According to an October 12, 2009 NY Times article, " Trick or Treat: The Madoff Halloween Mask ," Halloween masks with the face of Bernard L. Madoff are selling very well at stores and on web sites. Rubie’s Costume Company makes a rubber Madoff mask. As stated in the NY Times article, the store "has sold 15,000 of them to stores across the country and expects more sales in the coming weeks, according to The Associated Press."
What’s it about the Madoff masks at retail stores and on Web sites that are selling so fast, flying off the shelves? Is it the facial expression? Is the mask a real face image of Madoff, a stereotype, or a caricature? See the CBS article, Madoff Mask A Natural for Halloween .
The actual inmate, Bernard L. Madoff pleaded guilty in March to a Ponzi scheme that lasted decades and cost investors tens of billions of dollars. He is serving a 150-year prison sentence.
Howard Beige, an executive vice president with Rubies, told The Associated Press "that he thought the Madoff mask would be outsold by those for Michael Jackson and the Super Mario Brothers."
Now, let’s look at the idea of making Halloween masks out of real people in the news. Is there something more behind the look of the mask, perhaps an ethnic stereotype in portraying his particular facial features?
Real people, particularly older women, don’t like their faces portrayed as Halloween masks, perhaps with or without exaggerations of realistic features of aging or ethnicities, as witches, but not as cute elves or angels. Masks that portray older women as witches are done to remind young people that older women whose faces show the aging process, found exaggerated in most witch’s masks, also remind younger males of their own mortality.
See Bernie Madoff’s mug shot . With the Madoff mask, it’s unlike most of the presidential or celebrity masks sold on Halloween because it shows Madoff as an ethnic stereotype of specific Dinaric and Armenoid features native to the Adriatic, N. Indian, and Anatolian regions, Southeast Europe, Crete, the Greek Island, Southern Italy, and/or Asia Minor and Iran. The mask particularly captures the space between the eyes, the face length, and the convexity of the features. The mask, in fact, looks like Madoff’s mug shot.
It’s more of an ethnic stereotypical mask than a Halloween mask, say, compared to the facial expressions portrayed in the Nixon masks or Regan masks of several decades ago that were made more to look somewhat more like smiling cartoon figures or sometimes even closer in the grin to trolls and elves.
Then again, it’s the purpose of Halloween, according to some stores, to make fun of celebrities and people in the news. But nobody really makes many different Halloween masks from the real faces of living prison inmates.
So why is Madoff’s facial features selling like hotcakes as a Halloween mask? Is it because the profile is supposed to be comical or an ethnic stereotype that people associate in their minds with the usual features of witch’s masks? What do you think of when you first see a Madoff rubber Halloween mask? What kind of first impression does it make? Does it link the idea or image of a Ponzi scheme person to a particular group of people? Shame. Or do you just take it in stride as part of Halloween? What does the mask make you feel like at the gut level?
Should Halloween masks be funny or frightening or both? Should masks be realistic? Should masks focus on celebrity faces say, compared to prison inmates currently serving time? Are masks supposed to be about making you laugh more than frighening you–even costumes are supposed to be about Halloween and portray the haunted, the shadows, and the element of surprise? Or should masks be comical and make you laugh?
How about one of those elaborate and elegant masks worn at 18th century Venice balls instead? Or a Halloween mask that makes you feel adored? Regardless of whether you buy the mask, ask yourself this question: Would you buy it if you or your dad looked almost exactly like Madoff, a very common facial type and expression in the USA and Europe?
What kind of Halloween mask would you really like to wear as your alter ego? Think about it, what makes the Madoff Halloween mask popular as a best seller? It seems everyone wants one.