About halfway through October, I’m beset with a strong urge to become a totalitarian. Over the past two weeks, dozens of houses in my neighborhood have been draped in felt spiderwebs, obscured by giant inflatable witches, and liberally ornamented with shrunken heads, skeletons, and tattered ghosts. Like a werewolf under a full moon, I turn nastier than the ghouls that plague my quiet suburban development. Halloween decor makes me want to band together with a bunch of petty conformists and start a homeowners’ association. And I hate HOAs. Sure, all our trim must be the exact shade of “eggshell white” and we mustn’t ever allow chicken coops, but at least my street would be free of Halloween-themed lawn garbage at last.
Don’t get me wrong: colorful gourds and straw scarecrows and leafy fall wreaths are adorable. I even smile at the occasional bucktoothed grin of a jack-o-lantern, and I decorate the inside of my own house for fall. But if my neighbors don’t like my fake fall bouquets and the paper leaves I sprinkle on my mantle, they don’t have to see them. They’re inside my house.
I’m not just hating on Halloween for its obvious pagan roots. You can make Christmas and Easter tacky, too, if you put a little effort into achieving that goal. But there is something sentimental and goofy about cheap Santa merchandise that, call me crazy, I don’t think you can get from a mutilated zombie statue.
Halloween’s Inherent Tackiness
Tackiness just comes naturally to Halloween. What else would you expect from a modern secular holiday, the chief end of which is obtaining buckets full of mass-produced candy, getting the snot scared out of you, and snapping pictures of your ridiculous costumes (depending on your age)? Halloween is a tacky holiday.
I’m not saying tacky can’t be fun, or that fun should never be tacky. Kids have loads of fun playing dress-up and extorting candy from their neighbors. Babies look outrageously cute as flowers or strawberries or teddy bears. But there is nothing on this earth that will make me like your blow-up witch or haunted castle, and certainly no festive spirit will make me appreciate the bloody decapitated doll you’ve hung from your front porch.
The only thing worse than this horror show decor is in putting said decor up a month before Halloween. Why can’t people put a pile of pumpkins on their stoop and call it good? Are we so tacky we have to start the “festivities” when the Disney Channel starts the “31 days of Halloween” countdown? Does “seasonal decor” have to include those creepy faces that sit in the bushes to scare the kids who come trick-or-treating?
Halloween Keeps Getting More Gruesome
Halloween has taken a sharp turn toward the explicitly gruesome in recent years, the same turn TV fiction has taken. For some reason, people think it is acceptable to array their homes with all manner of symbols and graphic depictions of evil, even on streets populated by young families. Decency, it seems, is deader than the decaying corpse you propped up on your porch swing.
This problem of indecency isn’t unique to decor. People get weird when they don costumes—even the ones that don’t make you look like a prostitute. Halloween is an excuse for young adults to indulge in defacement of property, cruel pranks, drunkenness, and debauchery—or at least to amusedly watch other people do such things, in real life or in fiction. Halloween is an opportunity to give in to the dark side, and no one feels bad about it. But why exactly? Because the license to be an idiot expires at dawn on November 1? This trend doesn’t just indicate that decency is dead, of course. It suggests that the ordinary kind of evil is very much alive, and is given special opportunity to manifest itself on Halloween.
There’s a bit of irony from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” that I often think about this time of year: Giles says that the forces of darkness take the night off on Halloween because it had become an “idiotic cliché.” Halloween is clichéd because it celebrates darkness and evil with the same tropes and imagery over and over, but it’s idiotic because it’s all tacky make-believe.
It doesn’t matter much if you don’t believe in supernatural evil: decking your home in their representations is either celebrating them, in that you believe the ability to instill terror is a power worth summoning, or, almost as disturbing, casually turning evil into amusement. As my colleague Jayme Metzgar has said, “When people have no deeper meaning in suffering, or hope for life after death, sometimes they try to cope by making death and suffering into a joke.”
Is There Value In a Creepy Front Porch?
At least putting a cartoon Frankenstein monster out on the lawn is a sort of literary reference. But what is the merit in including the ghouls and the gore in your home’s Halloween ensemble? Is there value in a “fright night,” in causing fear for its own sake, and not in making a greater point about the nature of evil or how to overcome it (as we see, for instance, in the better horror films)? If your idea is to mock the occult and show its impotence, you’ve picked the most superficial and easily misunderstood way in whichto do it.
Before you reach for your robotic mummy collection, think about it. If you’re doing this just to out-decorate your neighbor, the tackiness and fright-factor should be enough to turn you off from Halloween decorations. If you’re doing it because of your affinity for darkness and the adrenaline high you and others get from being scared, think on whether that is a good thing. Don’t allow “but everyone else is doing it” to be an excuse.
Tackiness will be with us through all seasons, unfortunately. But you don’t have to take part in the worst of it.