Cosplay affords an inventive means of addressing the politics of race through the means of pop culture. As an integral part of the celebratory atmosphere of a ComicCon — nerd conventions of science fiction, fantasy, and comics — cosplayers undertake a participatory cultural politics of the imaginary through the collective enactment of character roles. Cosplay affords avenues of what Ytasha Womack calls “creative empowerment” for those who are marginalised under conditions of white fragility. Forms of “crossplay” through gender-bending, queering, disabled and interracial play disrupt canonisation, while the cosplay of minoritarian characters from underground films, literature and comics advances other stories (and stories of the other).
Cosplay intervenes in what Žižek calls the constitutive fantasy of the real. One can be at once both celebratory and critical of cosplay: it is a creative performance of identity that transforms and transgresses available avenues of empowerment under the limitations of what Horkheimer and Adorno called the culture industries. At its most inventive, it proffers ways to imagine alternative futures in the present by reinventing characters from the past, through what Kodwo Eshun calls chronopolitics. In Afrofuturist imaginaries, characters such as Black Panther, Storm and Static Shock advance a (re)cyclical narrativization that John Jennings calls Sankofarration. And though it partakes of spectacle — as all things do — when cosplay blurs the lines of gender, race, and class it intervenes in the social order. At the limit, it opens upon avenues of radical becoming, in which the Enlightenment human is de-natured into alien and posthuman realms.
Beyond cosplay is the reinvention of the (other) self. As the black alien Queen of the Damaged, ZiggZaggerZ the Bastard seeks “the dissolution of the patriarchy through Afrofuturist poetry, cosplay, and art.” Living with photosensitivity, ZiggZaggerZ inhabits a “dark universe that eschews the light of the sun and its sons . . . inventing black feminist spaces of cosmic solace.” In her two-part comic-zine The Bastard’s Manifesto, she “provides instructions on radicalizing the self through ‘cause-play’, in which cosplay, science fiction and art are vehicles for political activism.” Her cause-play includes public performances of Gamora at Culver City Hall as a means to call attention to oil fracking in Los Angeles.
For the past three years, ZiggZaggerZ and I have been collaborating on conceptual photography and performances, culminating in the film LOST ALIEN, which blends surrealist and silent filmmaking techniques to capture ZiggZaggerZ as a photosensitive black alien marooned on a sunlit planet. The above photographs are from our collaboration.