Re-importing the foreign?

An empirical survey about identity-formulation within the cosplay community worldwide on the basis of facebook-groups

Term Paper, 2012

16 Pages



List of figures

List of tables

1 Introduction

2 What is cosplay? Context
2.1 Cosplay = Hybrid media-use
2.2 Cosplay = An ‘Imagined’ Community

3 Where is cosplay ? Insights
3.1 Cosplay needs media
3.2 Cosplay on facebook

4 What is cosplay? Outlook
4.1 Cosplay = Not re-importable
4.2 Cosplay = Not only Asian
4.3 Cosplay = One global culture



List of figures

figure 1: Asian cosplayer dressed as Marie Antoinette


List of tables

Table 1: cosplayers worldwide on facebook

1 Introduction

Despite the growing importance of economies outside the ‘western’ hemisphere (Thussu, 2007: 28), the scholarly discourse within media science is still unceasingly revolving around the issue of ‘Western’ hegemony. This is mainly concerning two aspects of media: structures and content. While on the structural (MacBridge Report 1980 (Hafez, 2007: 80)), financial (Thussu, 2007: 27) and institutional (Cottle, 2009: 30) side a dominion of US-American (Vu, 2012), Australian (Hafez, 2007: 173) or European (Hillard, 2009) media corporations is still observable - although translational interlinkages, mergers and complex shareholder-structures make it increasingly hard to detangle (Hafez, 2007: 159) - research on the content-level is starting to look for more democratic models. The ‘ core periphery ’ - approach (Galtung, 1971) is slowly being reassessed, yet the ‘ flow ’ -model (Thussu, 2007: 11) still postulates that the major influence is coming from ‘the North’ flowing towards the economic ‘South’ (Cottle, 2009: 29), only being challenged by minor ‘ contra-flows ’ (Thussu, 2007: 20) of niche products which find some fans among sub-cultures in the ‘Western’ society. That those flows could interweave at some point and take on ‘ hybrid ’ (Thussu, 2007: 20) forms, is only recognized to take place at the receiving end. This can for example refer to the evolution of a certain kind of ‘German’ reggae or ‘Chinese’ rock music. Hybrids almost never happen on the structural level of pre-modeled content, e.g. ‘ Who wants to be a millionaire ’ has the same look, sound and rules all over this planet. Thus amalgam media products are primarily developing in a more active media use. This kind of media use can contribute to the emergence of trends or sub-cultures. Aligning with Fiske (Fiske, 1987), I am daring the thesis that it is less important who is controlling the buttons behind the media corporations (structures), but it gives much more information how people are actually using this output (content) and produce meaning (Storey, 2001: 175) if we want to find out, how globalized this world is within the media (Storey, 2001: 190). As a starting point I will therefore take a sub-culture, evolved from media content flowing in the less frequented direction of ‘East’ to ‘West’: cosplay. And as the contemporary medium of choice concerning self-expression, the Internet appears to be the appropriate study subject.

2 What is cosplay? Context.

2.1 Cosplay = Hybrid media-use

Scholars are apparently having a hard time to free themselves from the thinking pattern of one culture being dominant (Thussu, 2007: 5). The culture of origin is merely overlaying the other culture at its destination, maybe adopting local features and forming a ‘ glocalized ’ product (Robertson, 1995). When hybrids evolve, the point of departure is always still visible1. But is this necessarily always the case? This paper aims to challenge this assumption.

It seems as if flows were a “ one-way-street ” (Hafez, 2007: 28): media content flowing in one direction with a single destination, although it might develop there into a very unique local hybrid culture (Iwabuchi, 2007: 70). But can this new cultural product flow back to where it came from? Kai Hafez declares those “ local modernization[s] ” as “ hardly re-exportable ” (Hafez, 2007: 14). This might be true from the economic viewpoint of the media industry, as subcultures generally are not including the broad masses and therefore constitute a smaller amount of potential consumers. Consequently it might be hard to sell “ Indian Rap ” (Hafez, 2007: 171) in Texas or Hawaii. But this paper is concentrating on the use people make of media products is: Is the culture of origin being reciprocally influenced by the hybrid culture from another country, which’s initial foundation it constitutes?

