Why the media recycle the same damn story every October
By Misty Harris
Halloween is surely the most frustrating night of the year for actual hookers – and the riskiest one for men seeking their company. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention in the last two decades. And yet.
Every October, it’s the same thing: newspapers, media sites and TV news stations all clamour to report on the sexualization of Halloween. While they aren’t necessarily wrong in identifying this phenomenon, it’s hardly news. At this point, “sexy Halloween” falls into the same class as Nicki Minaj’s butt: significant, but nothing we haven’t seen before.*
So why does the media keep recycling the same story, year after year? Let’s decode.
Low-hanging fruit: We all know that sex sells. And in reports on the tawdriness of Halloween, sexual imagery is practically a journalistic requirement! Not featuring photo evidence would be akin to reporting on a strong female CEO and not running a picture of her with her arms crossed. HOW ELSE WILL PEOPLE UNDERSTAND?
Laziness: Google News shows 75,200 recent media mentions of “sexy Halloween,” while Google’s primary search engine returns 2.7 million results. In other words, covering this story is easier than winning a staring contest with Kim Kardashian in a house of mirrors.**
Stupidity: There’s humour value in how far this trend has been taken, with costume suppliers showing more imagination than a teenage boy with a lingerie catalogue. Minions, lobsters, pizza, Elmo, Frozen characters – Olaf included – and even the New York “pizza rat” have all gotten the strumpet treatment in recent years. When something is that ridiculous, it’s hard to ignore (see also: the success of The Real Housewives series).
Public outrage: Journalists love controversy the way white people love craft beers and TED talks. Fortunately, being angry over things that barely matter is practically a national sport. Retailers capitalize on this faux outrage by showcasing divisive costumes – last year’s “sexy Ebola nurse,” for instance – which attract loads of media attention, and consequently drive thousands of pitchfork-wielding villagers to their sites. While those folks are unlikely to buy the controversial costume, they’ll often purchase something else. And the beat goes on.
It’s fun: Contrary to what the movies suggest, the life of a journalist isn’t all celebrity interviews, uncovering scandals, and drinking bourbon from a hip flask – although the latter would be nice. The truth is that even though journalism is an exciting gig, not every story is fun to write (to wit, I once had to report on a ferret race). So when an editor assigns you a story on “Sexy Olaf,” by God, you’re going to write the shit out of it.
As for me, I think that if a grown woman wants to let her freak flag fly on Halloween, all the power to her – especially in Canada, where the costumes of her youth would’ve been guided by a single limiting question: “Will this fit over a snowsuit?” Let freedom reign, sister!
* You could argue that there are feminist reasons for keeping this story alive; you wouldn’t be wrong. But the vast majority of “think pieces” on sexy Halloween are, unfortunately, more interested in shaming women or publicizing the latest stunt costume (this column intentionally doesn’t link to any) than exhibiting actual thinking.
** In 2004, I wrote a trend story on sexy Halloween. In my (weak) defence, Mean Girls came out that year – a movie that included the quote “Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it” – and I mostly just wanted an excuse to re-watch it.