A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
As I’ve said before, Hallowe’en is one of my favourite occasions. However, I’m starting to get a little disappointed with the whole business. For the last several years, I’ve been seeing an increasing number of costumes that are, at best, inappropriate and, at worst, downright disgusting. I’m not talking about the tawdry sexual innuendo that populates Generation Y’s trick or treat choices. Hallowe’en has always had sexual undertones; this current crowd is just so repressed they can’t control themselves. Honestly, if you need a child’s holiday to justify unleashing your libido once a year – well, so be it — I don’t care. No, it’s more than that, getting reflected in how we conduct ourselves on All Hallow’s Eve.
I’ve seen little kids walking around with great huge spikes in their heads, or bloody ax blades sprouting from their stomachs. I’ve seen their older brothers and sisters as amputee Bo Peeps and their parents as various fairy tales gut-shot and/or eviscerated. This isn’t right. There’s nothing frightening about a bad night in the emergency ward. Vital organs flung around promiscuously aren’t scary; they’re grotesque. It’s like slowing down to rubber neck an accident: we’re not afraid; we’re curious. So how did Hallowe’en go from spooky to sickening? I blame the vampires.
Sometime in the last 30 or so years (oddly enough, the tenure of Generation Y) vampires became cozy. They lost their edge. They went from that sinister thing that moves in the night like a dry whisper to the guy next door, lighting his barbeque. These days, vampires are no more dangerous than the neighbourhood Rottweiler, and quite a bit less likely to bite you. They (vampires, not Rottweilers) hang out at sporting events and go to high school dances. They host dinner parties and probably haul out the Trivial Pursuit™ on sunny Sunday afternoons when they can’t go outside and play. They aren’t evil anymore. Nobody’s scared of vampires. In fact, there are battalions of young girls who think it would be cool to marry one. No big deal, you say? Crap! If the evilest of all the evil things human beings have ever thought up in all of our history isn’t evil anymore, then what is?
By teaching an entire generation that vampires are just misunderstood creatures of the slightly cloudy day, our society has, once again, shot itself in the foot — and this time we used a silver bullet. Like it or not, we need evil and vampires are the embodiment of it. They haunt the night. They creep into our dreams. They coerce our thoughts to satisfy their lust. They live off the very lifeblood of you, me, Winona Ryder and the kid who delivers the newspaper in the winter morning darkness. They are supposed to scare the bejesus out of us. That’s they’re job.
Humans are the dominant species on this planet. We have no natural predators, so we had to invent some to keep our egos under control. That’s why we have folktales. They tell us there are still things that live beyond the reach of our intellectual fires — things that we neither know nor understand. They are the shadows that shift in the darkness, the glint of momentary eyes and that faint sound of leaves, dry in their rustle. Without them, we, bold in our knowledge and technology, become godlike in our conceit.
Our ancestors understood that humans are puny in the face of an overwhelming universe. They honoured their gods and were afraid of their demons. As we systematically Care Bear that universe we are losing our natural wariness. If we fear nothing, it’s not because we are brave or there is nothing to fear; it’s because we are childlike in our arrogance. Vampires and their ilk remind us that “there are more things in heaven and earth” than we, 21st century humans, can possibly understand. We need them to keep us humble.
Monday: Where did vampires come from and why we still need spooky.