Every few months, a geek debate flares up on the social networks, about whether it’s proper in geek circles to cosplay (aka wear a costume) from a property that you do not personally know much about. Specifically, this debate often centers around “booth babes,” aka ladies who have been hired to work booths at the larger sci-fi and gaming conventions, many of whom are paid to look good in a costume but who do not know much about the product. The debate often spreads from there to cover young (mostly female) cosplayers, who love wandering around in fun costumes but don’t wholly subscribe to the overall geek culture.
Given that the target of these debates is a largely female population, there’s likely an element of sexism here. Also ageism. But I’m not going to get into that. I’m going to tell a story.
Once upon a time, back when I was dating a comic artist named Christopher Jones, I was very nearly a Booth Babe. Mr. Jones was, at the time, working on a comic based on the old UFO TV series, which you may remember as the 70s-tastic Gerry Anderson show with the ladies on the moon who wore silver go-go boots and purple wigs. We were planning to go to San Diego Comic Con to stir up interest (and hopefully money) for the future of this independent comics project.
At one point, I volunteered to dress up as one of the moon babes and hang out at the booth. I mean, why not? I never was a fan of the TV series, but the costume was fun. Besides, most of the people I knew at San Diego Comic Con at the time were going to be at that booth, and it would give me something to do. I’d be earning my keep, in a way.
In the end, the costume never got made, and the comic project folded completely before a year had passed. So I never did get to be a Booth Babe and have my knowledge of UFO challenged by the mega-geeks.
Still, if that had happened, would I have been a poseur? I can go toe-to-toe with the super-experts on many geeky non-UFO subjects. I also worked in the comics industry at the time, which put me ahead of at least 75% of the population of the San Diego Comic Con.
Whatever your answer is for that, let’s set it aside and consider this: I wouldn’t know a damn thing about UFO if it hadn’t been for that project.
My take on this whole debate, whether it involves ladybits or not, is that everyone has to start somewhere.
We were all young and clueless once. It’s likely we’re all young and clueless now, compared to our future selves. Just because the person dressed as a lumberjack in front of you can’t quote any Monty Python aside from that one song doesn’t mean they have any less passion than you. It probably just means they haven’t been exposed to the rest of the oeuvre yet. If you have real passion for the subject of the costume, why aren’t you reveling in the chance to show a newbie how cool that thing really is?
Even if that Booth Babe is being paid to be at the show, if she has a good enough time while she’s there, she’ll probably start getting interested in the nerdy stuff going on around her. Maybe she’ll buy her first comic. Maybe she’ll pick up a crazy-looking DVD at the Troma booth. Who knows?
Fresh blood is a key ingredient for long-term survival of most populations. Those naive kids are the ones that will proudly wield the sonic screwdrivers long after you’re gone, but only if you get them hooked on Dr. Who in the first place.