Costume Parade

The predictions were dire. We were supposed to be facing an inundation, a colossal invasion that would overwhelm everything we held dear. A nightmare from which there would be no escaping. Yes, this past Halloween, we were supposed to be knee-deep in knock-off versions of Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker.

Maybe things were different where you live, Gentle Reader; my own experience represents a limited sample size. However, from what I witnessed, the prophesied Joker-pocalypse (yes, that’s a word, I said so) did not come to pass. In my travels from one end of the city to another and back on October 31, I saw a grand total of two would-be Clown Princes of Crime. And only one of them borrowed their look from the current movie. The other was patterned off of the Heath Ledger interpretation, from 2008's The Dark Knight, which still seems to be the sine qua non for dorm-room supervillains everywhere.

So, in a whole sea of monsters, one Ledger joker and one Phoenix joker. A number matched by the one person I saw who took it upon themselves to recreate Bjork’s swan dress. Remember that? The aquatic bird and leotard combination the singer wore to the 2001 Oscars, when she was nominated for Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark? There’s a good chance you’d forgotten all of things existed until this moment. And yet, there a Halloween facsimile of her was, switching trains at the Atlantic Avenue subway stop.

We tend to think of Halloween costumes either as a parade of the most recent pop culture references, or a collection of monsters we’ve come to call “classic.” But in reality, the costumes are more of a cultural archeological dig, in which different strata of references, different generational touchstones and timelines, all can be found. Icons from 19th century literature and 21st century anime, from vintage 70s horror films and their ironic 90s rip-offs, all shamble together cheek by jowl.  It’s a lot like Christmas music, when long-ago pop styles embodied by Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole reach the airwaves once again, finding space alongside 70s Motown and 80s pop and whatever we’re listening to today. We want to simplify things, imagine that there's nothing but the present and an amorphous blob of memory we call "the past."  But the cultural continuum is so much broader, so much richer and stranger, than any of us truly realize.

Try and remember that in three and a half weeks, as you try to figure out just what the heck the balloons in the Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade are supposed to be.

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