See that cover? Even the pilgrims had theme parties.
I’d like to begin by stating, on behalf of the square, our full support of theme parties. All theme parties especially those that make us uncomfortable.
Theme parties have the ability to open social discourse on the absurdity of the performance of culture as synonymous with identity. Halloween costume shops sell these identities — cowboy, “Indian,” French maid, whatever, and the inherent question is: why do we understand these identities through a singular performance of them?
Last month I flew to Denver for the first time and in the airport I was greeted on behalf of Colorado by two women in full cowgirl attire, who asked if I needed a map of the city or help finding a cab.
During the rest of my stay, I saw no other person as ostensibly midwestern as these two women, yet the question remains, why does Colorado ask two women to perform an identity that no person in the state wholly identifies with? What makes this the proper way to be a Coloradan?
I do not doubt the intelligence of my fellow Dickinsonians and I will not believe that any group at the school believed the stereotypes their theme parties assumed. The costumes make us laugh because the singularity of identity is impossible; being an “Indian” is not about wearing a feather on your head and moccasins on your feet. Rather, these parties are fun and funny because of the absurd performativity of an ideal that no person can wholly assume; these identities are created by our stories and movies, our John Waynes and Jackie Chans, but these identities are fictions that do not shackle us.
We are a diasporic people. Theme parties highlight the pressure felt by the Pakistani-turned-American to not only perform, but to assume an American identity and shed his old lifestyle—which remains always a part of him no matter how he tries. Theme parties open the paths to a rejection of a singular cultural identity because they ask: why should the migrant feel pressured to become either native land or migrant country when he is neither? When he is an amalgam, something new? Theme parties interrogate our stereotypes and open up the ironies of their inherent non-existence in real people, in our friends and colleagues.
Theme parties allow us to throw off the fetters of stereotype by showing us that the multiplicity of culture and identity render us all much closer than we ever realized–we share a common humanity, and we should be at a point in history where the performance of a singular identity can be viewed as humorous, not upsetting.
If our great comedians have taught us anything, from Alexander Pope and Johnathan Swift to Stephen Colbert and John Stewart, it is that satire, or the assumption of beliefs (or in this case, identities) with which the comedian does not agree, argued to the point of absurdity, have immense power within a culture to display the illogicality of their premises.
Yet this is the important point: we do not buy into the stereotypes. We aim to prove how absurd they are. You laugh at my fellow Run With It members when they perform blackness by throwing back a can of purple drank because as members of the race, these individuals understand that their identity is much more complicated than a stereotype.
If you have been offended by theme parties, I understand. Yet I also urge you to understand that this is the importance of comedy: to question the non-negotiables of society and to provoke social discourse, which is inevitably more important than the comedy itself.
Now get me a beer, woman, and please, for the love of god, go to a theme party, and then to Sustained Dialogue afterwards.