About Campus: Halloween as news commentary

BY JESSICA VOSGERCHIAN

Published November 4, 2008

On the surface, Halloween is an excuse for students to wear something outrageous — or even just something outrageously skimpy — and drink more than they would dressed in their usual weekend attire.

Illustration by Laura Garavoglia

But take a moment to look past the fake blood and bare knees, and the holiday can be a window into campus’s collective consciousness.

It’s important to point out that the low temperature on Friday and Saturday night stayed in the mid-forties, which was generally interpreted as a divine mandate for barely-there costumes. It’s also significant that this year Halloween fell on a Friday, the night that Necto holds its weekly gay pride night, which meant a stream of men wearing heels on Liberty Street.

But as any Halloween veteran can tell you, skimpy costumes and drag queens are always part of the festivities. The real point of interest is the ways that students embodied the year’s big stories through makeshift party ensembles. From a multitude of Michael Phelps and Heath-Ledger-as-the-Joker replicas to the personification of economic theories, there’s no better place to see what news matters most to students than a costume party.

This Halloween season didn’t facilitate an obvious “too soon” costume — nothing like “zombie Steve Irwin” that offensively stalked the night. But being it’s an election year, political caricatures were a common sight last weekend.

Despite the high interest in this year’s presidential race, students might have shied away from candidate costumes out of sheer difficulty.

Just as The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart has struggled to satirize Barack Obama, the too-cool Democrat is difficult to capture though costume. Even black men couldn’t do much more than wear a well-tailored suit without an American flag pin. At least two people wore Obama masks at Rick’s on Friday, but in the realm of costume caricature, a rubber mask is not only uncomfortable but a cop out.

John McCain’s almost-combover and Joe Biden’s toothy grin are also challenging to recreate, which left Sarah Palin as the only candidate who translated easily to costume.

There were two main ways that last weekend’s masquerading Palins took to recreated the Republican veep nominee. Women who somewhat resemble Palin could stick to a faithful representation, à la Tina Fey, with a vibrant lady suit, brunette beehive and glasses. But anyone who wasn’t a lookalike could just as easily take the symbolic route and evoke the Alaskan governor through telltale props.

Switching from the Supergirl costume she wore at the Michigan Student Assembly meeting last week, MSA President Sabrina Shingwani went to Rick’s on Friday dressed as an Alaskan pageant-circuit Palin with a red bikini, sash and shotgun.

But it wasn’t just Palin’s signature hairdo and folksy mannerisms that turned into Halloween fodder: any person or topic that made a splash in campaign coverage was turned into a costume.

Joe the Plumber — the easy “I follow politics” costume for any dude with a flannel shirt and a toilet plunger — was seen more times on campus than the real one has appeared on McCain’s campaign trail. Bonus points for the guys who donned bald caps, but many didn’t bother.

A pair of friends on Lawrence Street took another note from the McCain campaign — one dressed in pastels and the other wearing a black ski mask, they went as “a WASP who associates with terrorists.”

But just as the economy has become the key issue in the presidential election, fiscally minded costuming was the prevalent political theme of this year’s Halloween. Investment bankers abounded, and generally fell into one of two groups: 1980’s Wall Street or post-financial crisis of 2008.

More ambitious masqueraders took on the task of personifying abstract concepts.

For his “economic stimulus” costume, one guy covered himself in money signs and wrote out fake checks to people at a Lawrence Street party. His companion, a woman wearing, pearls, a grey suit and a gold backpack, represented the “golden parachute” — a term used to describe cases when corporate CEOs get sacked with nothing but a multi-million dollar benefits package to break their fall.

While next Halloween’s politically minded masqueraders won’t have the low hanging fruit of presidential election, it’s sure that they’ll again find ways to reduce big news stories to costumes. Here’s hoping for a political sex scandal or a celebrity freak out.

—Senior News Editor Lisa Haidostian contributed to this report.