A week or two ago I attended Eternal Con, the self-titled Comic-Con of Long Island. It’s a small convention that attracts a couple thousand people a year, with not very many recognizable headliners. But a day full of people dressed up and nerding out over the same stuff as me? I was hooked.
To my surprise and fascination, I recognized only a small percentage of the merchandise and art on display. Of course there were some big names splattered throughout — some Star Wars memorabilia, several Power Rangers celebrity appearances and tons of Marvel’s The Avengers fan art. But between those familiar and mainstream franchises, there was a giant sea of niche comics and products that were completely alien to me.
And lining up to buy tickets, walking around on the three levels of the convention and purchasing food from the vendors were dozens of cosplayers — people dressed up as characters pulled straight from their favorite fictional story of the day.
I could point out a few I knew — some quirky Sailor Moon pigtails here and there, some funny Spidermen shaking hands, a couple of slick Jedi gathered for pictures — but like everything else at the convention, most of the costumes were strange to see for the first time. There was a man in a weird purple robe and metal helmet standing by a crude cage, a kid in a full-body monkey suit with bizarre feathery antennas sprouting from his head and a girl in a skimpy blue and pink combat uniform waving around a giant plastic gun.
That’s when I suddenly found myself wondering: at what point had I decided to draw the line between who was weird and who was merely quirky?
“Weird” was the word that popped into my head then and the word that instinctively fits now to describe the sights I can’t quite pin a name to. In that moment, I felt awkward standing in a crowd when it seemed like everyone else knew more about everything else than I did. It made me feel uncomfortable, and so in my head I made them all out to be the ones that didn’t fit, not me. Secretly, I wondered how anyone “normal” could ever have the time to devote themselves so completely to some underground, ultra-niche topic.
But that’s when I had this big epiphany on how to get over my judgmental attitude. And you know what I did in that moment of discomfort? I decided to just get over myself and stop making assumptions.
My gut reaction had been to cast certain things off as weird only because I wasn’t used to them, and because I was intimidated by the fact that I couldn’t understand it all. But everybody’s got quirks, and when I think about all the times I’ve fawned over a new science-fiction book or raved over a new television series, I can hardly consider myself fit to judge the normality of others.
There are many things, both conscious and subconscious, that factor into the way we categorize activities that are outside of our personal norms. The problem is that many of these categorizations can cause much more than mere discomfort to ourselves and to others because they adhere to a list of societal biases that we’ve unknowingly weaved into our everyday lives.
Gender, sexuality, race, appearance, economic class: the list goes on and on. Each one of these words is a broad concept by itself, and together they spin a complicated web with the power to cast some people off as weird and others as simply quirky.
There are myriad stereotypes out there that are hijacking interest-specific worlds like Eternal Con, and I’ll be honest when I admit that I often judge others through these preset images to some degree. For example, there’s the stereotype of the hot gamer girl — that it’s really only ever cool to be a female cosplayer if your body is scantily clad and your looks are up to par.
Then there are the racial stereotypes, such as the one that pigeonholes people of Asian descent by assuming that their video game expertise undoubtedly aligns with a complete sacrifice of their social lives. Additionally, there’s the classic Caucasian nerd, complete with suspenders, glasses and a calculator in pocket, who stands as the epitome of sheltered American culture.
Laugh all you want, but the truth is that these are just three of many ways that our society continues to typecast its own. It can be funny to imagine these kinds of people existing because we know that those idealized images don’t hold true for most individuals.
Yet most of us still can’t help but look at a stranger partaking in cosplay or droning on about “League of Legends” and wonder: what if? What if the stereotype we see on the exterior really is all that’s there?
This easy habit of stopping short, of recognizing only the parts of people that fit preordained personalities and ideals, is what upholds the division between weird and quirky. But in reality, this distinction is fluid and changes with time — just look at the emergence of e-sports, dubstep, hipsters, queer theory, and so on and see how the respect for and appeal of these notions have fluctuated over the past few years.
If you stop casting everything in opposition to yourself, stop automatically separating “us” from “them,” you’ll see that nothing is ever just black and white.
“Normal” is the minority, because no one ever perfectly abides by the standards we’ve all somehow set. It’s the abnormal, the unusual, the weird that make up the masses, and cosplay and conventions are just modern outlets of a more accepting, progressive form of expression that we should all be fighting for.
Hannah Kaufman is a rising junior in the College. Confessions of a Closet Geek appears every other Monday at thehoya.com.