Clearly, we need some rational ethics standards for Halloween costumes, but I doubt that we will ever have any unless political correctness is removed from the equation. The holiday is by its very nature in bad taste with a heavy dose of defiance. The tradition is all about invoking the things that frighten us, with death being tops on the list. Trivializing death or mocking it is any way is guaranteed to offend somebody. My solution: if it offends you so much, don’t participate in Halloween. Boycott it. Don’t give out candy. Let everyone else—you know, those enough to distinguish reality from make-believe and satire from insults—have a good time once a year.
Once Halloween is transformed into Halloweenie, as so many of the political correctness police would have it, it isn’t Halloween, and isn’t fun. We have properly purged the vandalism that once part of the ritual, and if every possibly offensive disguise and costume is deemed socially unacceptable, all we have left is an annual event where kids dressed in blinking lights (to avoid accidents) get non-sugar candy, fruit, dental floss or contributions to charities while dressed up as non-offensive politicians, Greenpeace captains, cartoon characters, occupations and maybe insects. Then parents x-ray the candy and limit how much of it the kids can eat. As for adults, they not only have to wear costumes that won’t offend their friends and fellow party goers, but also costumes that won’t offend somebody, somewhere, when an officious jerk at a party takes a photo with his phone and posts it for the world. What fun.
If Halloween is worth keeping—and though I have never been a devotee, I’d say anything in this increasingly grim world that provides escape, amusement and fun is worth hugging and cherishing, not to mention keeping—then the limitations on it should be few, and perhaps none. Almost all of the traditional costumes of Halloweens in saner times were arguably offensive to somebody. Those who had lost loved ones could find the skeletons, zombies and ghosts insensitive to the tragedy of death. Witches are doubly offensive, both as the mockery of a religion, Wicca, and as a trivialization of the tragedy in Salem, Mass. Pirates still cause death and destruction: what’s amusing about that? Hobos, the old standby that any kid could create with some burnt cork, a stick and a bandana are just poor homeless people…how dare you make fun out of their plight? Princesses are sexist and encourage stereotypes; soldiers celebrate war: think of all the millions who have died! Monsters ridicule the deformed and disabled: we should show compassion for Dr. Frankenstein’s creation, not fear. Dressing as Eyegore or the Hunchback of Notre Dame is obviously cruel and disgusting to all those hunchbacks we see very day. Space Aliens challenge biblical beliefs, good historical figures—Lincoln, Washington–that’s disrespectful; bad ones—Dracula, Henry the Eighth—celebrate evil deeds and cruelty. Athletes? Football celebrates violence and head trauma; baseball steroid use; hockey, more violence; basketball: out-of-wedlock kids. Celebrities? Please. Kim Kardashian? Kanye West? Honey Boo-Boo? How many celebrities aren’t offensive? Most of them offend me. Who wants to dress up as Tom Hanks?
Since everyone in American today is competing to be a victim, even drawing reasonable lines takes us express to the slippery slope. I think a rational society should be able to agree that certain kinds of costumes are obviously taboo—as with these jackasses, who dressed as Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman–but we can’t. The University of Colorado in Boulder, in an act that shows Stage 5 political correctness, posted this warning/exortation:
“As a CU Buff, making the choice to dress up as someone from another culture, either with the intention of being humorous or without the intention of being disrespectful, can lead to inaccurate and hurtful portrayals of other peoples’ cultures in the CU community. For example, the CU-Boulder community has in the past witnessed and been impacted by people who dressed in costumes that included blackface or sombreros/serapes; people have also chosen costumes that portray particular cultural identities as overly sexualized, such as geishas, “squaws,” or stereotypical, such as cowboys and Indians. Additionally, some students have also hosted offensively-themed parties that reinforce negative representations of cultures as being associated with poverty (“ghetto” or “white trash/hillbilly”), or with crime or sex work.”
The post ends with a call to have a “safe and fun” Halloween: safe, as in “not getting hauled up before a disciplinary committee because your costume offended someone,” and fun as in “enjoy dressing as an accountant.” At the University of Colorado, dressing as Rooster Cogburn would be insulting the disabled (he wore an eyepatch, you know) and celebrating a “stereotype,” you know, cowboys. He also carries a gun, so Piers Morgan and Diane Feinstein would be offended, as well as any Sandy Hook parents in the vicinity.
I have come to believe that if costumes like the obviously black humor-themed costume of “Anna Rexia” above is too controversial, then we should just kill Halloween as one more casualty of the humorlessness, free speech stifling, and mandated sensibilities that political correctness bullies continue to inflict on us in the name of diversity and compassion. If not, then let’s agree that anything goes, and declare Halloween a political correctness-free day where offensiveness is not merely tolerated but encouraged as an exercise in perspective, free expression, and defying dignity, fear, and societal conventions.
