Given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines advising against trick-or-treating and costume masks, one would expect this to be the most humdrum of Halloweens. And yet, with Oct. 31 still more than a month out, controversies are already brewing over divisive costumes.
While this PG-rated T-shirt may mercifully be the closest thing we get to a “sexy RBG” costume, Halloween is a holiday that’s never short on bad taste or outrage. Read on to see what topical get-ups are likely to stir up some drama this year. Proceed with caution.
There’s nothing funny about a pandemic that’s cost more than 200,000 people their lives in the U.S. alone, but costume retailers are banking on it being a big trend. As Yahoo Life has previously reported, images of the COVID-19 virus have inspired a flurry of gory latex masks, headbands and other get-ups. There’s also this Costume SuperCenter full-body costume riffing on a Corona beer bottle, marketed with this copy: “Quarantine might have us all feeling locked up these days, but when you put the Coronavirus Costume for Adult on this Halloween, you’ll be ready to party! With your purchase, you will receive everything you need to show the world that COVID-19 isn't going to bring your energy down.”
Shorthand for a woman — typically white, middle-aged and sporting a choppy blond haircut, according to memes — who feels compelled to call the police to complain about a Black person, protest mask mandates or engage in other racist or privileged behavior, “Karen” might rival Carole Baskin as the leading lady of Halloween 2020. The stereotype has been memorialized via angry masks, asymmetrical wigs and “I need to speak to the manager” T-shirts. But given the offense some have taken to the meme, which critics claim is anti-women and discriminatory, brace yourself for a few complaints.
It’s been 155 years since Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, but it’s taken a summer of Black Lives Matter protests for many Confederate memorials to come toppling down — in some cases, literally. Statues, building names, flags (now banned by NASCAR and in the process of being replaced on Mississippi’s state flag) and other references glorifying the Confederacy and antebellum are facing new scrutiny and reform. Just this week, Party City issued an apology after a mom in Arlington, Va. found Confederate soldier costumes, since removed, in one of its stores. But one need only scan the Civil War section on e-tailer Halloween Express to discover Rebel soldier uniforms, Scarlett O’Hara gowns (another touchy 2020 talking point) and a Robert E. Lee costume for boys.
This year Halloween falls on the Saturday before Election Day (that’s Tuesday, Nov. 3, by the way). Amid a climate in which everything from masks to red caps has been politicized, tensions will no doubt be running high, and costumes of a political nature will likely be especially polarizing. If you feel like poking the bear, though, you’ll find election-themed offerings including a President Trump-inspired piggyback costume (American flag and MAGA hat sold separately) and various Joe Biden latex masks. House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, appears to be a popular target on Halloween, judging by Amazon’s stock of T-shirts likening her to a witch.
Police officers are a perennial Halloween favorite, and surely many children will be suiting up in blue again this year. But — just as “sexy Border Patrol agent” costumes have sparked backlash in recent years amid outrage over family separations at the border — law enforcement has become a hot button topic in a year that’s seen the killing of George Floyd, this week’s grand jury verdict in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor, calls to defund the police, and, conversely, “back the blue” rallies in defense of those in uniform. As battle lines are drawn, something intended as a benign tribute could be taken as politically charged, especially given costume names like “Ed Banger,” “Anita Bribe” and “Officer Payne” and a slew of “sexy dirty cop” ensembles. Context matters: Outfits that riff on or make light of this year’s controversies are bound to cause a stir, regardless of which side of the debate you land.
Social Justice Reform
In 2020, you can get your kid’s witch cloak with “Black Lives Matter” printed on it, but there’s a fine line between giving a shoutout (which will inevitably raise a few eyebrows out in public) and mocking the gains that have been made over the past few months or leaning on problematic stereotypes. Google “Aunt Jemima costume” — which has recently been retired by Quaker Oats over the racist characterization it presented — and you’ll see photos of white women in mammy costumes and/or Blackface, not to mention headlines about the resulting outcry. Given the array of Native American costumes and headdresses that remain on the market despite objections, it stands to reason that references to the Washington Redskins name change may emerge as a topical costume choice for certain sports fans. A reminder: One man’s timely and trendy is another’s tasteless and tone-deaf.
As ever, it’s best to tread carefully — or not tread at all — with regards to anything that could be seen as culturally insensitive. Despite an endless cycle of backlash, apologies and removals, retailers continue to stock an exhaustive list of loaded items: afro wigs and faux dreadlocks, geisha wigs, looks branded “Jamaican Me Crazy” and “Eskimo Beauty” and skimpy “Arab black burka dresses,” just to name a few.
Given the Cuties backlash, it’s probably time to retire the “sexy schoolgirl” look once and for all.
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