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Creative activities on the part of fans of fictional works: waste of time?

[Celebrated author offers insightful analysis of the superhero costume (and - bonus! - sticks it to cosplayers)]
A hugely long argument with seemingly no point other than the one he deliberately avoid making (and which any costumer/cosplayer would tell you): People who draw comics should pay a little more attention to how fabric actually works --K
That's the exact opposite of what he's saying. --no-reverse
Which is that the costume is part of (even symbolises) the unattainable fantasy, if I read it right.  --Vitenka
Bingo. The costume is an abstract idea that reflects and projects the inner concept of the hero who wears it, and to even attempt to give it a material form (see what I did there?) is to miss the entire point. To draw costumes as if they were real fabric would just destroy the whole fantasy, which is why Alex Ross's art is an interesting (and well worthwhile) experiment but his heroes never quite look like superheroes (and so you wouldn't want him as regular artist on a series). --no-reverse
That thesis would have a lot more weight behind it if the Superman films did not exist. - MoonShadow
They exist and Superman's costume always looks terrible. The reason they always have to cast an unknown as Superman is precisely because no sane actor with a career already will jepordise it by looking so stupid.  --no-reverse
Heh.  Also, of course, most people who make costumes aren't trying to do a literary criticism.  Most just want to either pretend to be the hero, or to say "Look what a cool costume-copy I've got".  --Vitenka
Oh yeah -- and if you want to dress up as a superhero, spending lots of money on trying to recreate the unrecreatable is exactly the wrong way to go about it: all you need is a towel and that essential ingredient of the superhero costume, the lack of which cosplayers will never be able to make up for with accuracy: imagination!  --no-reverse
I'm pretty sure cosplay is mostly in the second group.  --Vitenka
Yes, the ones who miss the point ('look, I have a copy of something that never existed and the whole point of which is that it could never exist in the real world because it is an idealised abstract image of an imaginative concept. So I dragged it down into base matter exactly the way it was never intended to be, and in doing so ruined it and made myself look ridiculous! Aren't I clever!')  --no-reverse
*shrug* Superman, Batman, X-men... I'm sure most cosplayers would be happy to be placed in the same bucket as the actors in the films they are wearing the costumes from. I really don't think they are the ones who are missing the point here. - MoonShadow
I'd argue that [The Catwoman costume from the modern batman film] does actually work, perhaps because the original is meant to be something sewn together by a crazy woman, rather than unspecified alien material.  Perhaps what is needed is to [paint the costume on]. --Pallando
That's somewhat a special case though, because there is no possible way in which Michelle Pfeiffer in skin-tight leather could not work.
See the X-Men film exactly proves the point: They specifically didn't try to recreate the X=-Men's comic uniforms, and even made a joke out of it. Whereas Superman and Batman did, and look stupid.
And, joyless? No. Joy is in the little boy and his friend with the towels around their necks. Spending hours and money trying to nail that abstract, imaginitive joy down into a concrete shape that can only disappoint? That's how you end up with joylessness.
As I said, they're not doing a lit crit.  They're doing a "How close to unreality can I make base fabric get."  And yeah, sure, most of them are rubbish at it, but if that's the competition they want to get into, where's the problem?  --Vitenka
The point is that it doesn't matter how rubbish tey are because what they are trying to do is not only fundamentally impossible, but fundamentally opposed to what they (think they) like. They have misunderstood the nature of what they are doing. On the other hand if they want to waste their time and money that is, indeed, their business.