Media content itself is intangible and in addition to this, it carries certain elusive images and interpretations with it (Storey, 2001: 125). How media content is interpreted depends on the receiving culture and it is likely that the values resulting from this interpretation differ greatly2. It is therefore hard to pinpoint a universal meaning of it. Nevertheless transnational subcultures exist, where apparently a common ground for interpretation has been found, where the fluid nature of media content is being re- shaped into the form of a more or less defined culture (Williams, 2011: 90).This definition or concept might not have been the intention of its initial creator, yet it is there - imagined by the members of this culture. Especially in subcultures the sense of ‘community’ is crucial (Williams, 2011: 178). And if this community can’t be experienced on a physical level, the imagined existence of common interests, interpretations or values (Williams, 2011) might be even the more important. Benedict Anderson observes the emergence of “ imagined communities ” (Anderson, 1991), vague places in the ether which don’t exist on a geographical map, but are not less real. Its ‘inhabitants’ identify with those “ imaginary communities ” (Georgiou & Silverstone, 2007: 42). A rather common example for this can be members of a certain diaspora scattered around the planet, held together by the believe in a common ‘homeland’ which might be existent or not (Appadurai, 1996: 49). Whereas some diasporas have been existing since long (e.g. the Jewish diaspora) and were mainly kept alive through local practice of traditions, the emergence of new global communities is made possible through the internet. Looking at the number of research projects being consecrated to this subject (e.g. Anderson 1991, Appadurai 1996, Castells 1996, Hannerz 1996, etc.), the growing importance of such “ imagined worlds ” (Appadurai, 1996: 41) becomes obvious. Special about the cosplay community is that its members are not only sharing an imagined identity but that this identity is based on something principally imagined - entertainment media content3. As this identity is both expressed and created through media images, it seems to have a relatively larger potential to become a truly global culture. But to what extent classical national ties really lose their importance will be examined empirically within this work.

Hence, three research questions arise:

1.) Is cosplay truly hybrid or is nationality overweighing?
2.) Is the nationality or the character of the figure more important?
3.) Are local cosplay hybrids ‘re-exportable’ to Japan?

2.2 Cosplay = An ‘Imagined’ Community

Some sources state that the very linguistic base of the term ‘ cosplay ’ can already be regarded as a proof of the influence of contra-flows (cocoro books, 2007: 3). Cosplay “ burst from the streets of Tokyo ” (cocoro books, 2007: 3), it is a ‘Jap-ish’ fantasy-word, created by the Japanese youth seeking to name what they are doing. Originally deriving from the Japanese word ‘ kosupure ’ [ コスプレ ], meaning ‘ costume play ’ (Hitzler & Niederbacher, 2010: 45), the term is now being used by English-natives and others alike4

A cosplayers (or ‘ layers ’ how they call themselves casually (cocoro books, 2007: 3)) dresses up as a fictional character (based on any media) and presents himself best possible as this figure. Cosplay with its contemporary characteristics (see below) originates from the Japanese Manga -Scene that developed during the 1970s and 80s in Japan (Hitzler & Niederbacher, 2010: 45) and spread over to Europe with the immersing popularity of Manga Comic-Series like Sailormoon (Hitzler & Niederbacher, 2010: 45). However the idea might have arisen from American SciFi -Conventions (Gagnon, 2011) and its central theme, too, is fandom (Hitzler & Niederbacher, 2010: 45).

The motive for this literal escapism5 and the wide (and growing) enthusiasm cosplay experienced in Japan lie within the Japanese “ conformity demanding ” (Easter, 207: 13) society. As Easter coins: “it gives an opportunity for people to express a side of themselves which is not acceptable in society, whether it is wild, cute, or tortured. ” (Easter, 207: 13) . Cosplay as a term itself is a contradiction (Gagnon, 2011) and this “ participatory [sub-]culture ” (Williams, 2011: 175) gives people the opportunity to act out the inner contradiction they might feel not only through passive media use and admiration, but by becoming their favorite character - at least for a while. It is not just an “ extreme youth fashion ” (Gagnon, 2011)6, the ultimate goal is to look exactly like the template (Hitzler & Niederbacher, 2010) - and to be “ in the character ” (Gagnon, 2011)7. Looking at the fact that the well- liked Manga characters are of Japanese ethnicity, it is obvious that this is a difficult task to achieve for a ‘Westerner’. It is interesting to enquire whether the Japanese cosplay community breaks away from other regions, favoring only the ‘authentic’ depiction of characters, or if cosplay is worldwide lived “ cultural plurism ” (Sreberny-Mohammadi, 2002: 347).

Within the community plurism is definitely the description of choice. Typical for hybrids, cosplayers choose from the range of identities the one that suits them best (Tomlingson, 2007: 365). This includes many sub-cultures, which are tricky to grasp, for example Fruits Fashion (a sub-category of ‘ Decora Kei ’ [= decoration style] or ‘ Kawaii ’ [= cute]). Another current is ‘ crossplay ’ which involves dressing up as a character of the other sex. Moreover there are overlapping, tangent sub-cultures which initially did not have anything to do with each other (like role- players in genera) (Gagnon, 2011)) but are now through the world-wide-web increasingly influencing each other8 And whether they can be counted among the cosplay movement or not basically depends on individual opinion.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

figure 1: Asian cosplayer dressed as Marie Antoinette

Basis for a character can be almost everything. The ideas derive from different cultural heritages, Mangas and (video) games from Asia Comic heroes, movies (e.g. Matrix) and (video) games from the US; fairytales, book characters (e.g. Harry Potter or Alice in Wonderland) or historical persons depicted in any kind of media content (e.g. Marie Antoinette) from Europe. African and Creole traditions seem to form no part of cosplay 9 . Fantasy products, like own invented characters or things can also be cosplayed (e.g. fruits).

