“What should I be?”
This question, or some variation of it, is echoing around Halloween City, as I stumble through its over-stimulating aisles, full of zombie masks, sexy-(insert anything)-costumes, superhero suits, and “gangsta gear.”
“What are you gunna be?” “I don’t know what to be.”
But aren’t these the questions—and the anxieties—that are always at the heart of our lives now? Isn’t this project of choosing how to be, and what to be, from this great floating mass of mediated choices, these isles of options, the fundamental project of our times? This project of the self. Project: Me.
There’s bad techno music playing. The options for mass-produced self-expression stretch to the ceiling.
I ask a big, heavyset, balding man what he’s going to be.
“Mmmm…a girl,” he says.
“What kind of girl?” I ask.
“Uhhh… just a girl,” he says. “Just a beautiful girl.”
“Now you’re about six-foot-one, twooo…” I prod.
“280,” the man says. “Yeah, I’m gunna be a big girl.”
“Did you have a vision?” I ask.
“Yes,” the man says. “I did. It just came on recently.”
“Are you going to be bosomy?”
“Yeah, and belly-y. Brunette. With a tube top.”
A slick-dressed, Mexican-American young man, with a flat-brim baseball cap on tells me he wants to be “Juice” from Sons of Anarchy.
“He’s smart,” the young man says of Juice. “He’s more of the guy who doesn’t really care, he just goes for it. They tell him to do something and he doesn’t ask questions.”
“Like he smokes people?” I ask.
“Do you secretly fantasize about being a psychopathic biker killer?” I ask.
“No,” he says, laughing.
“But tell me the truth, does it sound fun?”
“It does sound fun,” he says.
“Does it really sound fun?” I ask.
“Yeah, it really does.”
“So this is your chance to release the psychopathic weapons trafficking killer that’s inside of you?”
Through the aisles I go. Through the Pimps and Gangsters section, with its diamond earrings, its “grills,” its wads of hundreds, its Mack Daddy Teeth, and its “Playa Cape,” purple on the outside, leopard on the inside, then past the FBI Agent and Police uniforms, past the “October Breasts,” which you can wear and fill with a “beverage of your choice,” past the disturbingly sexualized Hello Kitty outfit for seven-year-old girls, traveling through time, from the “Roaring ‘20s” to the “Groovy ‘60s,” with its marijuana bead necklaces and “hippie chick” wigs, then around the world, from sombreros to ninjas, to “Mystifying Gypsy” getups.
What to be? What to be?
I ask a baby-faced employee what’s hot this year.
“Always slutty anything, of course,” he says. “For some reason tutus have been going like crazy. Bunnies.”
“Yeah. Animal costumes in general. Slutty animals. Yeah, slutty animals for sure. Slutty superheroes. You can turn anything into a slutty costume. I actually had a girl come in who was doing the Nun outfit things and she was mad that it wasn’t sluttier. It was pretty much the only one that didn’t have cleavage—because of the collar.
And even the teenage stuff—the not even teenage stuff, like pre-teen stuff… it’s…yeah. Slutty.
We get a lot of [female] teachers. All of them go as clowns. There basically isn’t anything not-slutty for women. Pretty much all female teachers go as clowns or in men’s costumes. It’s a pretty limited selection.
Oh, and Ninja Turtles.”
“Are there slutty-Ninja Turtles?
“Oh yeah. Absolutely. Everything’s slutty. Or racist. Yeah, racist too. Like the Native American stuff. Or both: like ‘Slutty Indian.’”
There are infinite ways to answer the question: “what should I be?” They’re overwhelming. And yet they’re so conscribed. And we must choose. We MUST choose. No choice about it.