Every year, the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce in Nevada puts together an exciting event which they call “Trunk or Treat.” In the past, the event has seen anywhere from 350 to 500 children, plus their parents, searching through Veterans’ Memorial Park amidst 325 cars all in search of Halloween treats.
In fact, there is only one thing that would keep a Boulder City kid out of the park on that festive Saturday: a lack of a costume. Though it was pretty late in the season, Janet Arsanian was determined not to let her son miss out. So she made him a last-minute costume. But she had no idea the backlash the seemingly-innocuous act would cause.
Trunk or Treat
It’s the absolute event of the season for many of Boulder City’s kids. They come out, dress up in costume, enjoy snacks, bounce houses, games, and all sorts of fun Halloween-themed activities. The kids are encouraged to trick or treat out of festively decorated car trunks. So it’s a safe, family-friendly environment even with all the fake blood around.
Janet Arsenian, a special education teacher at nearby Cortney Junior High School, didn’t want her son to miss out on the bungee jumping, rock climbing, haunted hayride, and candy even though he didn’t have a costume. So she racked her brains and put together something. It was clever, we’ll give her that, albeit a bit ill-conceived.
The last-minute costume Janet designed consisted of brown pants, brown leather coat, a red armband emblazoned with an unabashedly Nazi-style swastika, and a tiny brush mustache, completing an unmistakable, infamous look. Yes, you read that correctly. Janet had made her middle-school-aged son an Adolf Hitler costume.
The young man got more than a few odd looks when he arrived at Trunk or Treat that day. Within moments of their arrival, people were taking pictures of the costume and posting them to social media. By the next day, the pics had gone viral and people had already begun to brand the costume as both racist and distasteful.
People were outraged not only that she’d had the audacity to send her son out in that particular get-up, but that she was a teacher to boot. People wondered how a special education teacher, someone who knew all-too-well the significance of tolerance and understanding, not realize the potential significance of dressing her child as Hitler and sending them to trick-or-treat?
Some of her understandably harsh critics even branded Janet a so-called Nazi sympathizer and took umbrage with the fact that she was responsible for educating children. This is particularly important today, with a new brand of nationalism on the rise, and one that has been compared by some to the “national socialism” of the Nazis.
Some of the responses to the pictures of Janet’s son’s costume were downright cruel. One person wrote, “This teacher needs a lesson. Such a disgusting person, and raising a kid and teaching other kids?!” They even demeaned her intelligence and education with their replies. “Proof you can have a college education and not be terribly bright.”
Not to be bullied, Janet took to the private Boulder City Facebook group to publicly defend herself and her family. She denied that her family admired Hitler in any way, nor do they agree with what he did. All she did was make her son a last-minute Halloween costume and she was proud of it.
Janet was so proud in fact that she said as much in the post. “I’m the proud parent of the boy in the Hitler costume and my son didn’t mean to upset anyone … He needed a last-minute costume and he put that together today.” Janet’s post was eventually removed by a group moderator, but that didn’t stop her from defending her actions.
She compared her son dressing up as Hitler to dressing as other fictional evil characters like Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger. Of course, that argument is not exactly sound, as you also don’t see a lot of folks dressing up as Josef Stalin or Pol Pot. Dressing as a slasher movie murderer and costuming as a genocidal dictator are two very different things.
The difference between these two things lies primarily in the fact that characters like Michael Myers never actually killed anyone. His victims are imaginary and therefore have no living family members around to mourn their losses. Adolf Hitler, on the other hand, left quote a few grieving families in the wake of his misdeeds.
It was this distinction which many of Janet’s accusers latched onto in the end. Helena Vece, a 71-year-old resident of Boulder City was particularly affected by the Hitler costume. This is because her parents had actually survived the Holocaust and were deeply traumatized by the experience.
Though Vece hadn’t attended the Trunk or Treat event herself, she was shown the pictures of Janet’s son’s costume by her own children. “I know what my mom and dad went through,” she explained to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I know what I went through (with) them as a child, I know what their memories are.”
She added that though she was born in Germany after the war, she found the entire costume to be extremely offensive and doesn’t know why a parent might allow a child to dress like the Nazi dictator, let alone dress them that way. Vece also had an interesting comment on the nature of social media and the fact that there were two sides to this issue.
“Not a Big Deal?”
“I don’t understand the mentality on the social media,” Vece explained. “Some people are saying, ‘It shouldn’t be a big deal, it’s just a costume.’ No, for people that had family there and in concentration camps, this is a big deal.” Regardless of hers and so many other opinions, Janet does have some allies.
Brian Scott, one of Janet’s fellow teachers at Cortney Junior High, has openly defended his colleague. He describes her as one of the best teachers he’d ever had the pleasure to work with, though he concedes that the costume might have been in bad taste. Nevertheless, he assures people that neither Janet nor her young son are Nazi sympathizers.
Clark County School District spokeswoman Kirsten Searer has also come forward in the wake of the controversial costume. She announced that the district is well aware of the social media posts, but would not indicate whether Janet will face any possible disciplinary action as a result. Though most agree that losing her job is a real possibility in this case.
Ms. Searer went on to explain that, “We Expect all of our employees to be sensitive to the varied cultural backgrounds of our students and community.” Despite the danger to his own position, Brian Scott still continues to support his friend and colleague against the slander and rumors that surround the costume.
Mountain of a Molehill
After seeing her Facebook post, Scott spoke out and urged the public to come forward to help support her, lest she be fired from her job. “It’s a kid in a Halloween costume,” he mused when he saw the pictures. “Why are you going after his mother and her job? Because you don’t like the Halloween costume?’”
Not Even a Little Sympathetic
Scott adds that calling the boy a Nazi sympathizer is also going too far. “To call him a Nazi sympathizer, too, which is what they’re doing on Facebook, just because he dressed up as Hitler for Halloween … people dress up like the devil and witches and vampires and things like that all the time. Evil things.”