Well that’s the most uninspired title I’ve ever used.
So this Halloween I indulged in the usual messy and pointless alcoholic celebration, surrounded by the apparent dead, dying, video game characters and 80s movie heroes. Standard. Oh, and I was dressed as Colorado Batman Killer, James Eagan Holmes. Having cosplayed intently before, I wasn’t going for any level of accuracy, because that wasn’t the point and this wasn’t cosplay. I made an outfit based on the most basic and recognisable nuances.
Why? Well not to piss anybody off, that’s for sure. Not because I respect him in anyway, because of course I don’t. Not “for a laugh” either..
The first signpost as to why is in the name of the costume itself, “The Colorado Batman Killer”. That’s not a description of the look or an explanation of the relevant person, that’s a title. It’s a media-inflicted quasi-celebrity moniker that stinks of infamy and a perverse sense of achievement and notoriety. It’s the go-to for conversations regarding the Batman shooter, when “that Holmes guy” or “that twat from Aurora, Colorado” would probably be much more relevant and appropriate.
The point of the costume was to draw attention to how easily we turn figures of abuse or negativity into caricatures, celebrities and icons. It’s about using exposure and promotion to highlight issues of exposure and promotion. Take a look at Charles Manson. More than just a convicted murderer of people, he’s the poster-boy for serial killers, a specific benchmark on the historical timeline of American culture. 1969 isn’t marred by “the actions of some mental cunt” but rather The Manson Murders, a cultural item to apparently be studied and reviled.
Expected responses to a Charles Manson costume might be “Charles Manson isn’t funny” but of course he’s not. Last Halloween I dressed as an Xbox Red Ring of Death. The RROD isn’t funny, and neither is dressing as one. Ask any gamer, the RROD is unbelievably distressing. While costumes may be funny/sexy/scary, the assumption that they have to be one or more of these things is nonsense. It’s about unnerving, not about amusing or arousing.
It’s not, however, about shallow tricks with no value beyond their initial shock factor. When we say a joke or comedian “went there” or “said what we were thinking” or were “too scared to say” chances are that comedian is “saying” something completely different. They’re not passing comment about “what we were thinking” but rather challenging us for thinking it in the first place, forcing us to think about how we came to the point where it was a commonplace thought.
The trick isn’t the joke or the costume, it’s that uncanny feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you see something supposedly inappropriate or offensive, which shouldn’t be directed at the wearer of the costume or even who it represents, but at the situation that allows it to exist. That unsettled feeling should always be felt when the mundane and the horrific stand side by side, as they so often are in the media, and if it takes a dodgy costume to remind someone of the abjection that should be present in those moments, then so be it.
Halloween isn’t about changing your Twitter name to something horror-related like you’re part of the production crew from The Simpsons. It isn’t about repeating comfortable homely traditions of pumpkins, costumes and candy that you remember from childhood, because as a child they weren’t comfortable or homely. Halloween parties scared the shit out of you. That wasn’t your dad in a wolf costume, that was a fucking wolf with your dad’s face, and it was terrifying.
Indulging a little thought and discussion at Halloween also detracts away from the unnecessarily rampant excuse for partying and drinking that it has become. Seeing someone hold forum on why they’re dressed as the recently incarcerated or the recently deceased will never be as offensive as seeing someone in a safe and accessible Superman costume passed out drunk in a pool of his own sick.
So I might have been dressed as the Batman Colorado Killer, but I wasn’t laughing it up or praising him in any form. I wasn’t running around a cinema dressed in such a fashion, or shouting “If you crunch that fucking popcorn one more time!” and humming the Batman theme. I wasn’t making jokes because it wasn’t a joke. It wasn’t about what the costume said about me, or even about James Holmes, it was about that little double-take from those who saw it and knew it, and the awkward questions and realisations it raised in them.