Costumes – Cloaks of the Imagination
Turn on the TV and you are in Dreamland – give or take a few channel hops. This is where we live in our imagination, and most of our heroes are men and women dressed up in fancy costumes. In some almost-real way we see them as personifications of ourselves. Even as so-called adults we still draw inspiration from their patch-work adventures, making their moral codes our own.
The world of superheroes is known for its extravagant costumes. The X-Men, The Avengers, Iron Man, Superman, Batman, Captain America, Hulk, Star Wars and Star Trek. Most of them arrived via the comics we devoured throughout our childhood. It gave us an imagined world, and in our minds’ eyes we saw ourselves as the real heroes.
Of course, where there are heroes there are also anti-heroes, evil folk and monsters that make our blood curl. Luther, The Joker, Loki and their kin. Without them our costumed heroes would have a hard time to routinely find something heroic to do.
But all superheroes were not born yesterday, with the compliments of DC and Marvel Comics. Our myths and cultures worldwide are sprinkled with them. Samson of the Bible was most certainly a superhero of his time, and so was Hercules and the occasional heroes of the Greek Myths – Zeus, Odysseus, Prometheus, Orpheus and Achilles and then, of late, Odin, Thor and Loki, from Valhalla.
Through Chinese New Years’ Celebrations we have also learnt a little about their myths, but apart from the Lion as Dragon Dances and fiercely costumed extravaganzas we are still ignorant of most of the myths of the Middle Kingdom, as China was known, but we are deservedly awed by their fabulous costumes. In India, just across the Himalayas, the Hindu Faith offers us a treasure-chest of fabulous beings, gods and semi-gods that has not entered our collective understanding, but it will come.
Madi Gras, as celebrated in New Orleans and in various guises, down into Brazil and Rio de Janeiro and its fabulous Carnaval is, at heart, an extravagantly costumed opportunity to make merry before the austere advent of Lent. In the troubled times of Europe in the Middle Ages, people seriously needed times of celebration to look forward to – life otherwise was just too miserable.
Even in the Royal Courts they needed costumed diversions, and that was why they sent in the clowns. But being a costumed clown was also a dangerous business – as they had to entertain and also be provocative. If they were too tame and boring or too provocative in the eyes of their irate masters, they could literally lose their heads, as was shown in Alice in Wonderland, where the Queen of Hearts demanded – “Off With Their Heads”. So clowns lived lives of extreme pressure.
But as they say, all that is History
For most of us, costumes are part of celebrations like Halloween, All Hallows’ Even or All Saints’ Eve, where our children take to the neighborhood in macabre costumes to go, “Trick or Treat”. But even that has a somber history, as it should really remind us to remember the dead.
As we see, the world’s “Costume Traditions” can trace their origins back into distant history. Even our superheroes represent ancient moral archetypes that we find comforting – and they can provide unexpected guidance for kids who don’t have anywhere else to turn to when they are confronted by issues they can’t resolve otherwise.
As mad and absurd as seen from a grown-up perspective, these morally upstanding costumed characters provided genuine inspiration for generations of youngsters. If you’re in any doubt, ask your own kids or put the question your near-forgotten child within.
Part of the Big Problem, as seen from the perspective of our youngsters, is that we got so used to being entertained, instead of entertaining ourselves. I, for one, remember running around with a towel around my neck and jumping off roofs, imagining I was Superman. Can you picture opening your home or your back yard to your kids and their friends – and invite them to do their own production of the Avengers? Won’t that be fun?
We should remember that stories have been with us from the dawn of time and they have helped millions of us to make some sort of sense of our world and the scary stuff we witness almost every day. In the old days, before radio and television, we had to look forward to family story-time. There we listened and imagined, and there the master story-tellers of today found their inspiration. In that imagined, splendid and costumed wonderland.