Friday, October 30, 2009


I'm not a big Halloween guy. It's OK, but I don't get particularly exercised about it either way. I think part of that comes from the fact that growing up, the trick or treat thing was not very practical. I lived in a rural area where the density of housing was pretty thin compared to city or suburban neighborhoods. To really canvas a reasonable number of houses would literally require a few miles of walking on streets without street lights. Now the challenge wasn't that my Mom objected to all this on safety grounds. That wasn't her issue at all. While I do remember one time when I was very little when my Mom drove us around to some houses around town, as I grew older we were pretty much on our own. If we wanted to engage in the Halloween ritual, it was our responsibility to come up with a costume. If we wanted to trick or treat, that was fine, but we were walking. When asking for candy (which I'm not all that crazy about anyways...I've always been much fonder of baked goods) involves that much work, it just becomes less important.

And while the whole satanic scariness sturm und drang that infected the evangelical subculture of the 70's and 80's gave me some thought, I never really got that upset about that angle either. We are pretty far removed from the ancient druids. Whatever spiritual teeth may have existed in the rituals of defunct cults of bygone eras have long ago been pulled, leaving Halloween an ineffectual doddering invalid that can't even manage to gum the demonic candy it is blamed for chewing up and spitting all over our children.

I have a hard time thinking that kids begging for candy while wearing Scooby Doo outfits and princess dresses are really channeling demons. Unless you consider incipient diabetes and insulin hangovers as demonic.

Having said that, I don't care for some of the costumes I'm seeing over the past few years, although mostly on aesthetic grounds. I think dressing up as a movie monster a la Chucky the killer Cabbage Patch Kid, or Jason the Hockey Mask Slicer is kind of lame. I understand that these are the monsters of our time -- I just don't like them. When Dracula and Frankenstein were the dominant monster stories, those were the costumes. Today our monsters are, I think, more monstrous and more monstrously bland for it. To read Dracula, and to read Frankenstein (and to a lesser extent to see the movies) one catches glimpses of deeper aspects of the human condition. These stories show us something about ourselves. Even ghost characters have some kind of mirroring charm. But these latest movie monsters, if they are mirroring our selves or our human plight, it seems to me mostly a dismal and wretched view. These guys aren't really even fun. They are one sided and ultimately banal, in spite of the temporary terror they inspire.

Moreover, they are humorless. Vampire jokes abound, and Frankenstein humor is plentiful. The jokes that arise out of these slasher stories are grim and gritty; to hear them makes me feel like I've just eaten sand.

And as monsters they are purely materialistic, without spiritual dimension. There is no spiritual fear involved. Our older monsters seemed dangerous because in large part the danger they presented went far beyond physical danger. There was something of them that always endangered our souls (even Frankenstein...where the real monster was not the creature, but the Doctor who toyed with God's work by reanimating the dead). Today's slasher monsters are merely gaping pits full of blood and screams and darkness; the terror they induce arises from a soulless view of humanity. All of the terror is fear of physical death - albeit by a variety of creative and dramatic means.

So as you see, all my objections seem pathetic and anemic, a matter of taste rather than of principle.

I guess I'm probably both over simplifying and over-analyzing, but that's what blogs are for. I was inspired to this rant by an article in the NY Times on how schools are systematically de-fanging the celebration of Halloween by attempting to remove any remaining vestiges of fright from the children's costumes. Reading the article, I found myself rooting for both sides of the argument, but also not really caring. I don't see this as a critical front of any kind of culture war and it seems odd the people get so exercised about it either way. Mostly, I think the whole thing is kind of funny, but I can't quite explain why.

BTW - my kids are dressing up as a Peacock, and as Nancy Drew. Those are their own choices, and they are putting together their own costumes. They will be doing the candy begging circuit with some friends as a gang in a van.

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