Joyless disappointment at their waste of their own time has not been my experience of cosplayers' emotions at a convention. Quite the opposite, in fact. So the options are to disbelieve one's own eyes, or to dismiss the emotions observed as somehow hollow and fake. I find the vocal dismissal of the practice as a universally disappointing waste of time presented above quite irritatingly po-faced. You or the article's author personally may not enjoy making costumes or dressing up - I know I do not particularly - but what right have you or he to rubbish the joy others get from it as flawed and empty? Is that not simply breaking that which you are not part of, spoiling others' sport - itself the most joyless, most futile form of sport? - MoonShadow
I'm sure people can make themselves happy doing something pointless, but it doesn't make it any less missing-the-point. (The author clearly does enjoy dressing-up, as the anecdote at the end about him and his friend proves, but he also understands why it works and what the fundamental point is, which is what cosplayers miss and so end up trying to find it in the wrong place). (And in case of any doubt, I do like fancy-dress parties and think it's too long since I've been to one).
I really don't understand it. How do you even have the gall, the sheer cheek to just *assume* things about what other people think they are doing, make up goals for their actions and then say they are looking for those goals in the wrong place, without bringing into the equation what those people themselves think their goals might be and whether they have achieved them? - MoonShadow
What's the difference between your fancy-dress party and the cosplaying? That you don't put as much effort into making the costume look similar to the "real" version, or something else? --Edwin
I don't spend many hours trying to create something the whole point of which is that it should never be created.
Perhaps he wears a towel. - MoonShadow
What they think their goals might be is hardly relevant to the question of whether it misses the point to try to make concrete something, the entire point of which is its abstract and idealised nature.
I'm personally unconvinced that comic authors intend the abstract and idealised nature to be the entire point of their comics. When I see the DC / Marvel lot this coming Expo I'll ask them, if I remember. - MoonShadow
Make sure you point them at the actual article and ask what they think of it.
Some of them, incidentally, cosplay. - MoonShadow
Be interesting to hear what they make of the article, then.
I got bored half-way through the article. Didn't seem that startling to me, to cause the biggest discussion on SiteOfTheMoment in recent history --Admiral
Surely not all characters are idealised and abstract? There's certainly a case for Superman being so, but characters who inhabit the real world are surely designed to be real and therefore, for the creator to design them unrealistic clothes is bad design? Take Professor Xavier, who (as far as I'm aware) does not dress up; he wears a suit. A suit that could be easily reproduced by any cosplayer who walked into Moss Bros. What does that make him, or his creator? What about David Bircham's Jack Brodie, who starts off as a normal guy and, throughout the book (Brodie's Law), dresses in perfectly normal clothes? And as far as I'm concerned, in the one comic I've had published (by someone other than Sweatdrop), the clothes were not intended to be abstract or idealised, they were an attempt to make a believable spacesuit from a century or so hence. Perhaps I failed there, but the intention was to make them believable, and Tokyopop obviously weren't that put off by the design.
In any case, who are you to pour scorn on someone else's enjoyment? They're not affecting you. The artistry that goes into some of these costumes is staggering, and the enjoyment people get out of it is immense. I'm not about to turn round and laugh at them because in real life one does not look like an anime character. I'd like to think I'm not that petty - SunKitten
I don't believe Chabon means to say that all characters in comic books are unrealisable; that would obviously be silly. And some superheroes of course don't wear a 'superhero costume' but dress in normal clothes (there was quite a vogue for them in the nineties). And there's things which straddle the line, like 'Astro City'. But Chabon is talking about the classic superhero costume as modelled by Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, Spider-Man, etc etc -- what comes to must people's minds if you say 'superhero'.
Presumably, in an ideal world, if you wanted to have fun you'd have to apply for a license, and they'd check that you were planning to derive enjoyment from an approved source before letting you. --Edwin
