Cosplaying White Working-class ‘Authenticity’ (Panel)


Cultural Studies and Media Studies / American

Matthew Ussia (Duquesne University)

The term “cosplay” is generally associated with comic book conventions and renaissance fairs. However, the purpose of this panel is to explore how theories of cosplay can be utilized to conceptually frame ways in which the fascination with white working class culture is embodied. This embodiment takes the forms of fashion, media attention, and a critical acclaim of texts and artistic figures that shroud corporatized versions of white working class cultural expression with a patina of authenticity. Examples include designer “distressed” clothing and thousand dollar tickets to Bruce Springsteen’s Broadway show. The vast majority of cosplay scholarship, such as Therese Winge’s “Costuming the Imagination” focuses on North American comic book conventions and Japanese manga. Winge’s theory that cosplay allows individuals to form “protective identities” to deepen social structures is vital here for understanding the ways in which expensive embodiments of white working class cultural expression help to foster the sense of an “authentic” American culture. This legitimizing of race-based forms of class expression over other expressions of race, class and gender identity as fake or un-American reveals much about the mainstream political imaginary not only in the age of Trump, but representations of American self-expression and representation that far predate Reagan’s “Morning in America” campaign. White working class cosplay is often kitsch at best, at its worst, represents the mainstreaming the culture and values of white nationalism.

While cosplay is a term most associated with comic book conventions, this panel will explore how expensive expressions of white working-class culture are a form of cosplay, that foster both a protective identity and a sense of the ideal imaginary within mainstream American culture.