Sunday, September 22, 2019

Bob Edlin: Fancy dress companies should review their offerings in the wake of Trudeau’s folly

We wonder if Sparkling Strawberry Ltd – and other businesses which provide fancy dress costumes – have been obliged to review the range of garments they offer.

We mention SparklingStrawberry, based in Cheshire in the UK, after stumbling upon its website and running through its list of Fancy Dress Party Ideas:
Here’s a few fancy dress ideas to inspire you when planning your Birthday, Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s Eve or Hogmanay fancy dress costume party. If you need any more excuses to throw a fancy dress party then you’ll find 52 reasons towards the bottom of this page.
An Alice in Wonderland party is one idea, but some of the suggestions in connection with this seem problematic.  The Mad Hatter, for example.  This is bound to give offence to the mentally enfeebled and/or their families.
The White Rabbit and White Queen raise racism issues.

But then we come to the Wild West Party and the suggestion we consider Indian costumes:
Set up your teepee and get ready to move in, with these Indian outfits and sexy Indian princess fancy dress costumes you’ll be right at home. If you fancy a bit more action then choose an Indian warrior outfit. Either way, in these sexy Indian costumes, you’re certain to be the princess. Teepees will be popping up all over the UK, form Bangor to Truro, Wolverhampton to Luton.
You’ll really stand out from the crowd at any party in this unique Indian girl Tomahawk Hottie Fancy Dress Costume in gorgeous baby blue featuring; halter neck top with woven faux suede beige detailing and matching jagged edged skirt. Outfit includes toy tomahawk and matching baby blue armband with beige strap.
Ideal for: Cowgirl and Indian themed party costumes, sexy wild west Pocahontas outfits and Tomahawk Hottie Fancy Dress Costume
But hey. We are living in the age of acute enlightenment in which a craven Canadian prime minister has been impelled to apologise for the fancy dress choices he has made.
His folly was not so much dressing up as (ahem) having the audacity to blacken his face.
The widespread opprobrium and outrage this swiftly generated suggests it is more acceptable for a nation’s leader to consider bombing Iran than to make socially unacceptable choices about their makeup.
Inevitably someone has set about finding someone guilty of similar folly in this country.  They have succeeded, as evidenced by a Newsroom report headed Red faces over CEO blackface at NZME
The head of one of the country’s biggest news media firms, Michael Boggs of NZME, is the latest subject of criticism for darkening his face at a staff party he attended dressed as American basketballer Lamar Odom.
‘Blackface’ and ‘brownface’ photographs of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have this week thrust him into a racism controversy for appearing on multiple occasions in the early 2000s at functions with darkened skin and a wig. Trudeau has apologised: “I shouldn’t have done that. I should have known better and I didn’t. I’m really sorry.” When asked if he thought the photograph was racist, he said: “Yes it was. I didn’t consider it racist at the time, but now we know better.”
NZME’s site is today running a story entitled: “Blackface, brownface and about face – is Trudeau who he says he is?”
Newsroom has been sent two photographs from within NZME showing the company’s chief executive at what is said to be the firm’s staff Christmas party in 2015. Boggs would have been the chief financial officer at the time, promoted the following year to CEO.
The photos show Boggs wearing a bald cap and darkened face and neck, and a name tag of Lamar Odom attached to what is suggested to be a hospital gown. (In late 2015 Odom, a former LA Lakers basketballer, was seriously ill in hospital.) Boggs has an LA symbol hanging from a large necklace.
The person who sent the photos said:
“Here are some pictures of him (CEO of the largest media company in New Zealand) dressed in blackface at a recent Christmas party. Not only is that disgusting in itself, he wore hospital attire to the party too …. as Lamar Odom had been in hospital critically ill at the time.”
Has anyone contacted Lamar Odom to ascertain his reaction to Boggs’ costume choice?  And if he is not offended – well, why should anyone else be?
But the outrage generated by the naming and shaming of white people who blacken their faces to – ostensibly – go out and have fun raises some fascinating questions.
At what point in our recent history was it no longer acceptable for white people to blacken their faces, because this was evidence of racism?
And is it fair to ostracise white people today for blackening their faces long before the social rules changed?
Oh – and how do the new rules affect the performance of a play such as Shakespeare’s Othello?
Can a white bloke play Othello and, if so, is it acceptable for the white actor to darken his face?
Come to think of it, can a woman play Othello?
The Huffington Post has noted that when Othello was first performed by William Shakespeare’s theatre group the King’s Men, at London’s Whitehall Palace on November 1, 1604, the role of the Moor was played by white actor Richard Burbage in blackface make-up.
At this time there was no prospect of using a black actor in the lead, as there were no professional actors of color in Elizabethan England, and even if there were, convention would have prohibited them from participating.
It would be over two hundred years from the date of the first performance before the play would feature a black actor in the lead. African American Ira Aldridge became the first. Born in New York in 1807, he emigrated to England in his late teens, where he succeeded in becoming a distinguished Shakespearean, featuring in many of the Bard’s roles, including his first major performance of Othello at London’s Royalty theatre in 1826. He also played other Shakespeare leads, including Macbeth and Richard III in Hull in 1832, for which he wore pale make-up and a wig.
Oh dear.  If it is unacceptable for a white man to blacken his face to play Othello, it should be unacceptable for a black man to whiten his face to play Richard III.
Which only goes to show how barmy it is to make a fuss about makeup.
For the record, John Gielgud, Michael Gambon, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins and Orson Wells have played Othello.
And if they shouldn’t have filled that role – well, does that mean the Hunchback of Notre Dame should be played only by hunchbacks?
Theatre is theatre and fancy dress is fancy dress.  Or it used to be.
And while we are on about modern-day values, does anyone hanker for a time when a bloke could open a door for a woman without being rebuffed by the woman saying she is quite capable of opening the door for herself?  Or when a fellow could hasten to help a child in distress without being suspected of being a paedophile rather than just kindly?
Bob Edlin is a veteran journalist and editor for the Point of Order blog HERE.

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