Last week, we talked a lot about cultural intermediaries, and how it’s their job to bridge the gap between cultural industries to consumers. This topic struck a chord with me because it reminded me of a new television show that’s been causing some strife around my friend community. Recently, Syfy Network launched a show called Heroes of Cosplay, in which they follow long-time costumer and cosplayer Yaya Han and her entourage as they make costumes and enter them in contests across the nation. Yaya has said multiple times in interviews that she wants to be an “ambassador of cosplay”, making the attempt to be a cultural intermediary for people outside of the cosplaying world. Cosplay, for those not acquainted, is a practice of creating and wearing costumes of just about anything at all- comic book superheroes, video game characters, movie characters and sometimes even things from books. Some people have built full Iron Man suits just to wear to conventions and get photos to emulate the characters they love.

Usually, this would be viewed favorably, from someone large in the industry trying to bring it a bigger viewer base. But what happens when a cultural intermediary doesn’t have a good grasp on their cultural capital?

If you google Heroes of Cosplay, the second link (right underneath Syfy’s official website) is an article titled “7 Reasons Why Heroes of Cosplay is Terrible”, and the rest of the results aren’t much better. The searches are peppered with “SyFy’s Heroes of Cosplay Show Accused of Copyright Infringement”,  a petition to change the show to be about actual cosplayers, and “Heroes of Cosplay and the Pain it’s Causing in my Head”. While the linked arguments are not necessary reading, they do extrapolate on the topic- and the damage- this show has done to the community it’s trying to represent. As said by Brian Hanson in the first linked article;

“While Yaya Han has certainly earned her place as a cosplay aficionado, and I certainly understand why she is chosen and paid by various companies to dress up as their characters, she was not appointed as any sort of “Ambassador of Cosplay” by some senior cosplay authority. She doesn’t speak for cosplay as a whole any more than I do.”

Being one of the first major representations into the cosplay community, Yaya Han had a chance as a cultural intermediary to bring further understanding into cosplay as a hobby, as the show’s description tried to make it out to be; the ideas behind balancing this hobby with real life, how it affects your relationships, what talents you learn and how it improves your life. Instead, it’s turned into a drama-mongering reality show. As mentioned in the last linked article, the author describes the show’s tone:

“The show that was supposed to be about cosplay in general (you know the daily life, balancing the hobby with real life like family, etc.) has decided to turn it into a grown up mash of unbelievability and overly sensitive drama where there should not be drama. In summary, think of “Big Bang Theory” meets “Toddlers and Tiaras” meets “Say Yes to the Dress”. ”

The cultural capital that Yaya Han has built up in cosplaying focuses around competition- which she has gone on to try to represent the entirety of cosplay on the small portion she has built up her capital in.  There’s multiple sources of proof on the editing and cutting the producers of Heroes Of Cosplay have done to make the show into a straight heroes/villains split, most notably this Facebook post by Amy Schley, depicting her run-in with the actresses and the way they were abused in the filming and editing portion.

Typically, when a cultural intermediary fails, it’s easy to see where they missed; most cultural intermediaries lie in large pop culture circles, and compete with one another. Where one fails, another is there to pick up the slack. Cosplay has never had a large intermediary such as this one, and the influence it’s having on pop culture and the general population is staggering to the way I as a cosplayer and others in the cosplay community are viewed. Suddenly, instead of making costumes for the love of the craft or the want to enjoy the buildup of personal skills, we are all wig-ripping, life-destroying, competition-driven monsters. (I will say, however, some people do cosplay for the sake of competition; it does not make them wrong. People cosplay for different reasons. What makes Yaya Han and Heroes of Cosplay wrong is the view that EVERYONE cosplays for competitions, and the outlandish ideal presented that people could cosplay for anything else).

Cosplay has been a large part of my life for years; I was introduced to it 8 years ago and I’ve been personally participating for over 5 years now. I have met some of my best friends through cosplay and been privy to some amazing opportunities because of my hobby. But this show does not represent us- and this cultural intermediary has no one to keep her in check.  Her cultivated capital is limited, and it injures the hobby as a whole that only a piece of the cultural capital is represented.

In this case, Yaya Han and Heroes of Cosplay have absolutely been ‘lost in translation’ when it comes to the act of being an ‘ambassador’ of such a new culture.

(And for those of you wondering what a proper cultural intermediary between the nerdy and pop culture; check out Marvel’s superhero movies and how they relate back to comic book culture. It’s a great place to start.)