Paul Croce, Halloween Night: Window to Fantasy.
Fantasy ruled the night.
I’m not referring to election night, but to MegaHalloween on Minnesota Avenue in DeLand. I met about 1000 festive and creepy characters, and there must have been at least that many more on the street, making it a carnival. From my random sampling, as the social scientists say, I got a hint of the taste for fantasy among the outfits with people who graced my front yard. And fantasy-fueled imagination also meant a lot of characters crossing over into all kinds of combinations.
People dress in outfits from the world around them, like the 4 Doctors including 1 Dr. Decay (how does this one stay in practice?), 1 Tacky Tourist, 6 Football Players and 5 Cheerleaders (including 1 Gothic Cheerleader), 5 Police Officers (one was “Buff”) but only 4 Robbers (1 had his “gun ready” and another was also a Nun!), and 1 Overweight Gen Xer. They tap long spans of history such as with Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, a Renaissance Woman, Bob Marley, 4 Native American Indians, including 1 Pocahontas, and 2 Flappers; and the natural world with 4 Butterflies, 3 Foxes, including 1 with a sword and 1 downright “Foxy Fox,” 2 Cheetahs, 1 Bunny, and of course 2 Spiders.
Most people let their imaginations range still further in all kinds of playful ways. There was the Secret Agent (at first, he only said, “if I told you, I’d have to kill you,” but then his friend divulged his real identity), the Cereal Killer (with lots of cereal boxes, all bloodied), and next up was a real Smartie Pants (yup, with Smartie candies stuck to her pants). I met one person still searching for identity, but with a blank label that said “insert name here,” and a self-professed Mime, but since he spoke his name, you gotta doubt his commitment to miming. And in keeping with the fear-flecked tone of the night, one character was no ordinary painter; no, he was a Killer French Painter. Then there was a Guy with a Mask, a Scary Guy with a Chain Saw, another who was not sure, but for sure he was “your worst nightmare,” and then, Just Me, “and I’m very scary.”
Lots of people tapped stories from folk traditions, including 10 Red Riding Hood, mostly Little but 1 was Big Red Riding Hood, plus 1 Minnie Mouse crossover, and one was her evil daughter. There were also 2 Mermaids, including one who was a Superhero, 6 Ghosts, including 1 Pink with purple eye lashes, 1 from Ghostbusters, and Casper himself (very friendly), and 1 Rapunzel. And of course, still more of the folk characters were dark and scary: 10 Reapers, all quite grim, 3 Draculas, 1 Mad Scientists, 1 Executioner, and 1 Forsaken Soul. There was 1 Wolf in Grandmother’s clothes; apparently all those Little and Big Riding Hoods were too late, and I wonder … were Minnie or the evil daughter involved in some kind of secret hostage deal?
Still more people draw on the imagination factories of popular culture, some very cheerful such as Pippi Longstockings, Violet from Willy Wanka and the Chocolate Factory, and 4 Woodys from Toy Story; some were suited up for hope and adventure as with the 5 Dorothys from Wizard of Oz, 5 Harry Potters, Sophia I, the commoner queen, Elena of Avalor, the Hispanic princess, and the 8 Elsas, 3 Annas, and 1 Olaf, but these numbers show a big thaw from costumes from Frozen in previous years. Star Wars still rules a big sector of the Halloween galaxy with 2 Luke Skywalkers, 1 Princess Leia, 3 Darth Vaders, 1 Imperial Officer, 3 Stormtroopers (including 1 Flametrooper), 3 Reys, 1 BB8, and 4 Kylo Rens. And a lot more are just plain scary including 7 Scream characters from the horror movies and TV shows, including one Ghostface, 5 Jasons, 4 Chuckys, 3 Jesters, including 1 Creepy and 1 Evil, 2 Leatherfaces from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1 Zipperface, 1 Killer Wife, the mysterious assassin Winter Soldier from Captain America, and 2 Jokers, including one in colorful striped pants and bright white face paint walking briskly with a cane; when I asked, “Are you The Joker?” Without Jack Nicholson’s crazed smile, he answered with an elusive seriousness, “Sort of….” Part of the fear comes from keeping you guessing.
How should we deal with all this murderous nastiness? You could rely on the 9 Soldiers, including 1 Officer, 1 Army Girl, 1 Zombie soldier, 1 Navy Seal, and one who was “supposed to be a soldier” but I guess he went AWOL. Fantasy supplied lots more troops. Enter the strong men like the 5 Iron Men and 2 Hulks, both incredible. Lots of righteous superheroes looked ready to keep those bad guys in line, ranging from Batman and Robin, Superman and Supergirl, and Spiderman and Wonder Woman, to newer heroes like the Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, and the P. J. Masks kids. There is not full gender equality in the fantasy world, but women are elbowing their way in on both sides of the law.
Women actually dominate among the Disney characters. Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, the crocodile, and Peter Pan himself appeared, along with 1 Aladdin, and 1 Tigger, but these guys were outnumbered by 3 Cinderellas, 2 Jasmins, 1 Ariel, 1 Belle from Beauty and the Beast, 1 Tinker Bell, 2 Joys and 1 Disgust from Inside Out, and 1 Snow White, but no Dwarfs. And this just in: 2 Mickey Mouses, but 7 Minnie Mouses, along with 1 Minnie Mouse Mom, which may explain all those Minnies.
These temporarily adopted characters fuel our fantasies, giving expression to our deepest fears and loftiest hopes. And a lot of the fantasies are intricate, with storylines that rival the workings of the so-called real world. In fact, there may even be some overlap. Having a tough day? Isn’t it more appealing to enter imaginatively into another world than to keep dwelling on the day’s troubles—and besides, in that parallel world, you might even come up with some insights for dealing with all that weird real stuff.
