The conundrum of “Should I wear a costume people will get, or should I wear a costume that represents the true me?” has been around since the early days of Halloween parties — back when the overly ambitious chose to dress as specific local witches or characters from like, Cymbeline instead of Hamlet. How do you know what the scene will be like? Will there be enough people with pop culture frames of reference that align with yours? Will anyone even be wearing a costume? Or, worst of all: will everyone else be wearing a hot people costume? (Aka normal clothes with cat ears or vampire teeth.)
But the problem has gotten even worse in recent years thanks to the rise of internet culture. How do you determine whether an online phenomenon really has the legs to make it as a Halloween costume?
My coworker Dami Lee has dressed as a meme for Halloween for two years in a row so I interviewed her about it in Slack:
We’re always having internal arguments at The Verge about the extent to which the internet is popular culture in 2016. The meme Halloween costume is maybe the strongest point I can think of (besides the fact that my parents still don’t know who Ken Bone is) to the contrary. Memes feel like popular culture, and they are when you’re on the internet. But when you go outside in a meme costume it’s as likely to fall flat as anything else that only appeals to a certain niche fandom. It’s not that memes aren’t culture in general, it’s just that they’re culture in the same way that ‘80s teen movies are culture or regional fast food chains are culture or dead modernist authors are culture. Thinking of the internet this way is actually a little bit reassuring to me, though I do feel bad that Dami’s #tealizard costume didn’t do as well as she had hoped.
is the internet really pop culture yet?
Even setting memes aside, it’s a big year for obscure costumes that will only really land in tweet form. In the past, you might have set that Overwatch costume aside, assuming not enough people would get it. But in 2016 you can make the decision to get blank stares at the party in favor of a viral tweet on Monday morning. It’s a trade-off, but at least you have those faves forever. Friends are largely temporary. (Just kidding, I would trade all of my faves for my friend Lizzie.)
This applies, I was shocked to discover, to the Donnie Darko costume I wore this year. It did not feel like an obscure reference to me while I was assembling it — people always fav my tweets about Jake Gyllenhaal, which makes me assume they know his life story. In fact, I thought: “For the first time in years I am not going to have to explain my costume!” (My last Halloween costume was Jessica Lange as Elsa Mars in American Horror Story: Freak Show. I regret it.) Yet, nobody at the party I attended knew what I was. A man in a coffee shop asked if I was “death.” A woman on the street said “I love your costume,” but I sort of got the vibe that she was just pity-complimenting my ill-fitting men’s skeleton suit.
Regardless, my internet friends got me and so I felt okay. When you don’t get IRL attention from anyone, it’s good to know you can still get Instagram attention. That sounds sad, but it’s not that sad because at least the internet lets me share my fandom with someone. Apart from faves, I learned of another interest that I share with some of my online-only buddies.
(Lizzie is Elliott from Mr. Robot. It’s good, right? Tweet at her if you think so!)
My editor Chris Plante (not to be confused with Chris Plant) and his wife dressed as characters from Kiki’s Delivery Service, a 1989 Studio Ghibli movie. He says nobody got it in public, but at least he received 60 nods of “getting it” on Twitter!
There’s almost no way this man thought anybody would get the Bachelorette reference he’s making here. As a costume, it is terrible. As a tweet, it is very good.
Drake, the king of memes, dressed up as a lawyer who was a bit of an internet sensation within the hip-hop industry about two years ago. This is an example of a costume that almost no one in real life or the internet will get — but the people who get it will get it and think Drake is very, very clever and also “daddy.”
There’s a little freedom to having no idea what our shared culture is: you’re free to only care about what your internet friends will like. That gives you unlimited range of cultural reference, a way to be more yourself even while you’re wearing a costume.
I have to imagine that was the rationale behind this: