Costumes are creepy

by Rob Horning

31 October 2007


I’m not much of a fan of Halloween, although I am a big fan of the candy—I like artificially flavored, pure-sugar, teeth-rotting candies that come in little plastic coffins, and the peanut butter cups in the shape of pumpkins, and all that. What I have trouble with is not trick-or-treating, but the wearing of costumes. I realize I’m in the minority in this: NPR reported this morning that about 2 million people were expected at the annual Halloween Parade in Manhattan. But I find seeing people in costumes a bit embarrassing, a bit like peeping through a window into their inner psychic weirdness. Many people probably enjoy it for just that reason; it offers a chance to be exhibitionistic without guilt, and carries with it the illicit allure of the carnivalesque, the loosening of strictures, the subversion of social norms, and all that other Bakhtinian goodness. But the fantasies being unleashed in costume form somehow seem so paltry: people dressed as characters from TV shows, or attempting some other “clever” appropriation from pop culture. But the clever costumes are less embarrassing than the vaguely sexual ones: Spend any time at the parade and you may conclude that most women want to dress up like hookers and most men want to look like women. With an opportunity to dress up and tap into the collective unconsciousness, it seems as though people gravitate to the image that our culture projects as being the most powerful, from an attention and marketing standpoint—that of the beautiful, objectified women who is sexually available. So adults in costumes becomes a depressing reiteration of the way sexuality is so thoroughly bound up with commercialization. I guess in other cultures, where the harvest celebration still has religious overtones, there’s a greater emphasis on the spiritual world—ghouls and demons. Now, it’s become a strictly carnal affair.

Anyway, that makes me one of those lame people who goes to costume parties without one. Why they can’t be more like 18th century masquerades, where many wore the same costume, the eerie domino suit, and the emphasis was on concealing your identity altogether—and generalized licentiousness—rather than trying to come across as cool, a heightened form of one’s true self?

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