Monday, November 28, 2016

Cosplay Police Part Two, Cultural Appropriation Boogaloo


If you would like to read Cosplay Police Part 1, click_here.  It is unrelated to this piece however, it has to do with the interplay of cosplay and copyright law.

The First Amendment is a Thing.
From the we saw this coming department, Halloween costumes were in the news again a while back.  In this particular instance however, what certain universities are doing may go beyond the standard knee-jerkery of regressivist reflexes of shouting like a 12 year old and holding their breath, and into actual legal mechanics which inevitably go all the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States and blah blah blah.

Enter Tufts University, which is a nice place I am sure, but they seem to have stepped into a legal grey area in terms of differentiating between University Policy and the Legal Rule of Law.  If you are unaware of what I am referring to, here is a link to the story from ABC news.   

One can take offense at literally anything.  The fact that I just wrote “One can take offense at literally anything” is offending someone right fucking now.  So it should come as no surprise that some costumes which rely heavily on the aspects of amplified or even insensitive caricaturism, can be perceived as both jingoist and racist (a lot of the time, people say “racist” when what they really mean is “jingoist”, because it has to do with a national identity and not a racial identity).  This is an indelible truth about Halloween costumes, some of them do deliberately evoke those feelings.  Is that a bad thing?  Well, it can be; why would you want to go out and deliberately belittle someone by making a mockery of them?  Oh, you didn’t know that’s what would happen?  Well maybe you’re just not woke as they say… Oh, you did know that and you’re doing it on purpose?  Then by the laws of the United States of America you are not forbidden to do that, so go for it if that’s what you wanna do, but don't expect not to get fired.

There are a significant number of Supreme Court cases which have shown that, in addition to spoken or written words, the ability to put on a costume, uniform, cloth marking (like an arm band to protest the Vietnam War) or face-paint, is something that has an absolute protection under the First Amendment of The United States.  They all cover what can be considered costumes, for any reason or occasion, which includes none at all.  So the legal standpoint is that you can put on whatever you want whenever you want with very few exceptions, and no, a college campus isn’t a place that can restrict that.  And yet Tufts University specifically mentioned that “offensive” costumes would be investigated by Campus Police.  You know what Campus Police are?  They are Police, fully sworn in and legally mandated members of a real police department.   Hence, they are subject to the same laws as any other police officers are.  That means Constitutional Law is something that they must adhere to (all be it unfortunately sometimes only retroactively when forced to by a judge).  So a “we don’t like what you’re wearing and you’re under arrest for it” argument is not something that will legally stand up, and conversly, there are quite a few legal legs to stand on for someone who should vest themselves in any outfit/costume what-so-ever. This puts them in the absolute zone of First Amendment protection:

Cohen v California
A case where it was decided that simply wearing an item with a slogan or symbol on it in public can not be considered Disturbing the Peace/Disorderly Conduct or incitement to violence.  So the argument that the slogan or symbol are "fighting words" or "fire in a theater" (which are not protected by the First Amendment) does not apply.

But now you’re saying “Hey, that case is just about some guy with Fuck The Draft written on a jacket during the Vietnam War back in the stone age.  The First Amendment can’t possibly extend to something so horrible like blackface or a Hitler costume!”  ...Oh, well you see it does, because:

National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie
You don’t even have to know any legal history to have an idea what this one is.  Remember that part in Blues Brothers where those Nazi guys are on the bridge there?  Yep, that’s a reference to this real case.  The Supreme Court ruled that a group cannot be prevented by any government from marching or assembly, using images or slogans (including any and all clothing), or exercising their right to assemble, even if it pisses other people the hell off.  So Nazis get to march down the street whether you like it or not because even they are entitled to equal protection under the law.  You might be thinking “Oh, well they must have had a whole bunch of anti-Semitic white nationalist lawyers try every trick in the book for this to-“  Let me stop you right there.  It was a Jewish lawyer from the ACLU.  You know, the ACLU, that group famed for its right wing militancy apparently..? 

“Well, that’s not college campuses.  Campuses are different, they are a safe space!” you say as you grasp at the next straw.  …No.

Papish v Board of Curators of the University of Missouri, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District,  California Education Code § 94367 (aka "The California Leonard Law" upheld in Corry v. Stanford), Stromberg v. California (regarding “symbolic” freedom of speech).
Without going too much into it, it’s basically a wall of case law that says that anyone’s First Amendment rights don’t end just because you’re on a campus or in a school.

Overruled, dingus. 

