Not according to David Frum:
… Americans spent an estimated $800 million on costumes for children, $1 billion on costumes for adults.
Wither this revival of the masquerade?
As best we can tell: in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood. In the 1970s, that neighborhood emerged as the heart of a new home-owning, bourgeois, coupled gay community. A local variety store had long sponsored a Halloween street festival for kids. In the 1970s, the street festival transitioned into an adult party of lavish costumed theatricality. The “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” — a troupe of transvestite nuns — got their start here.
The Castro Halloween party spread to other gay neighborhoods in the 1980s: Greenwich Village, West Hollywood, Key West, Florida. In 1994, University of Florida anthropologist Jerry Kugelmass published a book on the new trend, “Masked Culture,” describing Halloween as an emerging gay “high holiday.”
And after a while — the straights imitated.From the spread of disco in the 1970s — to the habit of paying money for sparkling waters such as Perrier — culminating in Halloween, gays have incubated and developed major cultural trends. Straights adopt, and then ungratefully forget whom they are adopting from — just as American Christians forget how much of the modern Christmas music they enjoy was written by Jews, starting with the most popular of them all, Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” The majority culture forgets what the minority culture has produced.
The “masked culture” first developed by the gays of San Francisco has reached across the lines of orientation — and now jumped across the boundaries between nations and languages. It’s not just a party. It’s an ideal of personal emancipation, self-expression and self-fulfillment — an ideal that loses none of its power when it takes the form of a sexy nurse’s outfit.
I think that last sentence need some qualifiers. Sure, if a woman is confident to step out in a white miniskirt and stethoscope one night a year, all power to them. But when there is an expectation that adult women will drape themselves in “sexy” costumes instead of what’s most fun or comfortable for them, a new opressive social pressure is present. And many American women do feel the pinch; observe features like this one on Jezebel validating sexless or frankly unappealing costumes. Women, already subjected to overt sexualization in everyday life, find even greedier gaze turned on them Oct. 31st.
The remedy is to recognize, as Frum says, Halloween is about self expression; and if an adult wishes to express oneself as a sexy nurse or as Florance Nightingale in ruffles and a hoop skirt, it’s not our place to judge.
This is what a feminist looks like, if that's her thing.
But I did see a lot of judging on my college campus–not against the sexually unpretentious, but against the sexy nurses. Invariably, there was a late October column amounting to a 700-word sigh over the “lack of creativity” in “Slut-o-ween” getups. The irony in that critique, of course, is the columnist’s conscious or unconscious repetition of a theme given vent at the exact time and in the same space as it was last year. Self-congradulatory platitudes aside, reativity is not infinite. Real originality is a rare and precious thing, and those who exhibit it are as highly esteemed as the most wise and gentle statesmen, if not moreso. I will go so far to say that there in even the most radically creative persons, there is nothing self-created, nothing really new within them. They only organize words and ideas into hitherto unobserved combinations, or give a new poetic dress to ideas and impulses as old as humanity itself. They have only the materials of their own instincts to work with, and the collected data of the world, which is shared in common by the elites and unread masses alike.
So can we really fault a stranger on the street for not slaving over a truly original costume? I think not; most people do not do work that can be reasonably be considered “creative,” so those faculties are underdeveloped. It is as cruel to expect the average person to produce a radically new unseen avant garde costume every fall as it is to expect them to be an inch taller every year. Even if they pluck from the air a fully-formed costume idea, the effort in putting it together and making it look good is daunting, and challange enough in itself. And, as I am given to understand, most people don’t want to be challanged at parties; they want to have fun. So here is my radical suggestion: Let them, even if they do look stupid.
Filed under: fashion, feminism, Halloween, holidays, LGBT issues | Leave a Comment »