Praxis

Identity, curated branding, and the star cosplayer's pursuit of Instagram fame

Fiona Katie Haborak

University of Texas at Dallas, Dallas, Texas, United States

[0.1] Abstract—In response to the digital landscape, the nature of cosplay, in which the cosplayer constructs an identity complementary to the character via costuming, has changed from a performative expression of fandom appreciation to a desire to achieve viral fame. As a signifier of popular culture, such so-called star cosplayers commodify their bodies to market a social identity through the curatorial process of displaying work on Instagram. A creative project, ".//wired: TRENDING," promotes the aesthetic value and function of cosplay while utilizing social media to create an identity brand for endorsement.

[0.2] Keywords—Creative praxis; Fandom; Identity brand; Influencer culture; Online culture; Online monetization; Social influencer; Social media

Haborak, Fiona Katie. 2020. "Identity, Curated Branding, and the Star Cosplayer's Pursuit of Instagram Fame." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 34. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2020.1949.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Riffing off popular culture, the subculture of cosplay invokes a do-it-yourself practice invested in meticulous self-documentation (Hale 2014). Cosplayers congregate on social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook to post in-costume selfies or photography. This art form celebrates the crafter's design, be it a cardboard box manipulated into a suit of armor, a dress configured from shredded, discounted fabric purchased at a local craft store, or components purchased at a costume shop. As an expression of fandom adoration, a costume identifies a relationship between the fan and the character (Lamerichs 2014). This mystical world, wedding fantasy to reality, begs to be lovingly unraveled one thread at a time.

[1.2] As a subcultural phenomenon, the nature of cosplay has changed from a performative expression of fandom appreciation to an increased interest in viral fame. In order to adapt to the evolving technological landscape, cosplayers now gather on social media platforms as opposed to convention halls. No longer confined to the physical plane, this subculture thrives in a digital place. Obsession over celebrity culture invents a viable model of fame to be accessed through social media; this celebrity industry necessitates that people live for the camera (Gamson 2011). Today, new media ensures the possibility that anyone can become a celebrity (Driessens 2013). Once a form of hobbyist expression to pass the time and pay homage to beloved fictional characters in popular culture, cosplay has since exploded, now trending on social media platforms while also increasingly visible in cultural journalism. With the personality presented on Instagram and the costume operating as a curated mask, a performance implies anticipated viral success. Cosplay pages on social media curate an impression of a cosplayer's reputation. In this emerging phenomenon, cosplayers use social media as a means of establishing an identity brand to become an influencer for monetary gain. Influencers behave as microcelebrities who sell their image to the digital public. Microcelebrities might be classified as online influencers who possess a vast, unspecified number of followers online (Eroglu and Köse 2019).

[1.3] Here I investigate how an identity comes to be constituted on social media while analyzing the effects of Instagram fame in the context of the cosplay community. Here, the term "identity" refers to a brand that a person sells: a version of the self curated through a selection of images showcasing a tailored life. I explore the performative nature of cosplay through the social media platform Instagram. Richard Dyer's star theory, Erving Goffman's dramaturgical approach, and Pierre Bourdieu's (2010) distinctions of taste, considered in tandem, make it clear that cosplay is a performative meaning-making process that displaces or produces multiple identities. Different threads of identity woven throughout social media and the performance of the cosplayer in public spaces create numerous personas, including the personality presented on Instagram and the costume introduced as a mask to suggest disparate versions of the self. An online persona demonstrates "mediated forms" of the self as negotiated in response to the viral texts (Marshall 2020, 89). In the digital age, the costumer can become a star cosplayer, with transmedia work focusing on their performativity through their use of Instagram.

[1.4] Aside from fostering a sense of community, cosplayers use social media to establish an identity brand. Engaging in an online charade, cosplayers use Instagram to accrue social capital. With the commercialized, visible self on Instagram, an attention economy demonstrates the frequency of social capital due to the "(online identity as a product) and popularity (measured by web metrics)" (Pedroni 2016, 113). I'll use the term "star cosplayer" here, a term from consumerism and celebrity culture, to create a cosplayer exemplar. This work is part of a transmedia experience, including a work of art that seeks to reveal the discoveries I discuss here (note 1). As a cosplayer, I find myself deeply invested in the questions this work poses and qualified to unpack the performativity behind cosplay.

[1.5] Can the meaning of cosplay change? How has cosplayers' adoption of Instagram changed it as a community? What are the motivations or goals of cosplayers online? How is success identified in a modern digital age?

2. On cosplay

[2.1] A June 1983 article by Noboyuki Takahashi features fans masquerading as anime and manga characters at a convention called Comiket (Hellekson 2018), describing what we now know as cosplay. As the word kosupure, the term appears in the magazine My Anime (DiPiazza 2018). In the 1990s, Takahashi's portmanteau features in Japanese publication and media before accruing popularity in the Western sphere (Plunkett 2014). Since the 1990s, fandoms are no longer as marginalized as they once were; rather, they prosper as a phenomenon fostered throughout a multitude of careers and increasingly visible across media platforms. Today cosplayers continue to grace the halls of conventions and perform on stage. Cosplay occurs both inside and outside the convention scene; sometimes images are shared via online dissemination, blogs, or how-to tutorials scattered throughout the internet (Lamerichs 2014).