In an ideal world, you wouldn't try to recreate the unrecreatable and degrade it by doing so. These people have impressive skills, no one can deny that; why don't they do something truly creative instead of missing the point of things that already exist?
I hear that one asked about fanart a lot, actually. Yet most artists I know are pleased to receive it. - MoonShadow
Everyone likes their ego stroked; it doesn't make flattery a worthwhile use of time.
So if cosplayers cosplay characters intended to be realistic, that's OK? And who's going to go around categorising characters as 'cosplayable' and 'out of bounds'? And who's going to give a toss, anyway? Don't be daft, that's taking nitpicking censorship to a ridiculous extreme. It's not like the character cares, and as MoonShadow says and I can attest, receiving fan works of any kind is incredibly pleasing. It's not just ego stroking, it's the pleasure of knowing that I did a good enough job of creating the character that they have come alive in someone else's head. The story is real for them. That's a wonderful feeling - SunKitten
The ego-boost of having someone tell you that you did a good job of creating the character (and it is an ego boost, nothing more, like all good reviews) may well be a wonderful feeling for you, but that doesn't mean it was a good use of the time and talents of the person who could have created something worthwhile but instead just copied something you'd already done. And who mentioned censorship? Did anyone suggest stopping people from missing the point and wasting their time? I didn't. I just pointed out that it does miss the point. If people want to carry on missing the point, I won't stop them. So where's the censorship?
So you also see a general problem with creative fandom activities, then? - cosplay, fanart, fanfiction, compiling reference sites: they are none of them a worthwhile use of time in principle because they are not sufficiently original? - MoonShadow
Pretty much. But making fabric copies of superhero costumes where the whole point is that they are abstract ideas that cannot be represented in fabric is extra-specially special, as it's not only 'not worthwhile' but kind of 'anti-worthwhile' due to its point-missing nature. Whereas writing fan fiction is only a waste of the time and talent that could have been used to produce something worthwhile and new, not a complete exercise in missing the point.
Define 'waste of time'. The fanartist in question spent their time doing something they enjoy. They chose to do it. In what way is that a waste of time? I've drawn fanart for people, as a gift and because I enjoyed drawing their characters. I am very precious with my time, but I didn't begrudge them that, and I did enjoy it. Secondly, yes, a good review or a piece of fanart is an ego boost, but it's also confirmation that I got it right, that there was a point in taking the time to tell the story. If you're going to turn round and say that too is ego boosting, then so are the results I get from my experiments, which confirm that I got the procedure right and, indeed, my hypothesis was correct. That's making the term rather pointlessly general - SunKitten
'Waste of time' -- time that could have been spent doing something worthwhile, doing something less worthwhile instead. It's ego boosting because it's somebody giving you a good review. It only makes sense to say experiments aren't boosting your ego because they are inanimate, whereas if someoen chooses to praise you (either in a good review or by making their own effort at copying your work), well, the sincerest form of flattery is still flattery.
Why is it a waste of time to spend that time doing something you enjoy? Also, if it is flattery to have confirmation that I did a good job in telling a story or if my boss tells me my results are good, then everybody who gets something right should indeed be flattered. That sort of encouragement is what keeps one going when it gets boring; it's what greases the wheels of drudgery that form the underpinnings of any job, however creative. That sort of flattery is a very good thing - SunKitten 
Enjoying something is irrelevant to whether it's a waste of time or not. There are enjoyable ways to waste time, and plenty of worthwhile thngs are not enjoyable at all to do. Enjoyment has nothing to do with it. And if I have the ability to create something worthwhile, but instead of that I spend my time flattering people, then that's a waste of my time and talent -- regardless of whether I enjoy it or not.

