Halloween: A Day When Anything is Acceptable?

Today is Halloween. So, not surprisingly, over lunch I’ve been thinking about Halloween costumes (and customs) in general, and three articles that I read this week in particular. This is something I’ve been thinking about since Saturday night when we went to the theatre in Hollywood on Metro, and were exposed to a large number of revelers in Halloween costumes going to various parties and clubs.

The first article talked about the increasing sexualization of costumes for girls. Basically (and I saw this on Metro), for adult women, the goal of a costume seems to be to expose as much skin as possible. Essentially, take any costume you can think of and put the adjective “slutty” in front of it… and voila, you have a modern costume.  It is no longer just slutty nurses, but slutty witches, slutty Darth Vaders, slutty … you name it. It’s also not just the women; I saw a number of men dress up in equivalently slutty costumes. The HuffPo article was commenting on how this trend has been extended down to children’s costumes. These costumes, which used to be innocent, now show more and more skin and are completely inappropriate for children.

The second article was a CNN exploration of offensive costumes. The jumping off point was a discussion of costumes that emphasized racist stereotypes. Is it reasonable, in this day and age, to go as the “slutty geisha”, the “dumb hillbilly”, the “sexy Latina La Llorona”, the “asian geek”. Is it better if you go as a particular individual? Why is it on Halloween that we are permitted to do racial stereotyping and not consider it offensive, in the name of “fun”.  When dealing with Halloween costumes, where should we draw that line, and why is it acceptable for that line to be drawn differently on Halloween?

The third article was an article from the Daily Cal about a frat house in Berkeley that displayed a hanging man as part of their haunted house decorations. A number of students complained because the mannequin had a dark grey head, and they felt it was too evocative of a lynching. It has since been removed, but it does raise the question of how many of our haunted house images are themselves racist or offensive. I’ve read a few articles on extreme haunted houses (WSJ, LA Times), and these houses are now going to psychological terror that leaves people shaking. There is touching, there are likely images of hangings and gruesome multilations. When does this become sexually offensive? When does this move to pure abuse? Is a simple legal statement sufficient to absolve one of responsibility?

And yet… and yet… I always think of the Kurt Vonnegut story “Harrison Bergeron“. Do we really want a world where no one can be offended or hurt; will it be too bland and prevent people from excelling. Finding the balance is difficult.

As for me, I’ve never been one to really get into Halloween. I’ve never understood the desire to put on a costume and play a character (perhaps this is why I never gravitated towards D&D and role playing)… although I certainly enjoy watching those who do (especially the slutty ones ;-)). My usual costume, when I was younger, was “college student”. Nowadays, it is homicidal maniac. I’d love to really understand the motivation of those who do–especially those who really get into it with elaborate costumes.

I’ve also never gotten into the notion of haunted houses, which to me are more “startle” houses. I guess some people just love the endorphins and adreneline, but I’ve never gotten into it. When I was in college, I used to regularly go to horror movies. I didn’t go to be scared; I went because my girlfriend at the time liked to go, and I saw it as an opportunity to be with her. I still do not find such movies terrifying (I find much more terrifying the scene in Star Trek where the alien insect eats Chekov’s brain). To me, the notion of wanting to terrorize someone (i.e., operate a house) or be terrorized is just a “safe” manifestation of domination/dominated type activities–a chance to explore one’s darker side. Perhaps that’s my problem — I don’t really have a darker side (or if I do, it is limited to the extent of observation only, as I truly enjoy watching people).

So how about you? What are your thoughts on the increasing sexualization of Halloween costumes? About the potential racism and stereotyping of costumes? About the notion of Halloween as a day to drop inhibitions?

P.S.: I’ve updated the WordPress setup to permit you to subscribe to comments. Please let me know if it works, as the plugin is untested with my version of WordPress. I’m open to suggestions for other plugins to add, as well as responses to my other WordPress questions.



Northridge Halloween Observations

  • A number of our neighbors do big Halloween displays. As a result, we get less neighborhood kids, and much more “drive-in” trick-or-treating. In some ways, I prefer the neighborhood kids, as you get to say “hi”.
  • I much prefer creative costumes to store-bought, and creative masks to stock masks. It is, however, fun to see the parents dressing up.
  • My favorite costume was this youth in a suit and tie with a metal briefcase, going “tax or treat”. I thought he was a Wall-Street banker. I was scared.
  • My favorite adult (no names) was the father who came to the door with a shot glass. He got Chivas.
  • The kids are coming in waves. Young and old. Toddlers and high-school kids. Yet our high school kid is off at a party, leaving us to attend the door. We even have some college kids.
  • It’s disturbing, however, to see some of the costumes, which are much more sexed-up than children ought to be wearing. Then again, we’ve had a number of kids dressed as priests. Again, scary.
  • We’ve had a large number of kids with wings. Must be the “in” thing.
  • By the end of the evening, we went through about 3 large bags, or about 15 lbs, of candy. No, I didn’t eat it all. Just a few pieces.

