No holiday screams pop culture controversy quite like Halloween.
So what's the costume flap of the year? It might just be Ebola, as in Ebola zombies, bloody Ebola patients and faux protective gear.
Twitter and other social media were abuzz leading into the holiday with talk of hazmat suits and respirators. Too soon? How about just no, said Philadelphia physician's assistant Maria McKenna.
One of her own, a Dallas nurse who at 26 is exactly her age, was diagnosed with the virus in the United States after she had helped care for a Liberian man who died at her hospital.
The idea of riffing on the crisis for Halloween “definitely rubs me the wrong way,” said McKenna, who works with post-surgical patients at a hospital.
“Normally I think that irony and humor is funny, but this thing with the costumes, is it really that funny? I mean, Ebola's not even under control yet,” she said Monday by telephone.
Like it or not, some costume sellers have leftover yellow jumpsuits, rubber gloves and masks from the “Breaking Bad” craze last Halloween. Some sellers predict Halloweeners will repurpose those for takes on Ebola or make their own getups.
Halloween, falling on a Friday, is sure to be a big season for many costume sellers, including Ricky's NYC.
Some revelers are notoriously last-minute on costumes, so it was a bit too early to tell whether all the talk about dressing up as Ebola something or other will actually take off. Talk, after all, especially on social media, is cheap.
“I wouldn't say we can see an uptick in sales. I'd say it's still chugging along because it's a good seller no matter what,” said Ricky's president Richard Parrott of the 'Breaking Bad' look. “But people are definitely asking about an Ebola-type costume.”
Ricky's had gone so far this season as to internally kick around the idea of selling some type of Ebola costume and donating a portion of proceeds to finding a cure, Parrott said. Ultimately, “we felt like it probably crosses a line that we don't want to cross.”
If searches on Google are any indication, the Ebola crisis doesn't match the Top 10 popularity of Elsa from “Frozen,” or even your basic Wonder Woman, among searches for DIY costumes.
Regardless, the costume site BrandsOnSale went there. It's selling an “Ebola Containment Suit Costume” for $79.99, complete with white suit emblazoned with “Ebola,” face shield, breathing mask, safety goggles and blue latex gloves.
“You are sure to be prepared if any outbreak happens at your Halloween party. This will literally be the most 'viral' costume of the year,” declares the online product description.
The company's chief executive, Johnathon Weeks, said he sold about a dozen of the costumes in the first week after its Oct. 8 launch. That's barely a ripple in the more than one million costumes he stocks, but it was shared on social media 7,000 times Monday — the most shared item on his site. Word of the costume was greeted by some blowback from outraged members of the public, he said.
“We don't stray away from anything that's current or controversial or anything like that,” Weeks said from his 127,000-square-foot warehouse in Banning, California. “If I told you we had a toddler ISIS costume in the works, your mouth would drop.”
“I will definitely let you know when that goes on sale,” Weeks said. “I can tell you it will come complete with a fake machine gun.”