Thursday, 3 December 2015

Costume Policing

(And now, an article that I wrote for a newspaper this semester)

Halloween is upon us yet again, and with it comes the same thing that comes with any holiday: political correctness. It seems that with each coming festivity, there are people who are getting offended and hurt in the process. Now, personally, I have a very mixed feeling on the whole push for being more PC around the holidays. I used to be one of those that got annoyed at people saying Happy Holidays, but considering how ever looming and Christian-centric Xmas gets, I don’t bother making a huff. And granted Thanksgiving wasn’t about Native Americans being hunky dory with Pilgrims, but lately the holiday has become more about unity and family and good food, so the issue should be kept separate from the holiday. It should still be talked about though.

Yet on ol’ Hallow’s Eve, I find myself split down the middle due to the whole issue regarding costumes. As the years go by, more and more people are concerned about what others decide to play dress-up for the night, particularly when it comes to donning the look of a culture that’s not your own. Each day that gets closer to Halloween, the “we are a culture, not a costume” posters grow in quantity, as well as the controversial pictures of costumes that you just can’t believe exist, like one on Caitlyn Jenner, or Ahmed, or sexy Stephen Harper.

Now I get the obvious part of the complaints that come from this movement. Clearly, the blackface version of any culture is terrible and it’s not like I condone the Make-Yourself-Asian makeup kit that only has shades of yellow or wearing any First Nation garb lest you are of that culture. Sometimes though, I believe it comes down more to the wearer than the costume itself. Let’s take the Caitlyn Jenner one for example. It would be fair to say that if you are transgender and you revere her, you can wear the costume just fine. Being a celebrity for the day doesn’t hurt anyone unless you’re dressed up as Mel Gibson. But if you’re not transgender, and yet you feel like her accomplishments are something you should pay tribute to, then you should be able to wear the costume if you maintain that respect.

The issue with the costumes that promote bigotry comes in the exaggeration, the accessorizing of a culture. Each culture, be it of race, religion or sexuality, has a harmful stereotype that serves to caricaturize them as a whole. Even the lesser evil of these costumes, the Mexican with the sombrero and the moustache, still dilutes a people to a certain point. But one thing is someone with a giant sombrero and a giant moustache, downing a bottle of tequila and shouting “Arrrrrrrriba!” every chance they get, and another is someone that looks like a standard mariachi band member calmly enjoying the evening.

Fictional characters make this issue more of a gray area. If anyone wants to play as another character that doesn’t belong to them culturally, then they should be able to wear it so long as they don’t simplify the character to that culture. Because then it’s saying that only that culture is what defines them, not anything else. As well as being a caricature of the culture itself. It’s a matter of respect when it comes to these costumes. And if that respect is maintained, we should be fine. Whatever someone wants to dress up as should be fine if they know how to pull it off.

I think where I get the most conflicted is when we are barring the use of allowing someone to wear something of a culture that is not their own. We should be able to exchange it better rather than close ourselves off because of a few assholes who ruin the fun for everyone. The situation here isn’t like America. Sure, Canada has had its moments of insensitivity, but we did not go as far as our neighbours to the South have. We are able to embrace more our diversity and express it too. We deal with the exchange our of cultures a lot more maturely and thus we should be able to show that maturity rather than feeling the need to say you can’t participate in that exchange and show it.

Though I understand perfectly why there is that tension. Not only because others stereotype a culture or use something that is not of their own culture, but then gets praised for it and then claims it as their own. No one wants to be in a position that what they wear everyday is considered weird and alien but then on some pretty person on a night in October gets compliments aplenty for wearing the same thing. When there is truly is an injustice and a total disregard for respect, it should be called out.

I can’t control your feelings on how you see any costume. If you feel offended, then you do. And it would’ve been easier for me to dismiss this issue entirely because it is Halloween. This holiday carries much less dirty history than the others. It is about having fun drinking candy corn shooters and watching movies about the occult. It is entertainment, yet entertainment must also be criticized. So I see why the push goes forward. But these pushes may end up being superficial fixes. People may wear the most PC costumes available but still be as bigoted as Donald Trump. Stereotypical costumes are clearly wrong, but more conversation should be allowed on what is right. We should encourage a cultural exchange, even if it is on Halloween where we just wear a costume for a day. Let’s try to better that progress. And if people still want to be bigots and wear offensive costumes, well, we should laugh at them. Because they’re just scared that they have no clue how the world works.

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