Bizarre photo, I know. Miss Jiwaku suggested I pose with these two, probably because she found it amusing to see Koreans dressed this way; we were both quite surprised to see a costume like the woman on the left is wearing being used at all in Seoul, much less for a commercial property,on a Friday afternoon, in a mall.
Cosplay is not a common thing in Korea — at least, not if you mean cosplay as in the costumes associated with manga or other superhero/SF/fantasy stuff. I’ve only seen it a couple of times, and this, the second time, it was a commercial thing, promoting some kind of game I think.
Costumes, though: they are a big thing here. The ladies who delivery milk and yogurt wear costumes. Employees wear costumes — way more, and sometimes more degradingly, than a Western is accustomed to seeing. Young women hocking liquor or coffee mixes in grocery stores are decked out in vinyl miniskirts and boots.
But cosplay, not so common. Why this is the case is the subject of some debate and discussion. One theory I posted about back in 2005 that’s particularly interesting involves a comparison with Japan, and the conclusion that higher rates of online gaming in Korea provide the identity-experimentation/fantasy-role-play outlet for Koreans that Japanese youth seem to get from cosplay. I’m not convinced that completely explains it, now, but there’s probably a grain of truth to that claim.
Of course, the term “cosplay” is itself definitive and political. Not all uses of costume are mere “play,” after all. Back in 2008 this blog hosted some discussion of the use of V for Vendetta costumes among US Beef Protesters:
This kind of costumed protest is far from new. The disturbing tradition of blackface minstrelsy has, in part, roots in earlier protest culture wherein protesters would blacken their faces with ash. It’s well-known that pseudo-Indian costumes were used by participants in the Boston Tea Party, and that members of the Luddite movement back in the early 1800s dressed in women’s clothing when they were engaged in the kinds of acts of sabotage and protest that were specifically luddite (as mentioned here):
Of course, the use of costumes in political protest hasn’t died out: one could argue that the hippie movement was indeed an enormous case of cosplay, and that other youth culture movements that followed — punk, preppie, mod, goth — have all been, in some sense, a kind of extended cosplay-as-lifestyle experiment.
If you ask me, though, the suit and tie is another form of cosplay… one quite rampant in Korea today.