Thursday, October 22, 2009


I never cared for Halloween while growing up. The costumes were OK--I usually was a hobo. (One year, I went in drag to the school Halloween party, leading to somewhat embarrassing results. I talked about it in a sermon here.)

But my taste in candy, the collection of which is a real object of the holiday, was limited. I liked Hershey bars, candy Kisses, Milky Way bars, and Tootsie Rolls. That was pretty much it. (Today, Milky Ways are too rich for me and it's probably been ten years since I ate one. I picked up a Tootsie Roll offered to customers at the tellers' windows of our local bank a few weeks ago and was glad when I finally got the thing chewed and digested...probably my last Tootsie Roll. I doubt of the thing is fully digested yet.)

If baked goods--cookies, cakes, breads, snack cakes, and pies--were what people had given away on Beggars' Nights when I was growing up, I would have been a lot happier. I can also guarantee that, as a result, in adult years, I would have become the subject of a reality TV series, Rescue of the Morbidly Obese Twinkie Inhaler. (It may have become a Halloween classic.)

The other reason I never cared for Halloween is the holiday's emphasis on ghosts, ghouls, witches, graveyards, and monsters. That stuff creeped me out. I remember that I was the only member of my Cub Scout den who didn't watch Chiiler Theater on Columbus' Channel 10 every Friday night. "Hey, stay overnight at my place. We're all going to watch Chiller," one of the guys would say. "That's OK," I'd answer and come up with some excuse about a prior commitment I had from 11:30pm on Friday through 1:00am on Saturday...when I was ten years old. (I'm pretty sure that the other guys knew I didn't have prior commitments.)

I did stay up to watch Chiller one night. WBNS presented a double bill, each film considered, by some, to be great movies: Frankenstein and The Mummy. I already considered myself a sort of film aficionado (I doubt that I knew that term, which I'm sure I heard used for the first time years later by a sports radio host), so I had to see these classics.

But I arranged to watch them lying between my parents in their bedroom. It didn't matter if they fell asleep while Boris Karloff improbably chased down people able to run while he ambled, slowly dragging one foot behind him, in The Mummy. I knew that as long as my parents were with me, I wouldn't get done in like the little girl with the flowers in Frankenstein.

So, between the emphases on being frightened out of one's mind and the bags of candy I never ate, Halloween has, for me, always been something more to be endured than enjoyed.

Now, comes yet another reason for indifference to Halloween: Its hypersexualization. Young women, who should be confident in themselves, instead put on shows for young men, betraying a need to be validated by men, rather than believing in their own intrinsic value. "Girls like to get attention from guys, and guys will gladly give it to them," says one female, a junior at Ohio State, in an article on "sexing up Halloween" that appears in today's Columbus Dispatch.

In willingly putting on a sex show, these young women both devalue sex and elevate it to a place far outweighing its importance. That shouldn't surprise, I guess. It fits right in with a generally sex-obsessed culture.

Back in the 1970s, when I myself was a student at Ohio State, I entertained the notion that the fledgling women's movement, with which I was sympathetic, would finally drive a stake in the heart of the objectification of women. I thought that women would be seen as equal and serious human beings, not as sex toys or masseuses for the male ego.

But the opposite has proven to be the case. Today, we find younger children dressing in sexually suggestive ways and, consistent with patterns historian Christopher Lasch first identified in the late-1970s, we see people extending their adolscent hormonal obsessions deep into adulthood.

Don't get me wrong. Unlike candy or monster movies, I like sex. Also unlike those aspects of Halloween that have perennially bored or frightened me, sexual intimacy is, I believe, the invention of God. And when the gift of sex is used as intended by God, it can be as God implicitly describes it in Genesis, "very good."

As I read the Scriptures, which I believe are the inspired Word of God for humanity, I see three functions for sexual intimacy:
  • a sign and seal of the commitment of husband and wife to one another
  • an opportunity for a husband and wife to bring pleasure to one another
  • and, sometimes, a means by which a family may be created
Sex was never meant to be a thing in itself, but a wonderful subordinate reality. Not an object, a gift along the way of married life.

But, with our human penchant for misplaced priorities, we've allowed sex to become more like a god than a gift from God. We have both cheapened it and, in many ways, from porn to slinky Halloween costumes, monetized it.

It bores me and it saddens me. It even frightens me.

[UPDATE: Over at The Moderate Voice where I linked to both the Columbus Dispatch article mentioned here and this post, a commenter apparently thought I wanted to limit or eliminate people's freedom to wear sexy Halloween costumes. That person wrote:
Halloween isn't just for kids anymore. If adults (male and female) want to dress up sexy to attract the opposite sex, isn't it their right to do so? Doesn't bother me too much, since I'm neither a social conservative nor a prude. Not surprising that some Americans will be in an uproar, the Victorian roots of this nation makes it inevitable. I for one approve of the more sexually [sic] openness of Europe.
I responded:
No one is arguing about people's rights. At least I'm not. Of course, people have the freedom to choose to wear whatever they wish.

I just find it interesting how we sexualize so many things and then monetize sexuality.

Our absorption with things sexual seems disproportionately obsessive to me.
To observe trends is not the same as advocating a curtailment of people's freedoms.

By the way, I find a lot of the efforts to break the Victorian envelope sort of boring, tedious, and redundant. The envelope got broken a long time ago. Few things are really shocking, taboo, or countercultural any more. A lot of people who think they're being daring are really only repeating the supposedly daring acts that have been done continuously in recent decades. That's why I think the sexualization of Halloween--like the sexualization of almost everything else in the culture--is "boo-ring," a yawner.]

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