Something Really Scary

I was just outside talking to our neighbors across the street, who set up a nice haunted house setup. I suggested they should have done something really scary: Set up a bank branch giving away pick-a-payment loans.

We also noted that we had fewer kids. I wondered if it was the economy, but who wouldn’t want free candy. Then again, perhaps next year we’ll need to give out loaves of bread.


Halloween In Northridge

Last night was Halloween. Given we have a family that runs a haunted house across the street, we had loads of visitors (I’d guess between 200-250). We went through 99% of our five oversized bags of candy. Some observations from the night:

  • Have trepidation when your daughter wants to have some friends over to go trick-or-treating with her. The house was filled with about 13 girls and 2 boys, all around 13 years old, all very enthusiastic (read “loud and energetic”). I felt quite relieved when they started going from house to house demanding protection money.
  • You want more candy? If you’re in a busy neighborhood, arrive early, as I’m not aware yet that I may run out. Arrive when I’m on my last bag, and I’m rationing it so I don’t run out. On the other hand, if you’re hitting a quiet area, arrive late, because no parent wants that stuff in the household (for then they will eat it).
  • Make it easy for me to get the candy in your bag if you want it. Folks decry pillowcases or shopping bags, but for the loot, they are easy. Those plastic pumpkins are harder to hit the hole. Don’t get me started on the bags sealed at the top with the hole in the front: the hole is too small, and too hard to get your hand to. Remember to hold your bag open for me, as well.
  • I don’t mind the sexy costumes, but they have their time and place. If you’re a teen, save them for the house party with your peers. Don’t go showing your assets around the neighborhood. If you’re pre-teen, put on an age-appropriate costume, please. I’m sorry, but some of the stuff last night was just wrong.
  • On the other hand, we had some good scary costumes. Yes, we had a large number of reapers, devils, etc., but my favorite was two girls (best friends) who dressed as a stick and a ball on a chain, forever attached.
  • If you are taking an infant trick-or-treating, please think again. I know it is cute to see them in the costume, but we all know who is going to really eat that candy, don’t we. Further, if you’re not going to eat the candy, I likely don’t have anything age-appropriate. Hard candies are choking hazards to kids that young, and chocolate (as I recall) is to be avoided for 18 months.

Loss of Innocence, Take 2

Yesterday, I wrote about the loss of innocence of our youth, as demonstrated by schools prohibiting obviously fake weapons (utility belts, phasers, etc.) from Halloween costumes. Today’s Washington Post brings an article about different loss of Halloween innocence.

When you were young, how did you dress? A ghost with a sheet. Perhaps a superhero. Today, how are preteens dressing? How about a micro-mini black skirt and a form-fitting black and white-striped spandex top held together with black laces running up the flesh-exposing sides, with thigh-high boots? What about the Aqua Fairy, a vampy get-up with a black ripped-up skirt, black fishnet tights and blue bustier that comes in medium (fits a child of 8), large and preteen. The Funky Punk Pirate Pre-Teen, with an off-the-shoulder blouse and bare midriff? The Fairy-Licious Purrrfect Kitty Pre-Teen, which, according to the package, includes a “pink and black dress with lace front bodice and sassy jagged skirt with tail. . . . Wings require some assembly.” A “deluxe” sequined Dorothy dress that, unlike the chaste, high-necked one in the little girl size, was lower cut and had two strategically placed poofs of fabric? The Prisoner, a slinky spandex number with a little button at the throat and open chest like a ’70s disco halter dress? The Raggedy Ann, a blue mini dress so mini that the lacy underskirt barely dusts the bottom of the fanny. Other girl and preteen costumes mentioned include the Major Flirt in army green, the bellybutton-baring Devilicious and a sassy, miniskirted French Maid, pink feather duster included.

Mind you, this is for pre-teens. Not your 18 or 20 year old girlfriend, your sexy wife… but your 11-13 year old daughter [or even younger!] (at least my daughter is dressing reasonably, adapting her renfair outfit). Scary is out, and sexy is in (and parents are scared). As an aside, I wonder if this is because Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears have made sexy the new scary. Anyway, our society is so… so…. I can’t think of the right word. On the one hand, we decry child predators, worry for our children, make all sorts of laws to keep predators away, and even modify LiveJournal :-)… but then we let companies market sex to those that shouldn’t be worrying about it. Yet another loss of innocence, indeed, but I think this one is happening before the maturity to handle it is present.

