The Silence of the Norman Lambs

Since Sunday, Jokers' Masquerade has received a rifled attack of disrespectful tweets, emails and phone calls, attacking the business and staff members. As a company, we feel this is wholly unacceptable. Personnel have had to contend with abusive comments and expletive remarks. Why? The simple fact that over the early part of this week, a core of incestuous Tweeters who parade as "Activists", a "Masked vigilante" and one Bio which boasts "Angry on the Internet since 1997", among professional doctors, teachers and charities have taken it upon themselves to voice discontent via Twitter in the name of mental health. Their concern? They take offence at the so called "straitjackets" and "psycho" themed outfits stocked within our Halloween portfolio.

Norman Lamb

Further and on Wednesday 22nd October Jokers' Masquerade woke to be headline news on BBC Radio Berkshire's airwaves, with the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk and Minister of State for Care and Support, Mr Norman Lamb citing in respect to orange fancy dress costumes, plastic shackles and rubber face masks that "he was going to investigate whether they can be banned." This was subsequent to the aforementioned wave of negative Tweets by activists and campaigners on Twitter.

On the Breakfast Show and various news bulletins throughout the day, we were chastised because we did not want to comment in the heat of the moment. This article is to publicise our side of the story, not merely in relation to this week's psycho and lunatic costume melee but other so called “bad taste” or “offensive” costumes where a small minority continually tend to castigate via Twitter or pseudo journalistic blogs.

As a manufacturer and fancy dress retailer, Jokers' Masquerade is a law abiding and honest family run business that has been established for over a decade. We stock a vast array of costumes from Disney's Frozen Elsa to Rowan Atkinson's fictional character 'Mr Bean'. All our costumes and accessories have been meticulously sourced to give our customers a broad range of products to suit any fancy dress theme, party or role play scenario. We are proud to offer customers the opportunity to dress up as whichever factual or fictional characters they desire - whether that's a popular 'Cannibal' meat snack such as Peperami or transforming their appearance into Anthony Hopkins, after his Academy Award winning performance as the character Dr. Hannibal Lecter from 'Silence of the Lambs'

The product this week that would appear to have been criticised most, is entitled "Skitzo". The title of this particular product was not selected by Jokers' Masquerade, but by the American manufacturer that designed and produces it. The costume itself is available for sale in the USA along with many other channels in the UK including a large quantity of competitors and marketplaces. So why is Jokers' Masquerade being singled out? We do not know, other than the perception that mental health advocates choose targeted bullying tactics in an effort to get their voice heard to “force" and “demand" corporate policy change.

We will not be forced into knee-jerk decisions, but are happy receive constructive criticism. These past days, we have listened to the mental health proponents and made various edits to criticised products. This has included renaming product titles, descriptions and category pages to dilute this sensitive area for some.

Common business sense will mandate that it is not within our best interest to alienate or offend anyone, be it social group, race, religion or other stereotype. When Jokers' Masquerade think of straitjackets and asylums we think of the novel 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' by Ken Kesey, Batman's chief antagonist 'The Joker' being confined to Arkham Asylum and Harry Houdini performing superhuman escapology feats. We certainly do not see mental patients and we believe our customers can tell the difference too!

In the past, we have received other negative critique in respect to African costumes, Mexican costumes, Irish costumes, Gypsy costumes to name a few. One other character outfit seen in various vintage storybooks that received scrutiny last year was the "Golly" costume. Carefully named with concise product description so not to cause offence, the costume found itself on Channel 5's 'The Wright Stuff' as the subject of a topical debate following a myriad of Tweets reprimanding its sale and whether it was deemed racist or offensive. There was no consensus or conclusion on the show. When The Huffington Post polled its readers to vote whether the 'Golly' costume was deemed offensive, 70% of voters answered “no”! That said, the costume ultimately breached the Advertising Standards Authority guidelines following just one complaint. Jokers' Masquerade proceeded to comply with the ASA directive that the costume could not be pictured on a person or mannequin. The product was photographed again with the intrinsic components and remains on sale today, adhering to legal ASA guidelines.

Subsequent to the death of Jimmy Savile and the following sexual abuse scandal, Jokers' Masquerade immediately withdrew its licensed Jimmy Savile costume from sale. Within hours however, the telephone continued to ring and emails were received from prospective customers wishing to buy the costume and asking why we had removed from sale?

In summary, we are an empathetic company and we can and do draw the line. We will however continue to be pioneering in our development of new costume designs and will support our supply chain too. We do not make it our intention to offend or incite outcry, though we appreciate that in this multi-cultural and multi-ethical world, many different people will have many different opinions and views. We wish our customers to make choices for themselves and we wish to offer a wide and varied product selection. We will heed public opinion but will make our own decisions too. In conclusion, if Mr Norman Lamb passes an act to deem it illegal to sell orange costumes, plastic chains and rubber masks, then we will of course comply.

Epilogue - Sunday 26th October 2014

One week on and Twitter is dribbling with negativity towards Jokers' Masquerade, seemingly a hardcore albeit a handful of objectionists. Our investigations show that the same Skitzo costume remains on sale with other costume websites together with other similar themed costumes, with both eBay and Amazon promoting straitjacket, “mental” and “psycho” branded costumes too. Jokers' Masquerade is still confused as to why the activists still target one company? There are a number of Tweets too that challenge the same question, but the protagonists fail to answer. Surely, if they wish to be “heard”, they need to address the industry?

Further and not surprisingly, a number of activist blogs have appeared over recent days, again challenging our portfolio selection and our statement. One of these blogs is published by Sue Baker, the Director at Time To Change on their website. I have personally written to Sue to suggest Jokers' Masquerade may instigate a meeting with her and the UK Halloween and costume industry and trade press. It is our opinion that singling out one company is not going to be the answer to their quarrel. We shall wait to see whether she replies. In the interim I guess, we will continue to be chastised by a few but post Halloween, will review the way we present such costumes on our website portfolio.

Mike Dawson
Jokers' Masquerade

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