I was at a comic book publisher’s party recently and talking with a woman I’d never met before, Lisa. Like most of the people in attendance, she was a fan of comic books and a variety of other pop culture properties. But, also like others there, she wasn’t a fan of everything. To each, her own.
Lisa told me that she attended a convention recently, and was going around the show with her friend and they were generally having a great time. She had dyed her naturally blonde hair bright blue with a purplish streak hanging in front because it was fun and different. When I was speaking with her, I could still see remnants of the dye job lingering. But as she and her friend were going around the convention floor, a person dressed in a colorful horse costume approached them and started speaking through the ventilated eye hole in the headpiece, emulating a bad speaker system at a fast food drive-through.
“You’re dressed as Twilight Sparkle?”
“No, I’ve never read the Twilight books. I don’t really care for vampires.”
The costumed gentleman was, in fact, dressed as one of the characters from My Little Pony and was asking if she was as well. The Twilight Sparkle character does indeed have blue hair with a streak of purple running through the middle of it, but that Lisa happened to have landed on a vaguely similar color pattern was completely unintentional. As you might guess from her reaction, she was totally unfamiliar with My Little Pony, as she wasn’t even able to recognize the obviously very elaborate pony costume.
What happened was this man approached her because he felt he was seeing visual cues in her appearance that suggested an existing bond. That is, he thought her hair coloring was showing her affection for a character that he was himself a fan of; that they both were advertising a sense of identity and connectedness with the show. He was hoping that he could use that shared connection with My Little Pony to make a direct connection with her. What he failed to realize, however, was that he was projecting his interests onto her. Lisa had no garments noting an affection for any of the ponies or visible tattoos that might be mistaken for a pony’s “cutie mark,” and her colored hair was only vaguely reminiscent of Twilight Sparkle. (Lisa’s hair was more of a bright blue than an indigo, and her purple stripe only hung loosely in front without trailing all through to the back.)
One of the tricks to any fandom is that items that can be seen as key identifiers as a member of that fandom can be inadvertantly emulated by someone else. A red beret doesn’t make you a member of the Guardian Angels, a yellow and purple t-shirt doesn’t make you a Lakers fan, and a bow tie doesn’t mean you watch Dr. Who. That’s one of the reasons why, typically, a group has several possible identifiers; by utilizing multiple ones, you decrease the risk of mistaking an outsider as part of the group. There’s less of a chance that someone could accidentally stumble onto mutliple key identifiers at the same time.
Of course, that still doesn’t help if someone is willing to accept only one half-executed sign as an excuse to hit on someone at a convention.