I am shedding crocodile tears for Megyn Kelly, the outrageously overpaid TV personality who is losing her NBC perch thanks to her racist remarks. If you haven’t heard, she wondered aloud on air why it’s a problem for people to wear blackface for Halloween, as long as their outfit is honoring a character or an admired person, hence respectful (an oxymoron given the history of blackface in this country). It seems no amount of pancake makeup and professional lighting can conceal her anachronistic cluelessness.
I wonder what her reaction would be if Americans dressed as her for Halloween. The costume could include bleached blonde hair, Barbie-esque makeup, a microphone, perhaps a fan made with $100 bills in homage to her book “Settle for More”. There probably isn’t enough time for an enterprising individual with access to a factory to crank out Megyn masks for the upcoming holiday, although one could use a 3-D printer to make one. Anyway, how would she feel if she went to a party and were confronted by her likeness, perhaps many times over, caricatured if not grossly distorted in the spirit of Halloween? I suspect insulated and privileged people like her don’t bother trying to put themselves in others’ shoes or even imagine themselves as being mockable.
To some degree, we all wear masks in this society. We are expected to. There can be repercussions for taking off our masks at the “wrong” time or not putting one on at the “right” time. We might try to mask our sorrow or even our joy if we don’t feel safe expressing ourselves. We might camouflage our true feelings to get through a work meeting or some other situation where behavioral and social codes leave little room for deviation. Which is one reason people are shocked! shocked! when an otherwise conventionally behaving person is discovered to have committed a crime, struggled with addiction, or has done or experienced something that is at odds with the image they presented to the world, a world that is satisfied with superficial impressions.
Mainstream television, with its slickly preened presenters, holds up a model of a cultural ideal, of what success looks (and even sounds) like. The more prevalent that professional mask becomes in our society, the more we might marginalize those who don’t look, speak or dress that way. Not all humans are congenitally disposed to being “put together” in the manner modeled by the media. Not to mention how boring the world would be if everyone walked around in cookie cutter outfits, gleaming hair and flawlessly applied cosmetics that masked natural idiosyncrasies in service of some perfectionistic ideal, an ideal that is celebrated on social media. While I am only one data point, when I have posted a selfie after my wavy hair has been professionally styled (e.g. blown straight), I’ve received far more “likes” than for pictures where I am less kempt. Part of that has to do with Facebook algorithms that place more popular posts in people’s news feeds, so that a critical mass of “likes” creates a snowball effect. That we are disproportionately “rewarded” for mirroring the mainstream is, frankly, sad. And, I am guilty of the same, of responding with a “like” when presented with a lovely photo on screen, perhaps an image that is being shown to me because enough other people validated it. I, too, have internalized the success and beauty standards we’ve been indoctrinated to pursue and which are represented in images like these, even though they rarely correspond to what a person looks like in regular life.
This Halloween, I hope no one wastes their time dressing as Ms. Kelly. Not only does she not deserve any more of the public’s attention, there are already plenty of people who already look like her or aspire to resemble a glossy mannequin. The world does not need more of those folks. The most unique “costume” of all doesn’t require money, although it can take guts. It would be to dress as your true self, devoid of masks or makeup, stripped of pretense and an “Instagramable” facade. That might not look spooky on the outside yet, on the inside, it can still be scary.
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