Last October, a posting on the Facebook page of a certain department made waves among students. According to the post, a commenter shared the following criticism, “Do not insult our department with Halloween costumes.” This is because people have begun sexualizing certain occupational groups as they prepare costumes to celebrate Halloween. Considering Koreans are gradually celebrating Halloween, it is apparent that it is no longer an exotic cultural festival that can only be seen in foreign countries. Halloween is increasingly well established in Korea, and it has become a festival day celebrated by many people. However, as it has become more popular, several problems regarding job-related costumes have arisen. The problem is that Halloween costumes are often highly sexualized and do not reflect the reality of the jobs they depict, such as nurses and flight crews. In addition, since the festival of Halloween is represented as excessively deviant, there has been a growing number of vocal critics.
There are many sexualized costumes in the public area of the store. So not only adults but teenagers could also reach to the costumes that are sexually expressed .
/Photograph by Cho Moon-kyung
The origin of Halloween
Halloween is held across the United States (US), on the eve of the Christian holiday on October 31st every year. This is the same day as the Protestant Reformation Day. Originally, Halloween was a Celtic historical celebration known as “Sawon.” The Celts prepared food for the dead and offered an ancestral rite on the last day of the year to appease the spirits of the dead. They also thought this would chase away evil spirits. At this time, there was a custom in which people disguised themselves as these same evil spirits. This custom is a prototype of Halloween costume culture.
Halloween in the United States was originally a small-scale local festival held by Scottish and Irish immigrants who followed the Celtic custom, until the mid-19th century. However, in the 1840s, it began to spread through the whole world when one million Irish emigrated to the US due to a huge Irish famine. Now it has become a representative festival in the US. On Halloween in the US, children dress up like monsters, witches and ghosts. Then they get candies and chocolates while saying “Trick or Treat,” which means “If you do not give a treat to me, I will trick you!” Saying “Trick or Treat” while walking around the houses in the neighborhood originated from the custom of distributing food to children and poor people who had no place to go on special days in the Middle Ages. On the day, makeup parties were held in schools and other places. Not only children but also adults began to dress up as traditional subjects, celebrities or movie stars and to enjoy the festival.
Halloween establishes its reputation as a youth festival in Korea
Due to globalization, the American Halloween culture gradually began to appear in Korea. Many daycare centers and schools already host parties for children in Korea. There was also a “Steelo X Usborne Korea” Halloween event for children. “Steelo,” a Kids Cafe and children’s book brand called “Usborne Korea,” held a Halloween event in the last week of October, which consisted of Halloween-related programs for children.
Furthermore, numerous festivals are being held to celebrate Halloween, including all of the amusement parks across the country, such as Seoul, Busan and Daegu. Halloween parties in Itaewon, which are especially popular places to play in, among young people, have made the issue on social media, too. Also, there is a growing perception in Korea that Halloween is a holiday. Companies also actively use the day as a means of marketing. For example, numerous cosmetics, hangover cure products, candy and clothing advertisements have made Halloween, a marketing tool. In particular, a number of well-known cosmetics brands such as “Lush” have launched Halloween-related promotions, too. In addition, the Halloween promotion was also carried out on the “Neverdie,” a hangover cure product, as if to imply that the Halloween festival is an excessive drinking culture. Other than this, many product advertisements have begun promoting Halloween-style products. As such, people can see the phenomenon of Halloween becoming like a holiday in Korea.
Interestingly, the culture of Social Network Services (SNS) authentication in Halloween costumes has begun to emerge in Korea. More and more people are posting images of their Halloween costumes and parties on SNS. The exponential growth in the number of postings displaying one’s Halloween makeup and party through hashtags, represents Halloween as a cultural phenomenon. In addition, the focus is on “who has the most provocative makeup,” since this draws more attention among people. This seems to be happening at the time when SNS culture is in vogue, as Halloween culture has become established in Korea.
Controversy over Halloween costumes
In Korea, Halloween costumes are frequently sexualized versions of the uniforms worn by certain professions. Currently, sexualized nurses’ uniforms, school uniforms and flight crews’ uniforms are at the center of controversy. Some think the sexualized nature of the clothing is too explicit and raunchy. Especially, as school uniforms are worn by underage students, special care should be taken, and regulations must be made if necessary. Criticism and complaints have been posted on famous website communities, and many media outlets are reporting the seriousness of the problem. Particularly, students of the Department of Nursing Science, expressed their displeasure through comments about nurse’s costumes being sexualized in Halloween.
Furthermore, some say that sexualizing nuns’ uniforms is a form of religious disparagement. The sexualized costumes were withdrawn from the “Pierro Shopping” branch in Gyeonggi Province since there were complaints about this. However, they were still sold at COEX mall. Also, these costumes are visible in ordinary stores. The fact that many of the sexualized costumes are for women, reflects the Korean society’s preference of sexualized women.
Halloween makeup is too scary and gives negative effects to children
Some Halloween costumes and makeup are extremely disgusting or frightening. For example, people dress as zombies or ghosts and ride the subway. This could frighten the old or mentally unstable people.
