Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Dan Savage: Halloween Is America’s Carnival

Halloween costumes from Victoria’s Secret

The fact that I’m posting something about Halloween more than a week before the event says something about the higher profile that the unofficial holiday has acquired over the last decade or two.  From what I can tell, decorations for Halloween — images of jack o’ lanterns, ghosts, black cats, cobwebs, etc. — are adorning places of business almost as long before the holiday itself as those for Christmas, another indication of Halloween’s importance.  But despite the ubiquity of spooky iconography in all of the decorations, Halloween’s newfound prominence seems to derive from adults being able to dress in extravagant costumes that they would never wear on any other day.  In particular, Halloween allows women the opportunity to flaunt their sexuality more openly, and the holiday’s ultimate symbol now appears to be the plethora of revealing and/or suggestive — the adjective “slutty” is frequently heard — women’s costumes that are available to buy.  This shift from spooky to sexy strikes me as the main reason for the holiday’s recent greater standing, at least among single adults. 

A lot of ink has been spilled over the pros and cons of women’s sexy/slutty Halloween outfits (for the most part, I’m pro), so I won’t add to the opinions already out there.  But Halloween’s new emphasis on sex looks to me like America’s back-door (so to speak) acquisition of something that the country has heretofore lacked but which is observed in much of the rest of the world: Carnival, country-wide celebrations “which mark an overturning of the norms of daily life.”  The best-known example of Carnival is its celebration in Brazil, but most other non-English-speaking countries take time out of the year to overlook the rules of social decorum, such as Fasching in Germany and Fastelavn in Denmark.  During these occasions, adults can show off their inner lives, which often means masquerading as their secret selves and unleashing their libidos (putting the carnal in Carnival).  Here in the States, Mardi Gras, confined exclusively to the city of New Orleans, was as close as we got.

Dan Savage
I thought of writing something about Halloween as America’s version of Carnival, but once again, I’ve been beaten to the punch.  In an article from 2009, “Happy Heteroween,” sex-advice columnist Dan Savage compares Halloween not only to Carnival but also to gay-pride parades, viewing the holiday as the heterosexual version thereof.  So, I thought that I would use this blogpost to link Savage’s entertaining account, which also explores some of the controversies that result in Halloween’s new change from the sinister to the sensual.  I hope that you enjoy the read.

Oh, and if I’m not too early — Happy Halloween!

From a 2013 episode of ‘Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell

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