Changes in the carnivalesque nature of Halloween
The shift has been going on for some time now, but it finally hit me last weekend that the 20 and 30-somethings who get dressed up for a Halloween party are no longer bothering to do so on Halloween night. Instead they're playing it safe by going out overwhelmingly on the Saturday (or perhaps Friday) before Halloween.
Masked balls and the like are supposed to rejuvenate the health of a community by giving it the occasional hit of stress, over-turning the ordinary order of things to a smallish degree and for a limited time only. It's like playing sports to stay healthy, welcoming those shocks and hits, provided that they're not out of proportion or ever-lasting. Without shaking things up periodically, the community muscles atrophy, and its nerves weaken. The revelry of New Year's Eve and the Fourth of July (at least back in the good old days) also serve this function.
However, the push to move Halloween parties away from a specific date and toward the previous Saturday night robs them of their carnivalesque potential -- if people go out partying in their ordinary lives, it's always on a Friday or Saturday night, so there's nothing unusual and special about partying on the Saturday-before-Halloween. And girls picking out a hooker dress, plus some throwaway ironic embellishment to make it a costume, is not very different from their outfit-picking rituals on an ordinary Saturday night.
When a holiday is celebrated on a particular date, though, it could possibly land on a day when you normally wouldn't be carrying on the way you are. That out-of-the-ordinary feeling heightens your appreciation for the holiday. Children travelling around the neighborhood in packs after dark is unusual enough, but what's more, most of the time it will fall on a school night! It's odd, but 2nd graders in the 1980s were more adventurous than today's 20-something party-poopers who wouldn't dare go out late on a week night.
And their complaints about having to work or go to class the next morning just show how little feeling they have for Halloween, that they wouldn't sacrifice even a small disruption to their personal routine. It's as though they began to do away with Christmas dinners because, ugh, y'know I really don't wanna show up to work the next day with a belly ready to burst. Like, let's just do a cute little Christmas falafel wrap instead, it'll totes be fun, and like, Jesus was Middle Eastern anyway, right?
Then there's the costume types that represent a temporary exchange of roles between the high and the low, the blessed and the cursed. Mannerheim's comment about ugly sweater parties reminds me of our age's great love of blackface, and more importantly who it's aimed at. Assuming they were choosing a caricatured, rather than more sincere costume, people today no longer dress up as plantation slaves, hobos, or poindexters.
Today's joyless pranksters must instead send up anyone who was fun, exciting, sociable, and capable of feeling positive emotions -- the '70s cop, the disco dancer, the '80s jock (sweatbands), and the Maiden and Bon Jovi-era metalhead. Dude, can you believe those guys used to physically stand up for their friends and kiss girls? How fucking gay, it'll make the perfect wacky costume.
Meanwhile, the attention whores must corrupt the coy feminine charm of the nurse, the schoolgirl, and even the librarian. I know that girls used to wear similar costumes in the good old days, but it wasn't in blackface -- the shift is signaled by the names of these costumes today always beginning with "sexy." Sexy nurse, sexy schoolgirl, sexy librarian. And of course "sexy" here means attention-whoring, look-but-don't-approach, Fergalicious -- cold and repulsive, totally unlike the warm engaging attitude of the people they're dressed up as.
As with most cases of blackface, here we do not see the marginalized mocking their masters, but the reigning majority of autistic killjoys taking pot-shots at extinct groups who actually had an enjoyable social life.
Labels: Pop culture