The point of the story, I believe, had something to do with the difficulty of studying ancient civilizations and the dangers of imposing a contemporary rationalization on what are, at best, ambiguous traces of an inscrutable past. This brings up an interesting point (and I think there is an interesting conversation to be had about the verisimilitude of history, and the way narratives shape the reality of the past), and it leads me – tangentially as always – to some timely observations.
Halloween is a strange time of the year. A time of year when a lot of people pretend to be someone else – adopt an alter-ego, a mask, a persona. Every year, the process seems more and more divorced from its purported origin (which is in itself a fascinating example of the evolution of customs and rituals – the same themes running through 2000 years’ worth of history, by way of Celtic rituals, Roman festivals, Christian appropriation, All Hallows Eve and all the rest of it). The twin principles of modern (pop) culture are prominently on display – sex having the edge over violence, most of the time anyway. Vampires and motley ghouls (now sexed-up and pleather-clad) are still the old stand-bys, but more and more, costumes reflect the Zeitgeist – the retro-mad, media-addicted, disaffected, desensitized jeunesse doré of this brave new world.
Halloween is a mine of research possibilities. I can only imagine what a latter-day cultural anthropologist might make of the seemingly bacchanalian festivities at any of the several dozen bars and night clubs in my little metropolis, if the city suddenly became the site of a Pompeian catastrophe on the Halloween weekend – pirates consorting with mermaids, angels fraternizing with their fallen counterparts, a whole microcosm of improbable encounters frozen in an everlasting contortion fueled by cheap drink specials and the pedestrian rhythms of Top 40 hits. What is interesting is the need to have a night like Halloween, a moment when inhibitions are communally loosened (if ever so slightly) under the shielding guise of an adopted persona. I suppose it might be said there are other examples of this; the various Carnivales around the world for one. Yet Halloween seems different, a reflection perhaps of the culture in which it exists. That it is crassly commercial is a given … there are few public celebrations that aren’t. But it also has a split personality – a strange juxtaposition of children’s diversion and adult entertainment, where the violent undercurrent is not entirely absent in the former. This might be nothing more than a ploy to expand the consumer base. It might also be an illustration of the indistinct boundary between childhood and adulthood, and the nature of the collective unconscious; children and adults alike choosing, on some subconscious level, to personify the same universal archetypes – hero, villain, trickster, warrior. At the simplest, pop psychology level, it is a moment in which rigidly-enforced roles are set aside, when sights that would normally cause a stir – hairy men bursting out of nurses’ uniforms, walking toilet-humour jokes, bikini-clad girls on the street in reinforced-thermal-mittens weather – don’t raise an eyebrow, a moment of reciprocal fantasy, when I pretend that you’re a dashing Jedi, and you can call me Alice.
Of course, nothing can explain the baffling popularity of 80s-Madonna-inspired outfits, which missed “frightening” by a (teased) hair and by-passed “ironic” entirely on the way to “laughable”. But some mysteries remain forever veiled in spandex.
Halloween: sex and candy. Enjoy!