A few years ago I wrote a blog post about offensive Halloween costumes and how they send the wrong message to children, mocking people who look different or who come from communities on the margins. The commercialization of Halloween, like the commercialization of every American “holiday” is so focused on profit that there is little left to authentically celebrate. But Halloween has seen a surge in popularity in pop culture and it seems like every year the offensiveness quotient is ramped up another notch or two. Despite campaigns against appropriation for Halloween, there are far more instances of using other cultures as dress up or as object of mockery than resistance against such moments.
Halloween also puts pressure on parents to buy the best, most professional costumes possible lest their class status appear too low. A casual glance at children’s costumes on the Web reveals that if one looks for something beyond a plastic costume and mask, prices start in the mid-$30s and range past $100. This puts children in the position of announcing their parents’ financial resources just to participate in the evening’s festivities (unless they’re in a very cold weather region and the costumes are tucked under coats, perhaps).
Then there’s the fear. Trick-or-treating, once the duty and delight of kids when I was a child, has declined due to concerns about tampered candy and nighttime predators. Parents who do let their kids go door to door follow them around on the sidewalk, or children are corralled into events that take place at the local YMCA or city block. And while I may love kids, I cannot handle having 3,000 small costumed children banging into each other and screaming over the last Snickers mini-bar.
There may still be some glory left in what was once a harvest holiday. If neighbors can agree to have some candy and entertain kids for a few hours, one can get to know those neighbors a little better and get to know the neighborhood more. If children are encouraged to share their candy, get out and walk around and laugh with their friends and family, I see a glimmer of fun in the experience. But certainly there is a lot to wade through to get past the hype, blinking skulls, fake spider webbing, and plush DisneyTM/Sesame Street/PowerRangers/Transformers costumes to get to the fun.
And hooray, Columbus Day is next week. Don’t get me started on that one.