Last May 10, 2019, the fourth quarter of Game 5 of the PBA Philippine Cup finals held at Smart Araneta Stadium was unexpectedly interrupted. A man now identified as Paolo Felizarta rushed onto the court while the game was on-going, holding placards saying “Vote! Love!” and accidentally collided with San Miguel center June Mar Fajardo. The basketball player was hit in the jaw and left a bit groggy, while the man was hauled off the court by security. Before he could disappear from the public view, the man was punched in the head by Fajardo’s teammate, Ronald Tubid. The most scandalous detail of the incident?
The man who disrupted the PBA finals with only 3:06 left on the clock was dressed as the Marvel character Spider-man.
As the news of this incident broke, the cosplay community breathed a collective disappointed, angered sigh. People began to ask each other if they knew the man, and no one seemed to recognize him. He didn’t seem to be in the cosplay community at all; he wasn’t a known cosplayer. People began decrying his actions. Even if his intentions were to spread love not hate, the way he went about it was disruptive and dangerous. He should have stayed on the sidelines or at least wait until timeout, people said. After a while the news began to sink in, and cosplayers began to wonder what this incident would mean to the community and the general public’s perspective of them.
For definition, Cosplay refers to the portmanteau of the words costume and play. It is, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “the activity or practice of dressing up as a character from a work of fiction, such as a comic book, video game, or television show.” The Philippines has a thriving community of people whose hobby and passion is to represent their favorite characters through the use of elaborately constructed costumes. They take great pains to study their character, perfecting mannerisms, poses for pictures, and understanding their personality and motivations. To the general public, cosplayers tend to be seen only as “yung mga naka-costume.” This is difficult detail to deal with considering the incident at the PBA finals involved a man na “naka-costume.”
Several members of the cosplay community expressed their thoughts regarding how this incident will affect community moving forward. Cosplayer Claude Ang said: “The incident was already published in mainstream with Avengers: Endgame still on its tail. [The incident] will definitely affect some cosplayers, especially those that cosplay Spider-man. Whether the guy had been wearing a generic or a specific Spider-man costume, the image of Spider-man cosplayers will [be affected] seeing as people may believe that someone wearing the costume can pull off a stunt like that. Others might follow. It will also affect how people see cosplayers in general because it was a costumed person. At the end of the day, all cosplayers are also people in costume and we can be held liable for the actions we take.”
Spider-man cosplayer G.P Manalo also has this to say: “I am worried how officials will treat public stunts like with costumes after this whole debacle. I’ve seen many people get away with cosplaying in public (without an event), especially [people who cosplay other Spider-man characters] who wear a suit and just go anywhere with it on. They way they treated the guy (Paolo Felizarta) went as far as beating him and all he did was run like an idiot during a game and bump someone.”
Cosplayer Roderick Miravalles decried the timing of the stunt and worries that the general public will have an impression that cosplayers are nutcases. It is a reasonable fear as some costumes, including Spider-man, have a mask that obscures the identity of the person wearing the suit.
While the disruption of the PBA finals was the action of only one man, there is no telling what kind of impact this will cause to an entire community and on the perspective of the general public. The cosplay community if full of passionate, creative, and hard-working people who only want to showcase their love for their chosen characters and to spread happiness to others who see them. In that regard, Paolo Felizarta’s wish for “Peace for Philippines,” and to “Vote! Love!” that in common.
Alex Alcasid is a cosplayer who usually writes fantasy and spec-fic, and tweets whatever comes to mind at @alex_alcasid.