Feed the Fear a Big Helping of Fun
Halloween on West Minnesota Avenue in DeLand was as big as ever. Joining with some friends, the students and I in an Environmental History class at Stetson University got ready for the MegaEvent by reading a history of chocolate. Learning about the evolution from the decidedly bitter cacao plant into the favorite treat of the modern world was a rather cheerful entrée for meeting well over two thousand children and kids of all ages in outfits of all sorts. However, not all the messages of the season were sweet.
Even weeks after Halloween, I am still haunted by the comments of one Trick-or-Treater. As if to up the ante on the Trick part of his role before seeking out his Treat, he said playfully, “Fear will eat you alive.” At the time, the comment was all part of the fun, but since then, I noticed that he had offered an unintentional observation about the dominant emotion of our time.
Fear is scary, but it has become routine. We live with countless fears, of unemployment, of violence, of terrorism, of opposing parties getting into power, and of disasters in the form of religious apocalypse or environmental collapse. Different communities live with different fears: the town of Ferguson, Missouri, is center stage for a national drama on race relations and security worries, with fear of crime facing off against fear of police.
Dear readers, that’s the news—but only according to adults. Children have a different message, because they have a different way of dealing with fear. Surely they also have fears, ranging from those same adult fears to fears of being left out of the crowd or of failing the next test.
Alright peeps, here’s the dealio, to use a phrase my daughter taught me: children don’t dwell on fear the way adults do. Yes, this is partly because kids generally still live under the protection of the adults around them, so they can outsource their fear, letting parents and others deal with all those scary things. But children have still more resources to deal with fear: their imaginations. And Halloween is a time for the full play of both imagination and fear; by experiencing them together, children can act out their fears, laugh about them, and then put them aside. Set fear alongside the other emotions that life dishes out can make the fear less scary.
Make no mistake: there were plenty of fearful characters at Halloween. There was 1 Dark Knight, 2 who were just plain “dark characters,” 1 Creepy Jester, 5 Darth Vaders, 3 Gangsters, 8 Jasons, 4 Jokers, 2 killer clowns, some convicts (one claimed to be innocent while pointing to his bloody shirt), 6 Werewolves, 2 Big Bad Wolves (including one that “already ate Grandma,” but they were outnumbered by 3 Little Red Riding Hoods, however one of those was “Spooky”), and a botched surgery.
Then there were the cute outfits with a dark edge: a bad fairy, a dark angel, a bloody leaf, a rainbow monster, Demon Mom and Demon Grandma (let’s hope that they convey some family values down in those nether regions), and a bleeding Jack O’Lantern.
With all that attention to fear, there was also a surge of outfits representing real-life security agents: 17 solders (including 8 Army Men, 2 Storm Troopers, and 1 Seal Team Officer), 14 Police Officers (including 1 Police Woman, 2 SWAT Team Members, 2 Sheriffs, and 1 Secret Service Agent). To supplement their power, they could turn to 1 carnival strongman, 1 Clint Eastwood (and his outfit really did “make my day”), 1 Crocodile Dundee, 1 crime scene investigator, 2 Columbos, 1 George Armstrong Custer (but none of the Native Americans who defeated him at the Battle of Little Big Horn). Instead of calling for the cavalry, these security forces could call upon the 25 Power Rangers (including Kimberly the Original Pink Ranger), 3 Katnisses, and 1 Warrior Princess among the many of her royal class who instead settled for more regal finery.
However, some security details might not pack much punch, including 1 Cookie Monster, 1 Zombie Grandma and 1 Haunted Grandma, 1 “Lazy Phantom,” and 3 Presidents, since one was a Zombie and the other already dead; of the pride of 5 lions roaming the street, alas, 3 of them were Cowardly Lions.
The top spot is a new one this year, and since Ninjas were more of the stealth warriors in Feudal Japan than the more formal Samurai, they represent a spirit in defiance of authority. The Ninjas lead this pack of mostly scary Top Ten Outfits for 2014:
64 Zombies, including many athletes (maybe being half dead beats using steroids),
63 Elsas from the movie Frozen, but only 12 Annas,
53 Witches, knocked off their top spot two years ago,
51 Princesses, who had reigned supreme many years ago,
41 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,
39 Skeletons, but they included 1 pink, 3 glowing, and one made of sugar, and
36 Cats, including one with a sword who may have attacked the one without ears.
Many of the other popular outfits show still more Halloween themes. There is considerable gender mixing of popular male superheroes, including 27 Batmen, plus 8 Batgirls and one Batwoman; 23 Spidermen, plus 1 Spiderwoman and 1 Spidergirl; 7 Supermen, plus 2 Superwomen, 1 Superboy, and 6 Supergirls, and 14 Disney mice: 9 Minnie Mouses, but only 5 Mickey Mouses.
Some of the adults following their children that night fully expressed their worries, including one woman who said she was simply “Life,” and she was giving out lemons; no word yet on the making of lemonade. She might have appreciated the 18 Despicable Me characters, the Minions, who are the very symbols of powerlessness: their only purpose is to serve of the most nasty forces around. One man was dressed as “a homicidal maniac, but I look like everyone else,” representing the lack of trust that penetrates even daily life. One man without an outfit claimed he was a Hunter since “I was hunting for a costume, but it got away from me”—some playful imagination reached this adult mind. Another woman said simply “I’m just trying to keep the kids happy.”
No worries about that concern on this night. By the morning after Halloween, all the fears that have been dominating the news were still with us, but the night of spooks might give us some clues about ways to deal with them. Some listening to our imaginations might help us to think outside the boxes of fear that often clamp us down. Children lead the way, not by being all cheerful in the face of a scary world, but by dressing up their fears, and then at the end of the night, they put those feelings away. The fears then don’t disappear, but they are just easier to manage when addressed with generous helpings of imagination. At Halloween, fear meets its match.
-Paul Croce is Professor of American Studies and History at Stetson University; along with Kimberly and Michael Reiter, Nathan and Penny Hale, and Yvette Davidson, he joined the students in his course, Environmental History: Nature and the American Marketplace, meeting the children in outfits; Mary Bernard helped to organize the information.