Hallowe’en Horror: Trampling Freedom of Expession?

Friday is Hallowe’en, one of the most pagan holidays still celebrated in the Christian West It is also a personal favorite, not only for the indulgence in candy consumption that is part of American Hallowe’en traditions,, but for the unbridled political and social humor often expressed on this celebration of death and monsters, as we shall see in my discussion below of a political flap in West Hollywood, CA. But, first let me set the context of Hallowe’en political satire for you.

Go into any Wal-Mart or Walgreen’s or any other store that sells Hallowe’en masks this time of year and you will find, along with the usual assortment of vampires, ghouls, zombies, Frankenstein’s monsters – the traditional choices for Hallowe’en costumes, masks that are the heads of various political figures. My kids went to a Hallowe’en party at the local public library last week and guess who was in attendance: George Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton, among others. From what my kids said, I gathered no one was offended and I did not see any editorials in the local paper denouncing these kids, nor did any local politicians make any public comments about them.

When I was younger and living back in Chicago, my ex-wife and I were somewhat “famous for our Hallowe’en costume parties and our friends would plan and prepare for months for these parties, trying to come up with creative ideas for a costume. One year, a very creative friend,a white red-headed female, came as Aunt Jemima, having made the costume herself and doing a full makeover on herself to make her look like Aunt Jemima Full theatrical makeup, no mask.

We were all very much the political libels and this was in the 1970s, so it was not surprising that one person one year came as “Tricky Dick.” former President Richard Nixon, who resigned in disgrace to avoid certain impeachment. Wat made this costume so special was that Nixon was dressed in the traditional black and white stripes of a chain-gang prisoner, complete with ball and chain. This was at the Hallowe’en just prior to Nixon’s resignation, so he was still the sitting President. what made his costume so funny, and why he won first prize at our party was that our friend, who lived several miles away and did not want to drive to the party, rode several city buses to get to the party – wearing his costume. Several of our friends met up with him on the last bus and verified his story. The reaction of the other riders ?He got a couple of standing ovations.

Today I read a news article about a man in West Hollywood who has Sarah Palin with a noose around her neck and a disfigured John McCain as Hallowe’en decorations on his house. a bit tasteless, perhaps, but is his house after all and he’s not causing anyone any harm. And it is certainly no more tasteless than some of the stuff on the Internet about Barack Obama or Joe Biden. At least it is clear that the decorations are merely starting the man’s opinion and not attempts to slander anyone, unlike the crap on the Internet.

In the article, the man states that his display should be viewed as art. Not to my tastes but then I am not impressed by Andy Warhol’s painting of a Campbell soup can. And this man’s “art” is no more garish or gruesome than the Crucifix’s found in many churches or those painted by famous artists like Francisco Goya. The mayor of West Hollywood, Jeffrey Prang, has publicly asked that the display be removed, which I find a bit disturbing.

whether one approves of the display or whether one finds it objectionable on artistic or political grounds is a personal matter. The display is private and on private property and therefore is not in violation of any laws that I can think of. The mayor is free to express his private opinion about the exhibit, but to publicly call for its removal in his role as mayor can be construed as a violation of the civil rights of a private citizen. Given that Jeffrey Pr ang is a member of a social and political minority in this country that has been at the forefront of the battles for equal rights and equal protection under the law is why his call for removal disturbs me.

West Hollywood has been home to a large gay/lesbian community and that community saw the election of one of their own as mayor in 2000 and his re-election in 2004. That is right. Jeffrey Prang is one of a very small number of openly gay elected officials. He is up for re-election next month and that may be his rationale for taking this more politically correct stance. As much as he is to be commended for his courage in being open with the voters of west Hollywood about his homosexuality, I certainly hope he is not taking the low road followed by so many others with high principles after they have tasted political power.

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