What’s New for Halloween Power of Story? You Figure It Out!

26 10 2007

What’s new for Halloween shopping, WaPo At Home?


Could it be an indication of the zeitgeist that Halloween decor has gone from good fun to ghastly? A sampling of what’s selling says it all. Horchow, the high-end Neiman Marcus affiliate, sells fake buzzards and chocolate coffins, while Target sells a 15-piece cemetery kit, a hanging grim reaper and an oversize maggot, and the Grandin Road catalogue and online company offers up a ghoulish bag of bones (above left.)

“This year’s Halloween decorations may not just spook you, they might turn your stomach.
. . . many specialty stores and catalogues are selling creepily realistic corpses, severed limbs and butchered body parts.”

Whatever happened to standard-issue witches? [ JJ says see below!] Lesley Pratt Bannatyne, author of several books about Halloween, maintains gruesome has always been part of the culture and events over the past 60 years have reinforced our fascination with blood and gore.

Creeped out? Everyone will forgive you if you just want to stick a jack-o’-lantern on your front porch and forget it. . .


Don’t you wonder if Dumbledore costumes readied for Halloween are now being hastily returned by those who suddenly don’t want to identify with that character too closely, only to be snapped up by a different cultural camp of revelers suddenly wanting to identify MORE closely with him? gay-doumbledore-mashup-time.jpg


And don’t you wonder if the whole Hogwarts gang and all their books are banned in this district’s school libraries, not for Christ but for Wicca, not for having witches and wizards at school, but for costuming them in academic robes with disrespectfully pointy hats?

On the district’s list of guidelines related to holidays and celebrations is an item that reads: “Use of derogatory stereotypes is prohibited, such as the traditional image of a witch, which is offensive to members of the Wiccan religion.”

So the entire holiday is banned for all. That should do the “trick!”

I’ll need to go look up stereotype, I guess, but in my understanding of words and power of story, “derogatory” is inherent in how ANY stereotype feels on the receiving end. There should be a picture of “School” next to its definition! Schoolthink stereotypes run rampant throughout policy debate and adoption, stereotyping not just Christians and Wiccans but kids and parents generally, as if they were a monolithic class of inferiors safe to derogate and demean.

. . .For a chilling Halloween fright, see Ravitch on the perversity of stamping out stereotypes at school with censorship. Or maybe this sixth-grade girl’s words from the news story will do the trick :
“I think it’s terrible — it just kind of takes away from the little stuff they get to do that’s fun at school.”



12 responses

26 10 2007

Favorite Daughter commented recently on how kids and believers-who-think-as-kids have such clear definitions and oversimplified rules in their heads, that it makes them seem to stereotype humans as magical creatures in their holiday observances (and politics!) — and how unlikely it is that even the best-intended teaching (even from a mom who’s also a school administrator, like me!) can wave a authoritative wand and change their minds about any of it:

Kids are really more logical than you’d think – they may believe in magic, but their magic plays by clearly defined, sensible rules. Prime example, my younger brother, who we are trying to wean off Santa Claus this year.

“Santa might bring your presents a few days early, and they might all be wrapped,” my mom told him. There was a pause.

“Why would he do that?” asked my brother in the most skeptical tone of voice I have ever heard. “That’s what Santa does when you get older,” my mom said lamely.
“That isn’t how it works,” my brother explained dismissively.

So, in summation, I think we should go out of our way to educate the youth of America about religious dogma so that they may better recognize it — both when they see it, and when they don’t . . .

26 10 2007

And maybe this will give today’s story a good old-fashioned surreal scare — someone dressed up like A Modern Parent who believes Halloween hasn’t changed a bit since she was first married, and neither have kids, culture or society:

When I was first married, we lived in the city in a not-so-great neighborhood. We were surprised that first Halloween when hundreds of trick-or-treaters came to our tiny row home. Why didn’t I realize then that children who don’t have many treats on an ordinary day need a night of fantasy and free candy more than anyone? Still, I was amazed at the sheer number of hopeful faces that showed up at our door.

