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It’s healthy to laugh in COVID-19’s face this Halloween
Tom Purcell
Tom Purcell

If we can’t poke fun at COVID-19 on Halloween, when can we? 

You see, Halloween is the one time of year when we can make fun of ourselves and current events by dressing up in clever costumes.   

At least it used to be.  

Until about 30 years ago, Halloween was mostly for kids. Around 1990 or so, adults begin celebrating it in big numbers, and, boy, did they embrace the opportunity to blow off steam and have some raucous fun.  

Robert Thompson, Newhouse Director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, explained why.  

“It’s the one day where almost anything goes,” Thompson told me in 2008. “Adults can be a wise guy or do something outrageous they’d never do normally.”  

Thompson said adults generally picked costumes that mocked or satirized popular culture. In my opinion, nothing’s healthier for a well-functioning society than the ability to freely and heartily make fun of things we find silly, scary or wrong.  

But that was Halloween 2008. Halloween 2020 is different.  

We’re in the ninth month of a global pandemic that has wreaked havoc on our markets and brought uncertainty into every aspect of our lives.  

So a costume poking fun at the dastardly coronavirus bug would bring us some much-needed laughter and help us vent some of our pent-up disgust, right?  


According to the UK-based Politic Mag, Amazon UK was forced to remove coronavirus Halloween costumes because of public outrage.   

The latex costumes resemble what the virus looks like under a microscope, with eyes and sharp teeth added to the front.   

Why would a costume mocking COVID-19 be offensive?    

Because, according to Bustle, “COVID-19 is not something to make light of. The death toll, globally, was more than 1 million people at the time this article was published, with 34.3 million reported cases in total (and likely millions more than even that).   

“And as the virus is used as an excuse to direct racism toward China (even dubbed the ‘Chinese virus’ by the President), targeted groups could be offended by your costume.”  

That’s one way to look at it. I look at it another way.  

Adults should be sensitive to others and careful that they don’t go over the line with costumes that truly offend.    

But poking fun at a disruptive pandemic on Halloween - laughing in COVID-19’s face, if you will - is a very healthy thing to do.    

Humor, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the mental faculty of discovering, expressing, or appreciating the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous.”  

Is there anything more absurdly incongruous than COVID-19?  

Isn’t there a place for a little gallows humor, which “makes fun of a life-threatening, disastrous, or terrifying situation”? 

Gallows humor is a stress-relieving mechanism used by people in very difficult jobs - such as medical professionals caring for so many people suffering from COVID-19. 

Isn’t there a place this Halloween for satire, which is “trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly”?  

Laughter is among our most powerful tools for surviving adverse circumstances. By laughing at COVID-19, we display our strength - we make it clear that we will overcome the difficulties it has imposed on us and will thrive again.  

As I said, if we can’t poke fun at COVID-19 on Halloween, when can we? 


Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Send comments to Tom at