In the interests of responsible and transparent journalism, let me begin this article by disclosing my personal and political allegiances. In the great battle between Thranduil, King of the Elves and Thorin, King of the Dwarves, my solidarity lies with the latter. I am far more emotionally invested in the Game of Thrones books than the show, and I root for House Stark. In the ongoing ‘shipping’ debates, I must say I ship the tenth Doctor and Donna far more than the Doctor and Rose, and go for Sherlock and Molly over Sherlock and John any day.
Yes, it was with all these blatant (and unrepentant) fandom biases and prejudices that I attended this years’ Sydney Supanova Pop Culture Expo at Sydney Olympic Park. This year’s Supanova expo boasted a wide variety of celebrities (known as ‘Supa-Stars’), including Nikolaj Costar-Waldau (Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones), John Barrowman (Captain Jack from Doctor Who and Torchwood), Stan Lee (creator of various comics, including X-Men and Spider-Men), Ming Na-Wen (voice of Mulan in Disney’s Mulan) and Robin Hobb (critically acclaimed fantasy writer.)
There’s no denying it: I was pumped about seeing Barrowman and Costar-Waldau in the flesh. And as for Na-Wen – I had even planned out what I would say when I met her. As someone who finds Disney quotes applicable to pretty much every situation, I was fairly certain that it would be absolutely genius to end a conversation with Na-Wen by exclaiming “you don’t meet a girl like that every dynasty!” However, I chickened out at the last minute, settled with shaking her hand instead, and will be forever wondering whether she would have appreciated my line.
As exciting as it is to meet the Supa-Stars that bring much loved characters to life, expos like Supanova are about more than just meeting celebrities. The weekend is devoted to all things fantasy and sci-fi, with stalls and events for whatever fandom you might hail from.
At Supanova, a number of the various fandom allegiances were displayed through cosplay. For some, cosplay is a fun day for individuals or groups of friends to dress up as their favourite characters. For others, cosplay is a source of income, using their striking resemblances to fictional characters to earn a living whilst doing what they love best.
It was pretty awesome to see hundreds of people in cosplay wandering around Olympic Park quite nonchalantly. Where else would you see Thranduil and Thorin waiting patiently in line together to buy human forged- and let’s face it, highly ineffective- plastic swords? Where else would you see Belle walking around blissfully content in the company of the Beast AND Gaston? Where else would you see Sailor Moon and Captain Jack Sparrow chilling out together and taking photos of each other? Where else, indeed, would you see dozens of Time Lords gathered together and doing their wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff? (apart from in the old Gallifrey, of course.)
But for many, cosplay represents so much more than just the physical assumption of a character’s clothing or hairstyle. For those people, cosplay represents an attempt to assume a character’s personality – their traits, their triumphs and their downfalls, their best qualities and indeed, even their vices. Cosplay represents, in its own particular way, a form of escapism for fans: to become, even for a little while, the character that represents all that they aspire to be – and Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood is one such character.
Barrowman spoke on this topic at Supanova when asked about the famous Captain in Doctor Who and Torchwood. Although Barrowman acknowledged that Captain Jack Harkness is only a fictitious creation, he also stressed the huge impact on fans that characters like him have, and the important role they can play in challenging society’s myopic views about what is normal behaviour and what is deviant – including ideas about gender roles and sexuality. Barrowman pointed out that as a non-heterosexual character on Doctor Who, fans often become emotionally invested in characters like Captain Jack because he inspires fans to be comfortable and confident with their sexuality, and to not be ashamed of who they may love
Asked if he would ever return to playing the Captain – who is openly pansexual in the series – Barrowman admitted that he would do so in an instant, because “he’s not apologetic about who he loves.” Barrowman is of the firm belief that young people would have a far easier time accepting who they are (and being comfortable with coming out) if there were more characters like Captain Jack on screen to challenge various stereotypes and to help lead to a future where we are “more free than we are now.”
Much of the enjoyment at these expos comes from the community feeling that is fostered, and the clear lack of inhibition and reticence on behalf of the fans. Speaking from firsthand experience, I know that by Sunday afternoon, my friends and I had experienced many a nerdgasm. We had visited a maid cafe (inspired by cafes in Japan – customers are served by girls in maid outfits who enthusiastically perform dance routines every so often in the middle of the cafe), seen Barrowman and Na-Wen in a live Q&A, watched some new anime in the ‘anime lab’, and visited (and spent quite a considerable sum) at the many stalls selling various figurines, costumes and t-shirts – and we don’t have one single regret (yes, even after we screamed enthusiastically at a Princess Peach costume).
Would I recommend it to anyone else? Yes, so allons-y!