Imagine if there were a night when everyone in the world’s sense of humour was made visible – what an awkward evening that would be. But there is: Halloween, when, every year, the world clasps its hands to its cheeks in shock-horror as it realises that there are no clear universal laws for “too soon” or “too far”.
This year, with its avalanche of real-world horrors, is shaping up to be a vintage year for “hot take” costumes, and nowhere more so than in the US. A case in point is Costumeish’s Kim Kardashian outfit (rrp $69.99).
Consisting of an off-white bath robe, “$4m ring”, ivory mouth gag, and canary-yellow wrist ties, the ensemble was designed to evoke the heady Parisian ambience of the armed robbery she endured in a Paris apartment a little over a week ago. Too far. Too soon.
‘Killer dentist’ Halloween costume.
‘Killer dentist’ Halloweencostume.
For legal reasons, Costumeish listed the outfit on its online store without Kim’s name, instead hinting: “She has devoted her life to promoting American decadence, youth, and hedonism but all that flashy living caught up with her one night in Paris when armed men bound her, stole her jewellery and her peace of mind. This Halloween, have some fun with pop culture and dress just like the Queen of Social media.”
It did not occur to Costumeish that the “Queen of Social Media” might have millions of followers ready to unleash an almighty backlash, in the face of which the company withdrew the costume. The tone of CEO Johnathon Weeks’s apology is that of a stung child: “I’m sad that people are offended by it, but it is Halloween: It’s one day out of the year … Halloween should be a light-hearted, spirited party. And people should be able to laugh at it and think it’s funny.”
Weeks may have a point, even if his example is clearly wrong. Halloween is meant to be a bloodletting – a physical listing of the stuff we find grotesque in our culture. The old rule is still the best: comedy equals tragedy plus time. Genghis Khan: funny. Jack the Ripper: allowable. The Ipswich Ripper: no. Travyon Martin (someone actually did this): as uncool as human plus clothes can be.
The Kardashian kit mostly overlooked how much of what is allowable has to do with victim power relationships. For instance, Costumeish’s still-available “sexy Ebola nurse” suit seems to suggest it is not mocking the thousands of dead poor people, so much as celebrating the sex-ready epidemiology community around them. And time plus species, of course: the company’s “Cecil the Lion dentist” costume offered a solid complement to the Ebola nurse.
Whatever the rules, dicing with tragedy will continue to appeal. Among all the “scary clowns”, Harambe will be a big winner, as will Dead Bowie and Dead Prince. And while every corner of the punch bowl will no doubt be overrun by Trumps and Hillarys, the simpler dress-up solution might be to opt for Costumeish’s “80s wrestler” outfit.
Complete with sweatband, yellow-and-red T-shirt, and straw-yellow moustache, it could easily double as Hulk Hogan, AKA “the man who brought down Gawker”. Gawker was once the spiritual home of all those “look at these culturally appropriating monsters in their Sioux headdresses” outrage articles, so perhaps this is the year to memorialise Hogan – the dentist to their Cecil the Lion.