(Thank you everyone for that positive reaction to that last IT piece and hello to all of the new followers [there are a lot of you]. This one is also kind of about IT but I swear that I write about things besides IT and will probably not write about IT again for a long time after this if ever. IT. Thank you. IT.)
The costume store I work at is in the midst of a crisis. A small crisis, but a crisis nonetheless.
Specifically, we have completely run out of Wonder Woman and Pennywise costumes. Sure, we have plenty of the Linda Carter variations, but we sold entirely out of the muted armor bodice Gal Gadot wears in the latest film; yes, Pennywise is technically a formless avatar of terror made real only by the petrified attention of his victims, and any old dumbass clown outfit should work for him in any case, but if you’re looking for the big poofy grey garbage sack Bill Skarskgard wears in the new remake, you’re fresh out of luck, friendo: we’ve been using workarounds for that one since the middle of September. After the frat boys ruining our Stormtrooper outfits and upper middle-class couples wondering what we’ve got left for Game of Thrones, our third most common patron is the disappointed schlub left with DIY patchworks of popular movie characters a wise few thought to come in and reserve weeks ago.
Pennywise and Wonder Woman. We can’t get enough of ‘em.
Wonder Woman’s popularity is easy enough to understand. A feminist reimagining of Short Circuit, Wonder Woman rattled its way into wild success by hiding under a thin carapace of progressivism from which it was able to lob boilerplate schlock at its audience without raising anything but the softest and most easily disregarded of hackles (to the degree that Patty Jenkins is credited with “directing” Wonder Woman I have to presume that this means she was hooked up to an on-set Laudanum drip while a producer shouted for script changes from behind her hat). It’s a dull, vapid, self-contradictory movie that happened to be in the right place at the right time, and occasionally that’s all one needs to be to find oneself showered with riches. Wonder Woman the Force for Social Good has next to nothing to do with Wonder Woman the Actual Movie, but I imagine it’ll be about 5 to 10 years before someone will decide for certain whether we can be allowed to hold that against it. In the meantime, there are still concessions to be sold.
The appeal of Pennywise, too, is not such a riddle in isolation. A modern human truth is that clowns are scary and people love to be scared by clowns. There’s little to be asked of either the reveler or the observer for a successful experience with this setup. IT was an alright movie, certainly better than most people were expecting, and again, sometimes that’s all the signal you need to chime the bells. There’s no reason to be upset if your child comes home with a C+ on their report card when you were expecting a D. Whether it’s advisable for you to throw that kid a party over it or not is a question we’re apparently not well equipped to deal with as a people, so I’m not going to answer that one for you either. The upshot is that if you’ve seen The Dark Knight or observed a Juggalo in the wild you won’t have a hard time fathoming that we have a hard time keeping Pennywise masks and costumes in stock.
So yes, by themselves it is not a curious thing that Wonder Woman and Pennywise would be such popular Halloween costumes. But put them together, talk to one patron who asks “where are your Wonder Woman costumes” and then another straight behind her who wants to know “if the new IT costumes came in” and one becomes aware of a strange odor. A Halloween costume is worn primarily to reflect taste — tacky, erudite, vulgar, unsettling, lascivious, any combination of these and infinite others — and these are the two tracks that the tastes of many have found themselves girded to this year. It’s a curious pairing to observe.
They were two of the most popular movies that came out this year, I know, but I don’t think it’s just that. The films have little in common, but notice that both of them come from kind of a hollowed out place: Wonder Woman is a comic book character from a world of verve and whimsy that finds herself burdening expectations of mature significance from filmmakers and audiences alike that she is not constructed to be able to bring to bear; Pennywise is a clown, which for most of history was a fun happy thing to be until it decisively became the extreme opposite of that in the popular imagination. The palettes of both films reflect this as well, using what should be loud primary blues, reds and yellows and saturating them into something that looks not dissimilar to a three year old’s first paint set after a disastrous adventure in color hybridization.
In 2015 the pace and color of popular film was a lithe step wearing a bright beige: Furiosa from Fury Road and Rey from The Force Awakens were the stars of the day. Two years later it’s a pair of lugs rumbling their way through a graveyard color wheel. Two beasts, absurd in their gruesome pantomime of Fun, that managed to pass above dismally low expectations to become something resembling modern classics. Love feels truer when it comes unexpectedly: DC has been trying to make Wonder Woman stick in the same way Batman does for decades, and now she’s the only member of the DC cinematic universe anyone can stand. What better represents the significance of Halloween dress-up, something old and familiar (your own flesh and mind) draped in something new and exciting (the skin you wear for the evening)? Become Pennywise and you are you, representing something that can become anything. People like you already!
There’s not much we can do at the costume store but guess at the popularity of specific assumed identities and accommodate for them as best we can. It can be hard to tell what we’ll need to stock up on and difficult to amend our customer’s needs when we sell out. There’s a single K-2SO costume — the droid from Star Wars: Rogue One — loitering on our Space wall, untouched for months, but if he sells, a grey bodysuit and a motorcycle helmet will likely have to make a distant second best for the next person who wants to dress up as him. Wanting something to be good can almost have the same effect as something being good, but desire can ultimately only take you so far.
The image of an object in contest with its nature. A small crisis, but a crisis nonetheless.