[2.2] Media fans passionately consume fan-made objects (Burgess and Jones 2018). Fandom exhibits a permanence within culture, having "survived and evolved for more than twenty-five years and has produced material artifacts of enduring interest to that community" (Jenkins 2012, 49). Fandom transforms characters and celebrities into commodities for consumption (Duchesne 2010). By analyzing stars and stardom, Richard Dyer (1998) suggests that societal perceptions and theories are apt to change through historical and cultural contexts. Similarly, the meaning of cosplay is apt to change over the course of its evolution. The cultural history of the cosplayer is not a static photograph but rather a moving picture. Cosplayers inject themselves into social media spheres to forge friendships and share their beloved designs.

[2.3] Relying as it does on participatory culture, cosplay encapsulates elements of costume design and encourages manipulation of the performer's body. Sometimes characterized by do-it-yourself methodology, cosplay marshals an intimate approach to produce a personalized piece. The costume can be self-produced, purchased, or a synthesis of homemade and preassembled parts (Winge 2006). Yet with its engagement in fandom practices, cosplay strives to be for everyone, so at its heart, it remains a social activity (Okabe 2012). Despite this, not all are made welcome: there are impositions due to accessibility, as well as perceived power hierarchies. Further, cosplayers tend to construct a cultural or social identity by paying tribute to images from mass culture (Jenkins 2012), which limits engagement from cosplayers who do not fit that mold. The wearer creates or dons a costume to mimic a character from anime, film, television, video games, or other media, but cosplay delves beyond the costume as wearers refine their performances to better embody the character.

[2.4] Akin to performance art, the cosplayer masquerades as a character from popular culture (Gn 2011). The audience responds to the cosplayer's assumed character and performance by proxy. Cosplay functions as a conduit for the cosplayer, as the wearer constructs a personality to complement the costume. In an appreciation of cosplay, Adam Savage (2016), special effects extraordinaire and cohost of MythBusters (2003–18), suggests that "the costumes are how we reveal ourselves to each other." Cosplay paints a picture. Beyond the convention's constraints, cosplay is further made visible on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. Through active participation and facilitating inspiration, cosplayers build a community by slipping into artificial skins. For many fans, cosplay becomes a vehicle for individual expression.

3. The performative nature of cosplay

[3.1] By easing into a costume, the cosplayer engages in a prescriptive narrative. Through performance, meaning is found, made, and produced. The cosplayer's digital adaption attests to Erving Goffman's (1959) theories on impression management and self-presentation. Goffman defines performance as the participant's collective action in an interaction that then influences the interaction of the parties involved. Performance for Goffman alludes to the ongoing action of the individual while perceived by an audience of others marked as observers. A multitude of masks urge the cosplayer to adapt to the current scene. Facets of the self are devised, perhaps even invented on the spot. Depending on the surroundings, the individual tailors a conception of self. Impression management occurs when an individual is in the presence of other people; the individual weaves a masterful first impression based on the narrative that the person wishes to convey (Goffman 1959). In the company of fellow cosplayers, convention attendees, or a viral audience, the cosplayer's performance procures a lasting impression. There exists an exchange of goods and services in the community; in return, participants provide positive feedback. Sometimes spectators approach the cosplayer as if the cosplayer were literally the character. Verbal cues motivate the cosplayer to interact with enthusiastic spectators (Winge 2006).

[3.2] By wearing a costume in the convention space, the performer acts as either himself or herself or akin to the character (Lamerichs 2014). In this realm, a quest for meaning ensues; the cosplayer chooses meaning in this fantasy world where the design projects an image of how one wishes to behave. Every gesture maintains that the cosplayer's act is a language built on symbols. Cosplayers fuss over appearance to strive for the truest depiction of the character. To an extent, the cosplayer takes a mimetic stance (Scott 2015). A pose forms before the lens; in this moment, some cosplayers aspire to illusions of grandeur: a quest for fame and a hunger to capitalize on a hobby emerging as an industry. By donning a mask, the cosplayer assumes the role of the character emulated within the convention space. For a weekend or a few hours, the cosplayer's life transforms into a theatrical experience. The cosplayer becomes an actor portraying a role or conveying a prescribed story; this "is an old simile recently recruited by social psychology as a device for analyzing behavior" (Edgley and Turner 1975, 5).

[3.3] Cosplay hints at the numerous identities performed. A performative identity alludes to the identity of the cosplayer as a fragmented perception, which "means that cosplayers can both retain their own identity and intentionally negotiate a temporary identity" (Zubernis and Larsen 2018, 213). This temporary identity may be that of the character, the cosplayer's handle on Instagram, or the self in costume. The body in costume enables the cosplayer to explore performativity in a physical space (Duffett 2015). Dramaturgical theories describe how the actor adopts a role; the cosplayer's ongoing performance reveals how the actor masters the role or is more than the role assumed (Edgley and Turner 1975). As a social actor, the cosplayer assumes an identity brand as a role. García-Rapp (2017) alludes to Goffman's conception of interactions masquerading as a nuanced performance; self-branding stems "from the notion of everyday social interactions as (semi-)conscious performances" (121).

