Thoughts on Halloween

The Geist of Halloween is abounds. This is significant; sometimes, holidays just don’t feel like holidays. The mind just won’t impose the right tertiary qualities to color our experience of the day. But today, it is Halloween, and all of us believe it. I flinch at the wind’s stirrings of leaves behind me as if they were footsteps, ghosts appear in unlikely places, and the inevitable swipe at “slutty” costumes has been swept by a Tribune columnist.

Certain words are only heard at certain times a year. “Merry” and “jolly” come out of hibernation for December. “Freedom” is uttered all year round, carelessly, with no real thought as to the nature of its referent; but the air is thick with “freedoms” in July. “Grateful” pops in and out for the last week of November. And “slut” and “slutty” are dropped in public without passion or selfconsciousness in the two weeks leading up to 31 October. It’s strange. At every other time of year, the word is a joke among close friends, or else hissed under breath, or shouted in hatred. But around Halloween, men and women assume a smugness to apply a brazenly hurtful word to persons for their costume choices.

Now, I’m not prepared to go so far as Dan Savage and prescribe Halloween celebrants embrace its sexualization and take the occassion occasion for any and all to “flaunt” sexuality. Of course, if someone wants to flaunt within the bounds of reasonable caution, I don’t care, but no one should feel obligated.

I think there could be reasons good and bad for oneself to decide to costume skimpily. A good reason might be a genuine confidence and joy in one’s body and one’s sexuality, coupled to a weighted understanding of the social and physical risks of potentially provocative clothing in mixed company, and a caution to protect oneself (and one’s drinks) from unwanted attention. A bad reason might be feeling pressured to wear something one is not comfortable with, by a partner or by peers. Another one might be a temperamental bawdiness with its foresight blinded to possible negative consequences to attention. It seems to me uncouth to presume someone’s motives, their intelligence, their regard for their body and reputation based on a glimpse we see of them on the street or across a crowded room. Skimpy costume-wearers may regret their choice. They might regret it later that night, when the first pictures hit Facebook, five years from now paging through those same pictures. Their regret may or may not be rational. So it seems cruel to sneer at them now, and make them regret for our judgment and not theirs.   

Do what you’re ready to do, have fun, be safe.

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