Little Bits of American Popular Culture at MegaHalloween, DeLand, Florida, USA

Halloween 2011

Paul Croce
Halloween: Carnival Day for Children’s Imaginations
The DeLand Beacon, November 17-20, 2011, p. 5A

Halloween is a day of the child. Most days, children have to do what they are told, or even try to be someone who doesn’t come naturally to their natural impulse: follow rules, learn challenging things, play to win. Halloween is a day for them to follow their imaginations, learn fun things, and play just to play.

On Minnesota Avenue in DeLand, where the kids come in abundance, we saw imagination in full force. On my front lawn, along with my students in History and American Studies at Stetson University, we didn’t ask for the children’s names, but about their outfits, about their fantasy selves. Now some don’t follow their imagination very fully: some of the little ones when asked, “So, who are you tonight,” will say earnestly, “I’m Johnny;” or their only role will be “I’m nothing,” “I’m just me,” or “people,” which was actually fairly reassuring considering all the ghoulish creatures around them. But most of them fully plunge into their imaginary worlds, relishing the chance on this day to color outside the lines of adult expectations, and imagine new possibilities for themselves, or just have fun without a particularly directed or achieving purpose.
Viewed from the perspective of one day of the year, it looks like a day of defiance, the carnival day, when the usual lines of authority are turned upside down: the children’s day, the day for the play of undirected imagination. But from the perspective of the arc of a whole childhood, Halloween is a promissory note toward the true goals of most parents, which is for children to grow up to be independent beings, to think for themselves—and to have an independent livelihood rather than living off their parents well into adulthood. Parents love their kids as little cute darlings depending on adult care, but of course time happens, and they grow; and in growth, parents do truly hope that they will depend less, and think and do for themselves more. They will in short individuate.

Halloween is a playful step in that direction. And becoming your own person is a long and difficult task for young people—and a long and wistful path to watch for parents. So isn’t it grand to have some playful steps along the way? Halloween is an individuation lesson plan where the learning goes down easy. It’s fun.

And it’s fun to watch, especially when there are over 2000 outfits bobbing around. In that sea of glee, the folk ideas (from family stories and traditions), as in previous years, remained strong among the top ten and throughout all the wild assortment of outfits, despite the power of popular culture (from TV, movies, and games):
67 princesses
53 zombies
51 witches
44 ninjas
37 pirates
28 vampires
26 cats
22 screams
22 fairies
20 each skeleton and devils

Outfits with all kinds of inspirations retained their old reliable references, as if refreshed with each generation: there was a Pea (and it was in a pod), two Hulks (both Incredible), and one Horseman (reliably headless). On this night, there is no need to be or act cool, especially when in the company of 11 Nerds and one Geek. And with one Werewolf Slasher and a Death Eater, are the streets safer at night, or are these cures for the ills of violence worse than the disease?—especially with only one Policeman, one Policewoman, and one Sheriff. But at least they had back up, with a SWAT team officer. Perhaps this is why there was one Imp and one Imp’s victim. So beware the one Purse Snatcher, and the four Gangsters, including Al Capone himself, even though, fortunately, one of them was only a Wannabe Gangsta.

All was peaceful on our crowded street, but there was evidence of the tragic violence in our world with one Dead Man and one Killer, one Guy with a Machete, and even one Killer Grandpa. And for a nation at war and with periodic terrorist threats, I’m happy to report that there were no Al Quaeda or Mujahideen fighters, but there were 7 Soldiers, three Army Men, one Army Girl, one Sergeant, one Marine, one Air Force Officer, two CIA Officers, and with help from the world of fantasy, there were also 14 knights, 6 Power Rangers, 3 Storm Troopers from Star Wars, one Luke Skywalker, and one Jedi Master.
It is a dark night, so there is no surprise in finding nine Grim Reapers (although one at least was “not grim”) and so many Devils (plus one Devil’s Daughter), but only seven Angels—and of these, one was a Vampire Angel and one, apparently rather confused, was a Devil-Angel.

Michael Jackson was here, so I guess that’s why his doctor, Conrad Murray was nowhere to be seen. And really there were not that many celebrities; oh, there was your one Marilyn Monroe, one Lady Gaga, and two Michael Jordans, along with one Famous Singer (already being famous can pretty much guarantee celebrity), and one Fashionista. For superheroes, the guys have it: 15 Batmen, but only five Batwomen, 13 Supermen but only one Wonder Woman. It’s slim pickings on the sports figures: one Baseball Player, one Basketball Player, one Swimmer, one Skater (but “with no wheels”), one Olympian (a gold medalist), and one Gators Fan, but eight Football Players.