4. Instagram as a social media platform

[4.1] Could a younger generation of cosplayers be responsible for this fixation on new media? Social media is connected to youth practices such as blogging, and social networking "can be viewed as cultural resources which are used by young people as a way of performing and perhaps playing with their identity" (Willett 2008, 52). Undoubtedly social media has affected numerous individuals worldwide and plays an integral part in the formation of modern society (boyd 2014). Social media can offer validation, foster solidarity, build community, form networking rituals, or commodify a brand. The reciprocal nature of this digital network in which they are immersed tends to demand "connectivity, responsiveness, autonomy and inventiveness" to promote loyalty from the consumer (Moulier-Boutang 2011, 74). Aspiring to influencer status, social media users strive to acquire subscribers through posts that depict "a comfortability with making the self into a brand via online persona work" (Marshall 2020, 99). Users might engage in a search for personal meaning because social media offers a mode of self-expression where star cosplayers can creatively express personal brands. These platforms offer the incentive to commodify an identity as a brand. Consumption revolves around the integration of technology (Moulier-Boutang 2011). A result of navigating social media platforms is that social networking enables users "to piece together what they constitute as self-identity, and it is to be expected that this reflexive process will intensify the need for young people to develop a coherent sense of self (or not, by way of resistance) in order to participate in digital culture" (Robards and Bennett 2011, 312–13). How they behave online is guided by the norms or values imposed by the online community (Goffman 1966). Subcultural ideology enables youth cultures to perceive social circles that permit individuals to ascertain an identity, as opposed to the nameless individuals that compose a group (Thornton [1995] 2005). Social networks enable self-presentation and a negotiated construction of an individual identity (Papacharissi 2010). Users charmed by Instagram's allure are compelled to depict a curated version of an aesthetic through the compilation of images and videos.

[4.2] Larsen and Ryberg (2011) identify four prominent categories of social network sites: "personal and branding related features," "the social and contact enabling features," "entertainment," and "support and practical information" (19–20). Users can create an online empire through the construction of a brand that projects their image as reaching celebrity status. As Contractor and DeChurch (2014) note, possible motives to use social networks for large-scale influence include reciprocity, accountability, and affiliation. Reciprocity ensures that star cosplayers manage their social network pages. Accountability acknowledges them as personally responsible for account management. Affiliation implies that they operate within a sphere of influence. Self-marketing is made possible through manipulating an online platform. Influencer culture demonstrates how an identity becomes a marketed brand. The brand, in the context of the internet, might refer to a user's constructed consumer identity (Piety 2012).

[4.3] Creativity online is perceived as a collective act, yet one celebrated because of the individual (Moulier-Boutang 2011). Passion, cloaked as desire, becomes exploited "as a factor of efficiency in human activity deployed in an enterprise" (Moulier-Boutang 2011, 76). Instagram allows cosplayers to interact through persistent, obsessive self-documentation in an exchange of comments and likes. As an ephemeral phantom of the night, fame flourishes and fades along with modern public perceptions of digital celebrity (van de Rijt et al. 2013). Although viral fame might be fleeting, Instagram encourages users to curate pictorial spaces for themselves. A single image captures a moment meant to captivate a widespread audience. Cosplayers' commodification can be witnessed through their Instagram use. In cosplay, the body enacts a theatrical performance to reproduce a character from popular culture. The digital, derived from networking and Instagram use, is consumed and thus transformed into social capital.

5. Social capital on Instagram

[5.1] How do we place value on a "like," and how is this relevant to what is known as social capital? (Faucher 2018). Social capital acts as a form of validation on Instagram. As a means of entrepreneurship, affluent influencers find it relatively easy to gain social capital as a result of their likability or popularity (Faucher 2018). Celebrity becomes a form of power postulated as economic profit (Driessens 2013).

[5.2] By attaching social capital to fandom, John Fiske (1992, 2010) applies Pierre Bourdieu's (2010) distinctions of taste. Bourdieu's theory frames celebrity as capital (Driessens 2013). Taste and capital are linked: as Bourdieu (2010) remarks, "Taste, for its part, a classification system constituted by the conditionings associated with a condition situated in a determinate position in the structure of different conditions, governs the relationship with objectified capital" (231). Taste governs what is revered. Fiske (2010) asserts that we thrive in a consumer society in which commodity has functional, cultural value. Star cosplayers accrue social capital as influencers wishing to monetize that identity. As popular culture aficionados, star cosplayers become active producers, as Fiske (1992) notes: "Fans, in particular, are active producers and users of such cultural capital and, at the level of fan organization, begin to reproduce equivalents of the formal institutions of official culture" (33). Fans of star cosplayers' work consume the images presented. Cultural and economic capital are mutually beneficial in the era of late capitalism, as these forms of capital strive "to produce social privilege and distinction" (31).

[5.3] Cosplay is a fan activity by which cosplayers derive social capital. As Paul Booth (2015) remarks, "Our clicks become capital" (1). Users consume through a tap, a message, or an emoji. Likes, comments, and followers perpetuate the star cosplayer's monetization. Media consumption is an ongoing process (Jenkins 2012). Consumption of social media provides a unique and immersive experience for cosplayers on Instagram; the screen becomes the public sphere that they habituate. Through media coverage of this hobby, the media's audience aspires to launch a lucrative career. Suzanne Scott (2015) suggests that the 2013 television show Heroes of Cosplay models this aspirational pursuit. Fan cultures within the United States often engage in a gendered commercialization in which "fan filmmakers and game modders have succeeded in transforming their fan works into commercial entities" (De Kosnik 2009, 120). This form of fan labor can result in an economic benefit by permitting the exchange of goods and services. Similarly, cosplayers can sell their images in exchange for the promise of economic and cultural capital. Social media saturation allows communal global access. Inspired by Fiske's development of fan cultural capital, Matt Hills (2002) welcomes deeper analysis of fan cultural capital. Hills probes the lack of fan symbolic capital which stems from Bourdieu's acknowledgment of symbolic capital and Thorton's approach to subcultural capital as it is related to the murky confines of fame or a perceived reputation. Following Bourdieu, Hills notes that "fans play in the sense that they tacitly recognize the 'rules' of their fan culture, attempting to build up different types of fan skill, knowledge and distinction" (20).

