Oh the thinks you can think up if only you try!”
Dr. Seuss, The Thinks You Can Think
I got a tweet this morning from the National Retail Federation (which we don’t belong to, but which bills itself as “The Voice of Retail Worldwide”) giving the results of their 2012 Halloween Costume Survey.
Now, bear in mind that this survey was for the benefit of their retail membership, sort of a heads-up to retailers as to what costumes are likely to be requested by their customers this October. According to the survey, which polled about 9400 individuals in the United States, almost $3 billion will be spent this year on Halloween costumes in the United States, with another $5 billion or so being spent on decorations and goodies. This staggering $8 billion total still pales in comparison to Christmas spending, which topped $35 billion last year in the US, but Halloween spending has been growing at a healthy clip for the last decade. It is a retailing force to be reckoned with.
As a parent, what struck me as especially interesting, however, were the survey results for “most popular children’s costumes”. The adults polled said that fully 20% of children would be dressing either as a princess (9.7%) or as Spiderman or Batman (4.6% and 5.4%, respectively). Fourth most frequent response was a witch (4.5%), and fifth was a Disney princess (3.1%) (making “princess” by far the most popular costume idea overall, with 13 of every hundred costumed children planning to wear some sort of royal get-up.)
Rounding out the top ten were:
- 6. Action or Superhero (3.0%)
- 7. Pirate (2.9%)
- 8. Vampire (2.9%)
- 9. Zombie (2.7%)
- 10. Ghost (2.6%)
This means that over 40% of children will be wearing some variation of these ten costumes. While I certainly understand the appeal of many of these costumes, it worries me a bit to see so few choices presented to children–because many costumes are purchased, after all, and you can’t buy what you don’t see on offer. And what you will see on offer will be decided by retailers who have studied this list.
Halloween, or at least our present-day version of Halloween, is all about theatre and play-acting. It has very little to do with All-Hallows’ Eve, or even with the idea of a spirit-world whose boundaries give way on this one night every year. Halloween is now about the freedom to dress up, and act out a different persona–and to be rewarded for that (in the form of sugary goodies, to be sure, rather than applause). It’s the one time in the year when children can be anything they can imagine, and no one will tell them otherwise. They are free to be anything.
So, what are we to take away from the results of this survey? Simply this: that big corporations like Disney (Tinkerbell, Disney Princess, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse), TimeWarner (Batman), Columbia Pictures (Spiderman), and Viacom (Dora the Explorer and Spongebob Squarepants) are always interested in extending their brand further–from sticky bandages to lunchbags to Halloween costumes–and that, when we as parents rely too much upon these pre-packaged characters, we rob our children of the imaginative process of creating a character of their own. By having children choose only from such a limited menu, we as parents miss the opportunity to nurture true creativity. And by choosing these one-size-fits-all licensed characters, and thereby financially rewarding the gigantic corporations who own them, we ensure that we will be even more surrounded by their products in the future.
“Every child is an artist,” famously said Pablo Picasso. “The problem is how to remain an artist when one grows up.” This Halloween, if your child wants to be a face-painted dog or a home-made Dalek or a Lego minifigure rather than a ready-made Power Ranger or a plastic Spiderman, help him to remain an artist.
We’ll have the sugary goodies waiting for him.