Have you ever dared to go inside one of those Halloween outlets that crop up a month before October 31? Besides high-priced trash, these shops offer an insight into what Dante might have conceived for our times in his Inferno, portraying the horrors and monstrosities that are housed in the heart of our society with filthy “fun,” edgy “heroes,” and the consequent intuitive dread of death. The paradoxical parody of deviant sex, jaded heroism, and twisted torture is poignant, for they are images of identity rather than fantasy.
Halloween is scary nowadays because it is not simply silly. It is an event to be taken with some seriousness because of the manner in which it is treated as silly—a silliness which plays with serious things in scary ways. However, there is a peculiar lack of alarm over the predominant Halloween themes depicting a freakish sexuality, dubious heroes, and psychotic violence. At Halloween, the sins of the day are put on parade with an “anything goes” attitude that exposes a culture of excess, relativism, and death. Customs reflect culture, and so do Halloween costumes. Though Halloween is a masquerade, it offers an unmasking of society. Among the mincing harlots, the homicidal maniacs, and the morally muddy superheroes, we see revealed something disquieting in the choice of Halloween masks.
Popular icons and activities of amusement depict those things that are prominent in both our imagination and our ideals. This is why the pervasiveness of Internet pornography and casual sex is of tremendous concern. This is why the trend of grotesque tattoos and gruesome television programs depicting slaughter, psychosis, and death is a terrible touchstone of the times. This is why blockbuster movies showcasing comic book superheroes who are dark, perverse, and question the traditional moral compass are damaging. This is why the focus of Halloween, like the focus of any nationally celebrated holiday, presents worthy material for cultural analysis, for it is ultimately a mass expression of mass experience. Modern fascinations are often synonymous with modern afflictions.
From this perspective, Halloween is a startling caricature of the soul of America: the cultural disease of lust and power and the resulting character of death that hurls Donne’s sonnet to the dust. It is the mark of a society where pessimism is stronger than optimism and cynicism outweighs idealism. The consequences are a culture of edginess rather than enrichment and an unconscious movement to make the foul as fun as possible.
Since the festivities of Halloween are so established, Christians bear a duty to defend their children and their faith from the corruption rampant in current vogues and replace its base ugliness with the flavor and flair of the spiritual. The crisis, however, seems too far gone to correct on a wide scale in a nation that is increasingly hostile to the Christian culture. Of course, Halloween should be elevated to the spiritual instead of rooted in the corporal. Linked to All Saints and All Souls, Halloween’s ghostly imagery could represent a liturgical illustration of the human passage and the significance of Christ. Without death, there would be no saints in heaven or souls in purgatory. Halloween offers a comic truthfulness of the solemn truth that comprises man’s participation in the Cross. The victory of the Resurrection and the glory of the saints arise from death freed from sin. Halloween could and should celebrate Christ’s triumph through exultant mockery, subjecting the symbols of the grave to satire.
Unfortunately, this is precisely the artery that has been clogged with the sludge of our shock value lifestyle. The American Halloween celebrates lust, force, and fear just as Americans celebrate so many obscenities, trying to normalize the abnormal in an orgy steeped in sex and violence where the ugly is glorified. Halloween is far from a playful derision of forces that prey upon us—such as demons, passions, and death—but rather shows a pandering to them, a succumbing, and a servitude.
Although man is not the slave of sex or death—they are his servants—they have taken a tyrannical hold over Americans, and this is especially clear on Halloween. Until something radical changes in America, the outpouring of sleaze, psychosis, and sadism will continue every October. Halloween will continue to be horrific, with a hedonism that acknowledges death as a harbinger of the final horror, for death is horrible indeed after a lifetime of license.
Buried and gone is the innocence of bed-sheet ghosts, colorful cowboys, and papier-mâché witches. The secular Halloween agenda is bent on the disfigurement of folklore figures, turning the mysterious into the mutilated. This deformity focuses on purely physical nature—both the scary and the seductive—leaving out any hint of the spiritual and devaluing those physical things that participate closely in the sacred. This is one reason for the concentration on slashers and smut. Old-fashioned ghouls and their implications are all but extinct, which might comfort parents who are dubious of ghostly inclusion in their Halloween observances—but better ghosts and goblins than zombies and go-go girls.
The heart of America has grown darker, even demented. Now meat-cleaver murderers, fairy tale strumpets, eviscerated corpses, and existentially embittered superheroes go door to door for their candy. Though shrugged off as “harmless fun,” the most fearful thing about the masks of Halloween is that they are more like mirrors. They reveal what lurks in the psyche and in our society. We are the sex slaves. We are the conflicted heroes. We are the walking dead.
We are dressing up as ourselves. Trick or treat.
Author: Sean Fitzpatrick
Sean Fitzpatrick is the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, Penn. with his wife and family of four.