Published by The Telegraph on 31/10/16
Halloween has always been a time of elation for fear-mongers. As if spooky makeup and scary films were not enough to satiate their lust for terror, they constantly invent new horrors for us to negotiate.
This year, dentists once again warned kids against consuming too much candy, while Bedfordshire Police has asserted that, in light of recent events, it will uphold a “zero tolerance” approach to people wearing killer clown costumes.
If anything, it’s become clear distasteful costumes will define this year’s celebrations. Warnings have sprung out of the ether, demanding that people eschew potentially offensive clothing for their more vanilla counterparts.
Given mankind’s inclination towards satire, a number of politically incorrect outfits have gone on sale. While Halloween parties were traditionally inundated with guests vying to be the best witch, Dracula or Frankenstein, today’s revellers are spoilt for choice when it comes to costumes.
A brief glance online reveals a number of Caitlyn Jenner and Cecil the Lion costumes. The brave can even dress up as “Sexy Ebola” – an outfit as moronic as it is oxymoronic.
Of course, the backlash against these unusual costumes has been severe. The University of Tufts’ Greek Life Councils issued a statement to students warning “Outfits relating to tragedy, controversy, or acts of violence are… inappropriate“. Alas we can only pity the disrespectful person much who dresses up as Dracula or Frankenstein; both of which are informed by violent, controversial and tragic novels.
The University of Massachusetts, Amherst has gone so far as to create a Simple Costume Racism Evaluation and Assessment Meter (SCREAM, geddit?), which allows users to determine where their outfit places on a “threat meter” that ranges from green (low) to red (severe).
Of course, the censoring of certain costumes is not a new phenomenon. Whether dressing up as a native Indian or Persian Princess, party-goers have become accustomed to cries of “cultural appropriation” – an anti-universalist stance which maintains a culture’s identity must not be trivialised, especially in a costume.
With the restriction of politically-charged and lurid costumes, however, the shrieks of the costume-bashing brigade are no longer just based on premises of cultural appropriation, but upon a claim of moral authority that points to vulnerability.
This became evident at the University of Florida, which this year warned “costumes can perpetuate negative stereotypes, causing harm and offence to groups of people.” Its assumption that students are too vulnerable to be able to cope with a distasteful Halloween outfit was made explicit in its assertion it can “provide support by connecting those that were impacted to the appropriate services and resources.”
Not only does this moral policing sap the fun out of the only socially-acceptable scary night in the social calendar, but the politics informing it is based on the assumption that people are too vulnerable to cope with a piece of clothing.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that anti-fun activists waltzed into a costume shop in Canada and plastered “offensive” outfits with labels stating “Please avoid contact with these dangerous materials.”
But while the infantilising censorship of certain costumes is made in the name of the weak and vulnerable, it is often spurred on by the instigator’s desire to show how right-on they are. That a person now needs a degree in 21st Century Ethics to pick a costume off the rail suggests those clamping down on our fun use it as a virtue signalling mechanism to assert their moral stamp on Halloween.
Thus the University of Texas has suggested party-goers ask “experts” whether an outfit is suitable. Brock University even made it clear that unsavoury political ideas were not to be represented – let alone satirized – in costumes such as the Confederate Flag. Not only does this have severe repercussions for freedom of expression, but it signals how the anti-fun brigade is extending its reach into all walks of life.
The authorities may have highlighted killer clowns and dental cavities as the most dangerous elements of this year’s Halloween, but the scariest thing about this year’s celebrations is the moral policing of our costumes. We need to demand to be taken seriously and demonstrate that a stupid costume is just that: a stupid costume. It’s time to kick these fun sponges out of our wardrobes.