I can vividly recall one particular day in my life as perhaps a 9-year-old when I donned a cape and slipped easily into another world. The cape, such that it was, was an old sheet I found in our basement, but to me, it was magical and transformed me to another time, place and identity. I fashioned a sword as well from some scrap wood in our garage. Fully costumed, I hopped on my bike and headed off to the soybean field just down the street- as far from reality as I could ride!
There among the neat rows, holding my sword high above my disheveled hair, I claimed all of the territory before me. My conquest, however, quickly faded as I caught sight of a man approaching me who, most likely, was the farmer, none-too pleased with my foray onto his land.
Ah, the pleasures of youth. Costumed heroes lit up our black and white TV screens in the 1950’s. So did the priests saying Mass. School plays as well. Halloween. Costumed graduation in high school and college followed by Wedding costumes.
Then real life set in.
An article in Aeon brought back memories of my childhood play, although on a much more serious matter. With the title, “The ‘cosplay Caliphate’ of ISIS is a deadly fantasy, but a familiar one in the West. It feeds the same urges as Tolkien,” author and Lutheran minister Benjamin Dueholm suggests that a strong hero mythology runs deeply throughout the roots of mankind.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell penned much of the same in his epic book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. King Arthur in the Middle Ages and several Greek and Viking myths paint the same outline. Dueholm’s reference to Tolkien is appropriate to this era.
The author writes,
“Whether its central claim is an inscrutable dream of religiously legitimated sovereignty or a malleable delusion, the appeal of ISIS is easily abstracted from motives available to outsiders. It is, in the incisive words of the New York artist Molly Crabapple, a ‘cosplay Caliphate’, a dress-up festival of blood-soaked nostalgia whose very pretensions to antiquity mark it as the rankest kind of modern innovation.”
Dress-up. Cosplay. A boy donning a cape in a soybean field. The priest’s vestments. KKK hoods. The Lone Ranger’s mask. ISIS black hoods.
“ISIS and its ideology are violent, reactionary, wholly at odds with the ethos of democracy and progress cherished by modern secular societies. But the myth on which its appeal hinges – and the historical dress-up it seems to engage in – is not as foreign as it seems. A lot of people like cosplay.”