So it's a waste of my time to make something for a friend? A waste of my time to tell someone I enjoyed their work? A waste of my own, free time, that is mine to do with as I wish? Why? Why is that a waste of time? What is it about the way one uses time that defines it as wasted or not? - SunKitten
Depends on what you make. Depend son how you tell them and how much time you spend. And yes, it's your time, so I would never tell you not to waste it. I might tell you you are wasting it (I probably would) but I wouldn't stop you wasting it. If nothing else it would be hypocritical; I waste a lot of my own time.
So, define wasting time if, say, I were to create a fanart of Superman, a fanart of my friend's character as a gift, a cosplay of a realistic character, a cosplay of my own character, a fanfic based in an existing world but telling a different story - SunKitten

Joy is never worthwhile in itself? - MoonShadow
Joy in doing something worthwhile is worthwhile. Joy in itself, mearly as a pleasurable feeling, no; why would it be? It's nice, of course. But not worthwhile.
So, kids running around with towels: worthwhile or waste of time? Why? - MoonShadow
Not as worthwhile as some things, but a little worthwhile, as they are excersing their imagination in coming up with their characters and stories rather than building on somebody else's foundations; and they didn't spend hours over a sewing machine; and they aren't trying to do the anti-worthwhile thing of giving material form to something whose entire point is to be abstract.
rather than building on somebody else's foundations - wow. Uh, you were a kid once, right? I mean, why d'you think they're running around with towels? Where did they get that idea? How can you even begin to make things up except from the building blocks the world has provided you with? Thinking about it - surely all we are quibbling about here is the size of the blocks? - MoonShadow

Don't you write Dr Who fanfiction? --Edwin
One time! Is that going to follow me to my grave?

It seems to me there are two aspects to creation as we're looking at it now. There's the technical part; the sewing, drawing, writing etc, which comes into play whatever one does, whether it's drawing a picture of Superman or designing an original costume, and the original-creative part, that which is most prevalent in original creations (one can write original fanfic about existing characters. Only the characters are not new; the story can be different, and I've come across excellently-told fanfic which takes place after the story on which it was based). The technical aspect is always the same; the same skill is required to produce a picture no matter what the picture is (as long as it's not a direct copy, if course). Does the fact that the seamstress is working on a costume originally worn by PrincessTutu make her technical skill any less than if she were creating an original costume? I don't think that can be the case. So it must be the original-creative aspect which defines something as worthwhile in no-reverse's view. Why does that make the difference? - SunKitten

If you want to know about costumes specifically, and why making a replica of a superhero's costume is not just not worthwhile but actively missing the point (in a way that, say, making a replica of The Prisoner's costume isn't missing the point), just read Chabon's article.
I don't (and I did read it). I want to know what it is that defines wasting time in your view (it's not just making superhero costumes, judging from what you've written above). If it is specifically the creation of something original, is the person who reads books wasting their time, because they're reading other people's work when they could be writing their own? - SunKitten

I was just talking about the superhero costumes, and trying not to get sidetracked onto fan-fiction in general. Do you see what the article is saying?
Well, you failed in that. I read it; I see where he's going. I disagree, but I'm not interested in discussing what I think about the article. I'm interested in knowing why you condemn so much fanwork as a waste of time. If you don't want to discuss that, that's fine, we can draw a line here and leave it be - SunKitten
Well, if you're not interested in discussing it, that's fine.

I would suggest that cosplay outfits are designed to be worn, with being looked at as secondary.  They're predominantly designed to make you feel like the character, rather than to make other people think you are the character.  As for what's a "worthwhile" use of time, you seem to have an even more specific meaning of that word than I believed possible.  I think you're using it to mean an activity that will last beyond your lifetime, in terms of a creative act of some sort.  I thoroughly disagree with whatever you're using it to mean, however - joy is inherently worthwhile. --M-A

If joy is inherently worthwhile, is it a worthwhile use of time for me to sit and inject myself with a chemical which produces sensations of eurphoric joy until I starve to death? --no-reverse
If joy was the only worthwhile thing, it might be, but I don't think anyone is arguing that. Is it a worthwhile use of time for me to sit and write an original novel at the expense of all else until I starve to death in front of my manuscript? - MoonShadow

Depends entirely on how good the novel is.

But no, if there is some inherent worthwhileness in joy per se then there must be some inherent worthwhileness in my opiate-induced stupor. Is there? And if there is why should I not spend all my time there, rather than facing the harsh realities of the real world, which will destroy my worthwhile joy? The only possible answer is that there are things more worthwhile than joy, and I should spend at least some of my time doing them rather than off my face. Except then you get into a situation where you have competing goods of (say) helping the poor, and shooting up. But surely that shouldnt' be a competition at all? You should never, when presented with a choice between chasing the old dragon and doing something really worthwhile, choose the drug. Which means that anything worthwhile is more worthwhile than pure joy, which means that joy itself cannot be inherently worthwhile. QED --no-reverse
Wow, interesting argument, which I can't immediately counter. But I do think there is inherent value in joy (and even in fun, which is something lower - "joy" to me has spiritual connotations). If you do not, would you say that in a situation where there's no opportunity to do something really worthwhile like helping the poor, sitting around being bored is just as valuable as doing something that brings you joy and/or fun? --Rachael

