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Tom Purcell

Tom Purcell: Halloween costumes' 'safe spaces' shrinking

| Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
In this May 2, 2014, file photo copies of Anne Frank's diary are on display at Theater Amsterdam in Amsterdam. A spokesman for said Oct. 15, 2017, that the online retailer pulled a costume based on Anne Frank after complaints on social media.
In this May 2, 2014, file photo copies of Anne Frank's diary are on display at Theater Amsterdam in Amsterdam. A spokesman for said Oct. 15, 2017, that the online retailer pulled a costume based on Anne Frank after complaints on social media.

“Now that everything has become politicized, it only makes sense that Halloween costumes should be politicized, too.”

“Ah, yes, you speak of the spate of articles popping up that lecture us on costumes that may be inappropriate or hurtful. Business Insider says, ‘Some common Halloween costumes simply take it too far and can become racist, misogynistic, or downright insensitive.'”

“That's right. I was going dress as a wealthy Arab sheik, but apparently that is out because, says Business Insider, ‘It's harmful to reinforce negative and misconceived notions about a region, religion, or group of people.'”

“I see.”

“The wife loved the idea of dressing up like a reality-TV star. The costume she had in mind had a long black wig and a tight white dress that showed she was with child — a satirical outfit that mocks America's fascination with reality stars, in particular the Kardashians, who are famous just for being famous. But Business Insider says that's insensitive, in part, because it body-shames.”

“That's an interesting point of view.”

“Then the wife was going to dress up as a sexy convict with a short, black-and-white-striped dress, and I was going to wear a Hannibal Lecter mask and straitjacket, but Business Insider says that would be a mistake.”

“I can't wait to learn why.”

“The website says, ‘Incarceration is not funny,' and my wife's costume would trivialize the U.S. prison system. Business Insider says that a straitjacket and scary mask would reinforce ‘harmful misconceptions about mental health in prison.'”

“I'm pretty sure this one wouldn't fly: When I was a kid, we used to dress as Depression-era hobos.”

“No way would such a costume be permitted. Many of today's homeless suffer mental-health issues. Besides, Business Insider says we ought not make fun of people living on the streets.”

“Fair enough. What about the trend in recent years in which women dress up in a variety of risqué outfits? Surely, that is a no-no?”

“Cosmopolitan has three words for such outfits: ‘Racist, sexist, gross.' It's offensive for women to dress as Geishas, gypsies and other outfits that mock other cultures and reinforce cultural stereotypes.”

“O.J. Simpson is back in the news.”

“Don't even go there. As People makes clear, Simpson is ‘still most widely associated with the brutal murders of two innocent people' and it would be wrong to ‘make light of their deaths because you think tiny gloves would get a laugh.'”

“How quickly times change. In 2009, Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, explained to me why Halloween had become such a widely celebrated secular holiday. He said it was the only day of the year when people can freely do or say or be anything they want. It is ‘the one day where almost anything goes' and ‘people can do something outrageous they'd never do normally.'”

“That's why the wife and I used to enjoy it so much.”

“Thompson also told me that people pick costumes to mock or satirize popular culture. In a country that believes in freedom of expression, it is healthy to poke fun at our political leaders, celebrities and cultural trends.”

“That's what I used to think.”

“It's a fair point that we should be mindful of not offending people from other cultures with the costumes we choose. However, it's troubling that Halloween has so quickly gone from a day when almost anything goes to one when we must tread carefully for fear that someone, somewhere, may be offended by our satirization of politicians, celebrities and cultural trends.”

Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, lives in Library. His books include “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood” and “Wicked Is the Whiskey,” a Sean McClanahan mystery. Visit him on the web at Email him at:

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