Con Survival Guide, Post #16: How to Treat People in Costume
Excuse Me, Flash, Could You Hurry Up?
People who are dressed in costumes at conventions are quite different from people who dress strangely in public places. Okay, there are exceptions, like you can generally assume that adult women who dress like Sailor Moon frequently (and by frequently I mean there may be an exception somewhere) take themselves too seriously and at least seem to be somewhat unhinged.
Con-goers, on average, are more intelligent and more educated than the general population and therefore have more of a sense of humor. A few years ago, after Star Wars Episode 1: Phantom Menace was released to menace us all, there was a line of Princess Amadilas waiting to be in the costume contest at DragonCon. By a line I mean somewhere between 50 and 400. Since I was walking through that section anyway, I was looking at the various costumes, including the one Jango Fett, when I noticed a six-foot-five, burly man with a cigar sticking out of his bushy beard dressed as the Princess. I immediately burst out laughing while about fifty people around me stepped back, looking scared. He reached up one meaty hand, pulled the cigar out of his mouth and in a booming voice said to me, “Thank you! I worked hard on this outfit and you’re the first one to laugh!” The crowd around me let go a huge sigh of relief and several people immediately admitted that they thought it was funny but were afraid to laugh in case he was serious. He couldn’t believe anyone could think he could possibly be serious with the huge beard and cigar. After that, everything went much more smoothly and everybody was happy.
Most con-goers are sane. I mean there are the exceptions like Miss Marvel/ Rocker Girl, but even most of those are harmless. The truth is that fandom is full of people who are just bad with names, so generally speaking it is usually acceptable to call someone by the name of the character they’re dressed as (especially if they’ve done a good job of it) or the name that’s on their badge. It’s always good form, however, to call someone by their own name once in a while if you can remember it. The good news is they probably don’t remember your name either.
This generally applies as long as they don’t think that you think that they are that fictional character. In fact, it is generally not acceptable to either believe they are a fictional character, or that you are a fictional character. While there are some people who are not sane who go to conventions, and they are generally tolerated, and some are genuinely liked, it is not the best way to make friends. Over the years, some have been viewed kind of like mascots so long as they weren’t causing any trouble.
It is generally never acceptable, however, to call an actor by the name of the character they play or act like you think they actually are that character no matter how incredibly cute Kaylee might have been or how hot Ivanova was. Girls, this also applies to anyone who has played The Doctor or John Barrowman, who played Captain Jack. While Amy Pond was hotter than a summer day in Georgia, I have to admit that I don’t remember the actress’s name. Those of us who are bad with names, of course, have strategies for getting around that kind of problem.
While it is perfectly acceptable to call someone by the name of the character that they are dressed as and compliment them on their costume, interacting with them as the character should be done with some caution. If you happen to be dressed as another character from the same story, then this can be extended somewhat as long as they’re willing also.
Costumes can be as subtle as wearing a shirt, a pin, or a hat that identifies you as a part of a particular world to a fully detailed 7-foot tall costume of an alien with or without Sigourney Weaver. I once wore a sheet over my head with two eye-holes cut in it and a sign on my back that said Ghost Writer to a convention. Unfortunately, nobody took me up on it. Some of the subtlest costumes consist of having the name of a particular character as a badge name. Generally, the person’s real name is underneath the badge name in small print.
A number years ago, there was a big movement for a small number of near-professional level costumers to enter contests with costumes worthy of movie sets, and while I don’t know if this helped any of them ever get a job, it did scare off the amateur costumers. As a result, there are a lot fewer people in costume these days than there used to be, except at anime conventions. I personally don’t think that these people should be judged in the same category as everyone else, and I honestly have greater respect for a creative or original costume than I do for a well-made knockoff.
Another sad loss to costuming has been the virtual disappearance of the costumed skit. I and others miss this wonderful aspect of conventions. Certainly they provide great memories for those of us who were lucky enough to see the Dead Perry Sketch (yes, a Dr. Who/Monty Python crossover) and the Star Trek Red Shirt Zombies.
You don’t have an automatic right to take someone’s picture and monopolize their time without asking. Most people are more than thrilled to get their picture taken in the costume with you if you ask, but if they’re trying to get to the bathroom or last call for the costume contest or, God forbid, their diabetes kit because they’re about to have a problem and you’re demanding to take your picture with them and won’t let them go, then don’t be surprised if they have the Hulk throw you off the balcony or security eject you from the convention.
Now, if you see things differently from them you may feel compelled to go up and make a comment on how you would have done one or two things differently, which is understandable, and goes over much better if it includes a compliment about something they’ve done that you wouldn’t have thought of, but unless they’re a costuming geek who is getting into the conversation, you might want to limit it to that. Let me just say on their behalf: “Well if you think that you can do so much better of a job, then shut up and go do it yourself. Did you go around and critique the other kids on Halloween, too?” In fact, how good your costume is isn’t really the point. Whether you’re at a Ren Faire or a convention, the real point is to have fun. Different people have fun in different ways, but ideally we can all have fun together.
So until next week, have fun.