Costuming Culture

Earlier this year on May 1, the Walt Disney Company filed an application to patent and trademark the phrase “dia de los muertos,” leading to a religious and cultural controversy with the various groups of people who celebrate Day of the Dead, also known as All Saints Day. CNN has a whole article covering the story.

Muerto Mouse

But this is not the first time the entertainment industry has appropriated a cultural or racial image. Or, costumed themselves with the flesh of an ethnic minority group. Hollywood constantly premieres movies with established Anglo-American actors as misrepresented ethnic groups. Like Jake Gyllenhaal as the Prince of Persia, Johnny Depp as a Native American, or the “racebending” casting controversy with the movie Avatar: the Last Air Bender

Before we continue I would like to spot-light this commentary’s problematic language: that it succumbs to labeling all non-Anglo White American group as “ethnic”. In reality each “ethnic” person consist of a myriad of cultures, religions, races, and color. Therefore this commentary will base itself on “people of color,” because these misconceptions deal with each person’s skin color. And, let us put people first.

This commentary also starts by looking at Hollywood because Hollywood maps a place in our nation’s psyche for common knowledge, and acts out the nation’s perception of people of color.

Costumes, for instance, provide a mirror to the national conscious, because costumes manifest people’s customs. For example, the vintage Halloween picture does not depict a Native American, Indigenous American, or American Indian. The only American concept related to this costume is that of U.S. Anglo perception that mirrors the nation’s own monstrosities.

Furthermore, this depiction makes Native Americans abnormal and makes an abnormality of Native Americans.

Interestingly enough, the word monster comes from the Latin phrase monstrum or monstro which means an abnormality of nature. But monstrum also derives from monere which means to warn or advise.

This definition of “monster” resurrects apparitions of the “Abject other,” the philosophy by Julia Kristeva extended in her essay Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, elaborating on the Abject as the human reaction to what reminds us of our own materialization. For example; shit, decayed bodies, parasitic worms entering its host, or warm milk. The list can go on.

Because abnormalities remind the spectator of their own expiration, abnormalities can serve as abjections. So people that are “abnormal,” and most of all “abject,” are monsters. People are monsters… if they are colored.

This is the internal conflict in our national self-denial. It is our screens of perception. It is the lingering darkness behind the mirror of our doubts and fears. It is our nation’s stained and colored flesh.

Alex Ibañez