 Oh, this is about Cosplay, isn't it?
So now that I just shoved all this in your face, you’re starting to wonder why you’re even still bothering to read this.  Well costumes aren’t just Halloween stuff.  They’re fandom stuff.  Conventions are so full of cosplayers that sometimes there are more people cosplaying than not.  Small conventions often happen on college campuses, and that is where these two converging forces are going to meet and quite possibly butt-heads.  People who feel that what they are as individuals, is somehow devalued by someone else who does not racially or ethnically resemble them engaging in dressing a certain way, may try to stop that activity via misuse of law, or even (as has been the case all too often) disruptive violence. 

These bubble-dwellers will not care if you’re cosplaying as a fictional character.  Even if that fictional character is pretty much a giant racist incarnation of every stereotype about that group when you go back and think about it.

Ever notice how Shampoo is pretty much only one step away from the ching chang chong level of Chinese caricature?
Which is both racist and jingoist if you think about it.

So would a White/Black/Hispanic/Indian/First-Nations person cosplaying as Shampoo be considered racist?  Would a Japanese person cosplaying as Shampoo be jingoism because Shampoo is Chinese not Japanese (not exactly a friendly history there between those two very different cultures).  Will SJWs come and attempt to physically cut off what people are wearing based on their own bruised sensitivities a la the legend of Bonita Tindle and the great dreadlocks war?  Well, the answer is that might happen, but it is also illegal (especially that last one).  As has been well established, any cosplayer is entitled to equal protection under the law, so assaulting them is a crime.  It's not excusable as some sort of cultural-appropriation self-defense, because with apologies from one Hubert Mungus, that’s not a thing.  For anyone to take things to such an extreme shows they clearly do not understand how the First Amendment and the related case law work at all, and also shows a further ignorance of how absolutely important it is in order to protect everyone in America from the violent extremism that is the inevitable result of having thought police, whether they are policing thoughts about sushi being cultural appropriation, or someone thinking you're using the wrong bathroom.

Apply these dynamics to the world of cosplay reductio ad absurdum, and you end up with the near incomprehensible entity that is The Anti Western Cosplay Movement.

If you have a strong enough stomach to read this stuff, it will quickly become apparent that this is most likely just some dude/dudes who see any non-Asians cosplaying as boner-killer and then they get mad about it.  Even in my drunkiest of drunken blackouts I’ve written more coherent and better stuff than this (seriously, there are at least a few articles I’ve written with a BAC of “call 911” somewhere on here).  The word “Asian” is in there so much it makes me think that the guy is probably from Singapore or Hong Kong but wishes he were Japanese. And notice how the topic of people from India is not addressed at all.  Or maybe it is, I’m not going to spend too much time at the site.  But don’t worry, it addresses all the issues about why non-Asians shouldn’t ever cosplay as anime characters, even if that anime is Rose of Versailles where everyone is French, Vinland Saga where everyone is Nordic, or you’re someone who was gonna dress up as Guile from Street Fighter.  No non-Asians (that means no black people also but they don't say that one out loud).

 Pictured: Example of a typical "Asian" man... apparently.

However, on a conceptual level, The Anti Western Cosplay Movement is just the 50 yard line in the natural progression of injecting extremist SJW sensibilities into cosplay fandom.  Once you get into field goal range then begins the jingoism; a Japanese person can’t be Chun-li because she’s Chinese, a Malaysian can’t be Tenchi Masaki because he’s Japanese, and if you’re Vietnamese then you’re probably just shit out of luck.  What would the end-zone of such a progression even possibly look like?  Only a Trans person can cosplay as a Trans character and you're Transphobic if you think otherwise and believe anyone should be able to cosplay as any character they want to?   Who would want to still participate in that?

To return to an oblique politicality for a moment, this scenario comes from the fact that the concept of “cultural appropriation” itself, defacto reduces culture to the equivalent of a bowl of M&Ms.  Simply put, it’s the notion that if you take some then there are less for me, and they’re my M&Ms goddammit!  That’s not how culture works. It isn't tangible, it is not a finite resource. In assigning a needed tangible value to what could be called culture, it is actually devalued more effectively than any insensitive imitation, antithetical movement, or straight up racism ever could hope to accomplish. 

Cosplay should be a fun activity where people practice and improve their skills in embracing characters and concepts they enjoy.  In order to remain so (especially somewhere as diverse as The United States), it can not be shackled and dragged away by the soldiers of ideological authoritarianism.  We stand now at the edge of this slippery slope, and it is my hope that enough people see it for what it is in order to avoid it.  Cosplay needs to stay fun.

