Getty Images
Getty Images

A Brief History of Political Halloween Masks (and What They Tell Us About the Election)

Getty Images
Getty Images

You can't visit a Halloween store without seeing the vinyl visages of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Dressing up as the incumbent president on October 31 dates back to the 1960s at least, though some beloved political figures, like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, have been imitated long after their administrations. Debating whether to dress up as your favorite presidential candidate this year? Read more about political Halloween masks before you cast your vote.

1. The Election Before the Election

Most Halloween masks are produced overseas in January or February, so costume companies have to predict which candidates will face off long before the primaries. Scott Morris, owner of Morris Costumes, the world's largest costume wholesaler, started placing orders for this year's festivities back in November 2011.

The same guesswork has to be done when predicting the year's "it" costumes: Morris studies upcoming blockbusters and animated features, including the directorial and star power behind the films, to place the next year's order. "The good thing about political masks is that you know you can keep selling the elected president's mask for at least four years," Morris says. "You just hope you bought more of the right one."

2. But Don't Worry, Someone Will Buy That John Kerry Mask

Even if a costume company makes a mistake and overbuys an unpopular political mask, there's a special place where someone will buy anything. And that place is called the Internet. "I don't get it. I don't know what people could possibly be doing with them," says Morris. "But there's a buyer for everything in this world." 

3. Not All Presidents Have Mask Appeal

Getty Images

Political masks are especially popular in an election year, but not all presidential masks are equally popular. Even decades after Watergate, most Americans have seen a Richard Nixon mask. A customer recently asked Morris where he could purchase a John F. Kennedy mask. (Psst! Here are a few on eBay.) But no one wants to trick or treat dressed up like Gerald Ford.

Mask appeal is partly a combination of being physically distinct and fun to caricature. It also comes from staying in the spotlight. An outgoing personality—or even a scandal—is a great way to keep your likeness on sale at a costume store. "I'll be selling Bill Clinton masks for the next 30 or 40 years!" Morris says.

Sometimes Halloween glory isn't just for the commander-in-chief. First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Hillary Clinton both have their own masks. Soft-spoken former First Lady Laura Bush was left out of the fun.

(Interesting tidbit: Political masks of women don't sell as well as those of men for a few reasons. One reason is that there just aren't as many female politicians or masks of them. Another is that women very rarely wear Halloween masks, which even Morris admits aren't the most comfortable accessory.)

4.The Spectacle Is Political

We wondered if Halloween partygoers in this divisive political climate are more likely to dress up as candidates they love or hate. Morris believes that most people dress up as politicians they love, despite the fact that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein masks have been popular in recent decades. A recent Psychology Today story posits that adults are "more likely to wear masks that convey fear than admiration."

Either way, dressing up as a politician shows an emotional investment in that person. "Halloween is transgressive at its heart, so it's the perfect holiday for political satire," says Lesley Bannatyne, author of Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America's Fright Night.

Because costume companies need lead time for production, they can't immediately react to the most topical political gaffes come late October. Fortunately, creative revelers can. "I counted 63 shotgun-toting Sarah Palins at the 2008 NYC Village Halloween parade," Bannatybe says. "I expect to see endangered Big Birds and binders full of women this year."

5. An American Masktime

Though a quick Internet search yields masks of the British royals and former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Morris says that political Halloween masks stay national. After all, who wants to have to explain his mask to people who aren't well-versed in foreign affairs? Certainly not the guy at the haunted house trying to pick up the woman dressed as sexy Eleanor Roosevelt. It stands to reason that Americans are most focused on who's going to run their home country, and buyer behavior at Halloween stores may be as accurate as the polls. According to the national chain Spirit Halloween, mask sales have accurately predicted the winning presidential candidate for every election since 1996. As of last month, Obama had a comfortable 64-36% sales lead. (Of course, that was before his disastrous performance in the first debate.)
* * *
Here's a question for international readers: Do people in your country dress up as politicians for Halloween, too?

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Oli Scarff, Getty Images
How a Particle Accelerator Is Helping to Unearth Long-Lost Pieces of Art
Oli Scarff, Getty Images
Oli Scarff, Getty Images

A particle accelerator is revealing the people in 150-year-old photographs whose features had been lost to time, Science News reports.

