Has fandom become too prudish and unoriginal? (NSFW)

I happened across some photo galleries of cosplaying (although there wasn’t a word for it back then, it was just “wearing costumes”) from science fiction conventions in the 1970’s. It made me wonder, has fandom gotten too prudish and puritanical, too Politically Correct, and too slavishly imitative of mass media?

(NSFW below the fold)

She’s running around
barefoot! The hussy…

First of all, take a gander here and here. Both of those are very NSFW, by the way, unless you work with Zak, that is.

That’s what fandom used to be like. It was wild, and it was free, and it was inventive, and it was Bohemian (or, perhaps Hippie might be a better word), and it wasn’t afraid to show tits, and asses were okay, too, and the occasional untrimmed bush. Those were the days when conventions needed to say “no costume is not a costume”, and “food is not a costume” (presaging Lady Gaga and her meat-dresses).

Morning Glory, who invented the term
polyamory, and Oberon Zell,
founder of the Church of
All Worlds, itself based on
a book by Robert Heinlein.

More to the point, it was a time when sex was still fun, and at least in the fandom community, we were open to such things, and Feminism meant that women were free to express – nay, revel in – their femininity and sexuality.

Hell, I see a couple of photos in there of Oberon Zell and Morning Glory, who helped jump-start the hedonistic neopagan movement in the 1960’s and 70’s. There was a marvelous cross-pollination between science fiction/fantasy fandom, paganism, the SCA, and early Renfairs. There was even a large amount of crossover with the gaming community, especially as D&D took off. The Panzerblitz crowd was, admittedly, a little more stodgy.

There are some notable exceptions, without doubt. But they are constantly under siege, and the prudish forces of Political Correctness are ever pushing against them.

But if you can, look beyond the boobs and nipples in these pictures, and the many more in the links above. How many of those costumes are trying to emulate things that some studio produced? I see a Luke and Leia, and a Wonder Woman, and maybe one or two others, but for the most part I see original costumes, or costumes based on descriptions in books rather than slavish restatements of costumes seen in movies or on TV. I don’t see lots of absolutely-authentic Logan’s Run costumes, or spacemen out of Forbidden Planet, complete with ribbed chest-pieces and huge shoulder boards.

I see a lot of original characters.

Contrast that with today’s cosplaying scene. Oftentimes, the criteria for judging costume contests is how strictly a costume adheres to the original, usually seen in a movie, television show, or cartoon. I’ve been in contests where you were expected to provide a picture of the character you were cosplaying. There’s some lip-service paid to doing OC cosplaying, but the message is clear. “Don’t tell me about your character.” If you doubt me, just look at the winner of San Diego Comic Con’s “Best Original Design” award in 2013, “Marvel Mumbai”:

Gender-bending and cultural appropriation makes a
design “original,” apparently.

I realize that we don’t live in the sexually permissive 1970’s any more. AIDS opened the door to a revival of Christian Right puritanical “sex is dangerous” thought, and Third Wave Feminism ironically allied with them, shutting that door tight against healthy expressions of feminine sexuality, essentially decreeing that women shouldn’t try to make themselves sexually desirable to men. But does showing some tits (or parading around in a loincloth, for that matter) really hurt anyone? Can we possibly get back to embracing the Bohemian, Hippie, and sex-friendly culture that fandom used to embrace?

Try this at Comic-con
today. I dare you.

And hand-in-hand with that (or whatever body part you choose to use) is the embrace of originality. Let’s not just do endless repetitions of Batman, or the Avengers, or Master Chief, or whatever. Let’s get back to our creative roots, and embrace characters that were created in our imaginations, rather than some corporate conference room.

I would love to get back to a place where fanzines published original fiction (or at least fan-fiction that didn’t involve trysts between Kirk and Spock, or Obi-Wan and Annakin). Back when there was a bit of the Wild West in fandom, and anything went, sex and sexuality was a Good Thing, and people were a lot less judgmental and a lot less tied in with the corporate-decreed “look” of what fandom was supposed to be.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

16 thoughts on “Has fandom become too prudish and unoriginal? (NSFW)

  1. I went to my first con last year and, while nothing like these images (it was a family event, after all), there were quite a few amateurish cosplayers there, with more original takes on characters (despite them being visually well-defined) and even some original characters. There were also some completely out of place and creepy fursuits. I wonder if the fact that this was a more specific convention (it was for ponies) had anything to do with this

    Can't say I'm a huge fan of the female nudity, but some of these costumes are pretty darn cool!

  2. I don’t think the right thinks sex is dangerous, I don’t think you are talking about healthy expressions of feminine sexuality. I don’t think toy have to parade around nearly nude to make themselves sexually desirable to men. All women have to do to make themselves sexually desirable to men is breathe. I have no interest in embracing the Bohemian, Hippie, and sex-friendly culture at a game convention.

  3. I think the answer to your question is: children happened. Seriously. I was attending gaming cons in the early 90s and I saw the trend back then of gamer parents bringing their small children to the gaming cons, and that had a twofold effect: the more exhibitionist gamers starting reserving their skin (and their behavior) to private parties or just out of the more open and public spaces, and the parents started to express their grief over scantily clad cosplayers more and more.
    Of course, that's just my theory based on personal anecdote and my history of attending cons.

    Twenty years later, I think there's more visible outrage at cons. The gamers who want to shut down activity they don't approve of are louder and more visible because discretion, by it's very nature, is not often seen or heard about. But if you're hanging out with the right people at conventions then you'll see plenty of tits and ass… and balls.

  4. I see a problem here. It isn't with women showing their bodies or female sexuality. It is the dichotomy. There is a kind of expected sexuality from women in fantasy, a sexuality that is not expected from men. For men in the fantasy and role-playing hobby, sexuality seems to be about one-sided explorations of the woman as an object of desire and the man as one who captures and possesses that object. I think recent trends in prudishness don't accomplish much except to attempt to restrain everyone, while failing to equalize the issue of sexual power.

  5. The brief instant in history between sexuality's repression and commercialization… just as repressive to be told "you must do sexuality right" (with the right body, attitude, etc.) as to be told you can't do it at all.

  6. It's not just fandom, it's society in general. The social pendulum has swung too far. Now we are so oversensitive to any possible insult or injustice that we're afraid to THINK some things for fear that someone, somewhere will cry foul.

    While I don't advocate a total disregard for the feelings or rights of others, not EVERY statement or action is to be condemned, even if (shock! horror!) someone else doesn't like it. There is value in encountering the objectionable, it challenges our default preconceptions, giving us the opportunity to reexamine them anew. Political correctness has spread throughout our culture like a cancer.

    There seems to be an undercurrent of self entitled intolerance associated with this behaviour as well. Some people act as if on a mission from God to denounce any objectionable thing to the nth degree. This attitude appears most pronounced within subcultures, although admittedly there is a bit of pre-selection for the more passionately involved individual there. Personally, I feel most people need to grow thicker skins and be less concerned about "what the neighbours will think". 😉

  7. Meeehhhhh

    I'm having trouble really organizing this response.

    Things that happened…

    1. Children (as Patrick said). Both of people in the community and out of it.

    2. The Internet, and media exposure in general. More people have seen those pictures due to your post than likely saw them in total 30 years ago.

    3. General exposure/the community grew. The internet, rise of geek culture, influx of money into the community (and around the periphery of it) have all lead to a general main streaming of this stuff.

    4. Money. Fans got more of it, the properties produced more of it.

    5. Access to materials to produce better representations of what they are costuming as is much easier.

    Which all brings me to wonder… How accepted was that community, really? I mean yeah I think the world in general is bit to PC now a days, and people get to hung up on sex and nudity (boobies. hee hee.) but was it /really/ that common? Were people coming up with unique non-themed costumes for conventions all the time? Were people making those costumes in-spite of an ability to make "more professional" or recognizable costumes or because of it? Was it the community as a whole, or just a subset of it? Were there people in better/non-nude costumes that didn't get pictures taken (or just weren't listed in these sorts of lists) because they weren't seen as novel and interesting?

