The last time I ever dressed up for Halloween – Oct 31, 2009
by Comrade Black
I use to love Haloween.
Now I despise it.
When I was a kid Halloween was by far my favorite day of the year. I have a distinct memory of the year I got chicken pox, I was 4 years old living in Ardrossen Alberta, and oh boy was I upset that I couldn’t go trick or treating with my older sister. She shared the candy with me, but it just wasn’t the same. Every year my mother would take me to the thrift store to find a cheap ski-suit, then come Halloween I would get on 2 pairs of long johns, don the ski-suit, and my mother would get out rolls of masking tape to cover me head to toe – I went as a mummy, with the help of mommy. And since I couldn’t bend my knees or elbows, I walked like one too!
As I got older, the costumes became more complex. My mother hand sewed me a Beetlejuice costume when I was about 12, and I spiked my hair for the first time (using green Halloween hairspray). I remember one year working for weeks with liquid latex to hand make a Halloween mask for my Lich costume (a Lich is like a zombie mage from D&D, what happens when evil wizards take a potion to extend their life at the cost of dying while staying alive so they can continue to gain more power). One year I went as the Devil, and even spent hours dying my skin red with watered down food coloring which stained for weeks, but looked awesome! Or there was the year I dressed up as a mafia guy, including a Tommy gun I spent week making, with a copper pipe barrel, coffee can magazine, and oak, hand cut and stained rifle butt. The cops pulled me over to confirm it wasn’t real – and of course to run my name for warrants – cause you know, they are assholes. That incident lead to its own humorous story, but I will tell that one another day.
Eventually I began setting up Halloween parties as a community event. This was really the first DIY organizing I ever did, years before I ever organized DIY all ages punk shows or anarchist bookfairs. I would rent a hall, get my (former) friend Pat to DJ, and my friend Yvonne to run the bar (this was years before I went Straightedge). People donated to get in, and the bar would usually break even, even after the costs of a liquor license and me setting the prices far below normal. The majority of attendees were people I played Vampire or D&D with.
The reason I loved Halloween so much as a kid, and even until I was a young adult, was that it was the one holiday where you could be dark, dress up scary, as something evil. Where you could embrace all the things normally frowned upon in this fake Christian and legalistic culture. It was the day the freaks, geeks, artists and picked on kids could shine. It was DIY, and encouraged youth to be creative, and use their imaginations. And it was the only holiday where you went out into the community, often with friends to meet your neighbors, and knocked on the doors of other people (who you would threaten with pranks if they didn’t give you candy). Every other holiday meant staying home with family to celebrate some weird depiction of a dead deity and gorged on dead animal carcasses. On Halloween, instead of consuming a carcass, you would try to create a costume that made you look like one! Halloween for me was the collective accumulation of everything missing from every other day of the year all wrapped up into one dark night. I was always drawn to darkness, just as I was always drawn to be creative.
But Halloween has been recuperated by the consumer capitalist mainstream and drunken party culture. Now it exists as nothing more than another excuse to buy more junk (made by children in a sweatshop in China), consume, and get drunk. Whereas the costumes of my childhood were mostly homemade, even if people occasionally bought a mask or the fake blood, or whatnot, there was always a DIY element to it; now the norm is to purchase your costume at the mall, 100% plastic shit, shipped from overseas, and throw it out the next day. Mom’s and dad’s no longer take their kids door to door in many cities, as the fear of poisoned candy and sexual predators has become so pervasive (even though no one has ever actually poisoned candy to hand out, and the vast majority of child molesters are family, close friends, or people given authority over the kids; not a stranger in the bush) that the new tradition for many parents is to drive their kids (in their gas guzzling SUV) to the mall where they go store to store instead of door to door, and managers or employees of corporations hand out candy along with promotional materials. Because as we all know, Corporations are far more trustworthy than the people who live down the street from you.
For young adults and teenagers, the new trend is a mix of sexist shit costumes such as “Slutty Nurse,” or “Breast Inspector” and the always popular cultural appropriation and other racist ‘costumes’ such as white people wearing blackface. And have you noticed the disturbingly sexualizing Halloween costumes being marketed for young girls these days? Costumes become more and more sexualized by the year, for both adults and children. From “Slut Shaming” to sexualizing children, the corporations who make and sell this shit have no problem profiting off of rape culture. Just as the bars have no issue with profiting of addiction, and binge drinking.
