- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2004

Every four years, an annual holiday collides with a quadrennial event — Halloween meets the presidential election. Already an excuse for revelers to masquerade as someone they are not, the election year offers the perfect opportunity for a trick-or-treat mix of fantasy and politics.

Halloween political statements were popularized by New York City’s Greenwich Village Parade, says Lesley Bannatyne, author of two books on the history of Halloween.

“It was adults that came largely … out of the gay culture and theater culture,” Ms. Bannatyne says. “Of course, the [adult] costume has always been quasi-political because Halloween was always a time to misbehave, and that had a lot of political implications.”

Greenwich Village hosts the world’s largest Halloween parade. Now celebrating its 31st year, the parade was started in 1973 by puppeteer Ralph Lee, a Village resident, as a neighborhood costume promenade for his children and their friends. Residents walked from their homes on New York’s West Side to Central Park.

Over the years, the parade has grown from 50 to 50,000 marchers. During that time, the parade became an important annual event for the Village’s homosexual residents, says Jeanne Fleming, who has been organizing the parade since 1981.

“The gay politics were in it from the very beginning,” Ms. Fleming says. “It was political to come out and be gay on the street.”

Outrageous political parodies are part of the parade’s tradition. Past displays have includedeverything from floats displaying President Bush in flamingcowboy chaps while float riders shout “liar, liar, pants on fire” to a drag queen dressed as Barbara Bush and accompanied by mock Secret Service agents.

Greenwich Village isn’t the only place politics and pop culture collide. Participants can expect to find plenty of politically themed costumes readily available this year, says Chris Riddle, Halloween specialist for American Greetings.

“I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of costumes out there … and people can [use] masks or do something from a political standpoint,” Mr. Riddle says.

However, Mr. Riddle says there won’t be too many Americans this year disguised as Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

“I don’t think you’d want to go around as … anyone who might be a political figure out of the Middle East,” Mr. Riddle says. “There’s just too much going on with people losing their lives. You don’t want to go anywhere near that one.”

But masquerading as the presidential candidates this year should be easy enough, Mr. Riddle says — with or without masks.

“John Kerry looks a whole lot like Frankenstein … and his voice is so monotone — dress someone up in a suit and put a button on them and you’ve got John Kerry, easily,” Mr. Riddle says. “George Bush is harder … if you can get the accent and the attitude down right you can [do it].”

If people don’t feel they can pull off Mr. Kerry or President Bush on their own, there are always masks to create the effect. Past presidents are also never out of style where Halloween is concerned — masks of former Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton are fairly easy to find, Mr. Riddle says.

“Bill Clinton is always popular out there, and there’s always going to be that person … who he had some discretion issues with,” he says.

Political costumes are popular in Washington, says Rip Claassen, manager at Backstage Costumes located on Eighth Street SE.

“The mask company we use used to say that they knew it was our order because we ordered more political masks than any store in the country,” Mr. Claassen says.

Normally in an election year, he sees the political costumes fly off the shelves starting after the conventions. This year, however, that hasn’t been the case.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with some of these masks,” Mr. Claassen says. “We’ve got a couple of political masks that are just sitting up there waiting for someone to ask for them.”

In New York, Ms. Fleming says the political tone has gone from jovial to serious.

“This is the closest that the Halloween parade has ever come to an election in its 31 year history — the parade is on Sunday and the election is on Tuesday,” Ms. Fleming says. “In 2000, there was still a kind of exuberance … the political commentary in the country was funny and upbeat. What I’m noticing is that it’s changed in New York. People are hard on this election. It’s not a joke, it’s a serious affair.”

That seriousness is reflected in the nation’s capital, Mr. Claassen says.

“Oftentimes, people are getting the masks to do a funny costumes … [they] are used as a lampooning device, and I think this year the election may be being taken a little more seriously,” the costume-store manager says. “My mom’s a big political buff, and, boy, is she taking everything seriously this year.”

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