Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Day After Halloween

Far fewer kids seem out on Halloween trick or treating these past few years. One more example of the decline of community. Halloween has been replaced by phony parties in the malls. Commercialism reigns triumphant once again. One aspect of this decline has been the fear generated by the media about what might happen to those kiddies roaming around in the dark in your neighborhood. Add to this the urban legends that always appear about this time – poisoned candy, needles in apples or oranges. The latter was current when I was a kid 50 years ago!

Halloween was part of communal culture. You went around in home made costume to your neighbors and got gifts from them. Back in my day and beyond, Halloween also served another function – a kind of safety valve in the community. Living in a very authoritarian and repressive society, the young were given this one day of the year to cause mischief and torment their tormentors. While aimed at adult authority in general, the holiday also served as pay back time to individual members of the community who were unpleasant to children, such as the nasty teacher or the hateful old man down the street. They would get their windows soaped or the air let out of their tires. And the kids would snicker about this for months after.

Today, for the most part, the brute authoritarianism is gone. Children now face a more sublimated kind of tyranny. Every aspect of their lives is monitored and organized. It is of course, like the floggings and denigrating tirades of the past, "done for their own good." For "out there" lurks an army of kidnappers, child-buggerers, and gang members just waiting to pounce on Little Jason and Amanda.

Somehow I doubt it is all that much worse than when I was a kid. The difference is the lack of community. With real towns and real neighborhoods, we kids knew who all the "pervs" were and avoided them. Today "the public"is too aware, but then, overt knowledge of such things as pedophilia and incest was suppressed. We kids understood and expressed our awareness through warnings about not bending over to get the soap in a public shower and jokes about scoutmasters, priests and choirboys. In real communities, as the late Jane Jacobs pointed out, there are thousands of eyes seeing what goes on. The sick can't get away with much.

The anonymity and alienation of suburban life has given a much freer rein to the emotionally sick amongst us. This creates fear, and fear in turn, further destroys community. The suburb is a vicious circle that eternally grinds down everything that makes us human.The only way Halloween and all other forms of communal, non-alienated activity will revive is through rejecting the American-style suburb and a return to living in real neighborhoods.

7 Comments:

Blogger mollymew said...

Definitely so Larry.
I can remember when the one-man Canadian Legion in my old home town, known not-so-affectionately as "Peg-Leg Ewing" figured that we had too much free time on our hands, and tried to organize same. He finally gave up on his futile efforts to drive us out of the "rink shack" at the hour of night he figured we should be at home. His attempt to have a organized hockey team lasted exactly two months. In the end no kid would agree to play. This organized sports attempt, however, led to the second most horrifying experience of my childhood. I was assigned to be a wing, and, with 200 to 300 people watching me I was so overwhelmed by stage fright that I couldn't find the face-off site. Saying goodbye to dying people, getting a railway spike through the foot or slicing my thumb down to the bone were far less traumatic. I'd never think of putting any kid through that terror.
The sad thing is that kids today have no basis for comparison. Their lives are over-organized from the toddler stage onwards.
By the way, do you mind if I reprint your essay on this over at Molly's Blog ?

1:39 PM  
Blogger mollymew said...

Definitely so Larry.
I can remember when the one-man Canadian Legion in my old home town, known not-so-affectionately as "Peg-Leg Ewing" figured that we had too much free time on our hands, and tried to organize same. He finally gave up on his futile efforts to drive us out of the "rink shack" at the hour of night he figured we should be at home. His attempt to have a organized hockey team lasted exactly two months. In the end no kid would agree to play. This organized sports attempt, however, led to the second most horrifying experience of my childhood. I was assigned to be a wing, and, with 200 to 300 people watching me I was so overwhelmed by stage fright that I couldn't find the face-off site. Saying goodbye to dying people, getting a railway spike through the foot or slicing my thumb down to the bone were far less traumatic. I'd never think of putting any kid through that terror.
The sad thing is that kids today have no basis for comparison. Their lives are over-organized from the toddler stage onwards.
By the way, do you mind if I reprint your essay on this over at Molly's Blog ?

1:40 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Thanks, Go right ahead!

4:59 PM  
Blogger Renegade Eye said...

The changes in Halloween, reflect other cultural changes. It goes along with victimhood, consumerism etc. I sound like I'm reading too much Spiked Online.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Nicolas said...

But it is possible to get over it and out-organise the sad changes.

The innercity neigborhood I live in have been fighting decay --elementary school closure, that sort of things-- and attack on it's traditions for a couple of years now. When I mooved there five years ago it was vibrant with a rejuvenated community tru social struggle. At the second Halloween I was there, the folks of the hood organise a collective collection. It was terrible to march with dozens of kids in the streets on Halloween that year. Unfortunately, it only lasted one year as it was an individuals initiative. But community groups in other innercity hood took the idea and push the idea forward, involving both community groups, the city and local mom & pop stores. Now, there are organised stuff going on for the kids in most of the hoods around involving a 'bal costumé', collective march at night, a party in the city park after the event where friandises are collectivised (yeah!), activity in the schools and so on. This is real great. As for me, well the parents in my coop informaly organised and well we did it together with the kids.

There *is* a future! But it requiere to actually talk to you neighboors!

6:30 AM  
Blogger Werner said...

This is great Larry. I'd also like to reprint your essay. In the old days most people seemed to understand that kids had to be exposed to a certain amount of danger if they were ever able to handle themselves as adults. Of course some people are pretty hopeless anyway, I suppose, but in general the system seemed to "work" after a fashion. AND it didn't seem to matter where most adults stood on the political number line. Old CCFers were just as fearful of "big brother" as many small "c" conservatives of that time ... the late fifties in my case. I remember falling off a bicycle when I was about ten years old. This hurt but nobody really cried the blues about it. There wasn't much empathy in those days probably no worse than today but at least there wasn't quite the level of "liberal" sleaze although the school system was already heading that way. Things certainly weren't great then but today if a parent takes his kid to the hospital they can expect to be fucked around by the child police at some point. Today I am receiving the results of the "swinging" decades trying to deal with liberal/radical "new age" fuckhead employers and the occasional sociopathic employee. No wonder so many people are blowing themselves away or trying to. Sorry to be so depressing about all of this but that's just the way it is.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Thanks Werner, go ahead on re-publishing.

Nicholas,
Of course you are right. I also live in a pretty well organized working class neighborhood - see my article in Anarkismo - "Neighborhood Associations..." I suspect in my neighborhood the weather played a large part in the low turn-out. But what I wrote about in "The Day After Halloween" really applies to the suburbs and organizing them and creating community there I don't know about. My opinion about the suburbs is the best thing to do with them is run a bulldozer through them...

10:56 AM  

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