Global Fandom Conversation Series Elizaveta Kasilova (Russia) and Antonella Mascio (Italy) (Part Two)/
Elizaveta Kasilova (Russia). Costumes, cosplay, daily-life, nostalgia
Reading your article, Antonella, I started to think about the connection between costumes, cosplay, daily-life, and nostalgia. And I decided to focus in my text on the ways in which the characters’ clothes are interpreted and reproduced by Russian fans.
(I can primarily say that unfortunately I’m not a great expert on cosplay which, of course, is very important for such a topic. Thus, the part of the text connected with cosplay should be considered as preliminary ideas and observations).
As the scientists say, nostalgia – the very important concept for your investigation – leads fans to create clothes, artifacts which relate to their favorite book or film. Such artifacts and costumes can reflect fans’ ideas of the historical and cultural period which is described in this book\film. Trying to be closer to the world created by the author, fans choose things that are similar in style to the historical period. By the analysis of the clothes fans try to interpret the character more deeply – and therefore the character’ costume sometimes is understood as an encoded message with symbolic elements. Constructing the character’s clothes of describing it in fan text, fan can express three aspects: 1) how he\she imagines the historical period; is historical accuracy important for him\her; 2) how fan interprets the character; 3) how fan changes the character’ clothes for everyday life, for another historical period or for another genre.
Speaking about historical accuracy in fan works, I would venture to suggest that it isn’t so important for the Russian fanfics and cosplay which I have analyzed. The Harry Potter circle touches on the 1970s, 1980s, and a little bit 1990s (and, if we speak also about Fantastic Beasts – on 1920s-1930s), but fans don’t pay much attention to the historical and cultural characteristics of this period – probably because the main plot goes in magic world which isn’t so connected with muggles’ world and muggles culture. In such a case it is more important to create a magic atmosphere rather than to reflect the historical period.
For example, cosplay photos from one of the most popular Russian HP fans groups Typical Potterhead show that for good cosplay you need a witch robe, a magic wand and – this is very popular detail of a magic cosplay look – a special striped tie or scarf with the colors of some Hogwarts’ faculty. It is worth mentioning that striped ties and scarfs were invented by the creators of the HP films, but the fans obviously take it as a “canonical” detail by Rowling.
As the photos show, the fan can often simplify and adjust such magic look into outfits for everyday life. To become a Hogwarts student, you need a white shirt, a tie, round glasses – and some old book in hand. I think the reason for this adjustment is in the fact that the Hogwarts students, despite being wizards, are also ordinary students with many ordinary school things – homework, tests, exams and so on.
The Russian fanfics also show that the fans can easily change the character's costume if it is needed for the plot and idea. Thus, Harry Potter and his friends can wear T-shirts and jeans (even at Hogwarts!), and prof. Snape can wear a polo-neck sweater or jacket. But there is a rule for all fans: every costume should demonstrate the character traits and some aspects from the HP book. For example, the prof. Snape’s polo-neck sweater should be black because he wears only black robe in the book, and this color is connected with his withdrawn, dark, unhandsome manner. As another example I can mention Hermione Granger who can wear dresses, sweaters, and other “muggle” clothes, but it should not be very sexy - because Hermione in book is some kind of a “bookworm” who doesn’t think about clothes a lot.
As a conclusion I want to point out that investigating clothes seems to me a very productive way to see how fans interpret the characters, how they feel the book and how they try to use some details from everyday life in fan works. Speaking about nostalgia, I can only say that nostalgia in Russian HP fandom probably doesn’t connect with some historical period and clothes associated with some epoch – maybe because of the HP world specifics. The HP world is placed by Rowling in a concrete period but – at the same time – it is a story which could be installed in many decorations. These decorations should be old – probably that is the only condition for good fan work.