Looking at the tremendous amount of the different influences and features, the question arises whether there can be one global identity among cosplayers. In order to get a broader idea of cosplay, the community will be asked two further questions in the course of this work:

1.) Is cosplay only what is Asian or are typical ‘ western ’ themes are regarded as equal?
2.) Is there something like “a common global culture” and shared values?

3 Where is cosplay ? Insights.

3.1 Cosplay needs media

The main actors within the cosplay-community are young people (Hitzler & Niederbacher, 2010: 46), a generation grown naturally into the emergent virtual space of the Internet. Those ‘ Digital Natives ’ 10 use social communities (with facebook on their forefront11 ) extensively for “ profiling ” (Richards, 2009: 24) and self-representation. The identity presented doesn’t necessarily have to be equivalent to the one that is lived in reality (Lee, 2012: 150). But while in general, the virtual identity and the actual identity are “ intertwined ” (Lee, 2012: 151) and affecting each other, merging into one single personality, this is not the case for most cosplayers. They clearly distinguish between themselves as a person and the character they’re representing (Hitzler & Niederbacher, 2010: 47), especially since this character can be changed constantly. Some members of the cosplay sub-movements like Lolitas are actively living their passion in reality - the presentation of the personally designed costume is central for a cosplayer (Hitzler & Niederbacher, 2010: 46).

Yet c osplay wouldn’t exist without media products and members of the cosplay community couldn’t express their cosplay character as thoroughly without the tools modern media offer them12. Media are a crucial tool for cosplayers (Hitzler & Niederbacher, 2010: 51), to find out about others and to use them as a platform for self-representation. In fact cosplay is “ media production in use ” (Storey, 2001: 179). Due to its globe-spanning nature13 facebook is therefore an appropriate tool to examine how cosplay communities worldwide define their identity and to which extend they interact transnationally.

In order to be able to clearly differentiate between cosplayers and roleplayers in general, the research is only concerning groups and pages on facebook entailing the term “ cosplay ”.

Groups and pages on facebook differ slightly in their appearance. A member (of groups) or subscriber (of pages) can post, comment, share and like other posts. Grass roots mentality inheres in both platforms14, but groups look more interactive as they are not visibly administrated by someone. For this research, countries worldwide were examined for their quantity of groups and the amount of members, pages and the number of likes.


1 Staying with the example from above: It is still apparent within the Reggae-subculture that it came from Jamaica through the use of the colors of the country’s flag and its inhabitants’ accent.

2 An example here for is the significant varied meanings the TV-series Dallas had for different audiences (ANG in (Fiske, 1987: 320)

3 It is not entirely imagined as some of the heroes within mangas or contemporary movies are based on traditional tales and some cosplayers assume the roles of those historic figures (f.ex. Marie Antoinette, Dragonball)

4 See e.g. the ‘About’ group description of Cosplay South Africa, UK Cosplay, Cosplay in America etc.

5 The phenomenon, that media are being used systemically in order to escape from reality (Jäckel, 2008: 81)

6 This can be observed among young people in Japan at the moment, which is not so much a criticism against society than a rebellion against the fashion industry (Gagnon, 2011).

7 “ They had even memorized several lines from the show in English ” (Gagnon, 2011)

8 e.g. ’ Gothic Lolitas ’, a “ nostalgic fashion trend ” (Hitzler & Niederbacher, 2010: 52) or the ‘ Kei-Scene ’ fans of Japanese rock music who dress in gothic or punk style as their favorite music stars (Hitzler & Niederbacher, 2010: 52) .

9 Although people might e.g. dress up as a local demon for certain events, like Halloween but this can be regarded rather as general roleplaying and not a stable part of cosplay

10 Digital Natives is the term used to describe the generation which has been raised with internet and computers as a normal part of their day-to-day life (Prensky, 2001)

11 1 billion monthly users in 2012 (; 01.11.2012)

12 e.g. changing the background of their pictures, putting themselves via Photoshop into a matching setting

13 With exception of North Korea, China and temporarily some Arab states during the spring revolution in 2011, facebook is freely available in every country at the moment

14 “ A Facebook group for all UK costumers to discuss upcoming events, costumes and trade tips and help. ” (UK cosplay)

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Re-importing the foreign?
An empirical survey about identity-formulation within the cosplay community worldwide on the basis of facebook-groups
Stockholm University  (JMK)
Global Media Studies II
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
587 KB
Cosplay, facebook, kawaii, lolita, imagined spaces, online communities, media use, hybrid, crossplay, subculture
Quote paper
Michaela Strobel (Author), 2012, Re-importing the foreign?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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