The Psychology of the Costume

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So I was there, after class, training with a guy who’s been doing Aikido all of his life. His name is Kelvin. For the past couple of days we’ve been spending our time ground wrestling. Kelvin is an older man of Japanese descent, about maybe late 60’s. While we were somewhat wrestling, Kelvin starts to make faces at me. This makes me completely drop my guard and he dominates. For the next 20 minutes Kelvin and I are trying to throw each other to the ground as we are making kissy faces and google eyes to crack our concentration. After the class Kelvin talks to me about the physiology of Aikido as it pertains to the world around you.

“The only thing you can control is how you breathe,” says Kelvin. He talks how Aikido is about receiving the attack and redirecting. The physical conflict is the ending a situation, not starting one. There are many variables that lead up to that conflict. I am paraphrasing a lot of course. But ultimately you can control a situation based on personal attitude, redirecting force and resolution based on what you feel is the appropriate response.

How does this relate to dressing like a Superhero?

When dressing up in a costume or uniform, a person is wearing something which other people will react to; based on their prejudice or life experiences. Different clothes mean different things. When a person is in a Police or Military uniform, they instantly know what that person is about. When a person is in a lab coat, a person automatically assumes they are a doctor. When a person dresses in the manner of a Superhero, the most common response is “What the F---?”

This is the beginning of the relationship you have with the outside world. Just by dressing in a unique manner you have alerted the world around you to take notice. Most people don’t react well when a manner of dress is completely outside the realm of normality. This initial contact is important because this will dictate what the outcome of the situation.

I have met a lot of RLSH in my short career. I have patrolled with some and seen the reaction of the people. Almost all the time, the most dangerous looking individual provokes negative reaction. People make quick assumptions based on visual clues are given to them. If a RLSH looks scary, then the public will assume they are dangerous. People become violent at the sight of a RLSH who looks scary. Even I, in my armor, have provoked some negative reactions. I look overly aggressive despite the fact that my armor is spray painted blue. I thought I looked awesome but it gives an aggressive tone.

So what would be the solution?

I posted a blog earlier about evaluation of personal goals. So when considering what manner to dress in, understand that there is a degree of physiological control a person can have. The advantage an RLSH has is that the “Superhero” icon look is a pure image in the minds of the collective public. Superheroes, in general, represent Truth and Justice. They represent simplistic ideas. These ideas are commonly understood by us as children, until we grow up and learn that the world is a lot more diverse. I had people refuse a handout because they thought I was a part of a church group and I was going to preach to them. I showed them my outfit and they then accepted what I had to offer because I was a “Superhero.”

Here is a good link on Aikido Terms:

A person who receives an attack is called Nage and the person initiates the attack is called an Uke.

Whether you are doing charity work or fighting crime, you have to decide which role you are. One thing a person can do is alter external perception to determine what role they play, if they are Nage or Uke.

The other solutions, which some people do prefer, is to avoid initial confrontation altogether. Their manner of dress is meant to conceal their true intentions. This is a perfectly valid method of operation. There are other people who are not as clandestine. They dress exactly like their printed colorful counterparts. I’ve had a talk some time ago with Captain Jackson. He mentions that criminals do run when they see him walking down the street. They run because they know he’s going to get them in trouble. Captain Jackson has become a visual deterrent.

All of us, by our colorful costumes, should try to build trust with the public. We dress like Superheroes, therefore we should be people that stand for ideals. This is what is expected of us and this is the trust we should not want to break. When approaching the public, we are the Nage in this situation. We are receiving the external reactions and then redirecting. We have dictated the beginning of the relationship between us and who is around us. After that we need to maintain composure and balance. Depending on the situation, being able to reflect back the energy they have received. At any point if a situation escalated to physical contact, then we should strive to learn how to resolve it efficiently and to where we are not legally liable for our actions. A part of exerting control over a situation can be done by the costume. Using the iconic image of the comic book superhero, we have a channel to convey our intentions to the world. We're accountable for our actions based on what we are projecting to the world. I believe the RLSH community should be accountable to the community in which they wish to serve. Dressing like a superhero is one of many ways to build a relationship between yourself and your city.

Zetaman is a costumed activist located in Portland, Oregon. The views and comments of Zetaman do not reflect on the views of the RLSH community.

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