Tom Purcell: Halloween costume humor is a dying art

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 28, 2023

Halloween has long been a staple of childhood, but in the past few decades it has been increasingly celebrated by adults — and for good reason.

Until recently, it was the one day where adults could dress up in funny, outrageous costumes that satirized popular culture and the complexity of modern life.

Dressing up as a rock star, Albert Einstein, a famous sports figure or some other pop icon could be fun and funny.

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There should be some limits to our costumes, of course.

Any costume displaying blackface is certainly out, which is obvious to everyone, with the exception of some fools who one day aspire to run for political office.

Any costumes that appropriate or mock different cultures — dressing up as a Native American, such as Pocahontas — are no longer considered fun.

But, according to Good Housekeeping, Bustle, The Independent and others, any attempt to satirize or mock covid-19, one of the biggest events in the past 100 years, is also off limits.

The Independent explains why: “The coronavirus pandemic killed millions of people, and continues to seriously affect those who are unvaccinated. Any costume that resembles the SARS-CoV-2 virus, anti-vaxxers, or someone with covid-19 are to be avoided.”

I get the point, but I don’t fully agree.

Look, satire is a powerful way to ridicule, in a humorous manner, who and what are wrong and ugly or hateful in our society.

A biting, satirical joke — or a wacky Halloween costume — can cut to the heart of the matter better than a direct criticism of a government policy.

Satire is the centerpiece of a healthy and truly free society, but it is now considered unfashionable by entities that are more worried about offending someone than they are about encouraging our freedom to think, question, speak and express ourselves honestly and openly.

In other words, it’s now in bad taste in America to not do exactly what the government tells you to do or to question overzealous government health policies, such as lockdowns and mandates.

Sorry, but where covid is concerned, I think some “bad taste” — or gallows humor — is warranted.

Merriam-Webster defines gallows humor as “humor that makes fun of a life-threatening, disastrous or terrifying situation.”

That is, it diffuses our tension and fear in our very worst moments and mocks death, evil and suffering — giving us the strength to fight on.

Comedian Joan Rivers once said about tragedies she suffered, “If you can laugh at it, you can deal with it.”

But in today’s bi-polarized society, regrettably, half of us believe in freedom of thought, speech and expression — and the benefit of satirical Halloween costumes that may sometimes offend.

The other half are so terrified that something we say or do may slight someone, we are fearful of poking fun or even chuckling at anything amusing.

I can understand the desire to avoid a Halloween costume that might offend your boss and cost you your job.
But I’m afraid our once raucous and robust American sense of humor is slowly dying.

To me, there are few things scarier than that this Halloween.

Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Email him at Copyright 2023 Tom Purcell, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.