[5.4] Driven by a proposed knowledge economy, so-called cognitive capitalism results in accrued "immaterial capital" as an influence of a viral network (Moulier-Boutang 2011, 50). The term "cognitive capitalism," responding as it does to third wave capitalism in a post-Fordist society, refers to "the virtualization of the economy"—that is to say, "the growing role of the immaterial and of services related to the production of that immaterial" (50). Information and knowledge are describable as an immaterial product stemming from cognitive capitalism. Cognitive capitalism emphasizes both knowledge and creativity (Sakai 2009). The immaterial stems from technology related to computers or new modes of media integrated into the digital (Moulier-Boutang 2011). In relation to Instagram, cosplayers interact with the algorithm by posting photos of their creative works, demonstrating their knowledge of the digital, which they use to devise an immaterial product. This networked influence within the subculture of cosplay queries subcultural capital.

[5.5] On subcultural capital, Sarah Thornton ([1995] 2005) draws from the work of Bourdieu, who "explores what he calls cultural capital or knowledge that is accumulated through upbringing and education which confers social status" (202). Valuable connections grant esteemed status, as is the case for star cosplayers who perform online to accrue a massive following. Thornton describes subcultural capital as granting status to someone on the basis of the regard everyone feels, thereby permitting the cultural hierarchy to pivot in response to taste as something that connotes class. As it is perceived online, subcultural capital demonstrates various relationships among like-minded individuals who share hobbies, interests, or social contexts, which in turn permit a support network and information exchange (Rafalow et al. 2019). As a result of analysis of both cultural and social capital, what is thought to be valuable to the culture that is being studied may thereby be perceived; indeed, it is difficult to assess the various forms of value across subcultures if these subcultures are divorced from contemporary society (Rafalow et al. 2019). In the context of cosplay subculture, celebrity emphasizes the personality and the individual perceived as qualities relevant to "the system of sharing" or a capitalized system (Marshall 2020, 98).

6. Star theory

[6.1] Social media services enable users to share self-made content in a realm where image and representation matter (boyd 2014), and technology promotes self-publishing as making content accessible to a broad audience—content in which everyday life is recorded in the anticipation of receiving attention (Gamson 2011). By self-publishing content with an eye to fame, star cosplayers emerge thanks to their understanding and manipulation of their subcultures. Richard Dyer's (1998, 2003) star theory explores the influence of celebrity today. In accordance with Dyer as well as scholars like Gamson and Turner, the star is a highly visible "public construction of a performer, made up of the diverse representations of that individual" (Ellcessor 2012, 48). Celebrity depicts a public identity as a projection of the self within the constraints of popular culture and fame (Marshall 2020). As a social fact, star theory posits that celebrities or other influential figures are produced as a commodity for monetary gain (Dyer 2003). This ideology of the star as a codified text depicts a narrative of the star as a celebrity image to consume. As deified figures, stars come across as characters that project ambition; in addition, stars' deification is a motivation for pursuing fame (King 2010). Cosplayers on Instagram engage in an unfocused interaction with the star cosplayer that allows Instagram viewers to form an impression of the star that is based on what they see (Goffman 1966). Social networking thus places the fabricated identity of the star cosplayer on a pedestal. Further, thanks to the nature of internet fame, this variation of celebrity appears to be more accessible or attainable for the everyday person (Kurzman et al. 2007). Social media thus becomes a vehicle for opportunity as star cosplayers strive to become influencers. Influencers and internet celebrities achieve stardom, with a viral following exchanged for product endorsement.

[6.2] Dyer (2003) notes that stars embody our individual values, ideals, beliefs, and aspirations. For stardom to exist, certain social structures are in effect; according to Dyer (1998), this includes "a large-scale society (stars cannot know everyone, but everyone can know stars)" and "social mobility (anyone, in principle, may become a star)" (7). Dyer's (1998) notion of large-scale society might usefully be applied to the millions of Instagram users who consume a star's image. Upward mobility encourages the emergence, existence, and permeance of celebrities. Star economics promote capital and marketable investment. Celebrity culture is sold through the dissemination of images in either print or new media. Celebrity consumption involves the inclusion of a celebrity brand across media platforms. With social media operating as a cultural space, the celebrity as a spectacle transforms into a commodity object (Kerrigan et al. 2011). The audience's consumption of popular culture relies on the perception that the practice of celebrity is productive work (Kerrigan et al. 2011). An individual is illuminated as a star through advertisements, cinema, and popular culture (Dyer 2003). Both the celebrity's image and the cosplayer's image are sold for commerce or for validation. The iconic status of celebrity comprises "screen roles and obviously stage-managed public appearances, and also of images of the manufacture of that 'image' and of the real person who is the site or occasion of it" (Dyer 2003, 7). Celebrity appears as a system of low versus high forms of status (Kurzman et al. 2007).

