This happened every Halloween when I was a kid. The doorbell would ring, usually at night, when my siblings and I were already home from our candy walks. We’d open the door, all excited, and some teenager would be standing on the porch in jeans and a sweatshirt.
“Trick or treat,” he’d mumble.
We’d give him candy, but our faces reflected our disappointment.
“He didn’t even try to dress up!” we’d whisper when he left. Such lack of effort, we decided, was hardly worthy of a Milky Way bar, let alone a full pack of Necco Wafers.
Today, however, things have changed. Today, if that kid rang my doorbell, I’d have to give him double candy, an approving nod, and a pat on the back for being so forward-thinking.
That’s because, thanks to our hyped-up, politically overcorrect, point-fingers-and-yell society, there is almost no Halloween costume you can wear without offending somebody, being ridiculed on the internet, perhaps even losing your job.
You might as well go in street clothes.
Don’t believe me? Go online. Articles that used to pop up every October about “Great Costume Ideas for Halloween” have been replaced by articles entitled, “The 10 Most Offensive Halloween Costumes for 2019.” There are warnings, scoldings, everything but whirring sirens to prevent you from donning an outfit that someone on the planet might not like.
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Dressing as anything is taboo
In case you’ve been out of the Halloween loop for a while, allow me to sum up the lists of costumes the experts agree you should NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT WEARING.
A handful are obvious. Holocaust victim. Mass-shooting victim. Vladimir Putin. A terrorist. The World Trade Center towers on fire.
Others are a mark of the times. Harvey Weinstein. Matt Lauer. Any of Kevin Spacey’s characters. It is probably not a good idea to go as President Trump, as half the houses will refuse to give you candy, or Nancy Pelosi, as the other half will slam the door. Joe Biden is off limits (and no false teeth, please). Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a no-no, unless you are, actually, in fact, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Dressing as anything you are not is taboo. If you’re white, you can’t dress like an African American. If you’re African American, you can’t dress like you’re Indian. If you’re Indian, don’t pretend to be Latin-American. If you’re Latin-American, don’t dress as a Middle Easterner.
Don’t dress Catholic. Don’t dress Jewish. Don’t dress Muslim. A nun? Are you kidding? A rabbi? Even worse. A Hindu priest? Who are you to dress like a Hindu priest? Unless, of course, you are actually a Hindu priest. And even then, it’s probably off limits.
The Royal Family? Not cute. Haven’t you heard how Harry and Meghan are suffering? The Queen? That’s ageism. Prime Minister Boris Johnson? Hey. Brexit is serious. Besides, with that hair, people would just think you were Trump.
Don’t use childhood as a guide. Pretty much everything we wore as kids is on the no-no list. Cowboys? They destroyed life for Native Americans. Indians? Already covered that. Hobo? Are you kidding? Here’s a tip on hobo costumes from Good Housekeeping last week: “In reality, homelessness is a devastating circumstance that affects millions, including kids. There are so many other (better) costumes you can choose!”
Yeah, like Moana from the Disney movie! Oops. That’s a cultural stereotype. So is a Mexican mariachi singer, the Sheik of Araby, Princess Jasmine, anyone from “Mulan,” a kimono, a samurai outfit, or Kim Jong Un.
And don’t even think about a pillow around your midsection. Weight issues are dynamite.
Nothing is safe
How Halloween devolved to this point is a mystery. After all, it’s a pagan holiday that used to involve devilish images. Now you can’t even dress like an angel, for fear of offending atheists.
The issues seemed to swell in recent years, as a few high-profile firestorms made everyone skittish. Singer Chris Brown got in trouble for dressing as Osama Bin Laden. Actress Hilary Duff drew ire for dressing as a sexy pilgrim. Heidi Klum was ridiculed for a blue-skinned portrayal of a Hindu goddess of destruction.
Then came the Yale University mess of 2015. An associate master of Yale’s Silliman college named Erika Christakis dared to wonder if warning college students about offensive Halloween costumes wasn’t going a bit too far in protecting them from anything that might prove the least bit uncomfortable.
Well. You’d have thought she’d locked the kids in the attic. She and her husband — who defended her email — were harassed, lambasted, and so fully shouted down by certain students that they both wound up resigning. Students actually demanded advance warning of when Christakis would be coming to the dining hall, so they wouldn’t have to be disturbed by the sight of her.
And all this didn’t even involve an actual offensive costume — just the mere idea of one!
Since then, all bets are off. Not only are all the costumes already listed offensive, but now entire categories are dress-at-your-own-risk.
Sexy used to be good. Not anymore. That French maid outfit? The short-skirted nurse? The Chippendales chaps? Wear those and you’re objectifying humans.
And you probably can’t dress like a whale or an eagle, because there’s nothing cute about being an endangered species.
Zombies and death are not to be trifled with. Soldiers will certainly offend anti-war folks. You can’t dress as certain founding fathers, without someone objecting to their slave ownership.
It’s enough to make you want to go naked. But that will only land you in jail.
So good luck finding anything safe. That kid who knocked on our door in jeans and a sweatshirt was ahead of his time.
I’m reminded of an episode of “The Office” in which Jim, who does not like the whole Halloween thing, comes to work one year in his regular shirt and tie. When others complain that he’s not wearing a costume, he says, oh yes he is. He points to a name tag that says “Dave.”
That’s probably the extent of a safe Halloween costume today. But I’d bring along a Sharpie just in case. You never know when Dave might have offended.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.