  8. In the seventies sci-fi and fantasy were bizarro subcultures, and now they are completely mainstream. Nudity wasn't socially acceptable in mainstream culture in the seventies, but is was in the subculture.
    Along with the mainstreaming of the genres, there's just so much content now, it's on TV, in movies, video games, I think the nekkid sword and sorcery costumes are great, but I'm not going to dress up that way, and I understand why most people who are into cosplay want to dress up as known characters, it seems like it's more about the recognition and attention than creativity.

  9. Well most of the comments are probably more or less spot on. I think fantasy and science fiction became mainstream unfortunately. How many people go "Star tTrek? Which one?" these days, as opposed to looking at you like you just escaped from the looney bin years ago. An extreme conversation but it illustrates the point. There are going to be fans, and those who's love for their genre transcends that. Let's hope that never dies!

  10. I think you are being a bit heavy handed with the term prudish. I am by no means a prude. Also I am not a fan of political correctness. But there is a time and place for these kinds of costumes.

    If a gaming convention, is slated for all ages and families, then there should be a common respect and decency that comes along with it. A man or woman nude or partially nude is just not acceptable.

    I am going to a gaming convention to engage in activities that deal with gaming. Not to embrace a hippie or bohemian culture. If I want that I can goto a convention slated for that. It is the same as if I attended a bondage convention and petitioned against it saying while I was attending it offended me. That would be ridiculous.

    Expressions of feminine sexuality and showing that sex isn't dangerous, well that is not a battle to be fought at a gaming convention. Some folks don't want to be exposed to that and don't want their children exposed to that. It is a common ground that we all have to adhere to.

    As for creativity, I agree whole heartedly. We have lost much of our creative spark in an age where everything is so mainstream and where instant gratification due to the web makes everything so over done.

  11. Do bear in mind that there is a difference between a gaming convention and a sci-fi convention.

    And yeah, I turned on the adult content notice myself, at least until this post gets pushed off the front page of the blog…

  12. Very true Joseph, very true. Though, I guess I'd still have the same opinion. If the sci-fi convention is for all ages, I'd support my previous point.

    Basically, things becoming mainstream is both good and bad. Let me put it this way. The mainstreaming of certain things makes for the things we like of said category to be readily available.

    However, that comes at a price of it sometimes being watered down. Yet at the same time, with certain things becoming mainstream, there are now conventions for specific sub/counter cultures that are more prevalent.

    Therefore at a "family" convention, be it sci-fi, gaming, or what have you we should have that level of decency. Now there are so many options to attend a convention that cater to our particular tastes, we don't have to worry as much.

    I for one don't like shows like the Bing Bang Theory. I think they do more harm then good. Our identity can easily be lost in the mainstreaming of a cultural "thing". Thanks to that show, the public now has this concept of all people who like such and such, are like this show. Much like the 80s, where if you played D&D you loved the devil.

    I generally agree with much of what you say. You make many good points. And on this particular point I agree with most of your post. I think mainstream is a slippery sloop that is good and bad, but unfortunately runs towards the bad.

  13. It's not the fandom. It is the owners of the buildings where these cons are happening. These venues set up specific guidelines of what is and what is not allowed. They are setting up the level of "correctness". The cosplayers have to abide by the rules or they are not allowed to attend.

  14. Was the original IO9 post actually an early April Fool's gag? I can't believe these are real.

    All I'm reminded of is an episode of Community were Annie went off more or less as such, "I'm okay with being sexually repressed and embarrassed by open sexuality. Maybe if more people were more like this we wouldn't need to have an STD awareness festival!"

  15. "Brandon said…
    I see a problem here. It isn't with women showing their bodies or female sexuality. It is the dichotomy. There is a kind of expected sexuality from women in fantasy, a sexuality that is not expected from men."

    Oh REALLY? So Conan the Barbarian's giant muscles, Superman's giant bulge, Batman's sleeping with women, 007's "pumping women for information"… these aren't examples of sexuality expected from men? Masculinity? Someone might try to get smart and say "well those are all perpetrated by the male patriarchy"… yeah because men had NO reason whatsoever, biologically speaking, to impress women with testosterone, muscles, brawn, fighting ability (and the ability to protect)… Get Real.

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