01 April 2011

Volunteers needed for a study on Doctor Who cosplay

squirrely TONKS as a femme!Eighth Doctor, photo by The Ricketandoo
The image of the obsessive, socially inept, immature science fiction fan is a familiar one. Popular conceptions of fans (in particular "Trekkies") are generally unflattering: the fan is incapable of separating reality from fantasy, a brainless consumer of program merchandise, and devoted to the memorization of worthless knowledge and trivia. Of course, fans know that this stereotype, while partially based in reality (we all have known one of those fans), does not represent the vast majority and extraordinary diversity of most science fiction fan communities. In particular, scholars like Henry Jenkins have overturned the stereotype that fan activities are fundamentally non-productive. What I mean by this is that this stereotype paints the SF fan as slavish to the interpretations and idea produced by other authors, namely the authors of the SF program. Even the fan activities that seem obviously productive and creative, like writing fan fiction or cosplaying, are usually depicted as mindless copying or appropriation of others' creative products. Fan fiction is not considered "real literature;" it's merely the re-mix of others' ideas. Cosplay is merely the copying (sometimes obsessively) of the work of costume designers. However, work has shown that fan activities like the writing of fan fiction are creative and productive, even if they are not necessarily counter-cultural or counter to the ideas and interpretations put forth by the program's authors.

I'm interested in how fan activities are productive, and how they create readings of the primary text (in this case, Doctor Who) and/or the fan community. In this study, I will focus on cosplay, which I see as reflective on both Doctor Who and the fan community/ies to which the cosplayer belongs. Because of the small scale of this current project, I will be looking in particular at the axis of gender in Doctor Who cosplay, focusing on the trend of "femme" Doctors (and the related trend of female fans crossplaying as the Doctor). The purpose of this research is to identify the rhetoric of femme Doctor cosplay and Doctor crossplay. My main research questions are: How are these cosplayers reflecting on and talking back to Doctor Who? How are they reflecting on and talking back to the fan community/ies? What does their cosplay have to say about gender in both of those spheres? How does the cosplay communicate these ideas and interpretations?

In order to complete this research, I will be conducting interviews with cosplayers about their creations, as well as collecting pictures of their cosplay. The interviews can be over the phone, Skype, or email, whichever you prefer, and are designed to last 15-20 minutes. If you've ever done a cosplay that you believe to be relevant to my research, in particular a femme or crossplay Doctor, I would love to interview you! Please contact me at austintotamu@gmail.com or in the comments to volunteer.

(Your identity in all write-ups of this research will be protected. You can choose how you are identified, whether by your real name, your online handle, or a pseudonym chosen by you.)