“Some Thoughts Concerning Costumes”

By Geisha Bar

A lot of people seem to have no qualms with complaining about a choreographed minstrel show in actual black-face appearing on national television, but what this issue actually seems to boils down to is whether there’s an acceptable quantity of entertainment being provided so as to balance out the few people that won’t be entertained – basically, whether there’s enough people having fun at the expense of someone – or something – else, to justify the having of the fun in the first place. If this sounds like a pretty unpleasant situation, you’d probably be right, but hey – that’s show business (etc)!

Why I bring this whole entertainment vs. offence thing up at all is because it just happens to be that magical time of year when people like to yell at each other about the appropriateness of what they’re wearing and whether it might offend people: the culprit here of course being Halloween costumes, and the melee of cringing, hand-wringing and general cries ‘Is this okay?’ that go hand-in-hand with wearing a specific set of clothes that make you appear to be something else – most of which (the complaints) concern cultural appropriation, and whether it’s okay for you to dress up as an African tribesman or insert whatever ethic stereotype – or not even a stereotype, just anything, really, (that’s the thing) for a party, in the name of fun, and whether this is actually a really, really bad thing to do or not.

But the thing is, is there much difference between someone who is not Mexican (but who could be in fact very interested in Mexican culture) dressing up as – for the sake of example, seeing as it’s kind of relevant, since Halloween and the Day of the Dead essentially overlap – a traditional sort of skull-faced calavera with the black and white face paint, et cetera, and then the same person dressing up as, let’s say, a voodoo witch doctor but with their face painted black. Is this okay? Maybe it’s the intent that determines the acceptance – what if the person wanted to make their costume as authentic as possible, as a mark of respect to the country or group or whatever their inspiration for their costume was taken from? Would this be seen as any less offensive as someone painting their face with the intent to mock this group? Does an argument of ends vs. means even deserve to be brought into a topic as seemingly insignificant as Halloween costumes?

Obviously there’s a huge and generally unpleasant of negative portrayals of all kinds of groups in all kinds of historical and media contexts, but are costumes – of all the things to get stirred up about – worth butting heads over? The whole thing reeks of confused people with good intentions making everything much more complicated than it should be when for the most part,actions that are seen as slurs against an entire country’s national image and people are actually done so out of an appreciation of said country’s culture, rather than it being some kind of appropriation. But where do you draw the line between these? Does there need to be a line at all?