Surely it’s time to return to our wholesome fascination with putrefied flesh. Photo: Marco Secchi/Getty
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What is it about fancy dress that makes us think we can behave appallingly?

Halloween is particularly bad for this – from Jimmy Savile costumes to “sexy ebola” outfits, we seem to see it as an excuse to be offensive. Much better stick to the traditional zombies and gore.

How did a sombre Christian holiday, dedicated to remembering the dead, turn into an offensiveness contest? It’s a total non sequitur, if you think about it – a bit like a celebration of the birth of Christ evolving into a competition to see who can shove the most turkey into the most orifices, while worshiping a corpulent flying pensioner.

For the most part, I love Halloween. What could be more wonderful than pausing, once a year, to revel in darkness, and fear, and slime, and gunk, and spines, and bats, and blood, and pus? It’s like Halloween was specifically designed for outsiders, which is why it’s so popular with The Gays, and, what’s more, why the horror genre in general has so many queer interpretations.  

But, this year, people have already shunned vampire costumes in favour of ones that trivialise everything from the thousands of recent ebola deaths to domestic violence. Over the past week, pictures have been emerging online of men, and even children, dressing up as US NFL star and wife-beater Ray Rice. The Ray Rice Halloween costume, usually complete with blackface and an accompanying woman (sometimes represented by a blow up doll) with a black eye, has pretty much achieved meme status. This loathsome concoction of misogyny and racism is, sadly, Halloween 2014’s hot as hell get-up.

A Halloween dress code has developed, and here are the rules: wear the Worst Possible Thing. Offensive is the new scary. We take the saddest and most horrifying current events and turn them into outfits. In 2012, Jimmy Savile costumes had a moment. And, if in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a good old-fashioned celebrity death. Steve Irwin, impaled by a stingray, has been a Halloween stalwart for nearly a decade.  

So what is it about Halloween, and fancy dress in general, that we think gives us carte blanche to be arseholes? In 2009, a young Tory activist went to a fancy dress party in a Madeleine McCann costume.  I can’t imagine a more ghoulish costume than “young Tory activist”, so I’m not sure why this guy thought he needed to dress up in the first place. But he did and, in doing so, answered the age-old question of “how gross do you have to be to get kicked out of the Conservative Party”.

Fancy dress parties trigger a kind of cultural Tourette’s Syndrome, where we’re compelled to behave in the least appropriate way, given the context. In a sense, Halloween has always been about saying the unsayable – but I have a feeling that taking the piss out of domestic violence victims might be taking things one step too far. Admittedly, there’s a fine line between breaking a taboo and being a dickhead. This has created lingering confusion in the art world, where we’re constantly wondering whether, say, projecting a grainy video of yourself taking a shit onto a gallery wall, is post-post-post-modern or just blindingly grim.

Nuance aside, I liked Halloween better when it was about dressing up as a zombie and playing drinking games to the Evil Dead films. Having to explain to someone why their abused woman costume is a cauldron of wrong surely isn’t conducive to a Fun Time. So please, for the love of gore, can we declare those Ray Rice guys the overall winners of the offensiveness contest and return to our wholesome fascination with putrefied flesh?

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Beware, hard Brexiteers - Ruth Davidson is coming for you

The Scottish Conservative leader is well-positioned to fight. 

Wanted: Charismatic leader with working-class roots and a populist touch who can take on the Brexiteers, including some in the government, and do so convincingly.

Enter Ruth Davidson. 

While many Tory MPs quietly share her opposition to a hard Brexit, those who dare to be loud tend to be backbenchers like Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan. 

By contrast, the Scottish Conservative leader already has huge credibility for rebuilding her party north of the border. Her appearances in the last days of the EU referendum campaign made her a star in the south as well. And she has no qualms about making a joke at Boris Johnson’s expense

Speaking at the Institute of Directors on Monday, Davidson said Brexiteers like Nigel Farage should stop “needling” European leaders.

“I say to the Ukip politicians, when they chuckle and bray about the result in June, grow up,” she declared. “Let us show a bit more respect for these European neighbours and allies.”

Davidson is particularly concerned that Brexiteers underestimate the deeply emotional and political response of other EU nations. 

The negotiations will be 27 to 1, she pointed out: “I would suggest that macho, beer swilling, posturing at the golf club bar isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

At a time when free trade is increasingly a dirty word, Davidson is also striking in her defence of the single market. As a child, she recalls, every plate of food on the table was there because her father, a self-made businessman, had "made stuff and sold it abroad". 

She attacked the Daily Mail for its front cover branding the judges who ruled against the government’s bid to trigger Article 50 “enemies of the people”. 

When the headline was published, Theresa May and Cabinet ministers stressed the freedom of the press. By contrast, Davidson, a former journalist, said that to undermine “the guardians of our democracy” in this way was “an utter disgrace”. 

Davidson might have chosen Ukip and the Daily Mail to skewer, but her attacks could apply to certain Brexiteers in her party as well. 

When The Staggers enquired whether this included the Italy-baiting Foreign Secretary Johnson, she launched a somewhat muted defence.

Saying she was “surprised by the way Boris has taken to the job”, she added: “To be honest, when you have got such a big thing happening and when you have a team in place that has been doing the preparatory work, it doesn’t make sense to reshuffle the benches."

Nevertheless, despite her outsider role, the team matters to Davidson. Part of her electoral success in Scotland is down the way she has capitalised on the anti-independence feeling after the Scottish referendum. If the UK heads for a hard Brexit, she too will have to fend off accusations that her party is the party of division. 

Indeed, for all her jibes at the Brexiteers, Davidson has a serious message. Since the EU referendum, she is “beginning to see embryos of where Scotland has gone post-referendum”. And, she warned: “I do not think we want that division.”

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.