An op-ed submitted by Natalie Bao Tram Le. Le is a College of Charleston alumna and currently a master’s candidate in Government at Harvard University.
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays: a time when people can get creative with pumpkin carvings, party favors, and costumes. This past Halloween I dressed as a conspiracy theorist because I find humor in poking at people’s unwarranted findings. I donned a tinfoil hat and held signs that read “9/11 was an inside job” and “The chemicals in our water turn frogs gay.” While I walked around in Boston with my strange ensemble and made others laugh, I hadn’t thought about whether my costume was offensive or not. Not, that is, until a friend told me that he had considered being a rice paddy worker for Halloween but decided not to do it since the costume might be an insult to Asians and the overly sensitive.
But how can anyone be offended by a mere costume? Wearing a costume is a way for people to express their creativity and humor in a harmless way. In fact, I would have found it funny if my friend were to dress as a rice paddy worker for Halloween even though it is poking fun at my own culture. However, people have been offended by cultural Halloween costumes because wearing cultural items that are not part of, let’s say, a white man’s culture, is considered an act of cultural appropriation. And it’s not just costumes that are perceived as rude – many social justice crusaders also advocate for refraining from saying uncomfortable words and phrases. It was just few weeks ago that someone requested that I not say a certain phrase because I sarcastically said I’d rather “jump of the bridge” than taking four classes during the summer, even though I was not intending to make a joke about suicide victims.
Those who fit under the umbrella of extreme advocacy and oversensitivity believe that they are the champions of the social justice movement and are fighting for a greater cause, but the actions they’ve taken (e.g. phasing out social clubs to make the campus more inclusive) are overbearing and are not well thought out, since it is nearly impossible to prevent everything that could be harmful, when most are well-intentioned. Despite that, they take great offense to trivial matters like Halloween costumes and even songs.
In 2014, a DJ was playing the popular “Blurred Lines” and was asked by a University of North Carolina student Liz Hawryluk to stop playing it because the Robin Thicke song supposedly promotes rape culture. Hawryluk told The Daily Tar Heel, “Fundamentally, all I was aiming to do is to create a safe space in the Carolina community… In a lot of ways, violent or graphic images that allude to sexual violence are triggers.” After the DJ refused Hawryluk’s request, she took it to Facebook, complained, and got the DJ fired.
The song was meant to be fun and harmless, yet people, like Hawryluk, interpreted the lyrics as violent and vulgar. They dictate people’s choices to create a world that they feel is safe for them and continue to mold that vision according to their constant and ever-changing feelings. The proponents of social justice believe they hold the objective rule on what is offensive, without acknowledging that everything that’s being perceived by each person is different.
I’m not the only one who disagrees with their attempts to monopolize the definition of what is offensive. LGBT singer and sexual abuse survivor Mary Lambert is best known for her song “Same Love” with Macklemore. She disagrees with the advocates’ sentiment about “Blurred Lines.” “I’m going to get in trouble for this, but I love the ‘Blurred Lines’ video,” Lambert told Vulture. “Sure, it’s gotten its flack… But sometimes you just want to dance and have fun, and it’s okay to just sort of let all political correctness go.” She’s right––we’ve got to let go, have fun, and dance.
We need to calm down and enjoy what’s around us because life is too short to always be offended. Rather than being repulsed by Halloween costumes and songs and imposing a social justice mentality on others, let’s learn to tolerate. How can we live a fulfilling, enjoyable life when we are always on a constant verge of an emotional breakdown after hearing someone say something offensive? We live in a society where open dialogue and creativity flourishes our society, and we must stay away from mechanisms that impede that.