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From a sociological perspective, a subculture is considered to be a separate cultural framework within a larger and dominant culture. Subcultures have a set of distinctive norms, beliefs, and practices (Brym and Lie 2012: 47). One of the examples presented below is related to the cosplay subculture. Cosplay is a contraction name that designates a costume play, seen as both performance art and a subculture. Cosplayers often engage in off-stage role-playing activities that focus on the characters from manga, anime, comic books, and movies.
Cosplay is one of the most exciting and imaginative subcultures today. Simply put, it implies costume play and requires the participants to make the costumes in order to look like certain heroes from films, comic books, video games, and books. In Japan, these activities are increasingly popular, and some cosplayers wear the costumes not only for the conventions and official gatherings but also on a daily basis.
Meanwhile, the activities that cosplayers engage in are varied. They range from sewing parties, photography sessions, and parties, to the art of modeling. Thus, within the cosplay subculture, there are a number of activities for the participants to choose from. As I am interested in photography, I was involved in photo shoots, which required designing the setting in accordance with the plot.
The idea of the photography sessions was that the photos should resemble the comic book scenes as though they came alive. This activity requires a joint effort of cosplayers: those who make the costumes, those who design the decorations, those who model the setting of the photoshoot, and those who write the script for the role-playing that also takes place at such events. Thus, it takes a lot of collaborative effort to organize such meetings.
It could be seen as performance art, as it takes a great deal of acting to recreate your character and commit to the storyline. Therefore, it is clear that cosplay is a subculture, as it has a wide range of practices typical of costume play. A set of values and norms is also present in the cosplay subculture. A sense of community is strong among the participants. Moreover, the collective effort is valued, as well as attention to detail. Recreating the costumes takes a great deal of time and attention.
In order for the costume to be believable, precision and accuracy are crucial. The norms of cosplay pertain to the ideas of consistency of costumes prepared for the events. It might even be considered inappropriate or taboo to make the costume while forgetting about the shoes to match the image. It is important to understand that cosplayers share a special bond that supersedes the differences in race, gender, nationality, or physical appearance. Cosplayers appreciate each other for taking the time, effort, and going to great lengths in order to recreate and reenact a story about a favorite character from a chosen universe.
By employing the theoretical perspective of symbolic interactionism, it is possible to conduct further analysis of the cosplay subculture and the corresponding activities. From this sociological standpoint, we can analyze the communication on the micro-level setting, as well as understand how people of a given subculture attach meaning to certain things typical of the community’s activities.
Based on the cosplay practices mentioned above, we can see that cosplayers do not merely react to particular circumstances, they create a setting that allows them to behave in a certain way. From the standpoint of symbolic interactionism, cosplayers construct the reality they live in. To this end, collective effort and mutual appreciation are vital.
The strong sense of community cosplayers share is based on the constructed reality that comprises various symbolic elements, as well as means of identification. The members of this community are willing to detach from reality and immerse themselves into the artificially built world of costume play, where costumes serve as symbols, as well as a basis for establishing the relationships between the recreated characters of a given universe.
The world of symbols is vividly represented in the cosplay subculture. The constructed reality of costume play implies the use of endless symbolic instruments that connect the characters. Cosplayers often make new friends and acquaintances through the characters they recreate. Many admit that these activities help them feel more confident and self-assured, which, in turn, leads to new social connections and many fulfilling relationships based on common interests. The interaction with other members of the community influences the way one perceives oneself. Thus, interactive behavior, which is one of the key elements of the symbolic interactionism theory, is an important aspect of cosplay.
Sociological imagination helps gain a better understanding of costume play as a subculture. According to Mills (1959), social imagination helps establish the connection between the social structures and personal difficulties one experiences. The four levels of sociological structures surround each member of society. Therefore, personal issues are linked to societal aspects on each level of interaction: microstructures, mesostructures, macrostructures, and global structures. Thus, the micro-level of interaction within the framework of a subculture pertains to the microstructures of sociological imagination. Our sociological awareness allows us to understand ourselves as members of the community, as well as of certain subcultures.