Until recently, for $3.99 plus shipping, consumers could purchase an item called “Razor Blade Suicide Wound Latex Costume Make Up” from Wal-Mart’s online store.
It offered exactly what was in the description. Judging by the social media outcry, few people will wear it trick-or-treating this Halloween. The mock gashes simulating a suicide attempt were, according to a Change.org petition that ran over the weekend, “not a joke, not a costume, and not funny.” The wound makeup was also indicative of a wider trend of treating mental illness as a scary Halloween curiosity, as The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
The retail giant agreed to pull the product. (Victory!, the petition now reads.) “This costume is appalling and it was unacceptable for a third-party seller to list it on our marketplace,” said Wal-Mart in a statement, according to WABC 7. “It clearly violated our prohibited items policy and we removed it when it was brought to our attention.”
Along with collecting candy and carving pumpkins, pointing out racist, offensive or ill-conceived costumes has become something of an annual Halloween tradition. (For a seven-year run, the late website Gawker documented October spikes in blackface.) Colleges and universities have entered the fray this year, cracking down on outfits that stereotyped or sexualized minorities.
In early October, the University of Florida sent out a reminder it had a 24-hour phone line for counseling, should anyone be troubled by a costume. The university also issued a warning: “Also, keep in mind that social media posts can have a long-term impact on your personal and professional reputation.” That is true even if the costumes are not worn, but discussed. In December 2015, a Yale University lecturer resigned after penning an email in a measured defense of students’ choice to wear costumes that were “a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive.”
More recently, Brock University in Ontario, Canada, issued a costume protocol for its annual Halloween party. The guidelines, according to the Brock University website, were designed to pay respect to “stories and experiences of marginalized groups.” Outfits barred from the party included religious headdresses, Day of the Dead makeup or “any costume of Caitlyn Jenner.”
The shortlist of controversial costumes in 2016:
Clowns: In Mississippi’s Kemper County, wearing a clown costume will carry a $150 fine until Nov. 1, thanks to an ordinance approved in mid-October by the Kemper County Board of Supervisors. New York American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Rowland disagreed with the Mississippi county’s prohibition, arguing that most outfits were protected as speech under the First Amendment. It was “a ridiculous use of government authority,” Rowland told the AP, “to dictate which Halloween costumes people can wear.” The county joined several high schools and school districts around the country, from California to New Jersey, that have banned clown costumes following the wave of “creepy clown” sightings.
Maui from Disney’s “Moana”: The Polynesian demigod Maui, who will be played by Dwayne Johnson in the upcoming animated movie “Moana,” was depicted in a costume released by Disney in September. The costume, a full-body suit that included tribal tattoos and fake brown skin, was met with derision and anger on social media, as The Post reported. (At least one person compared it with the suit of human skin from the horror movie “Silence of the Lambs.”) Disney stopped selling the Maui costume just a few days later, telling CNN in a statement, “The team behind Moana has taken great care to respect the cultures of the Pacific islands that inspired the film, and we regret that the Maui costume has offended some.”
Kidnapped Kim Kardashian: In the wake of a robbery at gunpoint at the beginning of October, the normally prolific social media star Kim Kardashian went quiet. That did not stop costume retailer Costumeish.com from offering, euphemistically and fleetingly, the $69.99 “Parisian Heist Robbery Victim Costume Kit.” The costume, which included a mouth gag and black wig, was removed from the Web store on Oct. 11.