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

Halloween 2012

Paul Croce
Halloween on Minnesota Avenue: The Imagination Factory
The West Volusia Beacon, November 15-18, 2012, p. 1B

On October 31st, Minnesota Avenue was as full as ever with costumes and carnival delights. Some houses featured fanciful lawn decorations and music and lights, hot dogs and other treats, and of course candy, lots of candy. The crowds swelled—there must have been about 2000 people on the street and lawns.
As the token eggheads, I and two patient and playful neighbors, Blake Jones and Sam Valdez, persisted with the simple delights of meeting the kids of all ages on my front lawn, but with our mere Gang of Three to do the greeting, we turned more to talk and less to counting. Like the pollsters during the recent elections making predictions based on the returns of only a few precincts or interviews, our estimates of popular outfits come from the mere 800 that we actually could meet….

Witches and princesses, ninjas and Scream faces continue to dominate; there were many pirates, whose numbers started growing the last few years; and now, zombies have surged in popularity. There were also strong showings of Power Rangers, cats, cheerleaders, skeletons, Marios, cowboys and cowgirls, soldiers, ball players, butterflies, Grim Reapers, hippies, Yodas (including one who had taken off his mask, “tired Yoda I am”), and other Star Wars favorites, along with characters from the Hunger Games, Monster High, Toy Story, and the Lalaloopsy Dolls (including one very cute, but “seeking revenge”!).

Even more delightful than the big numbers were the individual shows of imagination. After all, Halloween is a chance to put those musty corners of our playful hopes and dark fears out in tangible form. And isn’t that what Halloween is all about: a chance to try out our playful selves, but also some of our dark fears, in a kind of safe way, in one brief night of experimenting?

It’s a night for the imagination’s laboratory. What’s nice about this experiment is that you can try it out—play out the fun, test out the scares—and then go back to life as usual in the snug confines of bed that night and at school or work the next morning. It’s also a good reminder that for all our First World problems, most of us do not live with the suffering in many desperately-poor and war-ravaged parts of the world.

The children’s imagination factories produced an unusual number of combinations this year. The poet T. S. Eliot said that creativity is generally not so much produced wholly new but generated from new combinations. In the same spirit, the visions on Minnesota Avenue included a Baterina (maybe she had flow away from the support group for ballerinas that also appeared), Marilyn Monroe in Reeboks but still with the telltale mole on her left cheek (“see?” she said proudly), a corpse bride, a devil cat, and two Abraham Lincolns. Running with their own imaginations rather than with the popular representations of Vampire or Daniel Day Lewis Lincolns, these two were hobo and Puerto Rican versions of the 16th president; dear Mr. President, we realize that you had a very difficult term in office, but who knew?

Zombies were not only popular in themselves, but also there was a whole zombie industry of combinations: a zombie cheerleader, a zombie bat, a zombie doctor, a mad scientist zombie, a zombie pirate, a zombie Mario, a zombie politician (come to think of it, that could explain a lot…), two zombie prom queens (but one had her own brand: “prombie”), and a zombie hunter (he must have had a busy night).

With both a monster princess and a cuddly monster, it seems the younger set has gone egalitarian, shunning the traditional marriage of opposites in Beauty and the Beast and other tales as old as time.

Continuing a trend in recent years, there were a lot of dark and violent versions of traditional characters: a dead redneck, a toothless vampire, a dead pirate, a demented fairy, an evil clown, and even Little Dead Riding Hood.
The medical profession was well represented, even beyond the zombie-version physician, with a psycho-clown doctor and a nurse with a dead patient (they never publicize those cases).

The animal menagerie was full of critters from far and wide, including a jaguar, a monkey, a tiger, a zebra, and closer to home, a wolf (and true to their numbers in Florida, there were indeed outnumbered by werewolves), a bear, a lizard, a cow, a few bees (but hardly a swarm), a chipmunk (and this one had a name: yes, it was Alvin) and a spider (but a spider witch). There was a puppy (kinda big for a baby dog—must have been a person underneath) and a bunch of other dogs—at least they looked like dogs—and they were dressed as a jail dog and two Teenage Mutant Ninja Dogs.

The people with straightforward imaginations are kind of fun almost despite themselves. Witness the Person on TV, the “I’m original” (for “no costume”), the one who had another outfit but his mom said it “wasn’t warm enough,” the ordinary boy, the normal boy, the bunch of kids nonchalantly declaring “nothing” (they were quite evidently in the candy-acquisition business), the one who simply said “I don’t do costumes,” and “costume guy” (I pictured him as a kind of Halloween stem cell, ready to become any character at all).

There were quite a few parent-child pairs. Ah, what better way to work out those pesky household tensions than with the boy US soldier and his father the captured German Nazi, the boy police officer with his father in jail, or the boy hot dog with the mother (you guessed it … parenting: the service profession) the mustard.

For historic characters, you had to see the Pharaoh, Cleopatra, the Roman centurion, Charles Darwin, Al Capone, an assassin (no target mentioned), and three Native Americans including Pocahontas, but no representation of the Greek Homer, although there was Homer Simpson, declaring “I forgot my beer”—d’oh!).

A few outfits offered contemporary social observations, including a broke college student, and two turned to political commentary. One man walked up with a suit and tie and a Mitt Romney mask: “I’m the Jobs Reaper,” he said, and he pointed to Sesame Street characters he had knocked off, dangling, like notches on his belt. Then along came a teenager with long sticks taped to the front and back of his bloodied shirt; he was a hospital patient who couldn’t get healed because of ObamaCare.

For sheer craftsmanship, I have to give a shout out to the zipper face so artfully done that it looked like a realistic combination of your every day clothes fastener and actual surgery.
In the world of imagination, all our kids are winners. If they can keep the fires of their Imagination Factories going, they will brighten any dark days ahead.

– Sam Valdez is an American Studies and Art double major at Stetson; Blake Jones is a teacher at the Putnam Academy of Arts and Science; and Paul Croce is Professor of American Studies and History at Stetson University.

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