Makeup designed to cause fear should be held legally responsible. Article 3 Section 2 of the Punishment of Misdemeanors Act applies when an act is offensive or abhorrent. The clause states that those who intentionally threaten others in public places, which are used or carried by several people, will be punished with fines. However, the standard is very subjective, and it could be difficult to insist that it applies to Halloween makeup and costumes.
Meanwhile, Kang Dong-wook, the Professor of the College of the Law said, “I think it is inappropriate to try to regulate Halloween costumes and other things through the criminal punishment law because they can be over punished.” He emphasized, “Especially, disgust and displeasure are very subjective feelings, so it is difficult to set objective standards for each person. However, considering Halloween is already enjoyed as a culture absorbed by a considerable number of young people in Korea, although it is a foreign culture, I think it is necessary to have a system or map that can be understood socially and hierarchically.” He also added, “For example, it will be more effective to introduce the meaning of Halloween events and the current trend of young people in our country through broadcasting.” According to the Professor Kang, through this, young people will recognize that excessive makeup or behavior is an act that can cause inconvenience to others.
Many Halloween costumes that children see are explicit. Many costumes have been criticized for their sexiness, but there are no clear regulations on selling them. Also, people wearing such clothes can easily be found in public places, making children vulnerable. This can lead to children’s misconceptions about certain occupational groups. For example, sexy school uniforms can be seen everywhere, and sexualized nurses' uniforms can also be seen by children on Halloween.
It is difficult to control the inappropriate aspects of Halloween
In Korea, ghost movies are popular around the Halloween season. In fact, there have been many ghost films for children and horror films for general people since mid-October, every year on Halloween, and this year too. Due to the nature of Halloween, even cultural life seems to have more material about ghosts and evil spirits. However, the problem is that they are also freely exposed to teenagers. Furthermore, movies, which are extremely scary have an age limit, but the makeup of people in amusement parks and costumes of regular people are virtually impossible to control. In fact, all three major amusement parks in Korea, Lotte World, Seoul Land, and Everland, offer special promotions for Halloween and hold various programs during the Halloween season. These amusement parks are open to all ages. As such, every Korean is exposed to a culture that can pose an emotional threat without any control.
Given the results of the Dartmouth College’s research, which showed that violence increased as children played violent video games, it is explicit that exposure to Halloween costumes could also have a negative impact. For example, increasing copycat crimes are also the result of the media’s numerous reports on crime. As a result, criminals have become desensitized to crime. That is, Halloween culture could affect people’s psychological status too. Therefore, there should be discussion about Halloween culture.
Halloween also causes excessive marketing
Hotels began to use holiday culture as a means of promotion in Korea recently. Several hotels have begun commercializing Halloween Day and selling the day as a single commodity. For example, there are special Halloween promotions and programs or hotel’s Halloween Electornic Dance Music (EDM) parties. In other words, it is no exaggeration to say that Halloween Day is used to be a culture of entertainment when people gather and eat delicious food, but it is now becoming a day for commercialization by businesses more and more. Unfortunately, with the growing perception of people that “Pepero Day” is one of the days that companies made because of their marketing, more and more companies are focusing on Halloween.
Large retailers, as well as e-commerce companies, convenience stores and cafes, are using Halloween to advertise their products. Furthermore, some say that Pepero confectionery has begun to become more enthusiastic about Halloween than Pepero Day in the aftermath of the “Japan boycott since the pepero is made generally by Japanese companies.” Kim Min-ji (24), said “I think Pepero day is just one of the way of marketing, but I had not thought about Halloween yet.” She added, “Maybe it is because Halloween party is just getting popular among youngs recently.”
However, if this trend continues, later Halloween, just like Pepero Day, could be perceived as a business day that causes unnecessary consumption rather than a sense of entertainment as well. The intrinsic meaning of the Halloween festival will be undermined. For people, Halloween will not be a culture of play, it will be just a common trick.
How could we settle the Halloween in Korea properly?
Some people are concerned about the current state of Halloween celebrations in Korea. Kim Min-ji (24), said “Since deviation is justified in this culture and it is difficult to regulate it, it is highly likely that it will have a negative impact on society.” She criticized, “I feel bad when I see the sexually expressed costumes even in public spaces. Also, I think it is a crime to neglect regulation of costumes even if it is virtually difficult to regulate.” She added, “In other words, satire about the weak through costumes, like nun’s costume, should no longer be left unattended.”
However, some think Halloween day gives positive effects to people. This is because it is a festival that young people can enjoy in their daily lives. Kim Yu-jin, the Sophomore of the Division of English Language & Literature, said “I can only get away from the stressful routine and enjoy the festival. Imposing restrictions on these festivals is to undermine the essential meaning of the festival.” She also commented, “I feel like I am on a vacation in a foreign country and I really enjoy this day.”
Considering this, regulations on the costumes are important, and sex education on the exact costume controversy will be necessary for teenagers too. Also, in places where people of various generations enjoy themselves, exposure to violence should be minimized. Furthermore, excessive marketing should be curtailed, and it should be properly regulated so that Halloween culture does not adversely affect the Korean society. Since there are many people who enjoy the culture of Halloween and relieve their stress through it in Korea, the festival form should be correctly positioned without being distorted or damaged.
Cho Moon-kyung firstname.lastname@example.org
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