In decades past, every Halloween brought a crescendo of suburban governments banning trick-or-treating and religious leaders fretting over the occult while safety experts raised the specter of everything from cavities to fire hazards.
The fuss seems muted this year. Part of that has to be our becoming accustomed to caution.
Covering your little ghoul’s black cloak in reflective tape and slapping a cell phone in his hand just doesn’t seem the extreme precaution it once did.
But I also believe that real fears mock our fake ones.
Between the bloodbath in Iraq, the genocide in Africa, and North Korea setting off the atomic bombs that Iran clutches at, we just can’t get ourselves excited over whether wearing red plastic horns will nudge a 6-year-old toward worshipping Satan. Not this year.
With the election more than a week away, Dick DeVos has spent more in his quest to become governor — $39 million, as of Oct. 20 — than both major party candidates spent four years ago.
But what’s really impressive (or appalling, or simply curious, depending on your perspective) is that $35 million of that total — seven out of every eight dollars the DeVos campaign has spent to pitch camp in our living rooms since last February — has come out of the candidate’s own pocket.
For more than a decade, DeVos and his wife and the tax-exempt foundation they control have funneled millions of dollars to conservative Christian groups that seek to promote school prayer, public assistance for religious education, the criminalization of abortion and the prohibition of embryonic stem cell research, among other causes.
DeVos says he is running for office to promote an economic agenda. But as governor he would be in a position to advance nearly every one of the social agenda items that have preoccupied his adult life — and there’s simply no reason to believe he has suddenly lost interest in doing so.
I have the good fortune to be a sign language interpreter in Portland Public Schools. Here’s part of what it looks like on this 31st of October, 2006.
The teacher is reading a book called The Best Halloween Ever, because it is Halloween time. Today there is a small party with sweets given among students and a presentation in the auditorium with monsters and mad scientists in it. Most of the staff is wearing black and orange clothes, jackolantern jewelry, etc. But the word has come down to the staff that this is “Harvest Party” day, and Halloween is forbidden. As in, the word Halloween is forbidden. Children who show up in costume may be sent home for a change of clothes.
I’d place the blame for this foolishness and political correctness squarely in the laps of the same busy-bodies who rail against role playing games, video games, rock music, Internet chat and other forms of pretend-time. It is frustrating and sad. But I know what the kids are really learning is ‘grown-ups tell lies, and call something one thing when they know it is the other.’ That can be a good lesson to learn, indeed. And I like the idea of a Halloween that is a little more threatening to people who can’t mind their own business, and a little more underground among those who want it bad enough to pretend to follow the rules. Me, I’ve got a big blind eye for that kind of rebellion.
Fortunately, we do not have and cannot achieve a cultural blank slate. I know that the word “goodbye” is a contraction of “God be with you,” but being an atheist is no excuse to not say bye. I can and do speak of ‘good fortune’ and ‘being lucky’ and other nonsense, because it conveys something meaningful as well as meaningless (and because I’d be an ass to say ‘the electro-chemical process that is summarized as myself would experience pleasure if the events experienced by the electro-chemical process that is summarized as you were in agreement with previously imagined goals’ when ‘hey, good luck!’ would do). There are no gods or devils, spirits or afterlife. But thank goodness there is a Halloween.