24 October 2008

Concerning Halloween Costumes

I have a complex philosophy about Halloween costumes and what they mean to me. Perhaps “complex” is too erudite a word; I principally mean that I think a lot about why I enjoy wearing Halloween costumes, which types I tend to gravitate toward, the many different “genres” of costumes, and why I spend so much time in advance planning out what I want to dress as for one or two parties in late October.

As a child, I went as a hodgepodge of things, most of them ghoulish monsters since that was what I was into at the time; I adored the Universal Monster films, the classic old-time frights. I was Dracula one year, fifth grade I believe it was, and had an awesome makeup kit to give me pallor and sunken cheekbones (but I still had the requisite cheap plastic teeth and the cape that looked like it was made from a shower curtain). The first costume I remember wearing was a simple ghost outfit, a sheet with holes. Thinking about that one, I’m always reminded of Charlie Brown in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown with his sheet filled with random holes because he “had a little trouble with the scissors.” Poor guy also took home a bag full of rocks at the end of the night. Another Halloween I went as a generic devil—but I had a lot of fun with it.

My adult costumes are character-based. And for the last four years, they have all been Batman characters: The Scarecrow, The Penguin, Batman, and now The Riddler.

The character-based costume is my favorite because Halloween represents more to me than simply wearing a costume at a party. I’ve already talked about my love of the Gothic atmosphere of the season, how I drink in that luscious darkness. As far as the costume part of the holiday goes, I like to not only dress a part, I want to play a part. I wish to disappear and for a short time step away from myself. For a few nights of the year, I have an excuse to banish “Ryan Harvey” and turn into another, very odd person by taking on their accouterments. Not only that, but I have the company of many others doing the same thing.

Most people don’t really play their parts (that’s hard if they’ve come in a “pun” costume or as a funny inanimate object like an ATM), but I do. I’m not an actor, but for a Halloween party I stay in character. Here’s a chance to let loose my inner nut and eccentric, and people actually enjoy it instead of wonder when the man in white with the strait-jacket will arrive. I imagine this is the charge that professional actors get from playing roles. I could never do this like an actor does it, for a living, but for a few nights a year it does wonders for my mind.

This I year I step into the halls of Halloween celebrations dressed as the classic comic book villain The Riddler. I’ve settled on how I am going to interpret his character. I will mix some of the Frank Gorshin mania from the ‘60s Batman TV show, minus his impossible-to-duplicate giggle, with the smoother computer genius of Batman: The Animated Series voiced by John Glover. I have riddles filled-out on cards to present to people, but I have also memorized many of them so that instead of greeting other partiers with the same “Hey, what’s up? Nice costume,” I will immediately toss a riddle at them.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThe way I comprehend The Riddler is as a man who is so brilliant that his brilliance has turned into a handicap. The Riddler is smarter than just about eveybody in Gotham City, and when he commits his crimes to show his genius, he must prove that genius by throwing down brain-puzzles to stump and frustrate the people pursuing him. It isn’t merely an obsessive-compulsive disorder to spoil his own plans, telling Batman where to find him and so on. It’s that The Riddler needs to make crime into a game that displays his intelligence, his mind that jumps and moves about so fast that it actually astonishes him. It’s no fun to commit a standard crime when you’re that smart, it’s not a challenge. But turn it into a playful mind-bender, and you show for certain your superiority to your victims and your pursuers—and you have a great time doing it.

The flaw in this is over-confidence; The Riddler cannot honestly see anyone who could follow his mind and work through his brain-teasing deceptions. Wrapped up in his own intellectual process, The Riddler misses the brute force solutions that defeat him.

This sounds like an awfully complex background to take into a simple Halloween party, but this is what I’ll keep in my head as I prowl around the masquerad, dancing and socializing with riddles at the ready. The Riddler of the comics books makes it all a game so he can laugh at the simpletons of Gotham and get rich in the process—even stumping the Bat. It will be intriguing to try to be in his head (and his clothes) for a few hours. I’m nowhere near as smart as The Riddler, but I’ve got crib notes with all my riddles to help me keep up.

What has been around for millions of years, but is only ever a month old?

“The Moon.”

Now, try to catch me, Bat-fool! (Cue insane Gorshin-giggle.)