One more invitation to a fancy dress party and I’m moving to the moon where the only type of dress-ups they have are compulsory suits to prevent suffocation. Not only for the sake of my empire-waist dress, still bearing its tags and desperate to get out of the closet and work it’s magic where that extra Tim Tam is beginning to show, but also for the social welfare of our generation. You may not see the acute danger in a night out dressed as the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland, but I speak from experience when I say that fancy dress parties are up there with the mullet, denim on denim and Perez Hilton as one of the most critical social hazards of our time. The last thing I’d want to be is a kill joy; my aim through sharing my own traumatic experiences is education on how to enjoy the upcoming festive season responsibly.
To understand the obsession with dress-up parties, we need search no further than the insightful tween epic, Mean Girls. While perhaps not conventionally acknowledged as a product of high culture or featuring alongside Dead Poet’s Society on the most inspirational movies of all time list, there is a multitude of wisdom to be unearthed in this film. Like a 21st century Gandhi, Cady preaches that “Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like total sluts and no other girls can say anything about it.” For a generation addicted to exhibitionism (to reiterate, I’m talking about self-broadcasting, not self-disrobing, though you’d be forgiven for any confusion given the topic we’re discussing), fancy dress is to Gen Y as prison is to Lindsay, as Ray Bans are to white people, as new-release-better-than-the-version-you-bought-last-week is to Apple. Not only do they provide an opportunity to dress as a sexy little bow peep without so much as a raised eyebrow or a “I’m pretty sure traditional shepherds would have found 6-inch stilettos and 2-inch skirts highly impractical when rounding up sheep”, but they are the perfect excuse for Gen-Y exhibitionists to abuse the homepages of their facebook friends with a bombardment of offensive self-snapped close-ups in awkward poses. It would be sacrilegious to go to the effort of sewing 10 metres of tule to bow peep’s underskirt and not post at least a 78-picture-long album showcasing your hard work; if it’s not on facebook, it didn’t happen. Never mind that those primary school students you tutor who found you on facebook will now have the image of you posing suggestively with the shepherd’s crook lurking in their minds as you teach them the radius of a circle - this is the inevitable carnage of achieving facebook popularity.
Apart from encouraging the exhibitionist tendencies of those who need no encouragement, fancy dress can produce some serious social fallout. Gossip Girl would have us believe that an encounter with a masked stranger at a fancy dress ball inevitably leads to an exhilarating melange of mysterious strangers and thrilling scandal. They lied. It’s actually just really awkward. I thought I had rid myself of this problem once and for all after affectionately administering a dead-leg from behind to my best friend who was in actual fact my university lecturer forced me finally to face the fact that I was more short-sighted than a labour voter who believed Gillard’s promises on climate change and get myself some lenses. But the last fancy dress party I attended involved a cozy hug with an individual in a full-body chicken costume who it turned out was not the guy I sit next to in lectures but a complete stranger, after which I had to endure sniggers from him and his friends every time I passed them during the night (cruelly fated that they had taken up camp beside the snacks table). Whether it’s a wounded self-esteem beneath a bombardment of giggles from complete strangers, or a re-fueled exhibitionism as we ignore the angry threats if we don't "put the camera away!", fancy dress is damaging to each of us in our own way.
Despite negativity to rival film reviews of the latest Harry Potter, I will admit to owing at least one positive outcome to the fancy dress party: while the night began standing amongst a group of clowns and circus freaks in the rain outside a night club telling us we didn’t quite fit the dress code, the costume eventually paid-off. After being separated from my similarly-adorned friends, alone on the dance floor dressed as Bozo, a number of strangers commented on my unusual sense of style, one of whom mistook me for someone alternative enough to lend a hand on his film set and offered me a job. It has, however, been exhausting to keep up the pretence of alternative film buff and I’m pretty sure that after he saw me use an iPhone and then choose a meat dish over tofu at lunch the other day, he’s catching on to my lack of alternativeness...
So please, for the social welfare of a generation and for my un-christened empire dress, don’t make your next party a fancy dress. If you couldn’t care less about my empire dress, then at least do it for the sake of our creativity; after years of endless dress-up parties, it’s getting more and more difficult to come up with an original costume, especially when every second theme is “what I wanna be when I grow up”. There’s only so many times a guy can don the cross-dressers outfit before it stops being funny and people start asking questions. A new low for me was cutting arm and leg holes in my foam mattress to a “letter M” party. While it may have hidden the extra Tim Tam even better than an empire dress, it is nice to be able to sit down at a party.
I am beginning to regret sniggering at a rejected and dejected Kim Beazley back in 2004 in an arrogant disregard of the rule about not kicking ‘em when they’re down. He might come from Perth with a voice almost as vexatious as the ideas it articulates, but as I lick my wounds following the university election season, I have a new found respect for the big guy and his chronicle of losses. The close of the polling booths of the Sydney Uni Law Society election - i.e. the campaign that forces itself upon the facebook home pages of engineering students, social work students, Brisbane University students, and your Zumba instructor alike, despite the fact that only law students can vote - marks for me the end of one, long, drawn-out losing streak.
There’s a lot at stake during a university campaign; sleep-ins, egos, uni marks, friendships, fashion sense, sanity. And yet our generation gets on board year after year. Of course, at the height of a campaign, there’s nothing you’d rather do than wake up at 5 am to cover your campus in posters which will probably end up in the bin by lunchtime the same day. Once you’ve lost, however, it’s difficult to find meaning in all those Saturday nights spent mixing chalk. And the red mark on your forehead from that time about seven hours into election day when you decided the “I voted STRIKE” stickers were meant for your face is a cruel reminder of your failure that takes a few days to fade. How KBeaz dealt with getting beat on a national scale not once but twice, had his weight problem rubbed in his face with daily news features of his vanquisher on morning jogs around Kirribili, and then still put his hand up for more I’ll never know.
By engaging in a university campaign, you’re taking a significant social risk. I didn’t realise I was capable of inspiring cold-blooded fear in the hearts of my friends and acquaintances until I crossed the law school foyer on election day gripping a wad of campaign flyers. Of course, ostracism did have its advantages: the line for Taste Baguette was always much more bearable after we cleared the room with our campaign T-shirts. And to be fair, I have gained 15 new facebook friends from amongst my ticket (hopefully enough to make up for the plunge that occurred the day my profile pic was changed to a campaign logo).
Perhaps the most depressing part of the whole ordeal is realising that this thing you’ve poured your heart and soul into, nobody else could really give a crap about. From the epicentre of a campaign, the lack of water coolers in the library seems like a more pressing issue than global warming and the world hunger crisis combined. When you emerge from the campaign cocoon, you’re left with a multitude of baffling questions; why doesn’t the uneven tiling outside room 104 get anybody else’s blood boiling!? Why don’t you people care about the calendar clash between the competitions grand final and interfaculty sports!? But your questions fall on ears deafened by the speakers of last night’s SubSki event, rubbing in the fact that the only thing that really gets anybody worked-up on campus is the socials agenda.
One thing Kim Beazley could have improved upon was his ability to see the positives in a situation. His description of his role in the Labour party as “Lazarus with a triple bypass” doesn’t exactly smack of someone on the lookout for a silver lining. But unlike Beaz, I don’t see my election experience as entirely negative; flyering on Eastern Avenue, trying to block my opponents from reaching the next potential voter before I got to them was excellent training for the netball season. And with a wardrobe bursting with campaign T-shirts, I never have to buy pajamas again.