31 October 2011

A Perfect Illusion

Today is Halloween, in case you hadn't figured that out by now. It's the day where ordinary citizens enjoy dressing up as things they would never want to be in real life. Wander into any costume store and you'll find all the equipment to transform yourself into pretty much any unsavory character to party the night away.

Granted, today Halloween falls on a Monday, which would suggest that people, perhaps, partied the night away on Saturday rather than tonight. This certainly seemed true then, while I was wandering the streets of Seattle in search of an elixir of youth. But this is all entirely aside the point.

When I went into one such costume shop earlier this autumn to acquire a fake mustache (It was my birthday, and I did what I wanted to), I found a veritable cornucopia of cheesy costumes. There were vaguely Gothic looking plastic swords, maces, morning stars, and num chucks. We had the creepy-doll masks, the Phantom of the Opera style masks (which, ironically, cost more than a full face, blank white mask), we had hoods that made it look like we had no heads. There were plastic knives with red goo inside that dripped, vaguely like blood, when inverted. There was fake scar tissue, vampire fangs, fake blood and pus. In short, a rather typical costume shop just prior to Halloween. Of course, this brief overview would not do without the mention of the obligatory sexy nurse, nun, firefighter, paramedic, vampire, werewolf, adventuress, Egyptian, [insert your poison here], mobster, angel, demon costumes for young women desiring to raise men's heart rate from more than mere fright.

The point that I am rather unsuccessfully driving at is this: No one really wants to be scared at Halloween. Not really. The kids are in it for the candy, the middle aged men with slight bellies are in to surprise the kids, the eligible young twenty-somethings are in it because it's the only time that dressing in incredibly provacative, still strangely fantastical, costumes and partying hard is an expectation.

On an entirely unrelated sidenote, this is why I can't stand traditional Halloween celebrations. Not what Thursday and Laura and Qwip and I have done on occasion re:Creepy Caroling. I hate the extra pressure women get to dress seductively during this time. Because, after all, if your costume doesn't expose a certain amount of skin, you will never be the life of the party. And that's the only thing women are good for nowadays. Decoration.

Ahem. As I was saying. No one really wants to be scared at Halloween. Those plastic "knives" dripping "blood" are patently unrealistic. So are the "velvet" robes and the "faceless" masks. When we open the door on some teenagers, let's forget the fact that they're a wee bit too old to be trick-or-treating, and find ourselves confronted by some ghoul with blood running down its face and the hint of glasses behind the eye-holes, the first impulse is not to faint or slam the door. No. We give them candy.

Imagine with me, if you would, a different scenario. Say that, on one night of the year, a man comes to your house after dark. His face is hidden in shadow, he doesn't speak, and you see he's holding a knife that looks pretty wet with something, you can't see what in the dark, but you get the general impression it's red.

Imagine with me, that this man steps up to the very threshold of your house, and holds out his hand. As he comes in to the light a little more, his eyes glitter inside his hood. But still, you see nothing inside.

Now, let me ask you a question. At this point in a movie, ominous music starts playing, and you'd probably be laughing at the cheesiness of it all. But let me ask you a question. If this happened to you in real life, would you be scared? If you found a stranger on your porch, bleeding viciously, would you decide "hey, this is fun, we should start doing this every year"? If, for those of you in Washington, the Green River killer so much as escaped, let along showed up on your doorstep, would you feel the clammy presence of terror?

I would. People don't want to be scared on Halloween. They want to feel smug. After all, if we can bravely face down a group of teenagers in cheap costume makeup and some plastic knives, we can certainly weather whatever storms life must throw at us. Halloween is just another way that our culture drives itself to complacency.

There were times in the past when the things we dress up as for jokes were very real terrors. When witchcraft, or vampirism were panic inducing. Need I remind you of the Bluebeard, or most of the Grimm Brother's fairy tales? The fears Odysseus faced during his 20 years at sea. Or look to Foxe's Book of Martyrs for examples of the awful things humanity is capable of.

And then tell me that dressing up as an executioner on Halloween is such a laugh. Halloween is not a celebration of fear, it's a celebration of false courage: yet another way that we try to lie to ourselves. The American Dream is, of course, not complete without a lack of fear. And if we can delude ourselves that monsters do exist, we can tell ourselves anything.

"He who battles with monsters must take care lest he also become a monster; and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." Nietzsche


  1. Actually, I've never been Creepy Caroling with you guys... it's always when I'm out of the state.

  2. Really? I thought that you had. :\ Well, some day when you're not gallivanting off in some remote corner of the US, you'll have to join us. :)