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Don’t Judge – A Take on the Geek Scene From the Point of View of a Data Analyst

This is an article from the point of view of a data analyst (and hopefully more), and someone who has cosplayed once (and loved it). Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ilya K…, and some of you may already know who I am, particularly talented cosplayers (or costumers, for those that prefer the term) and photographers I am a fan of, such as Abby Darkstar, Meredith Placko, Lindze A’La Mode, Kearstin Nicholson (aka #FKNKFN), Kristen Hughey, Callie Cosplay, BGZ Studios, and some I’m probably forgetting, but you should really check out all of their pages on Facebook (REALLY!). There are two topics I’d like to discuss: popularity in cosplay, and about the underbelly of our community (which I suppose any community has).

First off, allow me to address popularity in cosplay. In my opinion, it has, unfortunately, too little to do with the quality of costumes, and a lot more to do with sex appeal. So as to not name drop anyone in any negative way, I’m sure everyone can think of some costumers that put a lot of dedication and hard work into their craft, often spending tens of hours and hundreds of dollars on a single costume, with photographic results to show for it. They may have costumed for years, even been an inspiration for more popular costumers, but still, aren’t all that popular, at least by the Facebook Likes metric. And it isn’t because they’re not talented/skilled/dedicated/accurate/what-have-you. It’s because of this little experiment:

  1. Go to a costumer’s page.
  2. Take 50 random photos (make sure they’re random–from beginning to end, not just the most recent)
  3. Of those 50, how many are being sexually provocative in some way? (Cleavage, BnB attempt, butt shots, etc…not going to lawyer this up, but you know what I’m talking about, and be consistent in your judgment from cosplayer to cosplayer).
  4. Multiply said proportion by the total amount of pictures in their gallery.
  5. Repeat for 9 other cosplayers, and so as to not snoop data, do this for the first 9 that come to mind for you right now.
  6. Plot estimated amount of provocative pictures (provocative of the 50 times total pictures) on the horizontal axis and facebook likes on the vertical axis.
  7. For extra credit, fit a linear regression to your data.
  8. For extra extra credit, what’s the 95% confidence interval of your slope of provocative photos to facebook likes? Adjusted R-squared? *Dodges bricks and tomatoes*

So if anyone ever thinks that they’re not sufficiently talented, or not selling enough prints, or whatever else have you, don’t be too hard on yourself. There’s a completely different explanation for things, which makes sense to me, because if one thinks about it, what kind of person would you expect to find more of on teh interwebz: hardcore geeks that’ll pore over every stitch and like a costumer for her (usually a her) craft/personality/dedication, or people simply trying to justify ogling pretty girls? There’s a reason TVTropes has the trope “I read it for the articles”. Well, with costuming, it’s “I look at it for the costume craftsmanship!”. The data does not support this.

Now, allow me to use this opportunity to segue into another topic–namely, the underbelly of the costuming/geek scene. Let’s start off with the kind of person found in Meredith Placko’s “How Not to Talk To Cosplay Girls” article. Now, while I’d like to say that these people are entirely comprised of fat, basement-dwelling, jobless slobs with no social skills, first of all, I should look in the mirror since (in full disclosure) I could stand to lose 15 pounds, have been unemployed for various periods of time throughout the course of my career, my mother prefers to keep me around so I save money from my work-from-home jobs, and I was bullied out of learning how to innocuously interact in large groups of people (hey, I was fat, short, weak, and stuck my head in a book rather than fight back the big, dumb bullies–most of whom went to community college). Second of all, I think there’s a case of the GIFT (aka the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory) at work (more formally called the Online Disinhibition Effect), and that I’m sure some of these people doing this do this just to get someone to negatively react to such commentary, and find entertainment in it. For all I know, they may have jobs, girlfriends, even a place of their own. And let me say that in a perfect world, they wouldn’t exist; in fact, to put it more generally, trolling wouldn’t exist, and the internet could be one huge dating site on which everyone could use their real name without fear of being trolled, doxed, stalked, or worse.

In any case, in my opinion, the first thing to realize about such people is this: the law of large numbers. I’ll spare the formal math here (I don’t understand all of it myself), but in a nutshell, it says that given enough observations, anything that can happen *will* happen. So if you’re a talented cosplayer/costumer with even several thousand likes, and get the occasional variation of some highly-inappropriate message, well, that’s the law of large numbers at work.

Secondly, realize that some activities in costuming may increase the probability of attracting such negative attention–namely, sexualizing oneself. I suppose some feminist might go on a tirade about me victim-shaming here (to which I say read the paragraph above last–again), but that’s just the nature of the beast right now. To paraphrase (if not quote) one of my favorite costuming redheads: “want to stop being objectified? Put your tits away!”, and to quote another: “Own it.” I think that every single costumer reading this is of legal age, and if she (at least so far anyway…I’ve never seen men complain about objectification) has the cognitive wherewithal to craft such fantastic costumes that she gets enough attention that she receives enough of such messages, she’s intelligent enough to understand that she’s sending certain signals out into an environment on which many people act in completely inappropriate manners, from the occasional random person making an inappropriate comment, to a congressman taking a lewd photo of himself and sending it to a female half his age. (Really, shouldn’t you *not* have done that when your last name is a synonym of penis? You can’t make this shit up.)

Also, one other thing here–ladies, the grievances that arise are understood by every thinking person. And since you’re not running for President, you don’t “need a majority.” But in the words of the late, great George Carlin: “Think about how stupid the average person is. And then realize that half of them are dumber than that!” (Statistically speaking, that statement is a misnomer–it should be the *median* person =P).

A somewhat related topic is the issue of “fake” geek girls. And let me start off with a disclaimer that every single cosplayer/costumer I listed in the opening paragraph outgeeks me by a mile (or many). Most of my geek likes are from my developmental years (the 90s! When cartoons were jawesome!), and I’ve definitely not been keeping up with my geek material to anywhere near the extent that most people on this site have. So I for one will try not to doubt anybody’s geek cred (I reserve the right to fail since I’m not perfect).

That said, allow me to give a hypothesis as to why we have this issue: simply because I think this is the way for some people to get back at perceived (or perhaps real) slights they suffered growing up. I remember the time when being a geek *wasn’t* cool. Yes, once upon a time (not too long ago), proclaiming yourself a geek was like calling yourself a clown. And once upon a time, those who were geeks, before it was cool, were bullied–either directly by the stereotypical bullies, AKA people that’d pull your chair out from under you when you went to sit down, call you names, the typical fare, or perhaps more intelligently, by the alpha female (“They left!” “Who?” “The people who care!”), but still, they were made fun of.

So now, they finally have something they can call “their own”. Finally, what they’ve liked for years has become popular. Finally, they’re not outcasts! Well, now that the seemingly more normal people have started liking it, these people, who seemingly “sacrificed” so much for “their” hobby, no longer have something to call “their own” (note the use of quotations). Now, instead of being those kids who could enjoy their time together being the DnD players, the trekkies, etc…, they’re just these socially inept individuals with yet another hobby, no different than hiking, or nature photography (if you don’t like these things already, try to on some hikes throughout Israel).

Except they still have all that negative baggage, and now, with nothing to show for it. So, a select few of these individuals are going on some futile crusade to try and make “their” hobby “theirs” again, even though they’ve probably contributed less to it at this point than a beautiful, socially adept costumer, who is probably responsible for thousands (tens of thousands?) of dollars of expenditures on costuming materials, plane tickets, con tickets, and more swag than I’ll ever own in my lifetime. In my opinion, the only prerequisite to being a geek is to like at least *some* sort of comic/anime/geek movie/video game/manga/derivatives thereof. I mean heck, if you like the USA show Suits (like I do), if you want to really understand all of the movie quotes in the witty bantering, you’re going to be more of a movie geek than quite a few people by the time you’re through. Heck, there’s an entire tumblr dedicated to all of the pop-culture references in Suits, and last I checked, it was 11 pages long. And if anyone says “but what about booth babes?”, my reply is this: do you remember the market crash of 2007-2008? While the stock market has recovered, the middle class hasn’t. So the phrase “take any job” still applies. Don’t judge.

Which segues me into another dark side of the geek community: the condescension shown to some people who simply may not know the whole song and dance of taking an introduction and transforming it into a friendship–even if they may be absolutely great people at heart. I suppose I’ll use myself as anecdotal evidence (not saying that I’m perfect or great by any stretch of the imagination, but one data point is better than zero, so go with it). In my case, during the time that adolescents are usually supposed to learn to interact in groups of people (why is it that you think kids get placed in k-12 and sit at large tables at lunch? Homeroom? Think that’s *just* to save space? Hello, social engineering!), I was the kid that sat alone at lunch. I was the one that got made fun of. I was short, fat, hairy, and couldn’t really physically fight back. So, I turned to math books. In turn, I paid tit unto tat and became condescending to people who couldn’t understand calculus as well as me. I tried having a place to call my own–to have some sort of higher ground against the flood of condescension brought against me by those who weren’t just young and stupid, but, those who were young and smart (thanks, Suits). Well, fast forward to my recent trip to Israel, and I realized that no matter how much weight I can lift, no matter the fact that I’m at least competent when it comes to data analysis/programming, no matter anything else, I didn’t have the ability to go from an introduction “Hey, what’s your name, where are you from, what do you do?” at the airport, to carrying an innocuous conversation. When I have something to say, I can say a lot (such as with this article), but it made me realize the extent of the damage done when the jokes I tried resulted in awkward silences rather than the laughs I thought a type A could get with better delivery, and sometimes, I felt that the awkwardness between me and some people was so thick that it could be sliced with a proverbial knife. I suppose this means that I’ll have to use Jdate to find a date whenever I finally put down some semblance of roots, and leave the icebreaking to data scientists throwing around their modified kNN and NLP algorithms (that’s k-nearest-neighbor and natural language processing, for you lucky 10,000 people http://xkcd.com/1053/). Ah well, c’est la vie.

In any case, the question here is how many of the people reading this have labeled someone as a “creep” and decided to end a conversation ASAP? Well, in those situations, was it because said person knew what he (or she) was doing and was making deliberately rude comments, or were they trying “too hard” to be friendly, came off as “awkward” (as defined by which rules? Do those rules make sense?) and didn’t know better? Maybe they simply didn’t have good genetics and don’t have that superhero physique. After all, geek culture (especially geek culture!) actively parades the beautiful front and center, and actively villifies the ugly (“Nothing can stop the blob!”). And one should ask themselves: how much of every interaction that they have are they simply letting biology and their subconsciousness take them along, and are going with the flow? How often, in the words of Frank Partnoy (author of Wait: The Art and Science of Delay), are they simply “thin slicing”? How much can one really know about a person in the first minute of meeting them? To call someone a “creep” from just that, unless they deliberately *try* to be labeled as such by making such comments as found in Meredith’s “How Not To Talk to Cosplay Girls” article, isn’t there some amount of judgment going on there?

In my personal experience, I *currently* have a happy scenario. The people that I traveled with in my group in Israel have all befriended me to various extents, and the group requested that I make an album of Black-Bordered Funnies (AKA take a photo of someone, and frame it in the format of a demotivational poster, and if you don’t know what those are, go herehttp://despair.com/demotivators.html and laugh your head off). However, what sticks in my mind, by reading about some of the going-ons within the geek community is this: how many times has someone wound up judging another? I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of it at some point.

What’s the message of this last part? In the words of my group’s Yad Vashem (Holocaust museum in Jerusalem) tour guide, “don’t judge”.

Maybe someone doesn’t have the best diet (ever read the ingredients on some of the crap we buy in supermarkets?). Don’t judge. Maybe someone doesn’t have the best genetics (we can’t control who someone’s mother or father marries). Don’t judge. Maybe someone doesn’t appreciate the same fandoms you do (how many tens of superheroes are there, each with hundreds of issues and episodes, and how many hundreds if not thousands of indie productions?). Don’t judge. Heck, maybe, just maybe, someone simply didn’t get that social development that he or she was supposed to (probably more likely among the geek community than anywhere else). Don’t. Judge. While I don’t think it’s always so black and white as to whether someone is being malicious or doesn’t know better, if you can’t come up with a definitive answer, well, why not take that opportunity to find out?

Now, one last thing–one last note on trolls, and other deliberately unsavory people. Know what I think is an *excellent* way of thinking about them?

Think about this: the amount of information that any given person doesn’t know is monumental–far more than one can ever hope to learn in a lifetime. So when someone consciously sets aside that time to come up with that barb, think about what else they elect *not* to do. They’re not working on a costume. They’re not taking aCoursera.org or Udacity.com MOOC to teach themselves something (interested in video games? Take Kevin Werbach’s class on gamification, starting on April 1! No programming involved, I promise.). They’re not writing an article, or reading a book. They’re not even catching up on their supposed fandoms. They’re there, in front of their computer, taking their precious time that they’ll never get back, to try and hurt a person they most likely will never meet. Of all *possible* things one can do with one’s precious, non-renewable time, *that’s* what they elect to do? They may throw a barb at you. But what do they say about themselves in the process?

In any case, for those that haven’t yet realized it, I’m trying to make this wonderful thing we call teh interwebz a better place. Ideally, I’d like for it to build all sorts of ships. Friendships, relationships, maybe starships too =P. And I’m hoping that this article has given some influential people some food for thought, and fosters some positive and constructive discussion. Thanks for reading ^_^.

Questions, comments? All welcome >^_^<.

DISCUSS =P

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