Global Fandom Conversation Series: Elizaveta Kasilova (Russia) and Antonella Mascio (Italy)
Antonella Mascio (Italy). Nostalgia, Costumes, Protest
Thank you, Elizaveta for your remarks. In this final round I’ll come to the conclusion by focusing on two points linked to your presentation:
- Nostalgia and fandom
- Costumes and protest actions
Nostalgia and fandom
Nostalgia in TV series is a complex issue that several scholars have been working on for a few years (Holdsworth, 2011; Lizardi, 2015; Niemeyer, 2014). The “nostalgia effect” appears in the discussions of fans both during the period between seasons and at the end of a TV series. Italian fans of The Americans, for example, have used the forums to express their missing of the series.
There are cases in which fans also express nostalgia in response to certain narrative devices. It happens, especially when design products, objects or soundtrack pieces recalling a near past appear on screen, with the effect of producing a wide range of reactions, depending on the age of the audience. Certainly, the setting of dramas in a different era than the present day, whether near or far in time, is nothing new, especially for melodramas, thrillers, costume stories and spy stories. It is usually not the case of teen dramas that traditionally target a young model audience and present stories that develop in today's world.
When the time setting is in the past, the TV series raises awareness and attracts wider audiences than those usually associated with the teen genre. This play between different temporal regimes is renewing the universe of teen dramas, so much so that sometimes, even when the story develops in the contemporary world, the sets include products that, although easily recognizable, are no longer part of ordinary everyday life (I'm thinking about the audiotapes in 13 Reasons Why, for example). It is precisely these objects, together with music pieces, or technological instruments from a few decades ago (e.g. the Walkman), that attract the attention of the older fandom, functioning as a “different” key to reading the text, thus producing a nostalgic effect. This is especially evident in online forums, where discussions are more articulated and in-depth, and where the average age of users is usually higher than in social media.
If we take Stranger Things as an example, younger fans identify the historical period in which the series is set and are fascinated by it, but are unable to grasp the set of intertextual references that the text proposes. Older fans, on the other hand, are more easily involved in a double reading of the TV series: On the one hand, they enjoy the story and follow the adventures of Eleven, Mike and the Demogorgon; while on the other hand they recognize the references to E.T., Stand by Me, or the musical pieces of the period that function as dejà vu and allow them to go back to their own adolescence. It is therefore a kind of “focused nostalgia” directed at certain audiences: this is what emerges from a series of interviews conducted for a recent research study (Mascio, 2021).
I believe that the use of narrative formats belonging to the teen drama genre including “vintage” elements (such as vinyl records in Sex Education) defines new opportunities for fandom and points us to possibilities for further studying.
Costumes and protest actions
I would like to conclude our exchange, Elizaveta, by returning to the theme of costumes in TV series, taking up some of your precious suggestions. The way in which fans bring back items of clothing in their everyday life, and use them, is indeed interesting because it opens many investigative paths: are they forms of appropriation of the TV series? Do they show attachment to a single character? What possible functions can they refer to?
It is difficult to find answers to these questions in just a few lines, and the points that you Elizaveta have highlighted are very important: the wardrobes of the characters are in fact connected more generally to the interpretation that fans of the TV series conceive. Of course, as we said in our first round, the aesthetic appeal of certain outfits can be relevant for many fans, but for others it is not the only reason of interest. Now, I would like to consider some cases in which the connection between outfits on screen and the world of fashion is not important. Instead, what is relevant is that certain outfits incorporate specific meanings and represent fundamental references in the narrative. These are mainly outfits that function as uniforms and, in some cases, become actual icons. When fans use them, the goal is to appropriate those specific symbols and meanings.
Let’s take the case of The Handmaid’s Tale. The costume consisting of a red tunic and a headdress with white flaps is configured in the story as a uniform. And as such, it refers to specific meanings: it defines the Handmaids, distinguishing them from the other women in Gilead's society. In the first instance, this garment became part of the Internet’s participatory culture, due to the many memes created by fans immediately after the release of the first season. The meme is an important communication product that fans generally make extensive use of. It invites the viewer to make an interpretion effort, creating a sort of short-circuit between different contexts (Shifman 2014). It is perhaps for this reason that the meme is also an important engine for creating a sense of community among fans, as a reaction to the fragmentation of the digital environment. Those who are able to recognize the source text, and are at the same time able to understand the additional message and enjoy the irony that usually accompanies it, share cultural knowledge and values with a community - partly manifest, partly imagined (cf. Anderson 1983).
