Lawlor / A reflection on offensive costumes
Some recent “costume” problems from decades back have recently come to light for Virginia politicians, and it caused me to look at my own personal history of dressing up to see if my behavior was offensive.
It was. A few of the Halloween episodes make me cringe a little even now. Actually, in two of the more troubling costumes, I was told I was offensive by at least one person at the time.
By way of background, the current governor of Virginia had a medical school yearbook photo of someone in blackface with someone in a KKK outfit. At first, he said it was him, then he said it wasn’t, but he admitted to putting on blackface to dress up like Michael Jackson.
The lieutenant governor then had rape and assault allegations leveled against him. The next in line for governor, the attorney general, admitted that he had also dressed in blackface. What is unclear is whether these were for Halloween costumes or for other reasons.
I have looked back on my adult life (over 18) and concluded a few things:
I have rarely dressed up when it wasn’t Halloween;
What I thought were incredibly clever, hilarious costumes do not stand the test of time; and
There were four times I dressed up like a woman, which may be a red flag. I thought I looked good, but the photos tell a different story.
1983. The movie Flashdance came out and I dressed like the star/ welder-exotic dancer. No photo exists (I hope), and I found out it is impossible (this is pre-internet) to find women’s high heels in a men’s size 14.
1985. I went to a party as Grant Woods’ “American Gothic” painting. Incredible costume. The only problem was I wore a cardboard picture frame. I am a large man, and you would think the picture frame would have shredded if I walked into a room with a ceiling fan. The opposite is true. The blades of the fan snapped off and the pieces showered on everyone in the room. The party was over right then and there.
1987. This was my first costume where people at the party thought it was offensive (the people at the Grant Wood party were cursing me as hell rained down from above, but they weren’t offended). I went as Baby Jessica, the little baby girl that was rescued from the well she fell into just days earlier. Now that I have had children, I would agree with my detractor. At the time, I thought it was clever. It was offensive, especially my hat which was a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket made into a wishing well with a little roof.
1992. Soon-Yi Previn. This, I think is offensive on two levels, maybe more. My girlfriend at the time, now wife and mother of my children, and I were looking for a duo Halloween costume that was topical and trendy as we were invited to a hip party. Woody Allen was in the news as he had a relationship with his romantic partner’s daughter.
We decided to go as them, and a friend suggested we add a twist. That Laura go as Woody Allen, and I go as Soon-Yi. The first thing I got was a wig. I wanted long Asian type hair so I got a Halloween witch’s wig which my girlfriend trimmed to look like Soon Yi’s. Soon-Yi attended Drew University, the alma mater of my girlfriend, so I put on a big Drew sweatshirt, a large Goodwill skirt, kneesocks, a student’s back pack, and added what I thought was extremely clever, but now am horrified by in light of recent allegations about Mr. Allen. I had a teddy bear hanging out of the backpack in reference to Soon-Yi’s young age.
We stopped in Norwalk on the way to the party in New York, and handed out Halloween candy to trick or treaters. We had the parents guess who we were. It was all fun and games until a woman came to the door with her grandchildren. She was the first one to accurately guess who we were and then her face got very angry.
“That is not funny. I was the social worker that handled the Previn’s adoption of Soon Yi, and I find that very offensive.”
We shrugged her off and went to our party where we were a huge hit.
As we had our own children, we discovered any costumes we had were just supporting characters to our children’s costume. So not really offensive. I was the scarecrow to one daughter’s Dorothy, and the evil Diesel to my other daughter’s Thomas the Tank Engine. But now that our daughters are out on their own, I hope we don’t repeat the sins of the past.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. He can be reached by email at Tlawlor@mcommunications.com.