Let he who is without humor cast the first stone
Assistant Managing Editor
This Halloween, our world was haunted by something far more frightening than ghosts or ghouls: culturally insensitive costumes.
Trick-or-Treater’s traded in more traditional Halloween getups, such as zombies covered in fake blood, for more realistic parodies, such as Boston Marathon victims covered in fake blood. Fictional characters like Peter Pan and the lost boys were lost to partygoers dressed as real life characters like Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.
In other news, various media berated individuals, such as University of Colorado Boulder’s Christina Gonzalez, for suggesting that students avoid racial and ethnic stereotype costumes. Political correctness faced off with freedom of expression in a social media style duel, with both sides drawing (fake) blood.
From Julianne Hough in blackface to UK citizens winning a costume contest dressed as the twin towers on 9/11, I found myself angry, offended by people’s lack of tact. However, while studying the defenses of comedians for negative reactions to their offensive jokes, I began to develop a more flexible point of view regarding offensive Halloween costumes.
I found myself agreeing with the sentiment that what is offensive is ultimately determined by those who are offended.
I’ve struggled with my new conclusion, as I am usually the spitfire type that likes to jump on board the whole politically correct/let’s-be-somewhat-socially-aware-here-people train. Nevertheless, the truth is that no matter how innocuous any costume may seem to an individual, it may be deemed offensive to another person.
The act of wearing an offensive costume does not bring physical harm to those offended. Though, those wearing the costume may be harmed when they choose to share it on social media, as Alicia Ann Lynch learned when she lost her job after her Boston costume went viral.
People are simply “put off” by the nature of the offense. While they may heatedly discuss it over the dinner table or spew hateful opinions on Facebook and YouTube, at the end of the day, people move on and go about their lives until they are disturbed by the next social controversy.
Comedy Central comedian Anthony Jeselnick agreed, saying: “I think everyone has their own line [of what is considered funny versus offensive]. People are like, ‘Is there a line?’ Everyone has their own, and I don’t care about them. I don’t care about your line. And if someone gets offended, it always makes me laugh because if you’re offended by something, no matter how offended you are, you’re only offended for a little bit. You eventually get on with your life and forget about it. I’m not hurting anyone by offending them.”
There are certainly benefits to discussing taboo subjects through a comedic lens. Omar Shaukat, graduate of the University of Washington and stand-up performer, argued that conversations about race could be easier if educated race humor is used to create a context in which people feel more comfortable.
Humor can also be used as a way to deal with grief.
Regardless as to the intention of those cracking offensive jokes or wearing offensive costumes, when the world is your audience, cultural insensitivity is not well received.
Whether you’re dressing up for Halloween and sharing your costume on Twitter, or performing a stand-up routine in front of crowd that leaks your skit to YouTube, it’s difficult to craft a performance, or outfit, that is sensitive to an audience of every color, custom and class.
Making one person laugh is often accompanied by making someone else angry.
I suggest that for Halloween 2014, you dress for yourself, even if others boo you.