For the first time, Madalena Kozachuk, a Ph.D. candidate at Canada’s Western University, and a team of scientists used an accelerator called a synchrotron to scan daguerreotypes, an ancestor of modern photography.

before and after image of a damaged dagguereotype
Kozachuk et al. in Scientific Reports, 2018

Invented by French painter and physicist Louis Daguerre, daguerreotypes were popular from around the 1840s to the 1860s. They were created by exposing an iodized silver-coated copper plate to a camera (the iodine helped make the plate's surface light-sensitive). Subjects had to sit in front of the camera for 20 to 30 minutes to set the portrait, down from the eight hours it took before Daguerre perfected his method. Photographers could then develop and fix the image with a combination of mercury and table salt.

Because they’re made of metal, though, daguerreotypes are prone to tarnish. Scientists can sometimes recover historical daguerreotypes by analyzing samples taken from their surface, but such attempts are often both destructive and futile, Kozachuk wrote in a study published in Scientific Reports.

Kozachuk found that using a particle accelerator is a less invasive and more accurate method. While some scientists have used X-ray imaging machines to digitally scan other historical objects, such instruments are too large to scan daguerreotypes. Reading the subtle variations on a daguerreotype surface requires a micron-level beam that only a particle accelerator can currently produce. By tracing the pattern of mercury deposits in the tarnished plate, the researchers were able to reveal the obscured image and create a digital photo of what the daguerrotype looked like when it was first made.

before and after image of a recovered dagguereotype
Kozachuk et al. in Scientific Reports, 2018

“When the image became apparent, it was jaw-dropping,” Kozachuk told Science News. “I squealed when the first face popped up.”

Scanning one square centimeter of each 8-by-7 centimeter plate took about eight hours. The technique, though time-intensive, may allow museums and collectors to restore old daguerreotypes with minimal damage.

“The ability to recover lost images will enable museums to expand their understanding of daguerreotype collections, as severely degraded plates would not otherwise have been able to be studied or viewed by interested scholars,” Kozachuk wrote.

[h/t Science News]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Courtesy of October Films
This Scientist's Idea of the 'Perfect' Human Body Is Kind of Terrifying
Courtesy of October Films
Courtesy of October Films

The perfect human body has the legs of an ostrich, the heart of a dog, and the eyes of an octopus, according to anatomist Alice Roberts. And it’s utterly terrifying.

With the help of anatomical artist Scott Eaton and special effects designer Sangeet Prabhaker, Roberts created a life-size replica of herself that fixes many design flaws inherent to the human body, Motherboard reports. Roberts unveiled the sculpture on April 23 at the Science Museum in London. On June 13, the BBC released a documentary about the project.

Among the flaws Roberts’s sculpture corrects are humans’ inferior ears, spine, and lungs. Roberts borrowed anatomy from reptiles, birds, and other mammals to create a Frankenstein-esque creature straight from the island of Dr. Moreau.

The sculpture of Alice 2.0, left, with Alice Roberts, right
Courtesy of October Films

The sculpture has legs like an ostrich because, as Roberts says on her website, the human knee is complex and prone to failure. Like humans, ostriches are bipedal, but they are far better runners. Bird-like lungs that keep air flowing in one direction, not two, make running and other aerobic activities easier for the perfect human to manage. And a chimpanzee’s sturdier spine and a dog’s heart (which has more connected arteries, leading to lower heart attack risk) make Roberts’s alternate self more resistant to injury and disease.

Roberts’s ideal human body also has skin like a frog that can change shades based on the environment, and large, bat-like ears that amplify sound. Roberts also fixed humans’ backwards retina, which produces a natural blind spot, by borrowing from octopus eye anatomy.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is the baby head poking out of the sculpture’s marsupial pouch. Roberts says marsupial pregnancy would be far easier on the human body and more convenient for parents on the go.

“This could be a human fit for the future,” Roberts says at the end of a trailer for her BBC documentary.

[h/t Motherboard]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios