Cosplay, cosmopolitanism and culture
April 30, 2014 | 10:25 am
I was lucky enough to spend Sunday at Hungary’s biggest leading convention, Tavasi MondoCON, in brilliant sunshine and surrounded by brilliant costumes. I was blown away by the scale of the event and the dedication put into the costumes, in a country of just under 10 million, which hardly counts as the wealthiest, most sophisticated or most cosmopolitan destination even in Central Europe, let alone Europe as a whole. Yet the ensembles not only were very well executed, they also showed deep knowledge of all the choicest details of anime and manga, never mind Western films, comics and series. And the Japanese element extended far beyond the costumes, to sushi bars, toys, and all the consumables of Hello Kitty kawaii culture.
Hungary also recently had an election distinguished – or disfigured – by far-right nationalistic sentiment, where xenophobia and cultural distinctiveness were key themes. There are even rumors in the Hungarian media that post the election, the proto-Fascistic extreme-right party Jobbik might gain an influential voice in the new parliamentary cultural committees just forming. And I have no idea how many provincial far-right politicians would even guess that something like a cosplay convention exists, let alone approve of it. Yet here they have a vast slice of their youth vote subscribed wholesale to the pop culture of another country a world away, which couldn’t be further from Hungary and traditional Magyar values. They live Japan to a degree inconceivable in most previous generations, and to a depth that’s hard to believe even now.
The point is that writers and culture-watchers of all kinds might as well accept that cultural globalization is happening under their noses and out of sight, and that they can end up surrounded by true multiculturalists before they even realize it. They might as well cast their nets as wide as they can, forget about worrying whether their readers or audiences need to be brought up to speed on the minutae of Studio Ghibli or hentai. Chances are they already know the scenes inside out. And cultural exclusivists – who crop up in the U.S. just as they do in Hungary – might as well give up entirely. The future is out there.