Dear One Geek to Another,
I had an amazingly good time at a recent convention except for a few run-ins with some non-gamers on our hotel shuttle. I always feel like I should just ignore comments that aren’t directed at me, since I’m not a fan of confrontation. But there are times when I hear disparaging comments made at others, in this instance, costumed folk, where I would like to politely explain what is going on. In a sense, to educate them about fandom and such.
When confronted by a non-fan, how do you explain fandom (especially costuming or cosplay) in a way so they’ll stop looking at you like you’re purple with 3 eyes? Should you even bother?
I’ve had the fandom talk with my family, and some co-workers, but I spend a great deal of time with them and felt it was necessary in some cases. But for people I’ll probably never see again, should I bother?
Wondering What To Say?
The short answer is – do what feels best for the situation. And, trust your instincts.
Essentially, if the group seems confused but approachable, you might very well take the time to advocate and educate. Children pointing and staring are an open invitation Saying something like:
“Hi! They’re really neat, aren’t they? I don’t know that I’d be brave enough to do it, but some of the folks work for months or years on their costumes, trying to get them to match the movie or comic character as exactly as possible. There are even groups that help each other with sewing or prop making… it’s really amazing, isn’t it!”
I’ve sometimes found that comparing it to football fans who dress up in their favorite team or player’s jersey, or likening it to Halloween (but you get to wear the costume for several conventions a year!) sometimes helps give non-geeks a frame of reference that they might not otherwise have. Another mainstream comparison that I frequently use (especially when explaining LARP) is the “Host a Murder Mystery” or “Dinner Theater” type interactive-theater parties. Not everyone’s heard of them, but they’re generally more well known to non-geeks than LARP or cosplay is.
When in doubt, however, you should trust your gut. If the offending parties are obviously being rude (I’m thinking cat calls, snotty comments, etc) or if they don’t feel safe (like if it’s a group of people and you wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing yourself to their attention) then I would just let it go… Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor!
Although, of course, if they’re doing more than just looking and talking amongst themselves (like harassing or assaulting the costumed folk in any way) or if their targets were children alone or obviously reacting as if they were feeling threatened, I would definitely step in. But handling persecution or geek hate-crimes is probably a topic better given its own full topic, especially since it sounds like you’re mostly talking about gawkers or rude folk, not actual threats or danger.
And, of course, always remember that politeness is often an awesome diffusion tactic. Folks who are all wrapped up in their own little rude comments often become sheepish and apologetic when confronted with a polite, charming individual who is assuming the best of them (ie: that they’re just curious and confused, not actually intending to be rude.) Killing them with kindness often works in this kind of situation much better than taking umbrage or being indignant.
Thanks for the question, and for looking out on the behalf of other geeks!