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©03 The Media Desk
[NOTE: This article does not contain tangents... it IS a tangent. Far from being the definitive treatment of the subject the Desk had hoped for, this is simply a jaunt once around the park covering the sights along the way. As it turned out, there IS no answer to the posed question. Please enjoy it anyway. ]
[FURTHER NOTE: For coverage of some of the mentioned events, see the Desk's Photo Essay page http://themediadesk.com/photoess.htm]
The Question has been asked. More than once in fact. "Why do they do that?" Referring to otherwise reasonable people wearing mediaeval armor, fantastic costumes, sci-fi uniforms, kilts, spandex, period outfits, and sometimes much less, at a public event.
Well. OK. Here goes.
The Desk is something of an expert when it comes to journalistic coverage of events in which a large number of the
participants are in costume, and a good number of them will be in character as well.
Renaissance fairs, science fiction conventions, historical re-enactments and festivals, what have you, the Desk has been there, with its camera usually, and documented it for all and sundry. And has been doing so for nearly ten years. Everything BUT Halloween that is. (The Desk goes Nowhere and does Nothing on 31 October.)
And not ONCE has it dressed up as anything. Well, once it did dress up as a half-crippled ex-sportswriter, but don't tell anybody. It has looked into purchasing an Alchemists costume, but nobody knows what they looked like. Oh well.
The Desk knows people who take great pride in wearing their Star Fleet uniform at conventions. It is acquatinted with a man who has a full kilt with all the accessories. There is the pretty young woman who makes her own outfits from patterns from the middle ages. Or
Fred's son who is fashioning his own vest of linked rings. Most recently, a very excellent young lady at Shoreleave was upset nobody told her to bring a costume (trust the Desk on this one, she got plenty of attention anyway).
There are those that design intricate outfits from characters in the Star Wars movies. Or maybe it is something from the American War Between the States. Others might be an Anglophile, or wear something last seen on the Prophet Jeremiah.
But the Desk has seen a common thread in all of them. Whether they are trying to stay in character as a Vulcan security officer or playing a courtesan from King Louis' time for laughs and drinks, there is something they share.
Yes you can say they are role playing, or going for escapism, or maybe they have a split personality and part of their mind actually believes they are Sir Barrflie of Knomeville.
None of them have been reported as tilting at any windmills lately, but you never know.
Walter Mitty has nothing on some of those at the large conventions who refuse to answer unless they are addressed by their character name, even if it is to tell them they just dropped their change purse on the escalator.
But you cannot cut the costumes for all these people from the same cloth. Some are into historical accuracy, burlap underwear and all. Others are into Science Possible. A few try to emulate their favorite character from past, present or future down to the smallest detail. A few work from their own ideas and give legs to a singular creation or idea. Some stick to a theme, building for next year on this year's pattern. Another is something from a horror movie you saw on TV at two in the morning last weekend. Yet there is something that ties them all together besides hand stitched zig-zag hems.
Sure, the long legged woman in the Klingon outfit was showing enough skin to stop traffic on Baywatch. But that probably wasn't her only intent. That guy in the home made knight suit with a helmet that still smells of coffee may be taking himself a little too seriously, but he is having fun none-the-less even though he got booted out of the tournament in the first round. He'll be back next year. Sure the ghouls and monsters and aliens and mystics and soldiers and even dragons are all human underneath. Librarians and pizza guys and nurses and construction workers and cops and students and ... the rest of the year.
For today. For right now. For this weekend.
Monday morning the attractive woman in the pieced together costume with the last minute purchase communicator went back to work doing something she may not want to do. But tonight… Tonight she was the center of attention, trying to belly dance, and making the disk jockey sweat with her smile (and giving the Desk pleasant daydreams for a month at least).
The guy in the Union Blue with the reproduction Henry Rifle really is a soldier in Ol' Abe's Army for a day as he silently loads it and awaits the command to fire.
Maybe they can tell you the life story of their character from historical research or family history or maybe not. One character at Old Dover Days was portraying their great great grandfather or something like that who was somebody of some renown in the eighteen somethings, or at least he said he was. And does it really matter?
The point is this.
Far more than escapism, which is fine as an end in and of itself, as long as it is not taken too far and when you do go back to work Monday you are driving the city bus as a city bus and not an Imperial Star Destroyer. But escapism is seldom taken as seriously as some of these people take their characters and costumes.
Escapism is a golfer daydreaming he is playing to make it into the playoff at the British Open on the back nine at Royal Saint Georges. He knows perfectly well he is a common eleven handicap duffer and will likely loose another ball on 16 when he slices into the brush again. But he can dream can't he?
Nor are they as deluded as somebody that believes they really are an alien and live in fear that they are being watched by the Men In Black and refuse to buy a drink from a vending machine because it will read their mind.
This is something in between. The people in costume at the Revolutionary War camp know the guy sweating under the powdered wig is not General Washington. They know it. Yet they also believe he really is. And they believe it, because he believes it. Or at least he believes he is being Washington as Washington would be if he drove to the encampment in an SUV listening to Shania Twain on his six speaker CD system. They speak in rather bad King James / Shakespearean English and then remind the guy in the back to take his wristwatch off before inspection.
There was nobody at the Con, that anybody knows of, that was really from somewhere that can't be reached by First Class Mail. Yet there were many that could very easily convince you they were. Some of them spoke their alien language of choice fluently and could discuss in fine detail recipes for things the Desk cannot pronounce made with ingredients you'd never find at the Park and Shop. Some of them even took great glee in trying to pay for their lunch with triangular coins stamped with the picture of the current Space Emperor. Yet when the clerk just stood there, they did produce some pieces of paper with General Washington's likeness and went away lunch in hand.