It's just as valuable, yes. But it's less fun. I don't know about you, but I do things for other reasons than they they are worthwhile.  (Ah -- just to avoid misunderstanding, I don't mean that exclusively -- that is, I don't mean that I only ever do things for other reasons than they are worthwhile. Some things I do because they are worthwhile, other things I do because they are fun. If I found myself in a situation where I couldn't do anything worthwhile I'd try to find myself something to do that's fun rather than sit around and be bored. But if presented with the choice between something fun and something worthwhile, I'd try to do the worthwhile thing rather than the fun one.) --n-r
Then it's just a semantic discussion about the meaning of "worthwhile", isn't it? Either those other reasons are legitimate or not, and if they are legitimate, then I'd call them "worthwhile", even though you obviously wouldn't. --Rachael

That reasoning seems to assume a "your" in front of "joy". One could also try to go towards the result you want a little less selfishly by defining a more worthwhile thing as being one that increases joy over a population over many generations. Suddenly, helping the poor is better than being in an opiate-induced stupor, and doing things that have lasting positive effect better than things that are transient or that only affect oneself; and yet, all other things being equal, there is also room to improve one's own experience. - MoonShadow
But in that case, giving the poor their own supply of opiates becomes a positive thing you can do, so you've just inflicted 'worthwhile joy' on the rest of the population and (by extension) a society where everybody is lying around moaning in chemical ecstasy (possibly on the chemical, ecstasy) must have some inherent worthwhileness. Do you agree? --no-reverse

n-r: Such a society would be very finite indeed, so this seems rather suboptimal. On the flipside, if reading a novel or playing a computer game is an unqualified waste of one's time, why is writing one any better than creating a drug that induces people to waste their time in a euphoric state? I work for a company that causes thousands of people to lock themselves in rooms all over the world, deriving a euphoria by staring at flickering computer and television screens. Can my job, then, be equated to that of a drug dealer? My creative input (or that of cleverer people in my position perhaps) is on par with that of an academic researcher; clearly then the creative act itself cannot be what makes the work worthwhile. We've already ruled out joy in itself as being worthwhile, and the pursuit of it as a waste of time, so doing things that give people joy seems a bit pointless and things that enable them to pursue it actively criminal. If something you create lasts a long time, but does nothing for people - well, that, too, seems a bit pointless. So what's left that we can call worthwhile? - MoonShadow

Reading a novel is not necessarily an unqualified waste of time, as novels can edify and enrich one's experience of the human condition, which is certainly worthwhile. Of course, some novels are just enjoyment, and those aren't worthwhile (but they might well be fun, and I know I certainly read some novels that are not worthwhile at all, but I read them for fun in the full awareness that they are not worthwhile). Computer games, on the other hand, are pretty much drugs (some people think that at some stage in the future computer games might be able to be as enriching as novels can be; I don't want to get into that but I think it's universally agreed that they aren't there yet). Again, that doesn't mean I don't use them to pass the time when I'm waiting for an aeroplane, but I do so in the knowledge that what I am doing is not worthwhile (but is more fun than just sitting in the terminal). --no-reverse

Why is edifying oneself any more worthwhile in itself than joy? Surely, in the absence of a purpose to which such education is put, it is just as pointless. And if using one's knowledge to make people happy is not a worthwhile purpose, what is? - MoonShadow

Because it is. Because it brings us closer to flourishing, to becoming complete in our humanity; to understanding what being human means and what we are for. Whereas joy just makes us happy.