Sources: Huffington Post, Smoking Gun
32 thoughts on “The Hopelessly Muddled Ethics Of Halloween Costumes”
a) if they go as Trayvon and George, shouldn’t the guy dressed as TM be on top of the other dude beating him up?
b) I think the tweet I saw said “sexy murder victim or slutty Nazi zombi”…
And then I wept bitter tears.
Went to a party one year as a “Blood-Sucking Lawyer” and offended exactly ZERO people (though I did ruin a really nice tie, so that kind of sucked)!
Lawyers go to parties dressed as blood-sucking lawyers.
I am always amused by the people who go to the Disney Halloween celebrations as “naughty” versions of the disney characters. Nothing says Disney World like Alice in thigh high fishnets and a dress that leaves almost nothing to the imagination.
I dunno, I thought I looked pretty good…
As you may know, sexualized Alice is a fairly popular fetish….and a creepy one. Based, I believe, on the fact that she grows bigger and smaller.
My girls (on their own) decided that they want to be “pirate princesses” and that daddy should be a pirate, and mommy should dress as a queen. I guess they are ready for their first required viewing of Pirates of Penzance!
Well, I get the idea that any disney character could be a fetish for some… but I never thought of the whole “she grows bigger and smaller” part of an Alice fetish….
Don’t think “bigger and smaller”, think “tall as an adult, short as a young girl”.
Any other horrible thought I can put in your head?
If you can’t turn “Eat me” into a come-on *rimshot*, I’ll be very disappointed in you.
You said come on and rimshot….
I don’t know, it makes perfect sense to me. A woman dressed as a naughty Disney character gets to feel sexy and get male attention while still maintaining a connection to something girly and innocent, so as not to feel like she’s being too slutty. Besides, perversion of childhood entertainment (whether sexual or simply via adult language, booze, what have you) is always kind of fun/funny.
Rule 34, everybody (I claim no responsibility if you google it).
Oh Julian, that’s just mean. Besides, 34 is much more fun when combined with 63… speaking of, I’m getting the final adjustments this afternoon on my slutty Alice in Wonderland dress for Thursday 😀
I like the CU notice including “white trash/hillbilly” as an example of an offensive stereotype. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a single person complain about being offended by the white trash stereotype, and that’s my neck of the woods. Seems like some good camouflage to be able to say “no, no, we’re not pacifying race-baiting greivance mongers, see, we talked about white stereotypes too!”
I wondered at the inclusion of ‘cowboy’ as a sterotpye – it’s a career, not a lifestyle or society. Either a career, or a period-accurate representation. You’d think folks in Colorado (i.e. the west) would respect that, but not in the People’s Republic of Boulder!
I think they meant (to quote the CU page) “cowboys and Indians” – a pretty common theme for pairs or groups – not cowboys on their own.
I guess dressing up like a Zombie insults dead people so I shouldn’t do that either right?
They prefer the term ‘Living-impaired,’ you necrophobe.
(Incidentally, The link to the guys dressed as Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman is broken – currently it leads to the U of C “don’t dress as an Indian” page.)
But then you write:
So which is it? Should certain costumes be “obviously taboo,” or should it be “anything goes”? Why is it okay for you to criticize the Martin/Zimmerman costumes, but wrong for a CU webpage to criticize costumes based on ethnic stereotypes?
What you’re actually saying is that merely by stating an opinion that Jack disagrees with, they become “PC bullies.” But there’s no rule that says that people either state no opinions other than those Jack agrees with, or they’re bullies. (Weren’t you just complaining about people overusing the word “bullies”?)
People have the right to wear race-based costumes, but they don’t have a right to freedom from ever hearing anyone criticizing racial costumes. You’re attacking CU, not for bullying, but for daring to have and state an opinion.
I think that in a sane and fair society not dominated by PC bullies, we could easily agree that making fun of a specific young man’s tragic death and a hurtful racial controversy is in such wretched taste that it cannot be tolerated, just as, say, dressing like Angelina Jolie post-cancer surgery would be disgusting by consensus. But we can’t, because PC bullies can’t help themselves, and won’t distinguish between these and dressing like a Washington Redskin. I’m not drawing the line at mocking Trayvon because it’s not PC…it’s offensive and hurtful in many ways, on a grand scale. And damn right–I’m objective and reasonable on these matters, but a significant, loud, litigative segment of society and the media are not. Costumes that exacerbate racial tensions intentionally should be obviously taboo. Why is that so tricky for you? If you can’t see the line, then you’re one of the reasons we can’t have lines.
Which is it? Of the two, I vote for anything goes, and I’ll just reserve harsh ethical judgment for those who abuse the privilege and expose their hate and racism.
Ha! You used “litigative”. I consider that authority enough; it is a word. I rest vindicated.
Of course it can be tolerated. What other choice is there, in a society with a First Amendment?
We can criticize it, and should; but we still “tolerate” it, in the dictionary sense (“to allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of something that one does not necessarily like or agree with, without interference.”)
I think, in a rational society, most people would accept that rational people acting in good faith sometimes disagree. I’m not sure that you’d agree with that, judging from how you react to the CU writer’s opinion.
