LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Are Halloween masks of Jews in the news a trick or just a new treatment?
With a new latex mask of disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner now selling alongside that of convicted swindler Bernie Madoff, I wonder: In some weird way, have American Jews entered a new era of awful acceptance?
What will people think if a Weiner or Madoff shows up at their door on Halloween? Will they identify these masks first by religion or indiscretion? Are these pop culture masks good for the Jews?
Through rubbery eye holes, they do allow a more evolved view.
Unlike other eras of American products, such as 19th century racially offensive castiron toy banks, today there is no exaggeration of features or ethnicity, the threesome’s noses are not elongated or hooked. They simply stare back at us as a new kind of pumpkin head, hollow objects of ridicule who happen to be Jewish.
OK, so they’re not bad for the Jews. But are these masks goods for the Jews? Would a Jewish person in particular want to wear them? On Purim, we still dress as Mordechai or Esther — the heroes. But in an era about three posts past irony, would we now choose instead to masquerade as a villain who is Jewish?
For a darkside Jewish mask, there is no need to revise characters from an ancient scroll — say, a leery-eyed Mordechai, or a wet T-shirt contest winner Esther — when we can look to Jewish personalities pulled from the book of today.
The Weiner costume — produced by Ricky’s, a costume superstore chain in New York that also sells online — includes a mask and an optional pair of boxers from which a pair of latex testicles hang out. Kirsten Slotten, who works for a publicity firm representing Ricky’s, tells JTA that the Weiner get-up “is one of the most popular costumes." The company is marketing the costume along with versions of Charlie Sheen and Arnold Schwarzenegger as a trio dubbed “The New Stooges.”
The Weiner costume is "quite controversial,” says Marc Beige, whose 60-year-old competing costume company, Rubie’s, took a pass on the outfit.
“We sell to mainstream America like Wal-Mart," Beige said. "We did not feel that it would be that popular."
Noting that some New Yorkers still feel that Weiner was an effective congressman, Beige added, “Nobody’s perfect. He’s a human being."
Rubie’s, along with Ricky’s and other companies, are also marketing a Charlie Sheen costume. The mask — a good-enough likeness of the former “Two and a Half Men" star in the Ricky’s version — comes with an optional T-shirt emblazoned with words and phrases Sheen made infamous, including “winner” and “tiger’s blood.”
Not included: Sheen’s “goddesses."
In attempting to deflect claims of anti-Semitism, the Hollywood meltdown warlock claimed to have Jewish roots on his mother’s side. So can we count his costume along with the Weiner and the Madoff?
Either way, Beige said, “religion never comes up" when the staff at Rubie’s discusses the appropriateness of a potential costume.
As for mask sales of the tragic Madoff, “That’s pretty much over,” he said.
Wondering about the Jewish identity of the people behind the masks, I asked Beige (who is Jewish) if any of his friends ever thought it odd that he was in the Halloween business.
"No, that’s never come up. I think over 50 percent are Jewish,” said Beige, noting that the company also has a branch and catalog in Israel.
“When you think about it,” he adds, “this business is one part Hollywood, one part garment business, one part toys — all businesses where you find a lot of Jews.”
Anthony Weiner mask ($24.99, from Ricky’s), “Just hanging around” boxers ($19.99, from Ricky’s)
Madoff mask ($22-$30 from various online vendors)
Charlie Sheen adult costume kit, shirt and mask ($20 from Rubies, adult sizes only)
Know of a product that might be good for “Goods for the Jews"? Please send to Edmon Rodman at firstname.lastname@example.org.