Last year I wrote a comprehensive post on our affinity for Halloween's social and cultural rituals, over the phases of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle. It peaks during the manic phase, and falls off a cliff during the vulnerable phase. That has left cultural commentators with little to discuss over the past several years, because nothing is going on with Halloween anymore.
But just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, it's almost as though the holiday didn't even happen this year. About 5-10 years ago, Halloween-themed decorations went up at the beginning of October in most houses in most neighborhoods. I don't care for such an early date because it robs the holiday of its uniqueness by the time October 31 actually arrives -- you're habituated to it, and it's not a carnivalesque break with the ordinary.
Still, this year there were hardly any decorations anywhere -- including on Halloween night, so it's not that they just waited till the bitter end. I drove around different places just to be sure. Having a pumpkin or jack-o-lantern on the porch was common, but nothing more. They used to put up all sorts of other decorations on the porch, the front windows, driveway, yard, anywhere. I counted 1 or 2 houses per street, in between cross-streets, that had similar decorations as 5-10 years ago. Otherwise it looked absolutely dead.
Of course, no trick-or-treaters to be seen roaming around. Not only is it not the rising-crime and outgoing atmosphere of the 1980s anymore -- it's not even a manic phase of the falling-crime, cocooning atmosphere of the '90s and after. At least during the early 2010s, there would be a handful of kids out and about, albeit few in number and constantly supervised by their helicopter parents.
(I still can't forget the parents who were driving their kids in the family car, house by house, keeping the car on the whole time. Bam-bam-bam, we're gone -- and without having our kids spend any time in a dangerous public space like, dun dun dun, the sidewalk!)
The only -- and I mean only -- place where I saw any trick-or-treaters tonight was in the public library, where I was dropping off some horror movies and looking for new ones to check out. The workers were in costume, with candy ready. There were nearly 10 families that showed up during the half-hour that I was there, vs. literally zero that I saw on the streets anywhere. And this was all 7-8pm, not when it was too late.
Helicopter parents are so paranoid during this vulnerable phase that they've consolidated the holiday into what was only a major trend during the earlier manic phase -- taking kids to trick-or-treat centers that are supervised by some institution. Mall, business district, library, etc. Any private residence is too suspicious, likely concealing a bunch of child molesters -- that's who these freaks think their neighbors are -- so they can't trust them with hosting their kids for 30 seconds while the trick-or-treat ritual takes place.
I didn't see many young adults out and about either -- maybe a couple dozen, in the most youth-packed area of downtown, right on a major college campus of tens of thousands.
I observed back in 2012 that Millennials were shifting the main party night to "the Saturday before Halloween" rather than October 31, because they're OCD pussies who can't tolerate partying on a night other than their routine night. That's the whole point of carnivalesque rituals -- up-ending the usual order of society. There's nothing beyond the ordinary about partying on a Saturday night, dorks. (Link in appendix to post above.)
At least I got to go to a late night screening of Psycho, and on film rather than digital. Three other parties there, totaling 7 people including me. Not the greatest turnout, but I'll take it in this climate.
This ought to be the last year of uneventful holidays, since this is the final year of the vulnerable phase. I don't expect it to really pick up until around 2023 -- it has to rise gradually while people are starting to come out of their shells. I seem to remember 2008 being the first year I really noticed the return of Halloween as a mass public ritual, which was a few years into the restless warm-up phase of the late 2000s. From there, it'll soar again until a new peak in the late 2020s.
Until then, some manic-phase Halloween music to tide us over...
"Every Day Is Halloween" by Ministry (1984):