Spook, don’t shock, this Halloween


Shock value of offensive costumes detracts from fun, creative spirit


Johnathan Weeks, the CEO of the costume company BrandsOnSale, has a new creation for this Halloween that he promises will be “the most viral costume of the year”: Ebola.

The Ebola costume is meant to look like a protective suit, complete with goggles, gloves, breathing mask and face shield. A disclaimer notes that although “you are sure to be prepared if any outbreak happens at your Halloween party,” it is not actually going to protect you from the real disease.

Ebola is relatively new in the media spotlight, and yet it seems that people are already over it. Or maybe desensitized? Or simply misinformed and detached from the reality of what the disease truly is, and the thousands of lives it has already claimed? You could argue that we shouldn’t be so easily offended, and that it’s just a joke and costumes are supposed to be scary after all — but this isn’t the first time costumes have caused controversy.

Last year, students at the University of Colorado Boulder started a campaign to address the issue of cultural appropriations and insensitivity in people’s choices of Halloween costumes with posters that read, “We’re a culture, not a costume” (hopefully we don’t still need to explain why wearing a Native American headdress as Halloween costume is not OK).

But Weeks insists that for his company, nothing is off limits when it comes to Halloween costumes — in his own words, “It’s Halloween, it’s one day, if people are that serious about it, they don’t know what Halloween is about.” In addition to this new Ebola costume, Weeks’ company even sells cigarette and marijuana leaf baby costumes. He said he’s not going to stay away from things just because they’re considered controversial. He thinks people shouldn’t be afraid to push these kinds of boundaries, saying, “If I told you we had a toddler ISIS costume in the works, your mouth would drop … I will definitely let you know when that goes on sale. I can tell you it will come complete with a fake machine gun.”

Sadly, we wouldn’t even be that surprised if that actually was a real costume. After all, the bottom line for businessmen like Weeks that these costumes are selling. That’s why these companies are going to keep on making them. It’s all of our responsibilities to be conscious about where we’re spending our money, what we’re spending it on and why. What benefit is there for Weeks to even joke about making a toddler ISIS costume, other than the fact that it might somehow rack up his sales?

Yes, Halloween is just about dressing up and going out with your friends for fun, and it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But that doesn’t mean that at least a basic level of sensitivity and just plain common sense shouldn’t still be applied. The holiday shouldn’t be a topic of so much controversy — and yet it is, because our society has an obsession with finding shock value in everything. If your goal with your Halloween costume this year is to shock, try again. So let’s not take anything away from the fun, meaningless holiday that Halloween. Get creative — there’s no need to buy into the capitalist system trying to make edgy, offensive costumes a new thing.


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