Fanime 2013: The Masquerade of The Black and White Ball

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Convention-based masquerades have dramatically evolved since their Carnival influences of the fifteenth century. Ambiguously representing the unabridged rules of each host, masquerades have become synonymous with staged performances and secular contests. Masquerade balls illustrate how popular culture continues to influence and transform the countless stages of costumed culture. Despite this evolutionary change, some events such as Fanime’s Black and White Ball preserve the formality of Venetian masquerade culture.

Events such as Fanime’s “Black and White Ball” resemble the original Carnival platform of medieval Italy. Featuring choreographed dance performances and elegantly dressed attendees. This year Parkside Hall delivered yet another majestic night during Fanime’s scheduled gala. Once a year I journey through the indigo corridor of Parkside Hall, staring at the serpentine lights as they illuminate the anticipated occasion. Although, two major complaints I offer are the lack of beverage options (offered in the Hall) and the musical choice of the DJ. Despite the high-school nostalgia of the event, it lacked that epic twist of interlacing modern music into the playlist. A twist, all-too familiar to the prom-like irony of watching cosplayers Harlem Shake or dance to one of musical artist-Psy’s ballads.

Fanime enforces stringent rules upon its ball-room dress code, sending many unseasoned attendees back to their hotel rooms to dress appropriately. The event could use a live performance or potentially a dance competition to liven the experience. All in all, I think a massive masquerade ball is required for any cosplay convention. This year attendees followed a dress code consisting of the common formal attire; button-up long sleeve shirts/blouses, dress jackets, evening gowns and dresses no higher than the top of the knee cap. Sneakers, shoes with stiletto heels (narrow-tipped heels that are less than a nickel in diameter), heels over four inches, and sandals were strictly prohibited by the event. Fanime’s dress code was designed to enrich the Black and White Ball’s atmosphere, giving it a sense of splendor that resembled the affluent societies that introduced its revelry. The masks worn this year were beautiful and elaborate, while some entertaining like Nippon broadcasting system’s character Domokun, dressed in a top hat, mustache and black bowtie.

Many anime conventions host masquerade balls despite being divorced from any liturgical relevance, although they do preserve an element of their inaugural induction. Since Germany’s worldwide Carnival parade of 1823, the intrinsic opulence of such balls (pause) surprisingly is preserved. And much like the customs of American Easter holiday, most of the religious gospel affiliation has been muddled and dissociated from the resurgent practices. For example, Anime Expo in Los Angeles, California, hosts a competition they have chosen to call Masquerade that is completely void of ballroom dances or dress code-audience participation. This illustrates that masquerades do not necessarily refer to any historical context or relevance.

Early masquerade balls celebrated allegorical, royal entries, and pageants of triumphal processions that celebrated marriages or other dynastic events of medieval court life. Sixteenth century Italy Renaissance (Italian, Maschera) developed into increasingly elaborate costumes. Even today, the very sentiment of nobility resonates during any masquerade event. It seems to reflect an upper class proviso that limited the very membership into traditions such as the Venetian Carnival. In fact, Gustav III of Sweden was assassinated at a masquerade ball, now an infamous opera Gustave III. The reputation of masquerades of the eighteenth century became quite ratchet (if you will). With assassinations, lewd behavior, unescorted women and moral policing, Venetian officials chose to change the name to Venetian Ridotto. Anti-masquerade demur began to grow and notable writers such as Samuel Richardson suggested that masquerades encouraged immorality and foreign influence. In spite of the growing opposition, masquerades continued to exist as privatized events for nobles who wished to remain anonymous while mingling with the commonwealth. During September 3, 1951 a massive masquerade ball was held at Palazzo Labia in Venice Italy. Hosted by Carlos de Beistegui, it was dubbed “the party of the century.”

Today the Venetian tradition of masquerades continues, events such as The Labyrinth of Jareth celebrate mythic tales such as; Celtic faeries, goblin lore, and fiction writing. The event highlights surrealistic fantasy through ball-room dance and musical performances. Their Royal Court offers attendees to explore art, and performances while becoming immersed in the tradition of sixteenth century masquerade. This year will mark my first annual trek to this event, which I’m sure will deliver an epic experience. And much like Fanime’s Black and White Ball, a dress code is strictly enforced. Any attendees not abiding by the rules of attire will not be allowed to enter the event. This reflects that membership of such societies was a privilege not a right accessible by the poor or commonwealth. Fanime and The Labyrinth of Jareth preserve this representation of historical context through the use of dress codes and atmospheric guidelines. Parkside Hall provided Fanime guests with another evening of elegant dance and timeless entertainment.

Allegorical interpretation is offered through the nature of our exterior appearances. And Costumes allow us to elaborate upon that apologue by romanticizing our endemic nature. While we are fascinated by the allure of all things foreign we are immediately demoralized by unfamiliarity. In fact, the very masks that our fictitious super heroes adorn seem to only conceal our intrinsic fear of self-realization. I feel that masks represent a symbolic strength that we are given when becoming anonymous and our idiomatic nature is hidden. Convention based masquerades and costumes allow us revert back to a time when we could pretend to portray a part of ourselves unknown to all. The opulent societies of our past serve to represent the privilege of our imagination and the extravagant lives of nobility. And while the societal complexity of our lives cannot be epitomized in terms of black and white issues, our outward appearance can surely make us all royal guests to the festival of our lives.

Fun Fact:
In 1994 the first free Fanime convention was held at California State University, Hayward. Beginning as the culmination of early visionaries and anime clubs of northern California, Fanime has now grown into massive convention. It hosted over twenty thousand attendees in 2012. Each year attendees are submerged in a chaotic assortment of pop culture and Japanese animated fandom.

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