I attended a panel at Arisia a couple of years ago about empathy as a form of extrasensory perception (akin to telepathy or other psychic abilities). I remember being surprised when someone dressed in a PsiCorps cosplay from Babylon 5 walked into the room.

I had seen this person around the con earlier, and while I didn’t personally appreciate their choice of cosplay, there was nothing outrageous about seeing it at a Sci Fi & Fantasy convention. Their presence at a panel about related psychic abilities was potentially understandable in the context of someone in search of knowledge.

When this person went to the front of the room and sat down on the panel itself, though, I felt threatened. Not dramatically or physically; I know, it’s a fictional organization and we’re all fans here. But the choice of outfit for this particular panel seemed tone deaf at the very least.

The panelist’s introduction directly referenced their cosplay: “I’m wearing this uniform as a way of reclaiming these symbols that have been used against us,” they said.

What. In the world. PsiCorps is a (fictional) organization that brainwashes and conscripts telepaths into indentured servitude. And this person was wearing, not just the company logo, but the entire uniform to participate in a panel on psychic abilities. In that environment it felt less like “reclamation” and more like someone trying to start a fight.

The fictional symbols we create have power. To ignore this is to diminish the story, the message, the relatability of the experience, and most importantly, the audience.

  • Wow! Over the course of the series, we definitely get to see the damage the PsiCorps do to families and individuals. They serve their purpose in helping shape the problems of the that world. Stormtroopers from Star Wars area extremely common in these venues, but their story is more complex. At one point, they’re considered if not the good guys, at least on “the right side” and we get to know them as individuals /even though/ they’re clones. Later, as bad guys, they’re more laughable than anything. They’re ubiquitous and even though to the people in their stories they may be every bit as terrifying as the PsiCorps, for the audience, they’re almost background noise. We watch them perform dance routines to popular music and joke about how they can’t hit anything they shoot at. They’re “Evil Light.” We never get that from the PsiCorps because they’re always scary, mysterious, and possibly invading your deepest secrets at any moment. There’s nothing light about them, and I have a hard time seeing how someone could look at the franchise and say, “This! This is who I want to be!” Even for a few hours or a couple of days.

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