[6.3] Upon achieving celebrity on Instagram, star cosplayers market their services, which include appearing as convention guests or MCs, sponsoring licensed brands, judging cosplay competitions, and modeling via commercial photography. Content creators and influencers use their technical skill set to promote certain advantages, like "entertainment, knowledge, self-reflexivity and motivation as well as inspiration for viewers' own lives and identities" (García-Rapp 2017, 121–22). Stardom presents a certain idea regarding how stars live (Dyer 1998). Thanks to ads and mass media's manipulation of the market, stardom can become grossly successful (Dyer 1998). Celebrity cosplayers attain success in part through self-advertisement, posting routine updates and keeping up with the digital buzz. They share a reciprocal relationship with the audience in which mediated power is circulated to fortify the celebrity's standing (Marshall 1997). Stars are simultaneously figures who cater to public demands and products of the celebrity phenomenon itself (Dyer 1998). Online influencers sell their brand through advertisement, networking, and modeling. As a form of creative labor, this task mirrors influencers' comprehension of how to best navigate the platform to maximize performance (Cunningham and Craig 2019). What's popular and what's trending become future cosplay in the calculated anticipation of receiving likes, comments, or new followers. Using actress Felicity Day as a case study in an article about Twitter, Elizabeth Ellcessor (2012) identifies the modern star's engagement with social media to identify how the star can be read as an iconic image to not only "promote creative labors" (48) but also to use these sites to formulate "a star text of connection, authenticity and consistency" that appears to "be equally important to the functional relationship between funding and content" (65). As a fortified industry, popular culture presents "celebrities as signs" to make sense of them (Marshall 1997, 60).

[6.4] In addition, the star cosplayer creates a discrete identity in which the character is clearly separate from the cosplayer's private identity (Dyer 1998). This discrete identity resembles how cosplayers use Instagram to perpetuate a carefully cultivated online impression. They might hide their authentic selves under constructed identities. On the one hand, removed from the image-heavy technological influence of sites like Instagram, cosplayers embody fans who enjoy dressing up. But on the other hand, as a cultivated construction of commercial production, stars present themselves as something to aspire to. Celebrities behave as "human brands—their performances on- and offstage, off- and online, public or private, are marketing and branding exercises" (Centeno and Wang 2017, 133). In the instance of Kim Kardashian, the iconic Kardashian name carries status, which then evolves into a brand. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian endorse a product by humanizing the brand to encourage its purchase; the star thus embodies the ideal consumer, with the star becoming a "commodity vessel" (Centeno and Wang 2017, 133). The Kardashian family's self-branding and self-entrepreneurship stem from twenty-first-century reality television (Leppert 2015). In the same vein, star cosplayers devise a brand by constructing aliases in which the cosplayer's image is sold as a product.

7. The star cosplayer

[7.1] Unlike the Kardashians, who present curated versions of themselves as themselves, star cosplayers present curated versions of themselves as the characters they portray. On social media, cosplayers may engage in a charade of celebrity, with cosplayers enacting impersonations of impersonations. Star cosplayers, as performers preserving their image, paint themselves in a favorable light, their self-controlled interactions online ensuring an equally controlled perception (Goffman 1959). This highly curated version of the self is sold as a well-kept brand. Cosplayers are identified by their unique pseudonyms, thus adhering to the unwritten rule of social networking encouraging individuality (Langlois 2014). Social media accounts are thus manipulated to construct an image or a reputation. Posted text makes use of carefully selected hashtags, often chosen via complex algorithms, to ensure the most cross-coverage. Self-promotion and communication often occur through Instagram Stories in an amalgamation of Q&As, posts, and photographs. With Instagram as the setting, the stage of social media beckons the cosplayer to perform content that feeds into an impression that ideally will result in fame, thereby accessing the role of celebrity (Goffman 1959). In other words, star cosplayers give an impression of celebrity in order to acquire that status.

[7.2] In order to create that impression of celebrity, cosplayers seek to market themselves as a brand by navigating Instagram to construct celebrity-worthy content with trending hashtags, which they then attempt to monetize. Star cosplayers are preoccupied with follower and "like" counts. They seek out networking opportunities in exchange for compensation. Star cosplayers may make money by selling prints, encouraging fans to sign up for Patreon subscriptions, accepting Ko-fi donations (note 2), and so forth. A big following increases status and presence as the sheer magnitude of followers becomes an estimate of visibility; influencers prioritize engagement as a method to accrue gain exposure (Cotter 2018). Seeking prestige, star cosplayers gain social capital in hopes of monetizing their identity brand. Seeking influence, they strive to produce content. Indeed, by harnessing fan labor tactics and embracing their fannish passion, star cosplayers rely on advertisement via small-scale fan-networked circulation on Instagram (Busse 2015). Through value production, star cosplayers are responsible for distributing their art.

