2002-10-31 / This Week's Attitude

This Week’s

AttitudeHalloween Horrors Are Nothin
By Neil S. Friedman

Halloween Horrors Are Nothin’ Compared To Real Life

It’s Halloween. You scared yet?


This year, perhaps even more than last, just seven weeks after 9/11, the season of ghosts, ghouls, goblins and gremlins is a very welcome respite and, might I add, diversion, from life’s everyday genuine fears and anxieties.

After all, what are a few innocent Halloween high jinks — eggs splattered on the front door, a few harmless water balloons or house TPing — in the wake of what our national psyche has suffered the last 13-plus months?

Compared to the September 11 terrorists attacks and the recent sniper shootings, the modern observance of Halloween, minus any senseless vandalism, is hardly daunting — or haunting.

Real life is scary.

The unease of Halloween rapidly fades after youth. More than any other holiday, Halloween is, perhaps, best suited for childhood. After a certain age — say 10, for argument’s sake — there’s really nothing much to look forward to unless you crave a few hours of door-to-door trick-or-treating with the aim of amassing a bag full of goodies and perhaps some harmless mischief. (I’d add bobbing for apples, but I doubt today’s gadget-oriented youth would find that appealing.)

Aside from chocoholics and lovers of sugary sweets, the only ones who might take pleasure in Halloween may be dentists giddy with visions of potential customers.

Essentially, Halloween, like many holidays (i.e. Christmas and Valentine’s Day), has evolved into an excess of crass commercialization. It is estimated that the 72 percent of American households that celebrate Halloween spend about $8 billion a year on candy, costumes, decorations and such.

And it’s not just children who dress up. Millions of adults, longing for a brief return to the happy-go-lucky feelings of youth, wanna have fun, too. So, they purchase, rent or create elaborate costumes, even if they’re not accompanying youths on neighborhood trick-or-treating jaunts.

Hollywood, not a community known to bypass a moneymaking opportunity, attempts to get its share of the seasonal cash flow by deliberately marketing movies that, in theory, are supposed to attract — and scare — horror film audiences as Halloween approaches. (Actually, I can’t think of a horror film, though "Jaws" comes to mind, that really affected me as much as Alfred Hitchcock’s "Psycho." For years the thought of taking a shower while I was home alone was intimidating.) Television programmers annually mark the holiday with horror film fests, offering blocks of such classic as "Frankenstein," "Dracula," "The Wolfman," and, of course, the gory "Halloween" film series, on and before October 31.

Despite the insignificance of the day, some contemporary religious fundamentalists (mostly Christian, but Jews and Muslims, too) annually denounce Halloween as a pagan holiday celebrating Satan. Now that’s scary!

Though Halloween is rooted in pagan worship, those who partake in its modern pranks and rituals, which only began a hundred years or so ago, simply do so for the fun of it. Not devil worship! Trick-or-treating, according to the new history of Halloween, "Death Takes A Holiday," only surfaced during the Depression when homeowners surrendered to roaming youth gangs to prevent possible property defacement.

What should be a relatively unproblematic occasion has been fraught with some shocking problems. In my youth my brother, my friends and I were free to go from building to building and house to house collecting assorted candies and-ugh-an occasional apple. But, in recent years, parents have had to be especially vigilant or escort trick-or-treating youngsters and heed perennial warnings about tainted treats or delicacies inserted with sharp objects.

Told ya real life is scary!

More than a year after the terrorist tragedy, fear still impacts our lives. Yet, compared to the ogres and bogeymen of legend and lore that resurface every Halloween, the dread that exists in real life — biological and nuclear terrorism, homegrown bombers, rampaging maniacs, foreign fanatics — is by far more — much more — frightening.

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