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

Halloween 2013

Paul Croce
Imagination Overflow: Halloween ‘R’ Us
DeLand Beacon, November 28-December 1, 2013
http://www.beacononlinenews.com/opinions/opinion_letters.php

In recent years, our technologies and hard work have produced an extraordinary abundance of information. Think of the richness this brings to our lives: information at our fingertips, awareness of events half a world away, instant communication—such as your ability to read this essay. The remaining frontier: How to keep up with the abundance, sort it out, and figure out how to use its richness to enrich our lives, rather than just leave us overwhelmed. 

The residents of West Minnesota Avenue in DeLand faced a microcosm of these issues on Halloween night. We witnessed, how many?… 1500 people?,… 2500?, … an uncountable cloud of humanity, mostly children, but also many fun-loving adults in a fabulous array of costumes. How can words capture this abundance? Descriptions pale. I have given up trying to describe the event to newcomers, but instead I simply suggest, Come on by and take a look.

When experience is so abundant—at Halloween, in a complex society, in life in general—our brains often can’t keep up. After all, the quantity may be new and unprecedented, but our brains are still the same ones that dealt with transistor radios, railroads, the printed page, and cave drawings. Our brains simply can’t take it all in. So we sort; we sort to cope; we sort to select the parts of experience that make sense, often selecting the facts that create or reinforce a story we have already developed.

This can lead to waves of disagreements that are difficult to reconcile. The more enormous the pools of information, the more likely that any of us will not only develop different views, but also have a sturdy set of facts to back up those views—a set wholly different from the facts of the person next to you, facts from different corners of the information cloud.

This state of affairs has already descended on our news media, where there is also an abundance of news outlets and even search engines sorting information according to our prior views. The effect on politics is clear: each political leader presents views backed by selected information, and each leader is ready to skewer those speaking from different points of view, with different sets of facts. Witness the polarization that has become the norm. Sorted information by personal views, news outlet, or political affiliation leads to sordid politics.

Are we stuck in that gutter, with plenty of sound and fury, but little action? With such large pools of information, even two people diligently data driven end up relying upon different data. Different perspectives focus on different problems, often really terrible problems, with dangers worthy of a Halloween horror night, and each is eager to persuade more people of the reality of those dangers. In the US today, we face a host of treacherous dangers, which different groups define differently, including enormous national and household debts, environmental disasters, the threats of terrorism, growing inequality, moral deterioration, insensitivity to cultural differences, and more. For all the different stories connected to these dangers, there is little attention to the ways these problems are related. But because we each have different concerns, based on different selected facts, we tend to get angry at those that are ignoring our own perspective. We could use some teamwork with less time spent on suspicion of differences and more time spent on hearing out each other’s concerns. Better use of our imaginations would help us grasp each other’s perspectives and see their relations. But where or where can we tap our imaginations?…. Hmmm….

Encouraging people to hear out differences can be a tough sell, especially when it is much more fun to be angry at the other guys—and most especially when the venting of anger allows recess from work on the problems themselves; it’s easier to say that a problem is not being solved because of those people. But Halloween presents a different picture. It brings the whole community together, with people of all stripes and opinions. When else do we rub shoulders with such difference, with differences of people liberal and conservative, secular and religious, rich and poor? Of course one night of fun can’t solve our problems, but it suggests a platform for tackling them. And hey, on Halloween, we are even circulating with differences beyond the human, with some that are even out of this world—but all within the world of our imaginations. While our reasoned debates often leave us stymied, Halloween offers an injection of imagination. And imagination can do wonders, if we’d pay attention….

What did bubble up from the children of all ages roaming Minnesota Avenue? We had creatures from Avatar and astronauts including Neil Armstrong, Buzz Lightyear and Woody, a Vulcan and an Earth lover, Princess Leia, genies, and ghosts (and one Ghost Buster), a mad scientist and an engineer, and even a killer clown from outer space. Some people came from distant lands: Pocahontas, Queen Isabella, Indian and Egyptian princesses, a mummy, and members of a mariachi band. And there were animals from distant lands too: a cheetah, a leopard, a lion and also Simba, a tiger, a panda, a wolf and also a wolfman and a wolfmouse, but only one zookeeper. Some waltzed off of video screens: Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Taylor Swift, Rocky, Ron Burgundy, Peter Pan, Pikachu, Minnie and Mickey too, Snow White, Tinker Bell, Pippi Longstockings, lots of Ninja Turtles including one with a moustache, and a Pac-man. And others leaped out of books and traditions: Little Bo Peep, tow Little Red Riding Hoods including one who was evil, and the Man with the Yellow Hat (but curiously, no monkey named George). Some came right from our houses and backyards: cats, dogs, butterflies, lady bugs, a firefly, a lizard, a frog, a raccoon, pumpkins, a small swarm of bees (no dire collapse of bee colonies in this world of the imagination), ketchup, and mustard—with a hot dog. Some reflected more private fantasies—or maybe not!: a stripper maid, a naughty student, a Playboy Bunny, a dominatrix vampire witch, and one woman who, when ask What are you tonight, answered saucily, Anything you want me to be! And others depicted slices of everyday life: an old lady, a school teacher, lots of ball players and cheerleaders, a black man eating a donut, a tourist, an average Joe, Family Guy himself, grandpa, grandma, an overweight middle-aged father, and mom, along with a few who said I am nothing, I’m wearing whatever fit, and I’m just getting candy.

