Why Is Patrick Stewart Dressing Up as a Dead Lobster?

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 31 2013 4:19 PM

Why Is Patrick Stewart Dressing Up as a Dead Lobster?

Patrick Stewart may be the most universally adored man in the world. Even the people who were indifferent to the charms of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (or who weren’t yet born when he was exploring the galaxy) must have been converted by one of Stewart’s later incarnations: as the best Ebenezer Scrooge ever to appear on television, or as the instructor of a master class on “the quadruple take,” or as one of the world’s great philosophers of pizza-eating technique. He doesn’t really need to keep trying, is what I’m saying. And yet he continues to melt hearts on Twitter, where, earlier today, he shared this picture:

Patrick Stewart, in a lobster suit, lying in a bathtub. It is a perfect photo. Or, rather, it would be perfect if it did not raise one niggling question: Why is Patrick Stewart dressed up as a dead lobster, rather than a live one?

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Lobsters, when they are alive, are usually brownish-orange, or sometimes blue or yellow. Brown lobsters turn bright red when they are boiled, as the proteins in their shells are altered and pigment molecules shift. Therefore, that a lobster costume that is red—as virtually all lobster costumes are—is more macabre than you think. Patrick Stewart is not just dressing up as a lobster. Patrick Stewart is dressing up as a zombie lobster.

It seems odd, given that most animal-themed Halloween costumes are meant to depict live animals, that lobster costumes would depict lobster corpses. I suspect that the main reason for this is that that majority of lobsters encountered by Americans are on plates, accompanied by melted butter and lemon wedges. (Or perhaps the restaurant chain has convinced us that “Red Lobster” is redundant.) Plus, red is a fun, kicky color, and people in bright red lobster costumes are less likely to get hit by a car while trick-or-treating than people dark brown lobster costumes.

Red lobsters have been fodder for apparel at least since 1937, when Salvador Dali and designer Elsa Schiaparelli debuted their lobster dress. (This was a dress with an illustration of a lobster on it, not a dress intended to make its wearer look like a lobster.) In the 1940s and 1950s, Atlantic City restaurateur Harry Hackney used to make his waitresses dress up as lobsters for a beauty pageant parade as a means of advertising his signature seafood dish. Lobster-shaped Halloween costumes seem to have caught on only in the last 10 years or so, first as a homemade craft suggested by the likes of Martha Stewart Living, then as a prêt-à-porter ensemble sold by the likes of Walmart.

As Halloween has morphed from a kids’ holiday to an everyone holiday, lobster costumes for babies and dogs have been joined by lobster costumes for adults on the costume shop rack. In a way, seeing a baby in the guise of a boiled lobster is fitting: Many people, upon seeing such a tot, will assert, “I could just eat you up!” But it seems strangely gruesome for adults to dress up as dead lobsters, even adults as charming as Stewart.

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

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