And then there are ways that our current events begin to look like fantasy—as with the recent election. 324 million people, almost two years of campaigning, and hundreds of millions of dollars spent, and the two major political parties produce candidates that most Americans did not even like; no wonder most people prefer Neverland or the Power Puff Girls who settle up fast, “saving the world before bedtime.” By contrast, the politicians seem to go in circles, while describing the opposition in lurid terms worthy of comic book fantasies—with each candidate often living up (or down) to the charges. Then, once in office, the words race way ahead of action. Gridlock, while problems multiply.
On Minnesota Avenue, there were 12 characters from the movie series Purge with problems even darker than in our off-screen world: in this dystopian future, the US has instituted 12 hours every year when crime is legal—what a metaphor for the campaign season with its verbal mayhem. In the latest movie, called Election Year no less, a woman Senator tries to stop this madness but gets trapped inside the Beltway just as the next 12-hour Purge begins—talk about dysfunctional Washington….
Alongside this popular political fantasy, there were no costumes of actual political figures, except for 1 George Washington, and he was sporting a bandana (perhaps an idea for a new $1 bill?). Between the example of the righteous first president and the appeal of fantasy, maybe we can pick up some civic lessons. The fantasies are fun, but there are also morals to the stories. The best political take-away would be to listen to each other, even the person who has ideas that seem ghoulish, and before turning to trash talk, double check the evidence and try adopting policies for the good of the country rather than just your own party or class. That’s part of the art of living together. The ladybugs, Pokémons, and Buzz Lightyears—and even the ones who look like Mad Hatters or Freddy Kruegers—work it out for a few hours on Halloween. Surely we can work together the rest of the year too, with all of us less-threatening characters.
And the whole world of our imaginations, on full display at Halloween, can be a resource. Here are the leading characters that fueled the most imaginations on October 31st, the Top Ten of 2016:
34 Cats, including 6 Kittens (1 a Zombie and 1 from Hello Kitty), 1 Princess Cat, 1 from Josie and the Pussy Cats, 1 Dancing Cat, 1 Cheshire Cat, 1 Calico Cat, 1 Dead Cat with Granny, 1 Catboy, 2 Catwomen, 1 Cat Minnie Mouse, 1 House Cat, 2 unassuming felines who were Just a Cat, but one was Just a Black Cat; judgment call: without the popular culture crossovers, the actual felines would only get Third Place—but Cats still beat out the one and only Dog!
33 Ninjas, including one from Skull Wars, 1 Skull Commando Ninja, 1 Blue Ninja from the Lego movie, 1 Dragon Ninja, 1 Skeleton Ninja, 1 Vampire Ninja, 1 Blue Ninja, 2 Green Ninjas, 1 Red Dragon Ninja, and 1 Ninja Girl
30 Zombies, with Honorable Mention for the most Combo Characters, including 1 Seminole Zombie, 1 Army Man Zombie, 1 Bride Zombie, 1 Prom Zombie, 1 Kitty, 1 Monkey Zombie, 1 Apocalypse Zombie, 1 Basketball Player Zombie, 4 Football Player Zombies (including 2 DeLand Bulldogs), 3 Cheerleader Zombies (including 2 Twins), 1 Walking Dead Zombie, and 1 Doctor Zombie
21 Batmans, including one with vampire teeth, but if you go across gender and generation lines, with 8 Batgirls, 1 Batboy, and 1 Batgirl, you get 31 Batpeople
21 Princesses, including a Candy Princess, Tiger Princess, Princess Selene from the Underworld action horror movies, and Princess Leia from Star Wars
20 Vampires, including one proudly displaying Vampire teeth and another from the Underworld movies
20 Pirates, including 1 Pink, 1 Pirate Homecoming Girl, and 3 from Jake and the Neverland Pirates, along with Jake and Izzy
18 Witches, including 1 Witch in training, 1 Mixed-Up Witch (who was keen to ask, “so which witch is that?”), 1 from the novel and movie “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” 2 movie Witches from Bolt and Hocus Pocus, and 1 switching between Witch and Minnie Mouse (does Mickey suspect—or is he really a Wizard?)
18 Skeletons, including 1 Pirate Skeleton, 1 Ninja Skeleton, 1 Half Human, 1 Pink Skeleton, 1 Bride Skeleton, 1 Ballerina Skeleton, and 1 with no mask
10 Supermen, and with 5 Supergirls, you get 15 Superpeople
The fuel of our imagination might take us far for dealing with our serious problems: how are we going to maintain a steady stream of jobs without crippling the environment; how are we going to get past prejudice to get along with each other across lines of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, and region; and how should Americans respond to global grievances and brutal terrorism? Those are tough tasks; let’s start with a few steps.
I am reminded of the family I ran into earlier in the day before the night of Trick or Treating. The little boy, confident in his blue cape, caught my eye. I asked his mother about him. “He’s going to be Gekko tonight,” she said; on P. J. Masks, the kids become their fantasies at night to fight for right. Then she added with a plain flip of her hand, “but right now, he’s just a superhero.” There is no point in waiting for Gekko, Superman, or Wonder Woman—or any politician, elected or unelected. No one person can save the world, but each plays a part. We’ve got to be our own superheroes.
-Special thanks to Chris Finkle and Peter Croce who joined me in talking with the costumed wonders, and to Mary Bernard, Maria Frank, Mari Hanley, and Brett Whitmore who helped to organize the information and who filled me in on some of the finer points of contemporary youth culture—thanks for coolifying me!