Remember when Halloween was just a fun day to run around your neighborhood yelling “trick or treat” and loading up on candy? When did the October holiday become a frightening commentary on American society?
These days, the Halloween costume companies seem to do battle with one another to put out the most tasteless costume on the planet, and it looks like we already have two hot contenders for 2015.
In the one ring, there’s the “Lion Killer Dentist Costume” from Costumeish. The blood-spattered white coat and lion’s head are an obvious tribute Walter James Palmer, known on the Internet as “Cecil the Lion Killer” for his big-game hunt in Zimbabwe earlier this summer. How obvious? The company actually cites Palmer in its sales copy, noting, “All Doctor Palmer wanted was to hang dead animals in his house, but what started as an obscure (if legally-dubious) hunting trip has since erupted into a brouhaha of trans-Atlantic proportions.”
“If legally dubious” — huh? It’s been widely reported that Cecil was lured off the sanctuary where he was protected in order to be hunted down and slaughtered, his head cut off and his body left to rot. His death opened up an international discussion about the disgusting nature of big-game hunts, in which wealthy folks pay thousands upon thousands of dollars not to hunt something they will eat in the natural cycle of life, but for trophies they put on their walls.
While the company is advertising that 15 percent of the proceeds from the costume sales will go to a wildlife foundation, its costume is drawing criticism for making light of a serious situation.
But that’s only the beginning of tasteless offerings already available for the October holiday.
There’s also the “Call Me Caitlyn,” a Halloween costume being sold at a number of retailers (including Spirit Halloween) that pokes fun at Caitlyn Jenner. How is it not a tribute? We could start with the fact that the costume — a mock-up of the one Jenner wore on her famous Vogue cover — is being modeled by a man with hairy legs, a direct poke at the notion that Jenner is somehow not a “real” woman because of her transition. Then add to it the fact that a transitioning woman (or man, for that matter) is often accused of simply playing dress-up or putting on a costume, and the costume is insensitive at best, downright transphobic at worst.
In a year that’s shown us real progress for the transgender community — from Caitlyn’s Arthur Ashe Award for bravery to trans teen Jazz Jennings‘ reality show — turning the struggle of countless people into a Halloween costume seems like a giant step backward.
A light, fun day when kids (and adults) dress up and make merry.
Which is why it’s not.