Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Magic Week Presents THE RIPPLE EFFECT: The Spirit of Halloween

Sasha Martin

A little girl, maybe six or seven, wants to be an angel. With her mother, she buys a sweet, billowy, angelic white dress, angels' wings behind and smile in front. But, time speeds, her life put in fast-forward: twelve years later, what might you get?

Angels? Of course they wear high heels heels and garters, haven't you been to heaven? Heels don't go through clouds anymore than bare feet do. God
And, God isn't what you'd think! He actually likes it when we wear really short skirts and show a little elevated cleavage. He thinks it's more pure or something... Right. 

Amazing how the American market can make something so "good" and innocent (as an angel) so sexualized. According to Cosmo, on average Americans rank their sex libido: 6/10. Considering the costume merchandise Leg Avenue, Victoria's Secret, and basically every single costume shop for adults offer, this estimate of 6/10 seems a little inaccurate. More like 20/10. Let's use our critical thinking: why would someone wear a costume that shows more skin than cloth (unless you're Tarzan or something)? It certainly isn't to scare someone or go trick-or-treating. It's to attract a mate, or make sure a mate's eye doesn't bounce on to someone else's Leg Avenue outfit. Halloween is no longer about crafting a costume to celebrate the dead (angel or devil), but about finding and buying one that either makes your three-year-old look cuter than the Jones' three-year-old, or makes you look sexy so you can get laid or have awesome Facebook pictures. Competing markets! Initially, Halloween (originally All-Hallowman or Hallow's Eve) was meant to celebrate something much different than what we represent today...

What is a Halloween costume today? A representation of something in real life or the mystical life... How many school girls go to school looking like this? Well, in the porn industry, many. So, if this girl is emulating anything, it's a porn star. Have no fear! This is not completely her doing or intention. The media and consumerist market is mostly to thank.  Sadly, it's because they know what sells.
 And, let's not forget the sporty girl with her referee outfit! Her number is 69. 
These girls are wearing merchandise that represents a sector of society, sure, but I don't think it's school or sports that comes across in the low zipper or tied up shirt. So, what sector of life are they really representing? 

The funny thing is, sexy or sweet, both these "gettups" aren't quite appropriate for what Halloween is really about: death! That's right. The scariest holiday of the year is scary for a reason. 2,000 years ago, to avoid depression, the Celts celebrated the coming of darkness (winter) and the end of summer light and autumn harvest. With the coming of winter, many died, unprepared for the bone chilling cold and expiration of food supply. On this day in which winter birthed and men and women suffered, the Celts believed a door between life and death would transfuse into the universe, the dead walking amongst the living (really, a zombie fest of sorts). They celebrated these ghosts arrival on October 31st. Why celebrate, that sounds so scary!? Well, with these ghosts presence, the Celtic priests were more accurately able to make predictions about the future harvests and other pivotal occurrences having to do with nature. Because the Celtic life revolved so tightly around nature, this holiday was actually considered crucial to Celtic survival. The Celts would come together and burn sacrifices of food and animals on huge bonfires, hoping the ghosts would be pleased and divulge their secrets. 

Finally, the Celts were overcome by the Romans who twisted the tradition into All Soul's Day, a day to honor the dead (hallow means "to honor"). On this day, not only would bonfires of sacrifice be lit, but costumes of angels, devils and saints were brought to fruition and parades commenced. The Romans also celebrated Pomona, the goddess of fruits (harvest, trees), by "bobbing for apples," a small step towards candy!

Years later, the protestant English moved to America, avoiding such Piegan traditions with disdain. But, in certain areas like Maryland, the harvest was still celebrated as the ancient did. They would hold "play parties," sharing spooky stories of the dead, telling fortunes and dancing. As more Irish and English immigrants came to America, they brought their (now "trick-or-treat") tradition with them of knocking on doors in costume for money. The "treat" was money, and the "trick" was a trick women would preform, believing that on Halloween, they could divine  the name of their future hubby with mirrors, apple parings, or even yarn.

Finally, by the 1920s, Halloween was wide-spread throughout America. And, as capitalism developed more and more of a consumer society, by the 20th-21st centuries, Americans were spending over $6 billion a year on Halloween. This makes Halloween the second largest commercial holiday, more than Easter or Valentine's Day. 

So, when you buy your Halloween outfit, wonder why you're choosing a Long Leg Avenue, when the holiday really stems from a celebration of the end of harvest, life and death. Wonder if it's your choice, or if it's a long-term developed choice of the media, advertisement and white collar men, bringing out the guilty pleasures we all desire to make billions. If you go with the Long Leg Avenue, of course it will be widely accepted, if not encouraged. So, have a little fun, go a little wild-- why not! But, don't forget who put those choices on the hanger. How this sexualization of women (and men!) has been calculated and implemented. Don't forget to ask: why is this costume available? Why do I want to buy it? And, don't forget what Hallow's Eve is really about: the honoring of the dead and the hoping for a better future. 

This isn't a lecture on morals, but a revealing of how Halloween costumes have developed over time. I might just be wearing a Leg Avenue too, but the point is not who wears what. The point is why? And, how? 

Happy (Soon-To-Be) Halloween Everyone!  

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Women in the World and the Ripple Effect Section, Sasha Martin:
I made my own major, The Nature of Emotion as investigated through literature, psychology, anthropology, cognitive science and other interdisciplinary fields, and am minoring in Creative Writing. I created Unleashed for the general empowerment and knowledge of women and men everywhere, and continue to be involved as editor, designer and writer. I am an editorial and PR intern for City Lights. I happen to love the Unleashed staff quite dearly, as well as readers like you. It's amazing what words can do! Feel free to email me at Unleashed. I hope you enjoy! 

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