I agree with you that the TM and GZ costumes are offensive. But I also think many of the costumes the CU writer is objecting to, are offensive. And you haven’t stated any rational criteria explaining why when you find a costume offensive it’s cool for you to say so, but for the CU writer to say so makes them a “bully.” It’s a blatant double-standard.
But a costume like this one is also “offensive and hurtful in many ways,” according to scores of black writers who have written about how they find blackface costumes offensive and hurtful. Why do your feelings of being offended and hurt count, but if they express their feelings of the same thing, that’s “bullying”?
That’s the way things work in the status quo – people can dress as they like, and if they wear something offensive they’ll be criticized. I agree with you, that’s how we should do things. But nothing CU wrote is contrary to that.
Finally, regarding “objective”: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
1. I don’t care about “offensive.” That was the wrong word to use, in my case, and I retract it—that was sloppy. Offending someone isn’t harming them. It’s manufactured harm. In the midst over the social stresses over Martin-Zimmerman, that costuming choice (accompanied by their attitude) risks tangible harm. I’d say the same about blackface, because of its history, and its unavoidable implication of racial denigration. But cowboys, Native Americans and the CU list are not inherent denigration. The PC bullies just choose to traet them that way, so they can bend others to their will—that’s the true objective.
2. Cultural toleration is not at all required by the First Amendment, which only prohibits government enforced intolerance. Intolerance of unethical/uncivil/ uncivilized conduct, enforced by social pressures, is essential to having ethical standards. The PC police abuse the process for political ends.
1) What specific “tangible harm” are you saying that the Martin-Zimmerman costumes, and blackface costumes, risk?
2) Are you saying that it’s not okay to criticize a costume for being “offensive” or “hurtful”? And if not, why not? Surely, just as we want a culture in which people are free to choose costumes, we also want a culture in which people are free to criticize costumes.
I really dislike it when people whiiiiinnnee that they’re being “bullied” or “censored” because someone has criticized them. Criticism is not bullying.
3) By “toleration,” all I meant is not physically attacking people for wearing a costume I don’t like. If by “intolerance” of such costumes, you mean “criticizing them verbally” (which seems to be what you mean – “social pressure” basically consists of verbal criticism, doesn’t it?) then I’m all in favor of social intolerance.
4) You’re right, I was wrong to mention the first amendment. I should have said, in a culture which values free speech, people should be free to wear whatever costumes they like, and the punishment for wearing tasteless or hurtful costumes should be criticism and social sanctions. (I.E., wear that Trayvon costume, and people may think you’re a jerk.)
(I don’t think we actually disagree about this!)
5) “The PC bullies just choose to traet them that way, so they can bend others to their will—that’s the true objective.”
This is nothing but ad hominem.
1) The racial divisiveness and distrust of the motives of white Americans intentionally nurtured by President Obama and Democrats is literally tearing the county apart, and this episode is especially toxic. I consider playing into that tangible harm, and irresponsible.
2) Christ, Barry, read the post. It’s “OK” to criticize anything in the US, but the privilege can be abused, and is. When something like Halloween costumes are the objects of excessive, prophylactic pre-censorship based on enforced ideological positions, that’s abuse. A kid who wears a witch costume or dressed as Harry Potter should not have to fear that he or she is going to become the center of a controversy.
Bullies are those who abuse their power or the power of others, including the power of the media and public opinion, to bend others to their will. Bringing to bear mobs of critics and media attacks on individuals and groups vulnerable to them and without the allies or resources to defend themselves is a form of bullying.
3) I’m not. I’m in favor of people brushing off mere offense when no harm is intended or achieved. Your fun/costume/football team nickname doesn’t have to be to my taste, and I should leave you alone about them unless I can point to tangible harm, likely or actual.
5) Surely you know better than this what an “ad hominem attack” is, but to review, it is when a position is rebutted by criticizing the advocate of the position rather than the position itself. That’s not what criticizing a position because of the motives/intent of those who advance the position is.
Dang. I was going to costume-up as a big, over-inflated bag of hot air inscribed with a huge punctuation mark (an ampersand). But now, on second thought, to avoid risk of being kicked out of my on-line course, I think I’ll stick to more traditional offensiveness and make my costume reflect a tilda or umlaut. Still, there’s that name I have been considering for recommending for one of my future grandkids: ,,,,,KaMeeLeeOn.
(instead of the offensive “George,” of course)
Did I really say “punctuation mark?” Silly me!
I honestly don’t know if “untentionally” was meant to be “unintentionally” or “intentionally.” It’s one of the most ambiguous typos I’ve seen. :-p
When you’re right, you’re right—that was the most ambiguous typo in my long record of typos. The other six in the post weren’t anywhere near as interesting.
I’ll take Anna… and the University of Colorado can go straight to Hell!
Agreed. The University of Colorado at Boulder is obviously full of weenies who love to spread the gospel of political correctness. Is there any sense of humor still left in academia?