So in the half-assed spirit of a Halloween and everything that goes along with it, I found myself stumbling across this poster campaign of the sulky-faced United Colours of Benetton dictating the boundaries of moral decency and the lines of right and wrong when it comes to putting together a Halloween costume. Now I tentatively agree with the point of this, and how it encourages a little foresight and sensitivity about costume choices, but I'm finding the whole idea a little ham-fisted in its delivery, and if these parodies are anything to go by, I'm not alone in my response.
I've always ascribed to the idea that Halloween costumes aren't supposed to be funny or clever, they're supposed to be something which inspires you (Nightwing costume, 2009) something that scares you (I can't dress as Grieg's Hall of the Mountain King, and won't dress as Woody Allen) or something that provides enough of a shock to your sensibilities that it unnerves you.
With the last in mind it isn't that much of a stretch or surprise that issues of offence are intertwined with Halloween.
I can't argue for the top left "costume" or anyone else who sees a reason to "black up" outside of making a relevant semiotic or cultural point. Simply looking like a racial demarcation is neither statement or outfit in itself. The other examples however... Geisha are not a racial group but a specific cultural institution.While fancy dressing as one may be a bit cheap or glib, it has no real difference from any other trade or cultural grouping.
Under the same logic ninja costumes aren't acceptable. Or any costume, since they're all a culture, a career, or an item weighted with cultural connotations, ownership and intent. Genuine doctors don't want you dressing as slutty nurses, because it undermines their sense of professionalism. Victims of industrial accidents don't find your axe or car crash wounds very funny, and sufferers of survivors guilt are not suitably impressed when the dead walk the earth.
Look at pirates! Pirates are immensely popular. Children dress as them. bands sing songs about them. Parties are anagrammatically themed around them. Meanwhile in Somalian waters real pirates are stealing, raping, killing and beheading.
The suicide bomber example is more like to do harm than good, solidifying a connection between terrorism and the middle east and its dominant religions. Add to that the fact that people are much more likely to say "I am dressing as a suicide bomber" than "I am dressing as a person of middle-eastern origin" and the intention falls completely flat.
Unfortunately the backlash to this campaign (of which I am well aware I am part) could go too far. As a format it has become very easy to copy and mock, with hundreds of parodies appearing in a short space of time- some clever, some stupid, some genuinely offensive but only in a missing-the-point sort of way.
These counterpoints can devalue the original message, which does have some merit and weight. For example the poster of the Hispanic boy (I'm calling him Hispanic because I haven't seen his passport (now I feel I'm making an immigration joke, when all I mean is I am unaware of his actual nationality)) makes a valid point about thinking about Mexican stereotypes. By all means dress as a Mexican. By all means dress as a false stereotype of a Mexican. Just don't assume that any genuine Mexican is even remotely similar or impressed.
It would be nice if the approach had been a little more "stop and think this Halloween" and a little less "do not do this!" The costume I wore at the weekend was pretty stop-and-be-unsettled offensive, but I was constantly aware of its potential to upset, and only flaunted the design within specific controlled spaces. When someone on the way home was the only person to express offense, I didn't tell them to lighten up or shove it in their face, I covered certain more offensive elements of the costume and kept out of their way.
Nothing happens when to you when you're offended. You don't catch leprosy. If your behaviour or appearance offends someone then you look at yourself and what you're doing, and if you can find any justifiable spark for their response, you apologise. If this isn't enough maybe the two of you open a dialogue on the issue. I'm pretty sure that's just called "not being a dick."
We can't tiptoe around each other too much, or next year the lack of "okay" costumes will have us all dressed as slutty kittens. Slutty-but-abstinent kittens.