Friday, September 30, 2016


Allie Brosh, from "Menace"
We all know about costumes. From playing "dress up" at home, to halloween, they've always been a part of American culture, though sometimes relegated to the eventually put-away basket of "childish things." More recently, though, at events such as ComiCon and its spinoffs, dressing up as one's favorite comic book or film hero (or villain) has risen to new heights, as adults have poured enormous time and money into what's been dubbed "cosplay." This art reached either its zenith -- or, depending on your view, its nadir -- when Bryan Cranston crashed ComiCon in a cosplay mask of his character, Walter White, from Breaking Bad. So was it Bryan Cranston cosplaying Walter White -- or was it Bryan Cranston cosplaying some nobody cosplaying Walter White. An almost existential crisis ensued.

Because, in one sense, everything is a costume, from a business suit to a bathrobe, and even our most authentic selves are, at least in part, performance. Shakespeare's "All the world's a stage / And all the men and women merely players" hints at this, but in more recent times, scholars of performance theory have looked at "performativity" as, in fact, the deepest layer of identity, not its shallowest. Perhaps it's not just Frank Abagnale -- whose ability to transform, chameleon-like, into an airline pilot, a doctor, or a college professor inspired the film Catch Me If You Can -- but all of us who, even when doing what we actually do, are performing.

So costumes, then, have a power -- a power to make or alter one's identity. Never has this been made more poignantly clear than in Allie Brosh's story "Menace," in which a dinosaur costume transforms her into -- well, into a dinosaur, with nearly disastrous results. But because adults like to feel that they should grant their children the pleasure of imaginative play, it takes some time before her parents put two and two together and realize that it's the costume that's "doing" it. And so they dispose of it, as as Allie describes it, "And so my reign of power came to an end, and I slowly learned to live as a person again."

So for this assignment, choose a costume. It could be an actual costume that you wore for Halloween, or a costume you might design and wear yourself today. The first part of this assignment is for you to describe this costume in words; omit nothing, and be as vivid as possible. Include some statement as to how this costume did, or would, make you feel when wearing it.

Then, give or send this description to another member of your group, and get a description from someone else (in the 4-person groups, you can exchange with a partner; 3-person groups should do a 'round robin' where Person A gives their paper to Person B, Person B to Person C, and Person C to Person A). Once you've received the description of this costume, your assignment is to draw it. Include as many of the details as possible, and see if you can't also give the person an expression which shows how the costume makes them feel. Look at Allie Brosh for inspiration -- she's managed to take the most basic, wobbly-lined, almost primitive kind of drawing on a computer tablet, and turn it to genius. Use any materials of your choice, and any technique: crayons, painting, collage, fibers, ink, and glue. Don't show your drawing to the person whose description it is before Tuesday's classa meeting. I'll see you there!

No comments:

Post a Comment