So... why is just reaching some kind of understanding of what we are inside our heads more worthwhile than just being happy or just anything else that happens within the confines of one's head? What kind of flourishing is it that denies that making one's neighbour happy is a worthwhile thing? What kind of completeness is it that denies joy, and why should I think it a worthwhile thing to pursue? - MoonShadow

Unlike joy, flourishing doesn't just take place inside one's head (that's one reason it's worthwhile while joy is not): it involves understanding and living out human nature. Helping one's neighbour flourish is a worthwhile thing; just making them happy, on the other hand, isn't, as happiness is not in itself worthwhile (and often the best thing you can do for your neighbour is not the thing that would make them happiest; imagine if your neighbour was an alcoholic, for example). Completeness doesn't deny joy (there's not reason you can't be complete and joyful; joy and worthwhileness aren't mutally exclusive) and the whole point of whether somethign is worthwhile or not is that it doesn't matter what you think (because worthwhileness, unlike happiness, is not entirely within the confines of your head). So, um, all those questions are based on false premises, and possibly are inconsistent between themselves. --no-reverse

Joy encompasses so much more than a fleeting sense of happiness. I would suggest it brings with it a sense of peace, completeness and balance. I think that inherent within joy is a sense of satisfaction and worthwhileness that is lasting. A drug-induced happiness does not bring joy when the user comes down from the high, irrespective of how 'happy' they were during the high. Engaging in an activity that brings lasting satisfaction or happiness is joyful. This may be writing an original novel or spending time with friends playing games or dressing up in cosplay outfits. If too much time is spent doing either of these things, the individual may feel that they aren't doing something worthwhile, and thus a bit of the 'joy' is lost. But cosplay + good friends + 'other worthwile activity' is balanced and thus joy is derived. Not wanting to waffle into many conceptualisations, but what about joy as an abscence of regret or futility. --Nat

Please allow me time to consider a response. In the meantime let me jot down that (a) the definition of 'joy' here has shifted to include not just the sensation but some narrative which contains the sensation (this makes things a lot more complicated to start off with) (b) social interaction should probably be left out of the equation as there's an argument that interacting with people may be per se worthwhile regardless of any joy thus derived, so it will confuse the issue, and (c) if it's the sense of worthwhileness that makes it worthwhile, rather than any actual worthwhileness, does that mean that whatever I think is worthwhile, is actually worthwhile, because thinking makes it so? Even if I am misled by some evil hypnotist into gaining a sensation of worthwhileness from something that we could agree is not worthwhile? --no-reverse

I don't think we have ruled out joy being worthwhile in itself, just that routes to joy are not simple. I agree with Rachael in that there is a spiritual element to joy. I'd suggest that joy is lasting but also agree with M-A that joy need not have a material outcome. An evening spent with friends playing games is joyful, but some may not see it as worthwhile as at the end of the evening nothing has been created. Again, it's about balance and degree. Building relationships through activities we may not define as worthwhile can be worthwhile. --Nat
I don't disagree with you. My impression was that n-r had ruled out joy as being worthwhile in itself. I do think that while true, it should not be necessary to posit much of the narrative as axiomatic - intuitively, it seems to me that one should be able to come to the conclusion that there is more joy in a complex, lasting, satisfying experience that brings with it a sense of worthwhileness by starting from a much simpler idea of joy. Intuitively it seems to me that the joy/happiness split described is a somewhat artificial one, in the way that the macro/micro-evolution one is; that one ought to be able to place pleasing things on some sort of scale, with fleeting, momentary happiness at one end and what Nat terms 'Joy' at the other. Peace, completeness, balance, perhaps even n-r's "flourishing", are all different kinds of desirable experience; more complex, more lasting things are more worthwhile. I think I see the above as a definition of a specific kind of joy/happiness, rather than a new concept that is inherently different to the one n-r has dismissed so lightly. (Though I may rewrite this or scrap entirely as I think through it more). - MoonShadow

Can't believe there's all this discussion about superhero costumes without anyone mentioning TheIncredibles?, and Edna the superhero-costume designer, and her stern pronouncements about capes (which Chabon says "have been an object of scorn among discerning superheroes at least since 1974"). --Rachael

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