for me.

  1. Aurora

    I’ve long had problems with these kind of videos. Even Seth Green’s Geek and Gamer Girls seemed to objectify women (and Seth Green is an advocate about healthy body image for the Girl Scouts and one of the few people to speak up for feminism in the infamous Comic Con Sexy Geek panel). I wish there were more positive places to see cosplays and costumes that wasn’t based on sex appeal. I’d love to see more costumes and cosplays by larger women, women over the age of 25, and women of many races. I try to follow some cosplay fan blogs/tumblrs, but when I see a post like “I don’t know what the costume is, but isn’t this cosplayer wonderful?” I just want to throw things. I think accuracy and craftsmanship are just as important as sex appeal.

    1. Courtney Stoker Post author

      Holy gawd, Geek and Gamer Girls is awful. I’m presenting a paper at the PCA/ACA conference on self-objectification among female geeks, and I’m using that video as an example.

      “I think accuracy and craftsmanship are just as important as sex appeal.” Agreed. And having fun! There’s a great book by Ejen Chuang called Cosplay, and my favorite pictures are of a guy dressed as Shredder (from TMNT) that is clearly cardboard and a picture of an adorable girl dressed as Alice in braces with a Starbucks cup. Adorbs! I just want to hug them, because they are so normal and awesome and look like they are enjoying the hell out of cosplaying and convention-ing.

      1. Andrew C.

        The PCA/ACA conference in Boston in April?

        I’m presenting a paper there as part of a panel on geek rock.

        Hopefully I’m able to attend your panel because that sounds like a great topic.

  2. Pseudony Mousie

    I’m amused because that is a really, really terrible mouse costume from a Furry perspective. Someone who wore it to a Furry event / posted pictures of it would definitely get made fun of (behind their back, if they were lucky).

    I wonder what the difference would be in interpretation if the video makers had chosen to put the character in a more “conventionally attractive” fur suit (such as this one), or even just a higher quality one (both links SFW). Don’t have time to think about it right now, though.

    1. Courtney Stoker Post author

      I’d point out the other costumes are also not great quality, and all of them are obviously store-bought. I’m not really sure why that is. I’m guessing there’s not a lot of respect for cosplayers, and furries, so they just went the lazy route.

      1. L

        Yeah, I laughed a little at the line that said that the narrator could tell that the costumes weren’t store-bought. Because they so obviously were. I guess they just didn’t have the budget (or know any actual cosplayers who would go along with the video) to do it right. The mouse suit was particularly egregious, presumably for “comic effect.”

  3. AMM

    I only looked at the transcript, not the video, but somehow I took the song as exposing the singer’s hypocrisy, or at least sexism.

    Is that an unreasonable interpretation?

    Of course, that does get into the issue of stuff that is intended as parody but ends up being taken seriously by people who believe the stuff that is being parodied.

    1. nmjk

      That was my take on it also… but I also only read the lyrics, and didn’t watch the video. Regardless of the original intent, however, you’re right — too often intelligent commentary is taken at face value and ends up doing more harm than good.

    2. Courtney Stoker Post author

      I don’t think it’s necessarily unreasonable, but because this video seems to be not made by a cosplayer or a furry. In fact, it actually seems to mock those people, evidenced partly by the fact that the costumes are fairly low-quality and all store-bought (and as Pseudony Mousie above pointed out, the furry costume is particularly bad). A video made by a cosplayer would probably have included made costumes, high quality.

      And note the rest of Mousie’s comment: “I wonder what the difference would be in interpretation if the video makers had chosen to put the character in a more “conventionally attractive” fur suit (such as this one), or even just a higher quality one (both links SFW).” I think what’s she’s pointing out is that if a video is respectful of, instead of mocking, furries, it probably wouldn’t have chosen the costume it did. While it may be obvious to us that the boyfriend is a douchebag, I don’t think that’s how a general (or general geek) audience would see it, nor how the writers of the video meant it.

      1. takingitoutside

        I didn’t see a furry connection when I watched the video. The white suit did remind me somewhat of this white animal (of indeterminate species) from an old-ish but pretty popular anime, but I read its inclusion as pointing to the guy’s expectations: he wanted cosplay to involve sexy outfits for his girlfriend, she not only wore more sedate Princess Leia outfits, she went and covered up her entire body!