There were lots of hybrids, a growing trend of recent years: not just pirates, but also pirate-skeletons, and pirate-zombies, a princess cat, not just Spiderman but also Spiderwoman and even a Spider Countess—such powers give a whole new meaning to High Society. The scary side of life was well represented: Frankenstein, Captain Hook, Cruella De Vil, Al Capone, a small mob of gangsters, an assassin, an ax murderer, the Joker, Darth Vader, Freddie Krueger, Chucky with his bride and his father, an evil leprechaun, many Reapers (all grim), a haunted werewolf, a toxic experiment, one who was just venom, lots of Scream faces, but fortunately only one skull crusher. This all sounds very threatening, and sure enough, some showed up as a dead Dead Alice, a dead bride, and a dead tourist. The one who was a victim could get help from the eight doctors, but the choice needed to be carefully made since one was a demon doctor, another was actually a doctor who was crazy for killing people (ok, call hospital quality control on that one), and another was, well, … Dr. Who.

We all got protection from the DeLand Police Department, who sent some officers. You could tell the real ones because they were on motorcycles, while the others were on foot, including one from a SWAT team, a few army troops, and some gladiators; and they had support from Captain America, three Hulks who were mostly incredible despite not being very large, and Superman, but when he said it was the only outfit that would fit, he lost some of his street cred. Everyone spent a long time on their feet, so we could be glad for the podiatrist. Just to add to the puzzlement, there was a Rubik’s Cube—unlike most of our troubles, this puzzle was already solved.

For sheer grit, you gotta hand it to the zombies: despite being half dead, they aced out the previous biggies, the witches. There were a whopping 48 zombies, and they had active imaginations; their numbers included ones that doubled as Batman, bride, cheerleader, doctor, guitarist, joker, ninja, pirate, rocker, sheriff, skeleton, a transformer, and a zombie who had his head on fire, along with one homeless zombie and one zombie hunter—clearly this one had lots of prey to stalk—and that not even counting in the two living-dead dolls. They were followed by the 40 witches, including one witch doctor, one wicked witch, and one sitting in a wagon pulled by her parents proudly sitting next to her broom (no word yet on its air worthiness), but only 3 wizards (so in wicca land, there seem to be more than 10 girls for every boy—hey guys, those are better odds than the Beach Boys had in Surf City). The crew around the witch’s brew was followed by 36 vampires, including a vampire princess, vampire rockstar, vampire nerd, vampire cheerleader, and (again, watch out) a vampire hunter. Rounding out the top ten: 31 ninjas, 30 Iron Men including one Iron Woman, 24 princesses, 23 Spidermen (and women), 21 pirates, 21 Supermen, 20 from Monster High, 19 cats, and 17 from Duck Dynasty.

With a few solid numbers and a lot of different ways to think about the experience of Halloween, this thread through the data cloud is only one take of many possible reactions and interpretations, just like our interpretations of our sea of troubles in society. So this essay, like the plot lines of the game Clue—yes, we saw the whole gang at Halloween: Mr. Green, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. Peacock, Professor Plum, Miss Scarlet, Mrs. White—could have been composed with different selections of stories. With this rendition of Halloween, I pass on to you, Dear Reader, my glance at the sea of surging and smiling humanity—or better yet, an example of a way to greet the next day’s sea of humanity, even if it seems like just another chapter of the daily routine, complete with outrage at the crazy views of that guy next to you. Halloween presents a different story, a chance to pay attention to difference, a reminder to stop, look, and listen—and smile. After all, those delightful creative people in outfits were none other than members of our community on a playful night, dressed in our capacities for imagination. Halloween ‘R’ Us.

The Summary Stats … recorded on West Minnesota Avenue Oct. 31:
Zombies, 48, including ones that doubled as Batman, bride, cheerleader, doctor, guitarist, joker, ninja, pirate, rocker, sheriff, skeleton, a transformer, and a zombie who had his head on fire, along with one homeless zombie and one zombie hunter.
Witches, 40, including one witch doctor, one wicked witch, and one sitting in a wagon pulled by her parents proudly sitting next to her broom, but only three wizards.
Vampires, 36, including a vampire princess, vampire rock star, vampire nerd, vampire cheerleader, and (again, watch out) a vampire hunter.
Rounding out the Top 10: 31 ninjas, 30 Iron Men, including one Iron Woman, 24 princesses, 23 Spidermen (and women), 21 pirates, 21 Supermen, 20 from Monster High, 19 cats, and 17 from Duck Dynasty.

Paul Croce is professor of American Studies and History at Stetson University. This essay is also built on the good work of students in the American Studies class The 1950s and 1960s, The First Years of Our Own Time, who met and talked with the people behind the outfits, and the careful tabulations of Josh Howard, Andrei Pemberton, and especially Chelsea Santoro.

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