Which is the difference between being In Costume, and being In Character. If you are just wearing the Borg Hardware but smile and joke and spout off "You will be assimilated" without provocation, you are just in costume. If you, in contrast, are dressed as Napoleon the Great and walk around with your chin jutting out and stop to count the windows in the hallway (he was obsessive-compulsive about such things) then you are in character.
Some actors in Hollywood talk about that how when they are in character they loose themselves in it. Others have remarked that when they are on stage as Hamlet or the Phantom of the Opera they become the Prince or the Fiend. Some singers get in touch with their inner Elvis when performing his songs. Athletes forget their own name and become number 34 running a down and out pattern. And everybody thinks that is just fine. Yet when John wears his Science Officer uniform and salutes a higher ranking 'officer' they say he needs professional help.
Well. OK, some of them might need some counseling. Others just need a better tailor.
There's always a few that are a bit on the, well, the technical term is 'creepy', but they are rather rare, even at the conventions.
One or two at the mediaeval gatherings may be a touch over the line, or maybe they are just touched, but again, there are people like that in everything. Otherwise why would there be middle-aged women in Bo Derek bikini's and corn-rows running down the beach when nobody really wants them to?
It is a chance to be something more than you really are, if it is all just make believe, and only for a little while, and you are paying by the hour for parking into the bargain.
Yes the Real World is Dull. Yes your boss is about as bright as mud. Yes your friends are just as exciting as waiting in line at DMV. And Yes, everybody you know and everything you do is about equal to the fun and joy of scooping the lumps out of the kitty litter.
Given all that, if you had the nerve (yes it takes a bit of Moxy to dress up like Robocop and walk around a major hotel convention center) and a little imagination you might be able to turn the stuff in your junk drawer and some findings from the flea market into a costume and dress up like an escapee from Ben Hur's Roman Galley for the next Founder's Day parade.
We won't talk about those that are doing these things for love of filthy lucre. Like the actress portraying Queen Ann Bolen at the Maryland Faire or celebrities mugging in costume at a convention.
How important is becoming Barbarella for a weekend? That's an unfair question. How important is your weekend off to go fishing? Your annual vacation? The family reunion or Christmas party.
It can be the highlight of your year, or just another diversion, depending on your priorities. Of course most of them have jobs, and families and bills to pay. Don't we all? But they take time out from cutting the grass and arguing with their cel phone company about off peak minutes to do this. As with everything else, if it is something you enjoy or want to do, you can usually find time, and money, and somebody to do the metalwork to make you a replica of Lancelot's shield. Right?
The Desk talked to one gentleman at the last Con that basically looks forward to this all year and takes his annual leave around that convention. It has also interviewed people who do one of these a month all over the region and see it as nothing really special. Some of the vendors do something like this every weekend, including one who has a stand at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Fair and said they were a little bored with it and may sell the business next year.
"It's fun, yeah. But I do this All The Time. I guess I'm just a little over extended." Was the gist of their comments.
As with everything else, what you do, how you do it, and whether or not you dress up in costume, stay in character, and all that, is up to you.
The "why" we opened this discussion with is as varied as the participants in the events. And the events themselves.
There is no one answer. Nor should there be.
Are they there just for fun? Did they buy or make their outfit or some combination thereof? Are they participating in the Masquerade trying to win a ribbon or prize? Is this their first time out or do they do this every year? Multiple events?
The guy in the kilt last year at Maryland's Renaissance Fair had about twenty five hundred dollars in his outfit So Far. A guy dressed up at an event in Delaware along the same theme was wearing what looked like it used to be a set of curtains. Should we mention the Cylon from several years ago that had a roll of tinfoil in a bag it was carrying for 'emergency repairs'? Nah, we'll skip that.
But now we'll discuss that Dark Side that's been hanging out on the fringes of this discussion.
There is no other way to put it except like this. There ARE people that are deluded, that have physiological problems with separating something George Lukas dreamed up from what we call the Real World, that believe they are actually… well… something else other than what they are.
Some of them are this close to being institutionalized, others are harmless and simply bide their time until the mothership comes back to get them.
For this discussion we will remove those that actually have serious mental disorders from the discussion and will only talk about those that KNOW it's not real, but go with it anyway because it makes day to day life slightly more bearable and maybe even a little more fun than whatever they do to pay the rent.
And now since you agree with who and what we are talking about, explain to the Desk the difference between them and somebody that pays for psychic readings or to have a horoscope specifically prepared for them?
How is that different from somebody that refuses to fly on an airplane with a 6 in the flight number or will not pick up a penny they see on the sidewalk if it is face down?
To continue this to the logical extreme, how is that different from those that never miss a Mass and give to their local church until the power company threatens to cut off their lights for non-payment. Or worse.
ANYTHING carried to extreme is unhealthy mentally and physically and the person doing so could be labeled as a delusional personality. And maybe even medicated against their will if they were deemed harmful to themselves or others.
So to finally answer the question, why do they do that? Let's close with two answers.
Why don't YOU do it?
[NOTE: This article is simply an academic discussion of the idea proposed. All character, genera, movies, TV series, conventions, events, and all other identifiable persons, places, things and whatevers, real or imagined, are all property of their individual owners and/or creators. They are used in this article for reference only. No defamation or other harm is intended. No real persons are meant to be inferred from this discussion and some different individuals have been combined to produce various archetypes for this discussion. None of the events mentioned should be taken as an endorsement by the Desk or vise versa. The Desk makes no profit and receives no compensation for coverage of said events (and most of the time it has to buy a ticket). Thank you. The Media Desk ]
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