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.