Just two years ago I stood in the lobby of the Mobile Museum of Art chatting with new director Deborah Velders and somehow we touched on the subject of cosplay. When I offered admiration for the elaborate craftsmanship and creativity that went into much of the garb, Velders politely and honestly admitted her unfamiliarity.
I wasn’t shocked. Velders had just never had occasion to learn about it.
Though it was no reflection on her, I’ve long been aware of the way certain creative pursuits have been traditionally marginalized in our culture at large.
Take a show like “The Twilight Zone,” now considered a classic of television’s golden age. In its five seasons, it only received one Emmy award nomination as Best Dramatic Series. Though it boasted a galaxy of up-and-coming stars, none were nominated for individual performances. Neither were its burgeoning directors, composers, set decorators, makeup artists, or special effects technicians. Producer Rod Serling managed to grab two Emmys for writing, but a roster of names like Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Earl Hamner, Jr., Jerry Sohl and George Clayton Johnson were ignored.
“The Outer Limits” was much the same, earning only one nomination in two seasons, for art direction. Back then, the staid bunch at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences saw science fiction, fantasy and horror literature as “kid stuff” unworthy of serious consideration.
That’s changed over the decades — ask Stephen King and George Lucas atop their mountains of money — but it still continues to be somewhat esoteric. For instance, when is the last time you ran into a science fiction writer? We’ve got plenty of scribes in the area; Lagniappe did a cover story not too many years ago about Mobile’s literary history and accolades. But science fiction, a genre that dates back to Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells and Jules Verne? Good luck with that.
A lot of the reason is that good science fiction is incredibly hard to write. Some of the deepest and most philosophically reflective works I’ve ever read belong to that genre. Though integral to the story, the technological wrapping hides commentary on social issues and the very essence of humanity. Without that resonant core, it’s nothing.
Discounting certain artistic genres can be a part of cultural memes and reinforcements. In a town awash in Mardi Gras costuming, where even the city ambassadors are high school girls in elaborately stylized costumes based on antebellum stereotypes, modern cosplayers have been a subculture mostly ignored in local media and awareness.
It’s more proof artistic pursuits surround us, even in places we’re just not looking. It comes with the species.
My idealistic self believes most of us have an innate yen toward creativity. Though we call them “primitive,” ancient cultures saw no separation of art from everyday life. Whether it was the unique rendering of practical objects and musical instruments, the fashioning of stories and song or the crafting of religious iconography, creativity was inseparable from tribal life.
Though they wouldn’t say as much, they knew art could be most effective when it’s DIY. The process is as important as the result.
Something happens in your brain when you create. It’s cathartic, encouraging and satisfying.
Digression aside, comic conventions are erected around creative pursuits. Literature, screenwriting, acting, costuming, makeup, various facets of design, visual arts, they all come together to share center stage at those events. That makes comic conventions a creative industry.
As I asked in this space a couple months back, why can’t we more fully take advantage of these opportunities? The windfall figures are clear in the cover story for this issue. Pensacon’s immediate success shows we’ve missed yet another chance — “perpetual potential” and all — with something that was apparently begging to be exploited.
Mobicon is happy with their event at its modest size and that’s great. They shouldn’t stretch beyond what makes them comfortable. Yet, other cities have more than one convention, often of drastically varying sizes, so there’s no reason we couldn’t do the same.
Or maybe we just like staring at a seldom-filled convention center marooned across Water Street. Heck for the money we spent, we could have built a replica of the Millenium Falcon or the starship Enterprise instead of the GulfQuest maritime museum and I guarantee it would have pulled in more visitors.
We’re a city with a pair of astronauts and a bona fide rocket scientist to our credit — Clifton Williams, Kay Hire and Lonnie Johnson, respectively — so to not have a bigger presence of nerd arts on our resume is just so, well, “19th century.”
But considering how many locals seem preoccupied with that era, maybe it’s just as well.