How Cosplayers became Post-Human

Cosplay is a form of dressing-up that embraces gadgets and gizmos. No Doctor Who would be complete without his Sonic Screwdriver, and Batman would be naked without his utility belt. What sets James Bond apart from other suavely dressed cocktail drinkers is the pistol concealed in under his jacket. For some cosplayers, the object of their fandom is entirely dependent on some kind of portable technology. Iron Man, for example, has powers and an identity that are entirely bound up in the technology that it his suit.

As N. Katherine Hayles observed in 1999, we are all cyborgs now. Reading glasses, artificial limbs, digital watches and hearing aids have transformed us into cybernetic organisms, extending our physical selves. Since the publication of Hayles How we became Posthuman, innovations such as Google Glass are making us reliant on what Amber Case describes as ‘external brains’: technologies that extend our  intellectual selves.

For cosplayers, the augmentation of self extends into fantasy. Cosplayers will strap on jet-packs and brandish light-sabers for an aesthetically complete costume. Until recently, these accessories have been non-functonal parts of a costume, contributing to the ‘play’ element of cosplay. Thanks to a few committed fans, it is becoming increasingly possible to construct and purchase accessories that actually function as they do in the fictional source text.

Superheroes gain their powers from fictional technologies, real-life technologies do not lag far behind. When technology is incorporated into the costume, the costume grants access not only to the aesthetics but also the abilities of a superhero. Iron Man’s costumes are entirely responsible for his superpowers, while Batman’s gadgets significantly enhance his abilities. The technologies incorporated into superhero costume disintegrate distinctions between human and nonhuman. A hero may, through invention and appropriation of technologies, make himself more-than-human, or, superhuman. When cosplayers aspire to dress like their costumed hero, they necessarily aspire to the abilities that are enabled by the various parts of those costumes. Since the costumes of cyborg superheroes are the source of their abilities, a cosplayer’s pursuit of authenticity must extend to the desire to replicate those abilities through their own costumes.

Opportunities to replicate the gadgets, and therefore the abilties, of a superhero are offered by engineers including Patrick Priebe, whose website offers fully-functional Spiderman web-shooters, Iron-Man gauntlets, and laser-shooting googles inspired by the X-Man Clycops. These are more than just a superficial replicas; they extend the phsyical abilities of the wearer, rendering him/her as a real-life superhero.

As designers like Priebe develop these technologies, the line between cosplayer and real-life superhero is increasingly blurred. If a cosplayer is able to purchase the technologies to transform him into a real-life Spider-Man or Iron Man, we are all potential superheroes. Fact and fiction converge, as technology catches up with science-fiction, and cosplayers use it to transform themselves into their fictional heroes.


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