Ce­cil, Cait­lyn heat up Hal­loween cos­tume wars early


Who gets to de­cide what grown peo­ple wear for Hal­loween? Ap­par­ently ev­ery­body. The Hal­loween wars fo­cused on pop cul­ture cos­tumes have heated up early this year. Pe­ti­tions and so­cial media out­rage are al­ready fly­ing over a blood-spat­tered den­tist’s smock paired with a Ce­cil-like lion head, along with a replica of Cait­lyn Jen­ner’s cream-col­ored corset set she wore for her joy­ful com­ing out on the cover of Van­ity Fair.

But ex­actly how do the latest ex­am­ples in the cos­tume clashes for a hol­i­day with a long, bawdy history dif­fer from al­ways off-base be­hav­ior like black­face, ala Ju­lianne Hough, or Prince Harry’s turn as a non-Hal­loween Nazi?

Is the rule of “too soon” at play? Has the dig­i­tal age spawned an overly po­lit­i­cally cor­rect ge­nie with no im­me­di­ate plans to be stuffed back in the bot­tle?

Richard Lach­mann, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Albany who in­cludes Hal­loween in his so­ci­ol­ogy of cul­ture course, said cos­tumes seem to be more provoca­tive ev­ery year, with equally amped-up back­lash. And there’s al­ways a base of peo­ple who feel it’s an “ir­re­li­gious pa­gan hol­i­day to be­gin with and are ready to be up­set,” he said.

Throw in a heavy dose of gore, loaded par­ody and ul­tra-sexy cos­tumes, Lach­mann added, and Hal­loween is now a free-for-all de­bate on de­cency and where the nev­erOK line be­longs. But is there a line at all?

“It seems like there isn’t,” he said. “The point for adults is to be provoca­tive, to do some­thing that breaks the lines of what’s con­sid­ered ac­cept­able.”

The fash­ion and lifestyle site Re­fin­ery29 is one of many online voices de­cry­ing Jen­ner cos­tumes and ac­ces­sories, call­ing out one seller of a “Uni­sex Miss-ter Olympic Wig” that costs US$14.99, in a re­cent up­date to a run­ning at­tempt to take down the gear. Why?

Cos­tume Mock­ing Another

Marginal­ized Cul­ture

Be­cause as the writer, Liz Black, said in her post: “Ev­ery Hal­loween, there al­ways seems to be a need for ar­ti­cles that ex­plain why you shouldn’t dress up in a cos­tume that mocks another marginal­ized cul­ture.”

At least four online sellers are hawk­ing Jen­ner stuff, in­clud­ing one of the largest re­tail­ers, Spirit Hal­loween, but op­po­nents have seen lit­tle sat­is­fac­tion as the com­pa­nies de­clare it’s all in fun.

“At Spirit Hal­loween, we cre­ate a wide range of cos­tumes that are of­ten based on celebri­ties, public fig­ures, he­roes and su­per­heroes,” said a state­ment from Lisa Barr, Spirit’s se­nior di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing and cre­ative. “Cait­lyn Jen­ner is all of the above and our ex­clu­sive Cait­lyn-inspired cos­tume re­flects just that.”

Spirit’s ver­sion goes f or US$49.99. The wig? Sold sep­a­rately at US$16.99 a pop.

Any­time­cos­tumes. com went with a car­toon­ish, beefy dude in a brown wig to show off its “Call me Cait­lyn Uni­sex Adult Cos­tume” with a sash declar­ing just that, lest you not re­al­ize who it’s sup­posed to be. It comes with a bustier and white shorty shorts for US$74.99. Is it worth black­face-level anger? Lach­mann’s not con­vinced. “With black­face there’s a link to the whole history of vi­o­lence against African- Amer­i­cans,” he said, echo­ing Black’s train of thought on what many in the trans com­mu­nity regularly face. “Cer­tainly peo­ple can try to con­vince oth­ers that it’s not a good idea to wear a cer­tain cos­tume.”

That’s ex­actly what an­i­mal rights ac­tivist Doreen Har­ley in In­di­anapo­lis set out to do in a dustup with Johnathon Weeks, owner in Palm Springs, Cal­i­for­nia, of Cos­tumeish. com. He came up with the “Lion Killer Den­tist” cos­tume based on Wal­ter Palmer, the Min­nesota den­tist who gen­er­ated a world of wrath when he and his hunt­ing party killed the beloved Ce­cil in Zim­babwe.

Weeks re­cently put the cos­tume on sale for US$59.99, up­ping the price to US$99.99. Har­ley took to Face­book and Twit­ter to protest, and she started an online cam­paign to have Weeks pull the cos­tume. She now has more than 50,000 sig­na­tures and a prom­ise from Weeks to do­nate his prof­its from the den­tist’s smock, lion head and bloody sur­gi­cal gloves to a wildlife or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“When I saw the cos­tume, that dis­turbed me that some­one was try­ing to make a profit off of this in­cred­i­bly dis­turb­ing story,” Har­ley said.

Does she con­sider Cait­lyn Jen­ner cos­tumes equally in­sen­si­tive and dis­turb­ing?

“I have friends and fam­ily that are gay, trans­gen­der, les­bian. It does of­fend me. It’s al­most like mock­ing some­one. It is of­fen­sive to that com­mu­nity. I’m more pas­sion­ate, I guess, to­ward an­i­mal rights. I have to pick and choose my bat­tles and I’m choos­ing the Ce­cil the lion bat­tle right now.”

She wouldn’t say whether she be­lieves the Ce­cil cos­tume reaches that never-OK line, such as black­face: “I think adults get to de­cide what they want to wear for Hal­loween. “This is the one that stood out for me.”

The lion-hunt­ing den­tist is just one of about 14,000 cos­tumes Weeks sells at Cos­tumeish and a larger site, Brand­son­sale.com. So far he has sold 50 bloody den­tist cos­tumes. Weeks plans a re­verse take on Ce­cil with a lion suit that comes with a sev­ered hu­man head, and pos­si­bly another cos­tume with ex­tra-large trousers and lit­tle kids stick­ing out one side for peo­ple look­ing to dress as Jared Fogle, the fallen Sub­way pitch­man who faces charges of pay­ing for sex with mi­nors and pos­sess­ing child pornog­ra­phy.

“We bring to mar­ket what peo­ple want,” Weeks said. “We all need to chill out. We’ve got the PC po­lice ev­ery­where. We have preg­nant nun cos­tumes no­body talks about. We have Je­sus cos­tumes no­body talks about. We live in a so­ci­ety that’s so sen­si­tive to these things.” But even Weeks has a line. “I still won’t make twin tower cos­tumes. ... I get re­quests for that all the time,” he said. “The tragedy that hap­pened with the TV re­porters who were killed, that would be way off-lim­its. Any­body who wanted to dress up as them would be dis­gust­ing.”


This im­age re­leased by Cos­tumeish shows a man hold­ing a fake lion head while dressed as a den­tist, a cos­tume re­fer­ring to the Min­nesota den­tist who who killed Ce­cil the lion.

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