Sunday, December 6, 2009

American festivities - Part I: Halloween

So I don't get these two festivals. I probably will never get them. Having spent over three years in this country I think that's a safe enough assertion.

I think I do get Thanksgiving somewhat because, you know, we get holidays during that time. So it's a nice opportunity to thank your employer for giving you time off work. Halloween, on the other hand...

Either which way, I have a problem with Halloween. It's principally flawed. What sort of society allows people to run around in ghastly costumes and, in most cases, to dress themselves as monsters, including children in the mix? So much for the guff about protecting children from corruption.

Ok, ok, I know you just read Halloween off Wikipedia and are here to explain to me the significance of witches and goblins; smart-ass, shut up! But look at it, logically. On the surface -- and I think it's the surface that actually matters to everyone around -- adults are supposed to dress themselves in costumes that they typically wouldn't wear in regular lives, and children do the same and are supposed to hound every neighbour who wants to have a quiet life in his apartment, demanding candy.

Also, what's the deal with trick or treating? If there's a vice we're teaching every American kid, it's this: extortion. There's nothing as one-sided a deal as a trick or treat, and it's a social norm here! So, if you say 'treat' then you part with some candy, which you were supposed to have bought prior to the day of reckoning.

So what if you say no candy? You are then liable to be a victim of a 'prank' that may include getting stuff thrown at you. If not, you become the neighbourhood grouch. And I have a problem with being in that situation; where you have no candy, and are thrust firmly in the spotlight to be judged. Tomorrow, you're the guy everyone's talking about.

"Hey, you know that nutbag slammed the door on my son?"

"I know! That vile sonofabitch! I bet he beats his children with a hot pan for fun."

[I haven't slammed the door on children, nor do I have children; just play along, ok? No, I haven't beaten any child with a hot pan. That would be horrible.]

Maybe the whole purpose of trick or treating is to keep the kids busy doing what they can reliably do best -- ie, being a nuisance to all and sundry -- while their parents do what they do best -- engage in conversation with other parents.

Another demographic that I haven't mentioned so far is the teen / early tween one, which is actually interesting if you are a student of anthropology. The costumes are a perfect judge of their mental make up. You have the geek who will most likely come dressed as the Fibonacci series. No one but another geek will get it, and they will exchange discreet high-fives, and get drunk on the inside joke -- especially when Fibonacci series discovers his friend is not any ordinary member of the cat family, but in fact, Schrodinger's cat.

The other trend in the teen demographic, especially among the girls, is to dress like a whore. I don't understand it. So I think I will not comment on stuff I don't understand.

Speaking of things I don't understand, why do even great TV shows feel compelled to integrate Halloween in their episodes?

It will be remiss of me if, in my description of a social phenomenon like Halloween, I don't mention its socio-economic impact on the nation, so here's a rudimentary discourse.

Economic beneficiaries:

Toys R Us, manufacturers of comic book hero outfits, Heath Ledger's Joker memorial special face paints, exotic trinkets, suits worn by former Lehman Brothers employees (with begging bowls picked off the streets), costumes that would be too tight even for Barbie, adhesives to stick together ridiculous pieces of wood and plastic bought off Home Depot and put together into a costume -- all benefit from this festival. [I have not included a whole host of goblin costumes etc because I think they're understood.]

Those who stand to lose:

People who want to watch TV at home; or go out for a quiet walk, maybe with a couple of like-minded sane friends, in peace; or who want to have a nice sound sleep; or those who aren't into this whole Halloween shit, but have to indulge in it due to peer pressure. [The last category of people must be hurting! I know you're around. Come on now, climb out of the woodwork, you!]

This is part one of a two-part series on American festivities I don't quite get. Part two is about Thanksgiving. There is also the birthday party that happens on 25th of December, but it's not distinctly American. Plus, what's not to get about birthday parties anyway? Although, I must ask, do they ever sing the Happy Birthday song on that day? I didn't think so either... Odd.
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