Sunday, November 3, 2013

Idea Garage Sale: Halloween, and the Day After

At some point we stopped leaving our lights on for Halloween; part of our long withdrawal from the collective culture, you could call it. But I still pay attention. This year the people banning Halloween are Russian, but the arguments are just as unrealistic, ignorant, and divorced from the real Halloween experience of real people as ever.

Halloween is a popular holiday for authors, for obvious reasons. It gives us a natural, liminal setting for supernatural motifs and for fantasies of transformation. What if the masks reveal more than they conceal? What if they transform instead of merely disguising? The legitimacy of disguise and deception in a public setting is an ideal setup for the mystery author, or the comedian, to create confusion, particularly concerning identity. Agatha Christie loved a masquerade. Choice of costume illuminates character - remember how, in Freak the Mighty, the heroic-spirited Kevin dressed as Darth Vader? (If you haven't read Freak the Mighty, for pity's sake, go do so! The movie misses some of the point, though it has the major virtue of Gillian Anderson as Loretta, Heroic Biker Chick.) It's about so much more than candy!

Here's a piece that I think is ripe for fictional exploration: Halloween as the Queer Holiday.

The place of Halloween in the social history of gender identity is persistent. Particularly in nineteenth- and twentieth-century America, where social disapproval of genderbending dress was supported by laws punishing the wearing of males clothes by women and vice versa, Halloween was the Great Exception. In cities in which wearing the wrong kind of shoes or a shirt that buttoned up the wrong side could get you arrested 364 days of the year, you could prance down the street in full drag on this one day. Establishments catering to a particular clientele under the constant threat of raids could hold huge Halloween bashes with impunity. Teen-agers who didn't dare be themselves in public could put on their real selves and call it a costume, and even gain admiration for doing so - if they were smart enough. If the bullies were imperceptive enough. If they made enough people laugh.

If the spoilsports weren't trying to ban Halloween on ridiculous grounds in that particular locality that year. Or maybe, even if they were. Maybe, in defying the forces of willful blindness, oppression, suppression, and depression, Halloween is the night of triumph.

Somebody is always trying to ban Halloween, and that somebody is always missing the point. Or is, perhaps, terrified of admitting the point. Is hiding behind nonsense about non-existent occult or psychological threats because they can't deal with the truth of the holiday in practice. Because the anxiety created by the fluidity of identity is too much for them.

Comedy, tragedy, thriller, fantasy, domestic novel, novel of self-discovery - it works for all of them.

And then everybody has to get up the next day and carry on daily life. But does that mean putting the mask back on? Or does it mean negotiating a larger space for oneself?

Because that's the rest of the story.

1 comment:

  1. I think dressing up as someone/something other than how/who we usually present ourselves to the world, is healthy to the collective unconscious. It's a way of harmlessly releasing pent up fear/anxiety/anger and many other "negative" emotions.