Together with the memes, images of women, dressed in a similar way to the Handmaids, have appeared on various media, gathered in cities in different countries, including Italy, to protest against gender discrimination policies, linked in particular to abortion laws. This has started a process of incorporation of meanings focused precisely on the uniform, which soon became an icon capable of being recognized as the symbol of defence of women's rights. These rallies wink at fandom, but are not necessarily organized by fans. However, the fandom of the TV series has a fundamental role in determining a semantic shift leading to the use of the uniform of The Handmaid's Tale in the streets: by amplifying the success of the series and the issues it deals with, it has in fact strengthened the circulation of its images. All this shows how fandom significantly participates in the negotiation of meanings that emerge from TV series, thus creating a strong relationship between the fictional world and the real one. According to this reading, uniforms have been transformed over time from uniforms into entities that can be defined as “cultural armour”.
La Casa de Papel and Squid Game function in a similar way. The Squid Game's uniform, for example, was used by environmentalists to protest during Cop 26, in Glasgow, in the fall of 2021. In the case of La Casa de Papel, on the other hand, the red uniforms and Guy Fawkes masks have become a political symbol and have been worn in protests in different parts of the world, including Italy. In October 2020 a flash mob with the uniforms of La casa de Papel was organized in front of the Bank of Italy’s headquarters in Milan, to ask for economic support in a moment of crisis related to the Covid 19 pandemic. University students in Naples also used the same uniform to protest against the increase in university fees, singing in chorus “Bella Ciao”. The uniform was immediately interpreted according to the symbolic meanings it incorporates, and the media had no doubt in recognizing the themes of La Casa de Papel in the flash mob organized by the group of young people. In turn, the fans have taken up and re-articulated the newspaper articles about the protests in the online discussion pages, using them as further forms of valorisation of the TV series, and creating a short-circuit between fiction, offline reality and the online world.
It seems to me that these modes of appropriation of fictional content are leading us towards a further reinterpretation of the role of TV series, at a social and cultural level. The uniforms in these cases represent an obvious reference to television productions: They are easily recognizable and reproducible. They become, for the wearer, a declaration of participation in the community-audience connected with the original text. Moreover, their use by several groups of people as symbols of protest, in different areas of the globe, confirms the existence of forms of negotiation between “real” and “fictional” on the public scene.
I would also like to have your opinion, Elizaveta, on the relationship between TV series, costumes and forms of protest, but we will keep it for the next occasion.
So, thank you again for this rich exchange of ideas, and thank you for your participation at this very difficult time. Our research on fandom has given us the opportunity to exchange opinions and ideas about what is happening, and I hope we will soon have the chance to talk a lot more about fiction and reality, in more serene circumstances.
Anderson, B. (2006), Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, London - New York.
Holdsworth, A. (2011), Television, Memory and Nostalgia, Palgrave Macmillan Memory Studies, USA – UK.
Lizardi, R. (2015), Mediated Nostalgia: Individual Memory and Contemporary Mass Media, Lexington Books, Lanham, Maryland.
Mascio, A. (2021), “Sponsored Things: Audiences and the Commodification of the Past in Stranger Things”, in T. Mollet, L. Scott (eds.), Investigating Stranger Things Upside Down in the World of Mainstream Cult Entertainment, Palgrave Macmillan – Springer, London – Cham.
Niemeyer, K. (2014), Media and Nostalgia: Yearning for the Past, Present and Future, Palgrave Macmillan,
Basingstoke - New York.
Shifman, L. (2014), Memes in Digital Culture, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
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