P.S. to geah: I don’t think you can blame this one on the trial lawyers, the DNC, or even Hillary Clinton. Bill, maybe. 🙂


A Loss of Innocence

When you think of Halloween, what comes to mind? Costumes, perhaps. Dressing up as a pirate with a sword. Perhaps your favorite Star Wars character with a blaster. Batman, with his utility belt.

Think again. As society has gotten increasingly scared of children with weapons, they are banning the weapons that are associated with costumed characters. Don’t believe me? Read the New York Times. Today there was an article on the subject, talking about a Halloween parade at a local elementary school. Quoting from the article:

As parents snapped photos and chased the characters they loved most with video recorders, boys and girls dressed in traditional costumes that should have included toy weapons looked as if they had been frisked and disarmed during circle reading time.

The parade included a devil with no pitchfork, a Power Ranger without a laser blaster and a pint-size Batman who had been told to leave his utility belt at home.

This year’s parade on Wednesday will look much the same.

“We send out letters a few weeks before Halloween telling parents that their children cannot wear masks or bring weapons of any kind to the school,” said Kenneth Smith, the principal at Strathmore.

But it gets worse. St. Gabriel School, a Roman Catholic elementary school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, has gone so far as to ban costumes entirely. I see this as yet another step in the loss of innocence. I remember when I was young (sonny!), we would just wander the neighborhood for hours… and our parents wouldn’t worry. We didn’t use seat belts, car seats. We never heard of predators. We had pure play time, mixing chemicals in the garage, banging rocks with hammers to see what would happen.

Have we destroyed the innocence of our young? How far will we go? Is a life without any risk, without any imagination, a life at all?


When The Spirit Moves You

Today is Halloween, which has morphed from a minor holiday when children went from house to house demanding protection money to a major money-making holiday where people do major dressing up of their house, put on special costumes, go to parties, and generally have fun and make fools of themselves. Reading LJ, I see all sorts of reports of people dressing up, getting into the holiday. They talk about all these creative ideas they have for costumes, and all the stuff they are doing.

I must not have the “halloween” gene. I know I don’t have the “christmas” gene, but then again, I’m Jewish.

By not having the “halloween” gene, I mean that I’ve never been one to enjoy dressing up in costumes. As I kid, it was always store bought stuff, until I got old enough to not care about the candy. Even today, I don’t really have the creativity to dress up in a costume. About the most creative I’ve been is one Purim where I dressed in a green sweatsuit, attached some branches, and went as the president. People ask what I’m dressed up like today. I say an Engineer. They look at me funny. [As an aside: Can you really dress as a nudist for Halloween?]

What is it with wanting to wear costumes anyway? It’s not just Halloween that folks tend to do it. Of course, we see it at Faire and other period events. People seem to love to put on other personas, pretending to be who they are not. Yet I’ve never done this. Even at UCLA, when everyone else in the UCLA Computer Club was active at Ren Faire, I would attend once-a-year and be happy.

(Note that I distinguish a costume from a uniform. The style of a uniform is dictated from above, such as what we wear when we volunteer at Orange Empire. With costumes, you need to be creative in your choices, and often, play act within a specified role)

What is the compulsion that drives the desire to dress up in costume? Am I too much of an engineer to do this? Could it just be that I’m relatively happy with who I am that I don’t need to be something else? Perhaps I just lack the imagination in that area. In any case, with that lack, I tend to feel like a 2nd class citizen on this day.

I’m also not into the elaborate house decorations or the spooky athmosphere. My daughter keeps trying to encourage me, but the spirit, so to speak, just isn’t willing. Our neighbor has gone all out: tombstones and spooky lights. I read about people putting crashed planes in their yards. Me? I turn on the lights. We also don’t decorate our house for other holidays.

There are folks with the holiday gene. They love their holidays. They are the ones out there going all out for Christmas with decorations, clothes, and traditions. They maximize Halloween. They’re as Irish as can be on St. Patricks day. They’re out with the flags and bunting on the 4th. They are out drinking margaritas on Cinco de Mayo. Then there are those like me, with no holiday genes, people to whom popular holidays are often another day on the calendar. We learn what we need to do to survive them, but we’re not into them.

During our Rosh Hashanah evening service, Rabbi Sarah spoke about the establishing of family traditions around holidays. The brisket that is brought out. They way someone reads The Four Sons. I can get into some of these, especially as the relate to holidays like Passover. But the accepted American holidays? I think with the exception of Thanksgiving, the spirit just doesn’t move me.


It wasn’t on the disclosure form…

…we had something like 300-400 kids tonight. It seems that everyone and their brother brings their kids to our neighborhood to go trick or treating. Evidently, a neighbor down the street had his house decorations on the news, and there used to be a haunted house on ths street. I think between 6:30 and 7:30, I never sat down!

Still, it was fun. I took my daughter out, and got a chance to introduce myself to most of the neighbors.

But I’m tired!