Halloween: Everything that’s wrong with America?

An episode of Freaks and Geeks records the turning point. Mrs. Weir has lovingly prepared Halloween cookies, just like every year, and when the first group of trick-or-treaters show up, one of the moms shames her for her presumption. This more attentive mother has of course trained her children never to accept home-made treats — after all, someone might have slipped a razor blade into it! Only store-bought, individually wrapped candy can be guaranteed to avoid this scourge.

Literally no child has ever found a razor blade in their Halloween candy. The entire phenomenon was completely made up. A moment’s thought reveals that the very idea makes no sense. Who would even want to do such a thing? Wouldn’t it be easy to trace it back to the offender if they’re giving out their distinctive homemade candy all night long? But better safe than sorry, right?

The fictional razor blade in the Halloween candy is a kind of quilting point for all the paranoias that led to the loss of any freedom for the children of the white middle class. If they’re left to wander the neighborhood, someone might abduct them! Coming from the other direction: if they’re left with any unscheduled time, doing anything that can’t be slotted into an immediately recognizable section of the college application, their life chances may be thwarted. In either case, the parents are losing control of their activities and thereby their destiny — and only disaster can result. The helicopter parent and the razor blade in your candy are correlative phenomena.

It’s interesting, then, that Halloween has also become the most striking symbol of the white middle class’s arrested development, its perpetual adolescence. What was once a semi-formal one-night event has become a months-long celebration for kids of all ages! Especially the ones in their 20s and 30s! Lindsay of Freaks and Geeks had to summon up her uttermost resources of good-sportsmanship to play along with her mom and pass out candy, and she surely would have been absolutely mortified to wear a costume to school on Halloween. Now grown adults with jobs and fancy condos go on Halloween-themed pub crawls two weeks before the blessed day itself.

Who am I to criticize someone else’s fun, you ask? Well, if you must know, I’m a curmudgeon who was already old long before his time. I also think I’m always right. So those are my qualifications. Surely I’m not alone, though. Surely!

12 thoughts on “Halloween: Everything that’s wrong with America?

  1. I mean, just to clarify: the razor blade rumors were a real thing. I remember them growing up. I remember teachers talking about them. I remember them changing people’s behavior. The only reason the reference works on Freaks and Geeks is that it really happened. I apologize if that wasn’t clear. Just to continue: the overscheduling and overstructuring of middle class white kids’ every waking moment is a well-documented thing, as is the hysteria surrounding abduction. It is literally incomprehensible to me that you think I’m parroting some kind of crazy left-wing conspiracy in this post.

  2. I think this is exactly right. Especially the part about “arrested development.” Do us twenty-somethings really need one more reason to go out and drink a lot at some time during the week? You made a post, I believe, about St. Patrick’s Day and I think this is obviously related. It’s the spectre of the long since dead spirit of festivity. A friend of mine who works for a financial corporation, also in his twenties, is all but required tomorrow to come to work in costume where the workers have all been placed in teams. They have to performs skits the groups have written themselves. Turn by turn, each group gets a few minutes away from the desk to perform. An entire group is disqualified if a single member has declined to dress up, so there’s a lot of social pressure not to be the stick in the mud. This is organized by a “social committee” whose job it is to facilitate enjoyment among the employees. To me, it sounds like a nightmare that a corporation should even have a social committee whose principal job appears to be to infuse the ordinary work day with “mandated fun” while not actually giving anyone any official time off. Are we elementary school children?

    Every symbol used in Halloween is now so vacuous one is really at a loss for what it signifies: something like the Mexican Day of the Dead seems to make a lot more sense to me on a human/ existential level. While here, schools have begun to forbid children from wearing “scary” costumes, presumably because they are not nice, or have banned costumes altogether and begun calling it “black and orange spirit day.” Can anyone really explain why we are doing this [dressing up and so on]?

    Perhaps we are seeing young professionals picking up the slack, while the ritual might appear to make less sense to the newer generation of the young. Maybe the empty symbols will continue to circulate in the service of adult-partying, since that encourages more consumption than just candy and chocolate bars.

  3. What I always found sort of alarming about workplace Halloween activities is the number of Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger, Leatherface costumes that people wore. Apparently, a significant percentage of my (former) coworkers fantasized about being serial killers.

  4. I’m throwing a party in a couple weeks. Just a normal, adult party. No costumes. Food and drinks provided. I’m of the opinion that’s the best kind of party, where you just lay out the canvas for people to have a good time. But, bless their hearts, people who are coming keep throwing out ideas for activities we could have. “Cards Against Humanity!” “Karaoke!” “Set up the Wii!”.

    I try to maintain that any of those things happening will be a sign of the failure of the party. I’m of the opinion that when you have a good party, people breeze around talking, laughing, and are shocked to glance at the clock and see it’s already 1:30. Looking at this desire for plenty of activities against Adam’s theory of our arrested development, it strikes me that perhaps we’re uncertain of our ability to create a good time for ourselves.

    Extending that feeling of uncertainty a bit further, maybe that’s why we need to capture photographic evidence of ourselves having a good time. “See? I’m having a good time. It might not sound like it when I describe it later – we just stood around, drank, talked and laughed – but here are photos for proof!”

    Full disclosure: I have arranged for there to be cornhole and a dartboard in the basement, so I may be part of the problem described.

  5. I am a little unhappy with the idea that enjoying Halloween is extended adolescence, and a little surprised that the costume aspect of the Pub crawl and not the binge drinking is what is suspect. Then again, I am also a curmudgeon, but of the straight edge, horror movie loving variety

  6. Halloween ceased being fun for me when I finally realized that as a 68 year old single male I am creepy enough without a costume. Where is the book on creepiness? I also am disabled when it comes to thinking in terms of cute—the only politically correct kind of costume seems to be a cute one, thought even as a minion I would be creepy. I have developed a certain gravitas (perhaps as a result of too much Stanislavski in college) so that many people do not know when I am joking. I have to be very careful.
    I went to a Halloween costume party once as a suicide attempt. Because I had little time after work to get ready for the party, I simply wrapped iodine soaked gauze around my wrists, put on a shabby sports coat, carried a bottle of Everclear. Young women at the part were completely freaked out. (Isn’t that the point?) Later I was told that my costume was completely inappropriate.
    I still appreciate the All Hallows Eve aspect of the holiday and happily incorporate my Dia de Los Muertos decorations in with pumpkins and witches, but I don’t go to parties.

  7. i grew up in the suburbs of kansas city and i enjoyed sort of limited freedoms. Mostly i could do what i wanted as long as i never told my parents exactly what that was. Now in my late 20s i will tell some of the stories and they laugh, but a very nervous laugh. Like “yeah thats funny, but dont tell us anymore because we would rather not confront the fact that we didnt have 100% complete supervision of you”

    We went to visit my tea party aunt and uncle in Eureka CA when i was about 11 (a haven for medicinal home growers, libertarians, and hippies). i was riding a bike around the neighborhood and realized i was lost after about an hour, after 3 hours i remember sobbing and i was ashamed for being so weak. Now when i think about it, i wasnt sobbing because i was scared, it was because i could feel the weight of my parents burden. I already knew the questions they were asking themselves, “is he in the back of a van, did he get run over.”

    When they found me, my explanation was to reassure them that none of those types of things happened and i was simply lost.

    Being required to always carry that guilt around is at the least very unpleasant.

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