Where’s Waldo you ask? Look no further: yup, he was here, and sooo easy to spot. With one Wall Street Protester, and one Spy, I thought, Oh great, the infiltration has already begun, so if the protests turn disruptive, I already know the one to blame. There were no Bankers and no other men in suits, but there was one child in a “Formal Shirt.”

Teachers and pastors, you might like to know there is one Responsible Parent in DeLand, but sorry, only one. And environmentalists, you might be happy to know about the wildlife that showed up, even though, as with our depleted landscapes, there weren’t many (maybe it was because of the four Hunters, even though one of them was dead): one Alligator, one Snake, one Squirrel, one Duck, two Bunnies, two Fish, two Elephants, one Moose, three Monkeys, one Peacock, and one Bird, and it was an “angry bird.” As in nature, there were more insects, including 14 Butterflies and 12 Bees; 10 of them were Bumblebees (but one of these was “dewinged,” and another was a Bumblebee-Dog; wow, new heights of genetic engineering: a guard bug), and one was just a Bug (although it was a Decapitated Bug from Uranus). Other animals included only one wolf and one wolverine, but there were 7 werewolves, and one of them was Little Red Riding Hood Werewolf—apparently the best defense really is a good offense.! There was one Lion (and one Lion Tamer) and one Cheetah, and only three Tigers (and one was a baby), but three Tiggers. Memo to wildlife: if you really want to boost your popular appeal, go for the cute or edgy. There were many more domestic animals: one Cow, seven Dogs, and 26 Cats, although some were a little out of the ordinary: one Thundercat, one Cat Pokeman, one Cat Woman, one Hello Kitty, and one Cat in the Hat.

Mr. and Mrs. Potatohead were here, and these days, isn’t it good to see a family that stays together? With only three Mickeys but five Minnie Mouses, three Brides of Frankenstein, one Frankenstein’s daughter, and one Frankengirl, but no Frankensteins, and one Captain Hook’s sister but no Captain Hook, those ladies did look rather lonely. And women, your gender was also represented by one Pole Dancer, one Beautifying Before Bed, one Rasta Girl, two Hula Girls, one Marge Simpson, one Betty Boop, one Waitress from the Old Days, two Bratz dolls, one Barbie (and she was a vet!), two Goddesses (at war with each other because one was Greek and the other Roman), 8 Cleopatras, and one Miss Piggy; and for all the princesses, there was only one Queen (and she was “randomly evil,” which might give some ideas to our leaders on how to misrule—keep ‘em guessing!). Now here are some real gender benders: one Harry Potter Witch, and one Mr. Rogers, but he/she was a female.

There were no magicians, but one Mad Scientist who turned into a Rabbit—so professors in the sciences, take note: if you really want to sell the product and increase your majors, here’s your formula (but I was not privy: it was a Secret Formula)…. Perhaps this was why the only professor was a Poor Professor. And the only other scientist was a Zombie Scientist: so not just poor, but living dead—make note, oh ye administrators!

And doctors, also take note: there were seven of your profession represented, but one was a Zombie Doctor, one a “Crazy Killer Surgeon,” and one an actual Witch Doctor. And one Patient with had a Special Potion (didn’t get word on this formula either). Help is on the way: there were four Nurses, however, one of them was a Zombie Nurse, and one a Vampire Nurse.
Of all the Republicans hoping to occupy the White House, only one showed up: Abe Lincoln. There were three Grinches and, with Christmas just around the corner, you might be glad to know that one of them has gone legit, as “Santa’s Helper.” And there was one Real Housewife of DeLand, which kinda makes you wonder about all the others you thought you knew….
Our children’s imaginations are alive and well. On Halloween, the younger set traveled far in their imaginations, as they surely will for the rest of their lives. As one of them put it when asked about his outfit, it is “whatever it is I need it to be.”

-Paul Croce is Professor of American Studies and History at Stetson University; he worked with students in his course, The American 1950s and 1960s: The First Years of Our Own Time, meeting the children in outfits; and Jenn Snyder Hilderbrandt and Rachel Chappell worked on organizing the information.

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