Yes, blackface. Yes, Oriental dragon lady. They’re costumes and it’s Halloween. Are these images ok? It’s what we see, it’s what we want to be for a few hours. If it’s not ok, then what is? Does it need to be dictated by Hollywood? Is an Avatar alien ok but a Memoirs of a Geisha actress isn’t? Is dressing up like Dr Dre from NWA alright? What about Flavor Flav or even Precious? Is it alright to be Haing Ngor from The Killing Fields? Or Edward James Olmos from Stand and Deliver? There’s a line of some sort and it’s not defined by laws.
This reminds me of an incident while in high school. Our school was open for anyone to walk in at any hour. There are no security cameras of gates locking people out. Every year, someone put a white power type of pamphlet into every locker. It would happen at the dead of night and when opening up the locker, we’d all have a white power solicitation. Everyone wondered the typical, whodunit? Whenever it happened, it was on people’s minds and it happened annually.
Halloween 1986. I got to school early and walking in the hallway were two white robed executioners. They were Klansmen, the exact folks you’d think are the ones responsible for the pamphlets. Yes, it was obvious that dressed as part of the Halloween festivities that day. One of the two carried a spiked metal ball at the end of a broomstick. Their hoods covered their faces and their robes covered their street clothes.
The security guard at the high school was a lone African American. He was an odd looking guy and seemed like his job was lesser than that of a mall cop. He was a figure head incapable of running but he carried a walkie talkie that reported to who knows where. His eyes were always puffy to the point that they looked like the eyes of NBA player Sam Cassell. The hallways were sparse and the two were walking and making noise. The chains were clanking and they stood out.
Moments later, the security guard ran into them. He stopped them at a far corner of the high school in a confrontation. It was a sight. Perhaps 100 years of history came to a hilt for the security guard. The mystery of the pamphlets could be solved even in symbolism. Something wrong was going to be righted. I was about 50 feet away and saw a conversation. Quickly taking control, the security lifted the mask of the first Klansman and it was a popular white kid in school. He was a bit devious for sure, but a popular guy who smoked the green. The lifting of the second revealed something no one expected.
With a crooked and “don’t get mad at me” smile, it was an African American. Another popular guy. I saw the security guards face and heard his deep voice gasp, “awwww mannn”. Hoping he could bust two racists or just two stupid local kids, he was stuck. He chose to dissolve the incident. They were forced to get out of costume.
This still leads to questions of what’s right and wrong. In Japan, you can easily buy a Nazi costume as part of cosplaying a manga character. Cosplay events usually feature some in full high quality Nazi wear. You can portray yourself naked with a naked suit and a throbbing schlong that’s two feet long, but in other parts of the world, you’d be hanged for it. There will be multiple Bin Laden costumes and for some reason, depicting a Middle Eastern murderer will be just fine. Khaddafi, sure he’ll be laughed at. Kim Jong Il is another easy target. But Klansman with no irony would bad. If it does seem okay, try wearing it in certain neighborhoods in LA and see what happens?
Costumes are cultural and the examples range from how Japan will see a costume, to what a costume can mean in a different parts of a city. Cultural values change from within pockets of friends to other groups of friends. It can be that small and that different. People will have to make their own decisions and be responsible for them as they do with their blogs.