I caught a lot of flack for using “SJW” in its original definition back when I wrote about Wizard World and the efforts of self-described SJW Matt Santori-Griffith.  I received a torrent of all these angry messages and other stuff like “You’re a White nationalist and ALT-Right and should die!” and other stuff like “You MRA types are ruining fandom!” and of course the regular buckets of “Go Fuck Yourself” and “You’re a gun-nut.” Despite never having owned a gun in my life, I don’t think a fact like this would have stopped that comment though.  There was also something about Gamergate but I still really don't know what that is.  However, the worst messages I received were the occasional ones appearing to “support” notions of jingoism and xenophobia.  Stuff like “Don’t give in to the Lib-Tards” or “Something something WALL something TRUMP something something, isn’t it great?” (How the flying fuck has anything I’ve ever written on here related to the stupid Wall, Trump, or the GOP’s atrocious record on everything they do?)  It was cringeworthy to say the least.  But I definitely overreacted as well in an extreme manner.  I should have realized how intense I was getting but I didn’t until much later.  Don’t worry, I’ve stopped foaming at the mouth. 

Now, not knowing what MRA or the ALT-Right was at the time, I decided to go find out.  I really wish I hadn’t.  Such a toxic environment of which I completely regret scratching the surface, let alone actually digging into.  That place messed me up.  I now know who Milo Yanap… Yanapopple… Yaponial…  the guy with the hair is (and wish I could go back to not knowing, because then I could go back to not caring), and at least I was able to avoid Alex Jones because I actually remember from the 1990’s when he was out there flinging buckets of Grade-A crazy all around the place.  These people are quite antithetical to a lot of progressive values that I support.  However what was so stunning were the actions of their opponents, which all too often seemed to degenerate into physical violence in the name of… well nothing really, these people straight up are saying that since they don’t like the message that the others are saying it is their duty and somehow their right to physically stop them.  Yeah, that’s the same argument Bull Connor used when he thought the fire hoses were a great way to stop those pesky civil rights troublemakers (I know you're gonna have to look that up so here is some student's research project to go watch).  Not a good philosophy.  It always backfires and also is quite illegal, since things like assault, theft and destruction of property are rarely effectively justified for the reason of “I didn’t like the guy”.  

 Pictured: not reality.

So what does that mean about the use of SJW as a term?  Well, I don’t know when it happened or why people think that SJW is a broad term that covers all Progressives.  It’s kind of like the spectrum of

The Vegan at a BBQ:

Vegan A comes and brings some nice bean dip or nice fresh pico de gallo, and eats a bunch of vegan stuff, talks to other people about a variety of topics, enjoys a few tequila shooters and then goes home when it’s over.
A Moderate.  Think... Bernie Sanders

Vegan B comes and brings some nice bean dip, eats a bunch of vegan stuff, and talks to just about everyone…only about veganism.  They’ll tell them why they think it’s a good idea.  They’ll try to change your mind by espousing any positive aspect they can.  They are mildly annoying sometimes but they’re the one who brought the tequila so it’s ok.  If someone is even illegally processing animal products they’ll bring attention to it by exposing it in the news.
A Progressive.  Think... Amy Goodman

Vegan C You know they’re on their way in because you can hear them before they’re even in the yard.  Just the smell of anything non-vegan to them is a direct physical assault on their vegan-ness and now they are going to make sure NO ONE shall dare do something outside their strict philosophy.  So before you even start wondering what that’s about; they’ve kicked over the grill and thrown all the cheese in the river.  They will steal all the leftover meat including what's been kicked to the ground, and bury it in the back yard with a full funeral.  After that’s done they’re going to spend plenty of time pontificating on how eating a cheese burger makes you worse than Josef Mengele, and then storm off before anyone can even come up with a counterpoint (but they’ll try to break everyone’s camera because they know they just committed property damage and criminal mischief or assault and don’t want evidence of it anywhere).  Then you just finish off the tequila right there.
That’s the SJW.   Think... about this nutjob;

 Yes, this exists.

These are extremists, who disregard the Constitutional Rights of others whenever it suites them, and are willing to engage in violence to suppress what they consider unacceptable thought, whatever it may be.  When you go around smashing cameras and microphones of people who have a platform contrary to your own, you are no better than that riot cop who goes into the crowd of Civil Rights protestors and yanks the American Flags out of the children’s hands in Mississippi Burning (it’s in the trailer).   

If you’re still not sold on this way of characterizing things (maybe like Clarissa from AWO who is also not reading this anyway because she hates me now), then take a look at the trailer for East Side Sushi.  

…what exactly is going on here?  Gender inequity?  Cultural Appropriation?  Meat eating and cruelty to animals?  Mexican sushi?  It gets hard to rationalize when your mirrors of self-confirmation and cognitive dissonance end up facing each other.