Then of course there is the Halloween candy, made of shit and chemicals that are toxic, glued together with processed sugar, and often containing the milk of abused cows or other products stolen from the bodies of animals which our species domesticated who live tortured lives in industrial farms and feedlots before being shipped to the slaughter house. This poison cocktail then gets wrapped in a couple sheets of plastic “to make sure it safe from contamination” before being shipped halfway across the world so you can give it to kids to ensure they become addicted to sugar. TRICK OR TREAT!
Even the horror movies have gotten worse, turning into movies that fetishize and sexualize torture for 2 hours straight.
Over the last few years I have pondered various strategies to try and re-appropriate what is left of the once very DIY and community oriented former Pagan holiday. As much as I am disheartened by what it has become, I still do see some hope in the darkness. The continuing popularity of the Halloween screenings of the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show give me some hope, and honestly dressing up in drag and throwing toast in the air can be quite a blast! The overt queerness of Rocky Horror may be what has saved it from being appropriated and recuperated entirely by this consumerist and homophobic culture.
Guy Fawkes Day 2008, Victoria, unceded Lekwungen territories. A group of people built an effigy of Harper to burn on the lawn of the Legislature
I use to see some possibility as well in November 5 – Guy Fawkes Day, before the iconic V mask became mass produced and adopted by the right wing Libertarians and conspiracy theorists who never bothered to read Allan Moore’s anarcho-antihero epic, nor taken the time to learn the real history of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament. But alas, I have given up on Guy Fawks day after burning only 1 effigy of Steven Harper.
And of course there is the Pagan revival, people going back the roots of Samhain. There is definitely something encouraging about people, especially settlers on stolen land, wanting to go back to their roots. The potential for decolonization is there. Yet I am not entirely sold on this either, as those pagan roots are often from cultures that have already engaged in the domestication of animals and plants, and worship warlike patriarchal gods, or gods who offer the control of nature for faithful servitude. Spirituality has also been largely recuperated by civilization and turned into an escapist retreat from taking action and creating change. Then there is the questions of cultural appropriation whether it is neo-pagan Wicca and reinvention of Samhain, or the appropriation of Día de Muertos.
Another thing I have attempted with limited success is to organize sober spaces that are alternatives to the drunken Halloween party culture. There is many people that can’t be in spaces where alcohol is, whether it is cause they are struggling with addiction, a youth who legally is not allowed into a space that sells booze, or someone who just doesn’t like being around drunks or doesn’t feel safe around them do to past experiences.
A new idea I had this year was to make posters which read in large text something along the lines of:
“GET TO KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS
Halloween is suppose to be about building community
DON’T TAKE YOUR KIDS TO THE MALL
trick or treat & meet the people you live next to.”
Another idea I have played with is to make vegan treats, which may not be healthier but are a lot better than the toxic corporate crap candy most folks are handing out to trick or treaters. I have a simple recipe for Vegan rice crispy squares for example, and I thought if I was to make them with a note attached explaining who made them, why, and all the ingredients including a phone number and address to accompany my name; perhaps, just maybe, parents would let their kids actually eat them??? A connected idea to make this one work better, was to make a batch of Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies, using Sarah Kramer’s awesome recipe, in about august/September, and make a note with the ingredients that reads “hand made for you by your neighbor,” then take these door to door and hand them out for a few blocks, as a good opportunity to get to know the people who you share geographical locality with. This way not only do you meet them which can help build community, but also make them more open to homemade candy come Halloween.
The other type of strategies would be to find ways to use the current consumer culture and appropriate it’s energy for anarchist purposes. Thousands of people in the streets wearing generic disguises can offer a perfect smoke and mirrors type of potential for low level warfare against capital. Although with the enormous police presence and normalization of snitch culture amongst yuppies, there are some real risks to this. Alternatively one could try to use the trendy hipsters as a funding base for anarchist projects. Put on an event or sell something targeted towards pop culture (Zombie paraphernalia?) and use the money from it to pay the rent on your infoshop, to restock your punk distro, buy media or AV equipment, send to prisoners, or to cover travel to conferences, summits, or elsewhere for people who should be there but can’t afford it. There are many projects that are in constant need of funds in the anarchist movement. However, this strategy also runs into some risks of recuperation or wasting our energy on projects that don’t help further our own.
Halloween has been reduced from the night to creatively celebrate horror and the dead to a dead holiday where zombies dressed as in costume celebrate the death of creativity and consume the horrors of capitalist civilized reality. Is it time to bury this tradition? Or can transform into wild beasts and enact a séance to resurrect it from the death that is this modern reality called of civilization and destroy the monster called Leviathan?