Five reasons why it’s time to kick Halloween to the curb this year

An illustration of people dressed in costumes.
(Alana Hunter / For The Times)

As someone who truly appreciates everything about Halloween (and what’s not to like about a chance to dress up like someone else, eat lots of candy and scare the neighbors?), I thought I’d be disappointed if this year’s ghost- and ghoul-fest ended up being collateral damage in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.

However, by the time Los Angeles County slammed the coffin lid shut last month on Halloween 2020 by recommending trick-or-treating, haunted houses and large gatherings be avoided, I was relieved. Now, as we begin the month that traditionally ends with the fright fest, I’m even more convinced it’s the right time to kick the holiday — and the way we traditionally celebrate it — to the curb like a past-its-prime pumpkin.

Before you start sharpening your pitchforks (presumably the pitchforks you were planning to use for that totally original hunky/sexy devil costume you had in the works), allow me to drop in your otherwise empty trick-or-treat bag five good reasons why — besides the prospect of having a pint-size Typhoid Mary paw through your peanut butter cups — skipping right over All Hallows’ Eve might be all for the best this year.

A crow sits on a branch as ash from the wildfires emits an orange glow
The orange glow of SoCal caused by ash from wildfires, one of the many disasters that has already made 2020 scarier than any Halloween.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

1. 2020 to date

What could possibly be scarier than the vast hellscape that has been every single day of this burn-all-the-calendar-pages year so far? Any given Tuesday of 2020 has been so terrifying that every Halloween since the beginning of time feels like Arbor Day by comparison.

2. The political nightmare

Once upon a time, election-year Halloweens were an opportunity for good-natured — and civil — political commentary. Back in 2004, I shrugged into a barn jacket, grabbed a trucker hat and an old-school video camera (the kind that fits an entire VHS tape inside) and headed to the annual West Hollywood Halloween festivities. I was dressed as filmmaker Michael Moore.

Within minutes, I found myself face-to-face with a reveler wearing a rubbery George W. Bush mask. For about five minutes, we interacted as our alter-egos might, verbally sparring — caustically but politely — to the delight of an ever-widening circle of spectators, before bowing to each other and heading off in opposite directions. I shudder to think how such an interaction would end given the current state of political discourse.

Can we safely celebrate Halloween this year, in the midst of a pandemic? Gatherings aren’t safe, and do you really want your children knocking at doors, begging for candy and grabbing from the same bowl? Americans stuck at home have plenty of time to come up with some creative — and safe — solutions.

Sept. 11, 2020

Each of this year’s top-of-the-ticket costumes comes with drawbacks. The Donald Trump mask, which haunted many a home and Halloween party back in 2016, feels particularly provocative right now. (And who has six friends willing to play Secret Service detail anyway?) There are probably pallets of Joe Biden masks moldering in warehouses across the country (his detractors would no doubt prefer the word “basement”), but what really is a Biden mask than a Mike Pence mask with a dialed-down grimace and a pair of aviator-style sunglasses thrown over top?

Donald Trump holds a rubber mask of himself.
Donald Trump holds up a rubber mask of himself during an October 2016 campaign rally in Sarasota, Fla.
(Chip Somodevilla / AFP/Getty Images)

Dressing up as Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris might not be such a good idea either unless you, like her, are the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants. For a Harris Halloween look to work, you’ll want your costume to begin — and end — with a “That Little Girl Was Me” T-shirt paired with a smart pantsuit and a string of pearls. (Or just think of something Maya Rudolph might wear when she’s dressing up as Harris in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch.)

3. The wizardry of wokeness

If you don’t see the problem with changing the color of your skin — even for the purposes of Halloween chicanery — then you must not have been paying attention to what’s been happening in the world as of late. Although dressing up as an ethnicity other than your own has never really been acceptable, it’s at least been tolerated — in some circles anyway — for years. Now those days are most definitely over. Failing to understand this basic fact could end up haunting you (and rightfully so) for the rest of your days or at least make a messy corpse of your career prospects.


