Sunday, October 4, 2015

Halloween Month

So, we start complaining about Christmas being a month long in November, the day after Thanksgiving. (Well, not the day after, of course – then we are too worried about people being trampled to death at Wal*Mart.) But, and this may just be my friend base, October 1st rolls around everyone is getting excited about Halloween.

Now, I’m an atheist, but I don’t really mind the month of Christmas. I like carols, and Victorian Christmas hymns in minor keys, and the general concept of good things in dark times. I like eggnog and Currier and Ives and all that shit.

And I like Halloween.

But, since people in my Millennial bracket are freaking out about Halloween, I’m a little concerned. As a kid it makes total sense why Halloween is so great – you get to break the cardinal rules of childhood. You literally ask strangers for candy. Candy you will eat late at night. After you dress up as a scary thing, and lie about being someone you are not, while threatening the neighbors.

Don’t mistake me – I am well aware that the adult Halloween party is not some new phenomenon. But, are we, like, more into it than before? Even my middle school students aren’t this excited. It used to be something we looked forward to the week of, perhaps. But now it’s a month-long thing. And for adults (I really, really hope) there’s no trick-or-treating involved; unless we’re the ones doling out the candy. It’s really just the dress-up and mood that most folks seem to be intrigued by.

After a few years on the East Coast I get the appeal of a gnarled denuded tree in the Autumn moonlight. There’s something special about that. But is this Halloween love another example of the inability of Millennials to grow up? We still want to dress up and eat candy at 30, and, since that’s still too weird for week-to-week behavior, we freak out and get overly excited when October rolls around? I think it is a Millennial issue.

In 1979 Etan Patz disappeared on the way to school. It was a huge story – there had been child abductions before, but this one broke the national conscience. His face was the first one on a milk carton. The day of his abduction is National Missing Children’s day, May 25.

Six months before, the character of Michael Myers was introduced to the world in Halloween. Throughout the 1980s I think the conflation of Halloween as genuinely dangerous and a concern over unsafe children made for a new cultural climate surrounding the holiday. I mean, in 1985 60% of parents thought their child was at risk from poisoned Halloween candy. These were the over-protective Boomer parents and the earliest Gen X parents, whose own youths could keep a psychology convention occupied for a month. They had such screwed up childhoods, it’s no wonder they freaked out over parenting. And all of a sudden the fun rule-breaking, once a year, for kids to take stranger’s candy and be out late at night, became an area of serious worry and anxiety.

It’s obvious that for the Millennials, whose childhoods were mostly spent in the late 80s and 90s, it was a time of inordinate post-Cold War optimism and triumphalism. Polls indicate that tension surrounding the holiday abated, after a decade of concerns didn’t pan out. We instead grew up with The Nightmare Before Christmas, Hocus Pocus, Casper, and the Addams Family. Things just seemed safer. Halloween wasn’t the scary time it was ten or fifteen years earlier – with fears of poisoned apples and child abductions.

As Millennials grow older, and look back with longing on their childhoods – a generation that fears in its core that its best days are already behind them – Halloween has become a celebration of that better childhood. Our teens were ruined by the Bush era insanity, and the terrorism concerns of a post-9/11 world. Our twenties were devastated by the economic collapse. After 40 years of stupidity and mismanagement Millennials are way behind the Boomers in life accomplishments at the same age.  (Millennials now average around $35,000 a year, according to recent data. In 1978 dollars, that’s around $10,000. And the actual median household income in 1978 was $15,000.)

…Somehow this has something to do with Halloween.

Right, to recap: Millennials are weirdly obsessed with Halloween because the holiday is associated with childhood, and this generation had a particularly blessed childhood, especially in comparison to their teens and twenties. So since literally acting like a child isn’t yet acceptable (but keeps creeping in on the cultural more and more as many have pointed out) we’ve begun to fetishize October as a whole month, but I don’t think we’re culturally cognizant exactly as to why. We all really like Halloween, but few can give a particularly convincing answer, I don’t think, beyond ‘it’s fun’. Why is it so fun?

To answer this, finally, I think the dress-up is a big part of it. Many of us, getting on into an adulthood we are loathe to accept, enjoy the comfort of pretending to be someone we are not. Again, costume parties aren’t something new. In the 1950s adults dressed up on trumped-up pretexts and pretended to be someone else and let their hair down. Masquerade balls go way, way back. I think it comes and goes. Right now it’s approaching a weird high-water mark.

Perhaps it’s not so weird, though, given all the aforementioned. Perhaps Halloween is when we let our imaginations take flight.

This generation is just now feeling the wind pick up, and getting themselves out of the doldrums of a largely wasted decade. The debt and burdens are still there, but we’re coping a little better now than, say, we were from 2009-2012. Perhaps as we enter our thirties properly our Halloween interest will gracefully decline. The nostalgia for our childhoods will dissipate as we recognize that our best days are ahead of us, and not behind.

Or, maybe, we’ll be a bunch of grown-ass adults who eat mac n cheese and watch cartoons. I don’t know.

Anyway. Here we are. It’s October and Halloween month has begun.

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