[7.3] Star cosplayers choose their pseudonyms as part of a marketing strategy, seeking an aesthetic that complements the personality they present on Instagram. This user name, which is used in all contexts across the social mediascape, shields cosplayers who do not want their public identity or legal name known. Social media users construct these identities "in an effort to increase the reach of the content they create, and other users are encouraged to 'subscribe' to their created content" (Lackey and Minta 2013, 450). Followers then refer to stars by their pseudonyms, further reinforcing the notion that these cosplayers behave according to a promoted brand that frames their identity. Esteemed names of star cosplayers include Leon Chiro (@LeonChiro) and Yaya Han (@YayaHan), who have reached high levels of Instagram stardom on the merits of their celebrated work.

[7.4] To accrue social and cultural capital—what Bertha Chin (2018) calls fan capital—star cosplayers commercialize themselves rather than presenting themselves as objects. Chin asserts that "a like or a share/retweet on social media can elevate the status of the fan within their fan community" (329). In the fan world, presence and influence matter; the sheer number of likes or followers elevates status by establishing someone as an authority figure. Star cosplayers' large followings imply that they have authority, which leads to these stars having real influence. Their social media presence in an environment where people are simultaneously watching and being watched indicates that any cosplayer can become a star (Gamson 2011). Judith Roof (2009) asserts that fame presents a temporary fix to insatiable, cultural addiction; fame is thus an invention that inflates ego and self-importance to motivated desire. Star cosplayers strive for the idea of fame: what it means, what it could entail.

[7.5] On Instagram, star cosplayers assume the role of social actor by performing for a potential audience through hashtags. Instagram influencers suggest that an algorithm increases the likelihood of receiving new followers by engaging with current followers; therefore, engagement warrants exposure (Cotter 2018). The audience connects with star cosplayers by liking or commenting on their images, apropos to scholar Aoife Monks's (2009) findings that "the costume is the spectator's means to access the actor's body, and is also a means for the actor to access the world of the performance" (20). The audience builds a relationship with the actor through the performance and the costume (Monks 2009). Star cosplayers communicate to a virtual audience by posting photographs; the body markets a social identity by displaying work on Instagram.

[7.6] Embodiment regarding cosplay allows for cosplayers to rely on multiple bodies as a mode of performance (Lamerichs 2014). This individual, as a perceived performer, stages a performance to be viewed as assuming a type of role in which the individual aspires to evoke a favorable impression (Goffman 1959, 252). Using their bodies to create a brand, star cosplayers issue a mediated performance. As content creators, they professionalize their craft by choosing which images to circulate online. Responsible for promoting their identity as brand, star cosplayers undergo scrupulous self-presentation. Marketing a social identity on Instagram, star cosplayers target an audience comprising cosplayers, enthusiasts, and fandom.

[7.7] For star cosplayers, the persona is managed specifically for an online account, with behavior presented according to the persona's brand of influence. Cosplayers demonstrate their public self by posting photographs of themselves in and out of costume, as well as by providing online commentary. A post may be designed to facilitate conversation to inspire loyalty between follower and followed. Even brand loyalty can be demonstrated through the allure of star cosplayers who accrue feedback on Instagram (Burgess and Jones 2018). In posts, star cosplayers often cite the brand names of the accessories (e.g., contact lenses, wigs, cosmetics) incorporated into the costuming. Corporations might choose to support star cosplayers by helping them through systematic networking and sponsorship.

[7.8] As a form of capital, brand identity is described as "economic benefit for industry participants" that "is shaped by fans' demands to be recognized as a viable, desirable segment of the market, sold to effectively" (Gilbert 2017, 367). Cosplayers tacitly market their services through their social media accounts. Hand-sewn, commissioned, or purchased costumes are modeled in photo shoots, with professional-quality images disseminated online. By analyzing texts to reinvent popular culture, fans actively participate in fandom, including assessing how a cosplayer chooses to bring a character to life through costume. Social media cosplayers and their followers devise, à la Henry Jenkins (2012), a cultural and social identity by repurposing, or poaching, mass culture images. In accordance with cultural capital, social media engagement may be regarded as a type of "cultural consumption" that "entails an economic cost" (Bourdieu 2010, 116). A following becomes capital when the star cosplayer gains recognition, presence, and influence.

[7.9] Through empowerment and accessibility on Instagram, there is an increasing desire to monetize reputation; following becomes currency (Faucher 2018). The commodification of interaction produces social capital, inventing a platform for influencers by "converting their digital production of the self on social media into a profitable venture" (Faucher 2018, 36–7). Star cosplayers engage with a participatory audience establishing labor dynamics in which "an audience participates in creating the media that it consumes, it links audience dynamics and labor relations" (Mandiberg 2012, 7). With the self operating as the performed character of an elite cosplayer, the audience's analysis of the individual will either credit or discredit the star (Goffman 1959, 253).

[7.10] As a signifier of popular culture, the star cosplayer conveys a lifestyle: identity becomes a brand in this ever-evolving American dream, a quest for cultural capital. This networked identity influences the audience to worship the elite cosplayer, now deified as a celebrity. The individual expresses himself "to give the kind of impression to others that is likely to evoke from them a specific response he is concerned to obtain" (Goffman 1959, 6). The star cosplayer publishes Instagram stories, comments, and likes in order to become a charismatic figure. According to Bourdieu (2010), charm and charisma convey a type of power "certain people have, to impose their own self-image as the objective and collective image of their body and being; to persuade others, as in love or faith, to abdicate their generic power of objectification and delegate it to the person who should be its object" (208). Star cosplayers are thus like iconic performers: "They are recognizable by the merest signs and ciphers of their identity" (Duffett 2015, 214).

