Halloween

October 30, 2006
Posted by Jay Livingston
They were lined up down the street to get into Ricky’s this afternoon, all the last-minute costume buyers. Costumes are bought nowadays. Almost nobody has a homemade costume, even kids. In more and more areas of our lives, we are now consumers where we used to be producers. Fewer meals cooked at home, more eaten in restaurants or bought in a store and microwaved. Nobody has the time, buying is so much more convenient, and besides, the people who specialize in making these things make them better than we can. My neighborhood grocery store sells pumpkins already painted with faces. You don’t even have to carve your own.

The odd thing is that even though the costumes are better, they’re not as much fun. I’d rather open my door and see kids in costumes their parents patched together from odd clothes and stuff they had lying around the house. A professional ninja or princess costume doesn’t just substitute cash for creativity, it depersonalizes; anybody with the $34.99 can have the same costume (made in China). And many do. Stores have sold out of the popular costumes.

I like to think of holiday celebrations as islands of community, where things are personal, created and controlled by the group of people involved. But Halloween (and perhaps other holidays) is becoming standardized, controlled by the costume industry. It had become McDonaldized.
So it’s not just the witches and vampires that come out at Halloween; you can also see social trends and themes, like McDonaldization. Parental protectiveness is another. Back in the day (my day at least), kids went out trick-or-treating, and parents stayed home. Now, trick-or-treaters making their rounds have parents following along lest some stranger kidnap their child. And at the end of the night parents inspect the kids’ haul for suspicious looking treats. We’ve all heard the stories about razor blades in apples, LSD on decals, poison in candy.

Twenty years ago, sociologist Joel Best investigated all the reported incidents of “Halloween sadism” that he could find in the press, and he concluded that Halloween sadism is best seen as an urban legend. He’s updated his research and found nothing to change his original view. Yet parents still go out of their way to guard against unknown, sinister evildoers who would harm their kids. No doubt, many of these are the same parents who buy their kids a skateboard or put a swimming pool in the back yard.

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