        I’m with AMM. The comedy in the video (if you found any) stems from the guy’s reactions, which the director carefully shows us over and over. There isn’t any humour in shots of a woman emerging from behind a screen in various costumes alone – we need reaction shots to get any sort of story out of this. The story that we do get starts with a supposedly-cool and laid back kind of guy who gets to put on a cool Han Solo outfit, but by the end of the song he’s sitting there looking freaked out while wearing loosely-duct taped cardboard.

        1. Courtney Stoker Post author

          But we’re supposed to feel sorry for him for being in the box (he’s trapped by a crazy girlfriend!), not think he’s a dick for being there. He’s freaked out, but everyone I showed this video to thought “furry” with that rabbit costume, and most geeks are perfectly okay saying furries are freaky or scary. Further, I find it hard to believe the makers of this video even consulted any cosplayers (based a lot on the costumes, but also on the lyrics, which only compliment her based on authenticity, something only valued somewhat by some cosplayers), which would be something they would do if they actually gave a shit about the point of view of the girlfriend. If they wanted to make a funny video about how douchebags disrespect their cosplayers girlfriends, wouldn’t have made sense to get her point of view and/or accurately portray cosplayers? But they didn’t do either of those things.

          Also, this is College Humor. In what universe are they known for showing up sexist behavior, instead of laughing with it?

    3. Mel

      I’m with you: I think the video’s poking fun at/critiquing the nerdy guy, and I wouldn’t read too much into the costumes being cheap (that’s how CollegeHumor generally does their videos, and it’s probably a budget thing). I’m also not sure I read the mouse outfit as being a furry thing–it could just as easily be her cosplaying a mouse character from some show or movie, and the boyfriend doesn’t like it because he doesn’t find it sexy.

      They may have missed the mark a little, but I do think they were aiming at critique rather than expecting the audience to take the dude’s side.

      1. MadGastronomer

        Right, because it’s much more likely that College Humor is criticizing sexist, objectifying geeky douchebags than that it’s exemplifying sexist, objectifying geeky douchebags. Sure. You tell yourself that if you need to.

        Hipsters use claims of irony and mocking to defend their sexist, racist crap, too. It’s not valid there, and it’s not valid here.

        1. potentiallyFoolish

          MadGastonomer,

          I consider myself to be a pretty serious feminist, and I saw the video as being a critique as well. I’m not trying to “defend my sexist, racist crap” — I honestly thought College Humor was poking fun as misogyny in geek culture. But when I read your comment, I suddenly felt very uncomfortable with sharing my thoughts.

          I respect the fact that you see the video, and maybe even the commenters , as hiding behind the idea of irony so that they don’t have to move with the times; and I agree, many people do exactly that. But these commenters are only politely saying that they saw a different interpretation of the video than the article did, and it makes the environment much more hostile when someone reacts so negatively.

          Is it possible that there is a more positive way to rebut someone? It seems to me that negativity only shuts down debate; it doesn’t really help anyone.

          Peace

        2. MadGastronomer

          Potentially Foolish:
          No, actually, I don’t think that there’s any better way I care to put it. Indeed, for me, that was very polite. And I don’t appreciate Tone Arguments.

          Given the history of College Humor and the video itself, I cannot view it lampooning sexism, but of repeating it, and claiming irony. As usual for the site, it’s enacting sexism with a thin veneer of criticizing it in order to defend itself from charges of sexism. There’s nothing there that actively subverts the sexism, though, so the video is objectifying sexist crap, and people are defending that. So far, I haven’t even heard anyone back up the idea that it’s parody, a joke on the narrator, just proof-by-assertion, while the people pointing out the problems with it have cited plenty actually in the video.

  4. oldfeminist

    This all boils down to women as the sex class. If they are doing something, there is sex involved, and if that kind of sex is not the kind the male gaze wants, they are failing at being female.

  5. Ms. Sunlight

    I agree, it’s the same old story, woman only gets to have hobbies if they fit in with the desires of her partner and acceptable performances of femininity. It would have been so easy to tell this story without shaming and ridiculing the woman.

    Sexism couched in a faux-ironic setting doesn’t make it humour, it’s still just sexism.

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