8. About the art

[8.1] Entitled ".//wired: TRENDING," I have constructed an installation representative of my (multidisciplinary) research. Alongside the installation is wall text for spectatorship. In this artwork, I use a cosplayer's skill set to realize a symbolic interpretation of the star cosplayer. This piece demonstrates my impression of the cosplay community with the star cosplayer as an archetype. ".//wired: TRENDING" conceptualizes the body in an electronic and a physical space. The mannequin's adornments suggest a performance that is built on aspirations to paint a narrative whereby fame is scintillating, vibrant, and idealized by capitalizing on an identity brand on Instagram.

9. Deconstruction of the artwork

[9.1] ".//wired: TRENDING" promotes the aesthetic value and function of cosplay. On Instagram, everyone can become an actor or a model; celebrity is actively consumed. Each component relays a message to the spectator. As Goffman (1966) notes, "Every linguistic message carries some expressive information, namely, that the sender is sending messages" (14). This artwork interprets costume as a sign expressing a fan's social identity or aspirations in the digital age. Each post on the installation's Instagram account spews prose pertinent to its progression.

[9.2] To echo the star cosplayer's temporary presence on Instagram, the artwork's material accessibility is neither durable nor long. The mannequin performs by modeling the costume in the same vein that a star cosplayer might showcase his or her work. The dress form represents a body carrying weight and presence. Conventional norms dictate how the cosplayer behaves in public, be it in the digital realm or in the convention space. A body, however, alludes to the problematic nature of cosplay: endorsement rewards those who prescribe to conventional societal standards of beauty. The body's bizarre proportions, with an elongated neck, evoke a disconnect between the body and the head concerning materiality. The costume is a jarring yet colorful mash-up, providing visceral, visual cues for the audience to respond to.

[9.3] Perhaps the mannequin is hollow to echo a hollow pursuit; fame might promise emptiness, a lack of fulfillment (Roof 2009). Celebrity gives the body purpose; we twist perceptions to match what is seen on screen. Imagery and symbolism combat the meaningless, although they may themselves be meaningless. The installation suggests an allegory: in losing an identity, one is gained. Further, viewers, if they feel compelled, may undress the figure, with the undressing mimicking the unpacking of tiers of research. (This performative aspect differs from the star cosplayer's, where the audience may only appreciate from afar.) Detachable components represent the layers involved in the identity of this brand. Block letters on the mannequin incorporate phrases as a coded marketing rhetoric, suggesting social media's modality of choice, hashtags used to appeal to the consumer market.

[9.4] On a removable mask, stars for eyes, outlined in gold, literalize the metaphorical, with the mask representing "the conception we have formed of ourselves—the role we are striving to live up to…This mask is our truer self, the self we would like to be" (Goffman 1959, 19).

[9.5] Gold drips from the eye sockets. The empty gaze refers to the star cosplayer's self-awareness, with the cosplayer conscious of the depicted image. The mouth suggests a voice, with Instagram vocalizing the star's brand endorsement. Hand-painted dollar bills indicate our modern capitalistic society. The golden halo and wings signify the religiosity of celebrity iconography, demonstrating the compulsion to revere those who enter an ascribed status. This reverence, engrained as it is into our nature, makes us idolize, worship, idealize. There is a deep-rooted need to emulate what is potentially beyond one's reach; we search for a technological altar on which to worship.

[9.6] Yarn, fused to the undershirt, symbolizes the web of connectivity binding users to Instagram. Underneath, cables protrude, twisted into a warped spine. Fastened to the blazer, a spool of thread honors cosplay's craftiness. The mannequin is a synthetic, fabricated body. Each vest button hints at the utility of a smartphone's camera function. The blazer's ruffled collar and sleeves encourage a perception of elitism, suggestive in wedding the star cosplayer to celebrity culture. The cape testifies to the cosplayer's desire to embody an admired character, and its entrapped feathers represent the cosplayer's hunger to make it big. Interconnected wires snaking up the base of the skeleton suggest the star cosplayer's technological investment. Colorful DuPont cables cling to the stand, bleeding gold, to represent this obsession.

[9.7] Stripping the dress form reveals that the installation contains a magnitude of layers. The body is not bare; rather, the mannequin is a canvas. Self-branding assumes literal meaning; hand-painted hashtags accompany typed text, spelling out #buy #like #sell #follow #subscribe #comment #icon #cosplay #cosplayer #selfie. These phrases parallel the star cosplayer's systematic hashtags, which communicate to an audience. Miscellaneous magazine clippings with a ransom-note effect illustrate the use of anonymity in the cosplay community. Dramaturgical masks pinned to the dress form speak to the cosplayer's performativity.

[9.8] Developed film serves as a reference point. There exists an amateur DIY quality to the photographs on the installation's Instagram feed, which contrasts with the professional-quality shoots of the star cosplayer. Each Polaroid capturing the installation refers to cosplayers' rigorous self-documentation. Held together by glue and raw determination, the art encourages spectator participation, just as cosplay is part of a participatory culture. At the installation's base is a functional battery pack that allows spectators to charge their devices, so long as they use the hashtag #cosicon to document the experience, creating a sense of entrapment, just as the star cosplayer falls into the well of endless self-promotion.

