Why we troop

Cosplay is a powerful and inspirational storytelling tool

Why we troop
Image: Andrew Liptak

I've got two cosplay-related things to share for this week. The first is a PSA: I'll be doing a talk with the Vermont Historical Society tomorrow as part of our Virtual Speaker Series: Storytelling and Costuming.

I've run a number of talks over the last couple of years since I published Cosplay: A History, and as we've had a couple of fashion/costume/accessory-related exhibits in the museum, this seemed like a good time to throw my hat into the ring for a talk. I'll be talking a bit about the history of the scene, but I'll also be looking at how Vermonters have used costumes to tell stories as well. I've got a couple of examples queued up (including this one) that'll hopefully tie the larger world of cosplay to a smaller local scene.

It'll also be virtual: you don't have to be in Vermont to listen in! The talk will take place at noon eastern time and you can find the link to join the talk here.

Oh! I'll also be trooping this weekend at Rail City Fan Expo's mini event in Saint Albans on Sunday, December 10th.

The other thing popped up in the TO Slack channel: a Twitter thread from a man named Brad Simpson who lost his child Elijah to a brain tumor in April 2017.

Elijah was a fan of Star Wars, and as his father recounts, a friend offered to dress up as Darth Vader and show up at school during a celebration for him. The word went out and reached members of the 501st Legion, who also offered to show up in costume. Following Elijah's passing, those members showed up at his memorial service as an honor guard.

It's a horrifying thing to think about, or even imagine as a parent.

We troopers often note that it's a good thing that we're often wearing closed-faced helmets during troops like this: we're often crying under them. I've done a handful of troopers with the Vermont chapter of Make-A-Wish: one boy who looked just like my nephew was headed off to Disney. We did a couple of troops with a boy who had a brain tumor: one before his surgery, and another after, when he was headed off on a trip to Legoland Florida. (It sounds like he's doing better!) It's heartening to see actors dressing up as their characters to visit children in hospitals to do something similar, or to see communities come together to help boost some kid's spirits a bit. A decade ago, Make-A-Wish staged a massive event in San Francisco to help a 5-year-old fulfill his dream to be Batman for a day.

These are incredibly difficult and emotional troops to undertake: we're brought face to face with realization of just how fragile life can be, and just how resilient, and brave these kids are. Cosplay can be an important booster, even for kids who aren't suffering from life-threatening conditions: the picture at the top of this post is from Kid's Day in Burlington Vermont, where we showed up and took part in a parade and just hung out for a couple of hours posting for pictures and answering questions for kids.

I've often described cosplay and the 501st as a somewhat self-indulgent hobby, but one that's offset by fact that we get to do things like this; bring a kid's favorite story to life for just a short while, or give them the opportunity to talk with their favorite characters. Brad summed it up nicely: "For at least one day, the shadow of cancer, of grief and death seemed to fade for a bit."

Reading Brad's account was moving: a good reminder for how powerful stories can be, and how this scene goes far beyond the folks dressing up at conventions or other pop-culture events.