What our Halloween costumes say about us.

Halloween was last weekend. For years it has always been one of my favorite holidays. Whether it be trick-or-treating when I was younger, getting to be one of my favorite comic book heroes for one night or simply a metric shit ton of candy; I love it.

It’s changed so much over the years. Now that I’m an adult costumes have gone from trying to be as scary as possible to being as skanky as possible. Candy apples and Snickers bars have been replaced by beer and Jell-O shots. All of that is great – well, within reason. None of that however is what strikes me most about Halloween these days. It’s what the most popular costumes actually are.

I’ve always wanted to have one year where I grew my hair out, applied the perfect make up and donned a purple overcoat and green vest perfectly. I want to look just like Heath Ledger’s infamous portrayal of everyone’s favorite villain: The Joker. Apparently, I’m not the only one.

When “The Dark Night” first hit theaters, Ledger’s depiction of The Joker shocked and amazed me. Partly due to the fact that Ledger’s untimely death had only occurred six months prior, I felt that I had never seen a darker or more menacing villain. I was hooked from the line, “What doesn’t kill you simply makes you…stranger.”

That year, thousands of trick-or-treaters went to extreme lengths to recreate the villainous clown for Halloween.

That trend has continued and The Joker is still one of the most popular Halloween costumes. This year Kylo Ren, a Star Wars villain no one has even seen on screen yet, also shot up to the top of the ranks. Why do we love the bad guy? Why do I love the bad guy?

I’m going to try to talk from my point of view, here because I might be an anomaly. Maybe (hopefully) I’m the only one with whom incredibly awful villains resonate. I don’t think that is true though; pop culture tells me it’s not. Movies have always built up the bad guy. Recently though, it’s so much worse. So much darker. I truly believe it reflects the world that surrounds us.

September 11th changed everything. That is, of course, the most obvious thing I can say. Obviously it changed the course of history. Obviously it changed the future of the United States and our allies. It didn’t just change the world in very broad, all-encompassing brush strokes though. It changed the world one individual at a time. And it directly changed me. I never realized how much until recently.

Horror like that has always existed. We just never had the ability to watch it live before this. All of a sudden every single American and half of the rest of the world were tuning in to watch pure carnage. More bloodshed equaled higher ratings, and ratings equaled money. After the tragedy was sufficiently in the past, at least far enough to try to move on to the next big thing, every single news broadcast disintegrated into a heated debate of “Holy shit! Who will blow us up next?”

We spent the next seven years rolling tanks and soldiers into Afghanistan and Iraq, chasing terrorists and toppling dictators. Whether we were right to so or not, it was unquestionably horrific. Couple this with the ten mass shootings that occurred in the United States between 2001 and 2008 and it was clear to see that the beginning of the 21st century was marred by one thing: death.

The majority of Americans, including my young self, had nothing we could relate this to. It was just heart wrenching violence without reason. It scared us completely and it was numbing. Then in 2008, I saw The Joker carve a Chelsea Smile into a man’s face on a movie screen and it resonated.

It didn’t resonate because I’m sick and twisted. It wasn’t because The Joker would ever plausibly exist in real life. It struck a chord because I knew exactly what that evil looked like in real life. It looked like men and women leaping from the top floors of the World Trade Centers. It looked like teachers and students being rushed from classrooms with their hands above their heads because their friends and colleagues were murdered. It looked like car bombs and crying children in the Middle East. It looked like us.

That’s why I think it’s so popular to be a villain on Halloween now. I pull for the bad guy. Not to win, but simply to be more evil. The argument could be made that like any cardinal sin, I want this because the more of it I get, the more I need to get my fix. But I don’t think that’s all there is to it. As long as the movies stay evil, then real life simply doesn’t look as bad.

Terrible villains give me hope. I know the good guy will win in the end. I know that the hero doesn’t go down in the third act. I’m praying that’s true in real life. Every time the world-ending bad guy falls, it gives me a little hope that someone is finally going to stop the last terrorist. It gives me hope that someone is going to get to the next mass shooter and stop them before they kill. It gives me hope that someone is going to rescue the millions displaced by civil war in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

And all of a sudden, I get it.

On Halloween, we dress up as what we are afraid of, and I am afraid of facing the truly horrible things that my generation, like it or not, must answer for. That’s why I always want to dress up as a villain, and others actually do too. The villains I see in movies give those horrible things a face; they make them manageable.

At this point I want to divulge that I feel like I’ve written nearly two pages of self-righteous babble. My initial thought for this post was to go into this great big plea for us to all do the right thing and blah, blah, blah. Everyone who reads this knows we should be doing the right thing. If you want to read that, there are a million and one different places on the internet for you to go.

We can’t change the terrible things we see. At least, not the way we see them now. Do you want to know why? Are you sure you really want to know why? Because we don’t really think about it anymore. It’s not inability, it’s not the governments fault. It’s just so much easier if we don’t let it affect us the way it should. Maybe that is healthy. If we let it affect us the way it should some would never sleep again, others would find no reason to wake up in the morning.

We see it on the news and we tune it out as soon as the new episode of our favorite absent minded sitcom comes on. Sadly now there are so many people who don’t even turn the news on, because hey, out of sight, out of mind.

If you read this, if you acknowledge that for some screwed up reason I couldn’t go to sleep for a solid week trying to think about how to tie this idea into something meaningful, then I simply ask you to THINK.

I am not going to sit here and beg you to donate to a charity or to volunteer somewhere. I’ve never done those things myself. I’m ashamed of that. I don’t think I am the only one, either. Again, I hope I am. I wish I was. I hope I’m the only person who has such a dark outlook due to living in the 21st century, and I know deep down, I know I am not.

It’s time to resurrect thinking. I’m not talking about deep philosophical thinking. I’m talking about the kind of thinking that can lead you nowhere else but to the point of believing that every living human is your brother and sister. The kind of thinking that makes you realize that some of your siblings truly face things that look just like the scariest movie villain you’ve ever seen. The type of thinking that leads to feeling.

The next time you watch The Avengers or Batman, please think about the fact that somewhere, someone sees the same exact evil that they are going to face in that movie. Do you know what the difference is? There isn’t a miraculous billionaire to save them. There are no super heroes.

I’m not going to go into a call-to-action here. That goes without saying. If I wanted to, I wouldn’t know where to start. I don’t know what my “cause” is. With that being said, how could I ever ask anyone to give their time and energy to anything? I can’t. I can’t ask you to give your time to civil rights. I can’t ask you to focus on starving children in Zimbabwe (although we should at least do that given how much attention we paid to a certain lion named Cecil from the same country).

I can’t ask anyone to do anything for anyone else. Because sadly, I haven’t given anything to anyone. I can do this: I can ask my generation to think. We are the generation of the villain. We are the generation of the evil-doer. We are also the generation that can stop all of that. We just have to start by being willing to actually think about these things.

We have to rise. Not to stop the atrocities across the great, wide world, but to acknowledge and face head on what we saw on September 11th. We witnessed the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. We watched in awe the Arab Spring. We looked on as Syria and Ukraine fell into civil war.

We watched James Holmes walk into a movie theater, kill 12 people and wound 70. We watched the Sandy Hook shooting. We’ve seen evil make its mark. Now, we need to stop ignoring it. Life goes on, yes. No, these things weren’t our fault, many times there was nothing we could do to stop them. We were simply innocent bystanders. But it’s time to stop getting distracted by our blissful 21st century indulgence.

We all love a good villain, so let’s start thinking about how we can stop the ones we know all too well and be our own heroes.

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