10. Instagram curation of ".//wired: TRENDING"

[10.1] Rigorous self-documentation perpetuates a legacy for the artwork apropos a cosplayer's magnum opus. By using an Instagram account, @thecuratedidentity, to archive my artistic process, I demonstrate how a cosplayer might self-promote a star image. By providing routine progress updates, the archive reveals how social media consumption curates an individual experience. The digital archive, by hosting an exhibition of cosplay, commemorates a cosplayer's exploration of identity through selfie culture. Recording these thoughts demonstrates self-consciousness, for "self-documentation is a practice of self-creation and introspection, but also of self-idealization" (Langlois 2014, 121). Self-awareness parallels star cosplayers' attempts to brand themselves. Further, the archive desires permeance; it seeks to exist beyond this project's completion.

[10.2] By mirroring cosplay's performative nature as a creative outlet for self-expression, this installation offers an interpretation of the cosplay community that rests on the notion that the star cosplayer curates an experience that is based on a persona. Because the archive exists at a public site, users are welcome to communicate with the content. Indeed, the artwork's Instagram posts behave as an ongoing performance. Interested as I am in the influence of a networked identity, I aspire to manage impressions by controlling what is shown through my archive.

11. Conclusion

[11.1] My research on and spectatorship of cosplay led me to construct a transmedia work observing self-subcultural practice. In the digital age, the cosplayer can become a star cosplayer seduced by capitalistic pursuits. Through cultural attachments that inspire us to perform in a creative vein, we seek emotional gratification (Jenkins 2006). As a cosplayer, my personal values seeped into my artwork. To spin an appealing narrative, ".//wired: TRENDING" highlights the importance of visual culture by crafting a platform to vocalize my thoughts regarding the cosplay subculture's relationship with social media.

[11.2] On Instagram, brand becomes identity. As social media has evolved, cosplayers tailor personalities complementary to their platforms. Influenced by celebrity, fame tempts its audience with a potential career. Influence on Instagram motivates the user to self-market various talents. My work investigates the pursuit of the star cosplayer navigating Instagram to achieve monetized fame. Immersed as they are in a capitalistic market, star cosplayers have discovered a way to brand themselves. This pursuit need not have negative connotations, however; star cosplayers possess steadfast ambition, a hearty drive, and a creative work ethic.

[11.3] Cosplay demonstrates the power of fan-made cultural entities. Fan culture results in self-construction by navigating between a person's social identity and media interpretations (Bailey 2005, 49). Cosplay encourages self-expression in this profoundly personal, even sacred, act. The constructed identity, which brings us comfort, provides insights that help us understand why we—the cosplayer, the hobbyist, the influencer, the star, the fan—feel at ease behind a digital mask.

12. Notes

1. My project is an analysis of a viral cosplaying trend that posits cosplay work as a form of capital on Instagram. By no means is this an attempt to slander.

2. Patreon (https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2020.1949) is a crowdfunding platform that allows users to pay a small fee to subscribe to an artist's page, under the premise that the artist will create more content. Most Patreon accounts provide special content to subscribers only. Ko-fi (https://ko-fi.com/) allows users to donate to another user, without the anticipation of receiving content in exchange.

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14. Appendix

Dressmakers' mannequin on a metal stand with a decorated torso (undressed), and wearing a vaguely Napoleonic military-style jacket, a red zippered bag around its neck (dressed).

Figure 1. The mannequin with and without its costume.

Mannequin on its stand, viewed from the back, wearing a dark jacket with a gold star, and a big gold hat.

Figure 2. View of the installation from behind.

Mannequin wearing an open military-style fancy jacket with a red bag around the neck.

Figure 3. Closer view of the costume, revealing a lens poking through the vest.

View of the bare mannequin's torso decorated with colorful words and symbols

Figure 4. Without the costume.

Instagram landing page for user thecuratedidentity, with an avatar of a blank white wig head.

Figure 5. Screenshot demonstrating how ".//wired: TRENDING" was displayed on Instagram.

Instagram page showing a rank or so of images of the mannequin from several angles.

Figure 6. Mannequin, with and without the costume, suggesting layers of symbolic interpretation.

Instagram page showing more stacked images.

Figure 7. Scrolling through @thecuratedidentity to see the mannequin in various poses.

Instagram page showing a rank of images, some of which reflect the military-style dress of the account owner's IG.

Figure 8. The hobbyist cosplayer responsible for constructing the piece, and the aftermath of creation.

Instagram page showing photos, beads, and other artifacts of the creative process.

Figure 9. Insight into the self-documentation process.

Instagram page showing the mannequin being constructed.

Figure 10. Construction depicting the staging of each component for photographic evidence.

Instagram page showing items placed onto the mannequin's torso.

Figure 11. Construction of the rib cage and epaulets.

Text describing the artwork, presented in the style of a museum's explanatory text attached to each item.

Figure 12. The wall text as a reproduction.

Glossy poster advertising the installation, with the images and words evoking photography or film.

Figure 13. Advertisement for ".//wired: TRENDING."

Photos of various sizes mounted on a black board, showing the artwork being created.

Figure 14. A mounted photo board showing the creation process.

Instagram post of the undressed mannequin, with a remark about gawking, and lots of hashtags.

Figure 15. Instagram post for ".//wired: TRENDING."