Is that time of year again? Already?
Ah, it’s time again for the annual culture war. Much like the soldiers of ancient Greek city-states the offended masses will flock to social media to engage in pitched battle over inane bullshit. It starts with Halloween and the shouting match over insensitive costumes, it proceeds to a skirmish about Thanksgiving, until the battle royale: the War on Christmas, when indignant zealots screech that it’s only a matter of time before jackbooted secret police are coming into your house to chop down your Christmas tree and haul Santa Claus off to be disappeared.
The insanity comes from both sides.
For the past few years there has been a discussion about inappropriate or offensive costumes. I understand, there are boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed. For example, dressing as a Nazi or as a suicide bomber is probably a bad idea, regardless of the situation. And yes, there are some costumes that require a fair amount of awareness and common sense. And yes, there are some costumes that are tacky and offensive.
In years past there was the, “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” campaign, which featured stereotypical costumes and indignant/sad/angry people next to the respective stereotype. Like I said, there are some featured costumes that make me cringe and wonder what the hell some people were thinking when they put their costume together (Hint: If it involves “ (insert color)-face” then you might want to rethink it). Some costumes are objectively pretty offensive, however, the internet does a good job of injecting humor to make people calm down.
Here’s the crux of the issue: it’s easier to bitch and moan about an insensitive costume than it is to tackle the real issues. It’s easier to attack some idiot for wearing a trashy costume than actually helping an afflicted people. You can scream at the frat boy wearing a terrorist costume, but what about donating time and money to refugees, or educating people that not all Muslims are terrorists? You can share a photo of some 20-something girl dressed as Pocahontas and a caption filled with your self-righteous indignation…or you could do something to actually help Native Americans. It makes me question the validity of your concern when the extent of your “activism” is yelling at someone in real life or on the internet.
Besides, there are better ways to handle being offended, such as behaving like a rational adult and talking with the person rather than talking at the person. Also, remember to pick your fights wisely and remember the scope. It’s one thing to gently admonish someone for an insensitive costume and another thing to hound them on Facebook or attempt to ruin their career because they hurt someone’s feelings.
Think about that last bit: someone makes a social faux pas and they lose their job and prompt death threats. That doesn’t make you out to be the sympathetic underdog fighting for decency and respect, it makes you look like the damn Thought Police.
Things get even more absurd when there’s a threat of getting the regular police involved. Tufts University sent out a letter that first reminds students to be aware of their costume choices and how it could be offensive or inappropriate (fair enough) and follows that up with threatening to get the police involved over an offensive Halloween costume (…what?). And I almost forgot about how last year a Yale professor resigned after he had the audacity to tell college students (read: adults) that they need to make decisions for themselves regarding Halloween costumes. Just…just watch the video. That’s a grown woman, an adult, throwing a temper tantrum because a professor said something she doesn’t agree with.
Excuse me for a moment while I scream into a pillow.
Okay…I think I’m okay.
Wait, nope, I’m still filled with rage and disgust.
Look, I understand that it’s obnoxious and immature to do something shocking for the sake of being shocking. It makes you look like an attention whore who gets off on outrage. That being said, if someone hurts your feelings or shocks your sensibilities then you need to grow the fuck up and call them out on your own (if you feel so inclined) or ignore it. Getting the police involved reeks of victimization and moral cowardice (“I’m not going to handle this like a reasonable, mature person, I’m going to call local law enforcement!”) And it’s downright insane and childish to get someone to resign over a disagreement.
I’m willing to bet the police have far bigger concerns, like actual crimes that hurt people, than a case of cultural appropriation or insensitivity.
Someone dressed up like a geisha girl? A belly dancer?! POCAHONTAS?!
That tears it! Get the governor on the horn, we need to call up the National Guard to enforce martial law. Remember, keep a round in the chamber and the safety off. Shoot to kill. None of these bastard dogs are getting away with this despicable crime, no sir!
Children too. Better dead than a future shitlord!
All kidding aside, this is a symptom of a larger problem with my generation. We have grown up hearing stories of the heroism of past generations. Our grandparents killed fascists and rebuilt nations. Our parents fought segregation and protested the Vietnam War. The older we get, the more we ask ourselves, “So, what did we do?”
I understand why some Millennials want to do something great like that, take up the mantle of decency and progress to fight back against the forces of darkness. I think part of being young is being idealistic and fighting for what you believe is right.
Funny thing is, Millennials do have some great causes to fight for: drug reform, marriage reform, education reform, voting reform, and tax reform just to name a few. In a word, making the system more equitable and wresting control away from the aging greedheads and overzealous swine squealing from the pulpit. The problem is that making that kind of change is hard. It requires patience, determination, and cooperation on a massive scale.
It’s just easier to scream at someone about their Halloween costume.
In all fairness, there’s another part to that. Going to the streets to protest could result in being arrested, losing your job, and having a black mark on your record. Or it could mean going home beaten, bloodied, and bruised…or in a body bag. Trigger-happy police and employers fixated on squeaky-clean employees makes taking to the streets a dangerous proposition.
I could call them cowards, but that’s an unfair indictment. They want to do something important, they want to point to an event so they can tell their grandchildren, “I helped!” And if that means attacking someone over something as mundane as a Halloween costume, well, so be it. A lousy war story is better than no war story.
Where was I? That was some unintended heaviness.
At the end of it all, Halloween is one of those holidays that should remain apolitical. First of all, unless you’re a practicing pagan, then it’s a commercial holiday with the primary focus being on children. You’re getting up in arms about a holiday that, in mainstream culture, revolves around putting on a costume, carving fruit, and asking strangers for candy. I’m sure the aliens watching Americans on October 31st are still tremendously confused.
Second, if you do see something that offends you, then:
a) Gently and maturely engage the offender and explain how the costume might be inappropriate (remember, “We aim high…”)
b) Ignore it, because is it really worth a trip to the ER on Halloween if some drunk jackass decides the best response to your cultural-sensitivity lesson is a punch to the face?
On the flip side, think long and hard about your costume choices. Use your common sense. If you’re going to a private Halloween party with friends that share your sensibilities, then follow that guideline. If you’re going to a public event, then use your best judgment. Chances are, if the crowd isn’t forming a lynch mob then you’re safe, or on a less hyperbolic note, if only one or two high-strung college students yell at you then ignore it; you picked well.
Let’s see, I’m sure I’ve offended at least a few people. Oh well, I don’t particularly care.
For all of you non-anal retentive people out there, have a happy Halloween! Be safe.
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Thanks for reading, I hope you stick around.