The calendar moves inexorably towards another Halloween, which falls next Sunday. I will be sharing a selection of songs for it on the day, but there is another aspect to it for me. Most years since I began this blog I have written about the commercialisation of this date and, in particular, one feature of this: the stigmatisation of mental health in some of the costumes on offer. Things have undeniably improved since 2013, when two big retailers – Asda and Tesco – were forced to remove some costumes from sale after the understandable furore they generated. There is a link below to what I said in 2013 about those companies, if you’d like to see it.
Websites I have previously named and shamed are still at it, but choose to get away with it by describing their costumes as ‘Hannibal Lecter’ or something like that. They do have fewer of these costumes than in previous years, so I guess a little progress has been made. Sadly, though, similar costumes are all too easily found on a giant online site like ebay:
Or, if you prefer to start your kids stigmatising mental illness from an early age, how about this?
When I was a kid Halloween wasn’t an event we marked in any way. Here in the UK we were busy making our guys for the forthcoming Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night celebrations on 5th November, and hadn’t yet imported the commercialisation of Halloween from the US. So I’m sorry to say, American friends, that your celebration for this rather passes me by! That doesn’t mean that I don’t recognise its importance to you, but it does seem to me to be a little artificial for it to be ‘celebrated’ here. This is, perhaps, a little ironic as the origins of Halloween can be traced back to this side of the Atlantic, in a pagan festival mostly known (in Ireland and Scotland, anyway) as Samhain, though there are different names for similar festivals in other Celtic regions. The name ‘Halloween’ has been in existence since around the mid-18th century, and is a derivation of All Hallows’ Eve, i.e. the day before All Hallows’ Day, on which remembrance of the dead takes place. In the past, celebrations have included mummers and costumes, which I guess has been handed down to us through the generations in the way that people dress up: witches are an obvious outfit, but there are many others available, most of which leave me wondering what relevance they have!
The event didn’t really take off here until modern day marketing and commercialism took over, At some point over the past 30 years or so this has become a bigger thing in this country, probably as a result of the way in which American popular culture has been transferred over here by TV shows. Never one to miss an opportunity to make money, retailers have been falling over themselves to profit from Halloween. But in their doing so, the boundaries of taste have often been forgotten. As I said earlier, I wrote in 2013 about Asda – and to a lesser extent, Tesco – selling costumes that mocked mental illness. The message that these were giving children, that it was somehow acceptable to make fun of people with mental health problems, was appalling, and the retailers had to give in to the outcry and withdraw the products from sale.
But even eight years after that you can still find such costumes for sale now among the specialist online fancy dress retailers, though I do accept that there are fewer of them. Here are a couple of examples I found yesterday without too much effort. Firstly, from partybritain.com, a repeat ’offender’:
No doubt there are others deserving to be named and shamed but I didn’t feel inclined to look any further. How can anyone believe this to be acceptable? This is a shameful way to make money, but I guess that as these companies are much smaller than the likes of Asda and Tesco they have managed to slip under the radar. That doesn’t make them any less guilty in my eyes, though.
Another depiction of mental health issues which I find objectionable is to be found in horror movies. To be honest, I have a very low gore threshold and don’t watch a great many horror movies, and don’t really understand the fascination they hold for so many. Each to their own, of course, but where I really draw the line is when someone who is mentally ill is the main character in a movie and their illness is used in a stigmatising way. You’ll know which movies I mean, I’m sure: how anyone can see these as entertainment is beyond me, though I do like Jamie Lee Curtis in her other movies!
I really wish there wasn’t a need for this reminder, though it is good to see that the prevalence of stigmatisation in Halloween outfits does appear to be declining. But I’ll keep doing this until the last one has gone and it doesn’t have to be said any more. Enjoy your Halloween celebrations, but not at the expense of others, please. By all means have a good evening, but don’t mock those who are unable to defend themselves against unfair stigmatisation.