WoMEN’s Work: Representing Fan Labor on Heroes of Cosplay

Curator's Note

Fan productivity has long been conceptualized as a form of “women’s work,” transformative labors of love that, due to their affective origins, often go unacknowledged and uncompensated as labor. In my analysis of the gendered representation of material fan labor on the Syfy docuseries Heroes of Cosplay, and fan responses to those representations on the tumblr Heroes of Cosplay Confessions, I contend that professionalized female fans are represented and received differently from their fanboy counterparts, whose capacity to professionalize their labor is rarely scrutinized.

Though the show purports to celebrate the craftsmanship, creativity, and commercial drive of female fans, it frequently and subtly implies that the male friends and partners of the show’s predominantly female cast are the true “heroes,” fabricating costumes and props behind the scenes. As a result, fannish production as a form of “women’s work” is visible and valorized, but only because men are performing this (often uncredited or invisible) labor. As this collection of clips and corresponding fan “confessions” from episode 1.2 suggests, the show cultivates an echo chamber between text and fan paratext, in which the labor of male partners and friends are presented as both integral to and actively alienated by the show’s female subjects. Thus, from the early fabrications scenes, in which the voiceover intones “Victoria has Jinyo hard at work,” to scenes in which Victoria berates Jinyo for issues with the costume’s construction, to the pointedly uncomfortable reaction shot of Jinyo during the judging process as Victoria sidesteps a question about how much of the costume she personally fabricated, fan confessions inevitably inquire why Victoria is featured in the show’s opening credits.

My In Focus piece may have captured a moment in the show that has since passed: the subsequent season of Heroes of Cosplay added two more male “heroes” to the cast, and the Heroes of Cosplay Confessions Tumblr is now dormant. However, its call to consider how media representations reflect (and fan responses potentially refine or refract) longstanding tensions and inequities surrounding gendered fan labor and professionalization remains vital.


This is such an interesting analysis of men doing women's work and getting more credit for it--as, indeed, we see when men in traditionally female occupations (nursing, say) are paid more than women even as those occupations overall are generally paid less than other jobs with comparable skill levels because they're feminized. Do you have the sense that this is part of the standard Reality TV process of editing to produce an interesting narrative/character? As if they are emphasizing those moments or selected people to feature in the first place who would give this sort of narrative? And then, how much of the fan response is the show itself and how much is confirmation bias of people who have assumptions about women's incompetence at fandom--even in traditionally feminine things like costuming?

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