Exhibit A here? That would be former Bon Appétit editor in chief Adam Rapoport, who stepped down in June after a brownface costume from Halloween 2004 resurfaced on Twitter. Exhibit B? That would be Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, who recently apologized for wearing brownface and blackface in a 1980s comedy skit.

4. The soulless specter of sexy everything

If you’re still not convinced that Halloween has jumped the shark for good (on a side note, a last-minute jump-the-shark costume can be cobbled together with nothing more than a cardboard fin and a pogo stick), I ask you to consider the unmitigated horror that is the sexy everything: the skimpy, skintight take on things that have no business being sexed-up.

I’m not talking about the annual parade of sexy devils, sexy nurses, sexy skeletons, sexy librarians and sexy nuns (to each their own), but things like 2013’s buffet of sexy foods (think come-hither pizza, corn or watermelon), the sexy Cecil the Lion costume from 2015 (at least there was a donation to wildlife conservation) and, more recently, a sexually suggestive White Claw costume (because there’s nothing hotter than a case of hard seltzer, am I right?) and an inexplicably hot-pantsed, belly-baring homage to everyone’s favorite neighbor, Mister Rogers.

A woman dressed as an ear of corn and a woman dressed as a pizza slice
Corn and pizza got the sexy Halloween costume treatment (thanks to in 2013.

5. A paucity of pop-culture properties

That brings us to the fifth reason why we might as well blow right past the caramel apples and candy corn and head right for the yams and stuffing. We’ve been suffering through the great pop-culture drought of 2020.

In normal times, there would have been blockbuster movies landing in theaters during the last six months as well as all manner of widely shared water-cooler moments to inspire quirky and harmless riffed-from-the-headlines costume possibilities. In years past, that included things such as 2009’s “Balloon Boy” costume; 2013’s fox (inspired by the viral video “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)” by Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis); 2015’s Pizza Rat (yes, there was even a sexy version of this costume — presumably for those who get hot and bothered watching a video clip of a rodent dragging a slice of ‘za across a subway platform); and last year’s bumper crop of “Stranger Things” costumes.

With politics out of the mix and weird-sexy off the table, there’s a dwindling supply in the pop-culture grab bag to draw on this no-good, awful year. Sure, some wiseacre is bound to dress up as the spiky ball that represents the COVD-19 virus (although with more than 200,000 dead across the country as a result of the virus, doing so would be in abysmally bad taste). And it’s a safe bet the popularity of “Tiger King” will make tiger stripes, floral crowns and mullets a thing.

Lady Gaga at the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards
Lady Gaga, with her outfits — and eye-catching face masks — at the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards, is one of the year’s very few Halloween-costume-worthy cultural moments.
(Frazer Harrison / Getty Images)

What options for universally recognizable pop-culture costumes are there? Sonic the Hedgehog? Lady Gaga at the MTV Video Music Awards? Bill & Ted’s return?

At this point, I’m all but resigned to the fact that Halloween is going to happen anyway. I’ve seen “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” enough times to know how these things work. And when the last day of October rolls around, masked Trumps and Bidens will lumber the landscape zombie-like. An ill-conceived racially themed costume will cost more than one person their job. (Imagine trying to explain to your boss that the look you were going for was the Charlie Brown sheet ghost and not a KKK grand wizard.) And any number of women dressed as sexy, spiky COVID-19 viruses will totter off to parties wearing stiletto heels.

With many traditional public events canceled due to coronavirus, all our holiday energy has to go somewhere. And so far it appears 2020 will be the year we go wild on holiday decorations, starting with Halloween.

Sept. 11, 2020

And maybe, just maybe, when the witching hour does arrive, my Grinch-like heart will grow three sizes and I’ll be filled with the Halloween spirit. I’ll change my tune and decide to go all in with the Halloween revelry I’ve just railed against. If I do, I’ve got the perfect, pandemic-proof, socially distanced costume waiting in the wings. It’s inspired by the monster in the Elisabeth Moss film that became the first horror hit of the 2020 box office.

That’s right. I’m going to show up as “The Invisible Man.”