TIME Culture

Stop Being So Sensitive—It’s Only a Halloween Costume

Saturday Night Live - Season 42
NBC—NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images The safest costume: David S. Pumpkins.

Jim Norton is co-host of the Jim Norton and Sam Roberts Show weekday mornings on SiriusXM and co-host of UFC Unfiltered, the official podcast of the UFC

Things have gone too far into the bland zone

Well, it’s that time of year again. The leaves are turning, the weather’s getting colder and the onslaught of cartel-level violence against pumpkins is in full force. In just a few days, children all over the country will be going door-to-door, filling their baskets with candy while receiving compliments from their neighbors on how scary a ghost or how pretty a princess they are. (Unless you live next door to me, in which case you will hear loud music playing as I lounge in my apartment in my underwear pretending not to hear the buzzer.)

My favorite part of Halloween isn’t the night itself, which I tend to find irritating as I sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic watching Sodom and Gomorrah march down 6th Avenue. What I love is the day after Halloween, when America will predictably be nursing its “offensive costume” hangover. I’m not sure when this embarrassing trend started, but Twitter and Instagram and Facebook will undoubtedly be brimming with photos of people who committed the Hester Prynne-level mortal sin of choosing to go out and get blackout drunk in a tasteless costume.

My timeline will be flooded with pictures of dopey white fraternity guys who smeared their faces with shoe polish and wrote “Wu Tang” on their t-shirts. Or with people in round glasses and sweaters holding boxes of Jell-O Pudding Pops and Sominex, or with women who are suddenly labeled rape-apologists because they throw a Donald Trump costume over their shoulder and glue his hand to their crotch. These people will be besieged with messages of transitory outrage and mock indignation. Their lives will be threatened, their employers will be overwhelmed with demands to fire them, and blogs will be written screeching about how these people must be punished for daring to wear a costume that some may deem (drum roll please)… offensive! This obnoxious undertaking of public shaming is perpetrated by a temperamental culture who engages in it simply to avoid looking at its own inconsistency and ugliness for one more day.

I find it disheartening that I live in a time when people carry almost 300 GB of information on a piece of glass in their pockets but can’t seem to process disagreement without stomping and kicking and begging for attention and results.

As anticipated, the group clanging the symbols of the wounded the loudest are college students. Human nature dictates that every generation believes their generation’s answers to social miscarriages embody compassion, fairness and common sense in a way the generations before or after them just can’t comprehend. We all believe “our group” has found the delicate balance that has proved elusive to those before and after us. The generation of the present always views the generation of the past as harsh and out of touch and the generation of the future as soft and embarrassingly malleable. But compassion is relative to the time. People in the 1800’s believed themselves to be decent and benevolent, yet if you were seen nodding good morning at an African American, half the country would’ve considered you a bleeding heart, left wing traitor.

Although college students are banging these drums the loudest, I don’t necessarily fault the students themselves. They’re just doing what students do, which is basically shake their rattles and kick their feet until Desitin is applied to their hineys. At that age, hypersensitivity and rebellion more often than not go hand in hand. And while it’s enraging to listen to, typically their hearts are in the right place, and they simply want to be a part of something important, to see themselves having a tangible impact, to feel like their voices were heard and they mattered. They don’t want to look at college as four years of pointlessly getting themselves into lifelong debt. When someone asks, “So what did you do today?’ it’s much more impressive to say, “I spent the entire afternoon on the front lines fighting in the Cultural Revolution, buster” than, “I studied. I texted. I almost got flattened by a bus chasing a Pokemon across the Interstate.”

The people I find most at fault are the cowardly, derivative administrators who lack the courage to simply allow students to be offended and learn how to work through those feelings like big boys and girls. Allowing them the opportunity to cope with others making choices they object to is a great way to hopefully help prevent them from throwing themselves out the window the first time they fail a test or get fired from a job. Part of entering into adulthood is realizing and accepting things won’t always be pleasant and your personal discomfort is not in itself a reason for other free thinking individuals to be neutered or penalized. Ironically, the people who preach tolerance the most tend to display it the least. True tolerance would be encouraging people to dress up on Halloween however they wish and if they make fools out of themselves, they would hopefully learn from the embarrassment. Typically, Americans like a culturally rigged game. We like to paint a picture of the country that comfortably suits us, and any behaviors or ideas that stray outside the lines must immediately be corrected or erased. What is tasteful and appropriate is seen as an absolute, and only the violators of the never-unanimously-agreed-upon standard are in the wrong.

This year, leaders of Tufts University’s Greek community sent out an email regarding “inappropriate, offensive and appropriate costumes.” They wrote: “Greek Brothers and Sisters have worn costumes that appropriate cultures and reproduce stereotypes on race, gender, sexuality, immigrant or socioeconomic status. Outfits relating to tragedy, controversy, or acts of violence are also inappropriate.” They go on to say: “When choosing a costume, be aware of the impact your costume might have on others, and be cognizant of any statements—including, but not limited to, cultural or violent messages—your outfit may make, intentional or not.

Well, that’s a relief. For a second I was worried the email would be full of knee-jerk reactionary, vague idiocy. They also state there will be consequences for wearing offensive costumes and that Tufts University Police Department may investigate. Which is encouraging, because if there’s one thing the police should be doing, it’s launching a full-scale investigation into some 20-year-old in blackface and a headdress vomiting in the bushes.

Things have gone so far into the bland-zone that certain kids aren’t allowed to wear clown costumes because of the rash of violence committed by people wearing clown costumes. Comedian Emily Galati summed up the situation perfectly on Twitter: “Kemper County MS banned people from wearing clown costumes, make up, or masks in public. Mississippi, tougher on clowns than the Klan.”

I look forward to the day in the not so distant future when the only acceptable Halloween costume will be to tape a balloon to your head and tell people you’re a happy, helpful, non-binary balloon person operating in a safe space.

Or maybe to make things easier, we should just authorize the National Guard to stand in the streets in case a particular costume gets any complaints. The merits of these complaints should never be considered; the idea that a complaint was registered should be all that’s required to take decisive and immediate action. Passersby should randomly be asked if they find the costume in question upsetting or offensive. All those who say they do not should be dismissed and ignored (or shamed if they admit to actually liking it). As soon as one passerby expresses discomfort with the costume, a guilty verdict should be announced. In an effort to save time and prevent any more hurt feelings, the offender should be automatically fired from their jobs and forced to sell their homes and move after reading a heartfelt apology prepared by their attorney.

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