Halloween: Two Sides of the Masque
Halloween is the new Mardi Gras; an anklebiters celebration morphed into adults taking to the streets with drinking, debauchery, and alternate identities. Once the domain of children, filled with wonder and eerie suspense, Halloween is now the cultural turf of uber-theatrical teenagers and grownups who, for one night of the year, play to the extremity of their personal fantasies.
The acting out of fantasies, even those which involve physical aggression–such as boys wrestling or playing combat–can be healthy. Since all humans fantasize about having supernatural powers or performing heroic and dangerous deeds, it is most healthy to process those fantasies through play-acting, which is open and usually without stigma in appropriate settings. Halloween provides such an outlet for adults and children alike. Extremes of dress and identity surface in the fantasies of Halloween, and most people are content to put them away after the glitter fades.
Having an undergrad degree in performing arts and a resume chock full of stage plays and other acting efforts, I understand the attraction. It’s enriching to explore the conditions and psychological motivations of characters. It’s fun to dress in period garb and speak in dialects. But Halloween reeks more and more of a spirit more extreme than innocuous play acting. With creep walks, houses of horror, zombie crawls and increasingly demonic and gory characterizations on public display, Halloween is becoming more of a catharsis of the cultural dark side than it is a childhood dress-up celebration.
The first danger presented by increasingly extreme Halloween celebrations is the opportunity for anonymous mayhem. Masked trouble makers have always been around, and the Internet is rife with methods for incognito hell raising. But Halloween being widely accepted as an appropriate party-time for teens and adults of all ages, summons untoward tendencies for vandalism, theft, and public drunkenness in some who use revelry and anonymity as cloaks for their crimes. Some cities which host Halloween celebrations to attract business to their downtown areas are enduring increasingly violent and destructive activities at the hands of adult rioters who get drunk, and with a sense of anonymity and decreased social stigma, act out their fantasies by vandalizing property and assaulting fellow partiers. The dark catharsis of Halloween is increasingly dangerous with spikes in more serious crimes such as rape and murder as well.
Parents are wise to watch their children as they go to parties and trick or treat. It will require a huge effort on the parts of conscientious young parents to preserve the wonder and enjoyment of Halloween for their little tykes. And, unlike my growing up years when children owned Halloween and adults stayed home and greeted them with treats, smiles, and feigned fright, some grown ups are now supplying the real frights for the creepiest night of the year.
by Marjorie Haun 10/29/13