Their costumes were not elaborate, and it was obvious they were created with little expense. Those inner-city kids dressed up in whatever was available – a mother’s lipstick smeared all over their face, a borrowed scarf and sunglasses, an older sibling’s baggy shirt.

Teenagers who were too old for trick-or-treating came around on the pretext of helping the younger kids collect candy. But they always managed to hold out an extra bag for themselves. Who could blame them? Halloween is a night like no other. A night when kids are encouraged to take candy from strangers.

. . .Unlike some other aspects of childhood that have changed radically over the years, Halloween seems almost untouched by the passage of time. We’ll still put candles in the jack-o’-lanterns we’ll carve. I’ll still decorate orange-frosted cupcakes with candy corn, and kids will still come to our front door for candy.

26 10 2007

Goggled this author hoping she was just a one-time, clueless mom-on-the-street interview, something offbeat to spice up the holiday or give CSM something unusual to print. Nope. She’s not some cryogenically preserved curiosity from the 1950s. She’s an experienced, professional paid producer of parent advice and perspective on everything from science to day care to religious minority writing:

Ellen Scolnic is mom to three kids and a writer whose work appears in local and national publications including Parents magazine, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Jewish Week, Today’s Family, American Woman and others. She’s the co-author of The JPS Dictionary of Jewish Words. . .

“I’ve been a writer for more than 15 years. My jobs have ranged from public relations projects for a science-related company to feature articles and fund-raising appeals for a large day care agency. Since becoming a mom, I’ve worked freelance, concentrating on feature writing for national magazines and local newspapers.”

Well, at least I agree with her about this:
“. . . this is where the moral of the story comes in. . .an experienced writer knows how to ask the right questions. ”

I’m an experienced writer. So here’s my first question: when Disney and the other corporate gurus of family culture read her sanguine “family friendly” stuff churned out purely for profit — because being well-paid for writing what other moms will pay to read, is what parent communication is all about by her definition — do they seriously think that reflects my much more complicated cultural perspective on parenting??

I don’t intend to pay for her answer, OR theirs. I think I can figure it out for free, with tools I have around the house.

26 10 2007

OK now I can’t quite tell what’s real. Has contemporary childhood culture changed or not? Which of these contrasting costumes (if either) is the “real” Ellen Scolnic ? If I could willfully suspend my own disbelief, I’d choose to think it’s this one — such a mom would clearly defend a child’s pretend stereotypes against a school’s real ones.

I recalled when the school had earlier devised rules about correct lunchtime behavior. . . The kids weren’t even allowed to pick where they wanted to sit. Choosing your seat at lunch is apparently a reward that has to be earned after weeks of patiently sitting next to the kid who packs bologna-and-onion sandwiches.

So you can understand my skepticism as I opened the packet of rules for recess behavior. Sure enough, the first page was a thorough outline of what would happen to pint-size offenders. After the punishments came the rules. Pages and pages of detailed instructions on how to play:

“On the swings, don’t swing too high. Don’t walk in front of swings. Don’t share swings. Do not kick footballs. When playing soccer, the ball may not be kicked in the air. Do not head or throw the soccer ball.”

Do not make up any games yourselves, I added to myself. Imagination is forbidden. You are only 7 years old.

There were lines at the end, for both my son’s signature and mine, acknowledging that we had read and agreed to abide by the recess rules.

I could not sign the document – especially since I had just read an article by Anna Quindlen about overscheduled children, and how she spent a “neglected” childhood simply playing outside, riding her bike, and dreaming big dreams. . .

26 10 2007

Our incredibly interesting and multi-faceted local theatre group is discussing the possible power of story in the new definition of Dumbledore’s identity — particularly appropriate imo, because good theatre captures and conveys a story’s power and great theatre redefines it, usually ambiguously. I’d rather see passionate and exciting divergence and tangent taking-off-on, than a flat, boring standard story not worth talking or thinking about any further.

They found this article, which should get some Thinking Parents I know diverging excitedly. 🙂

A book can be merely entertaining. A historical novel can be educational. A good book will typically be emotionally satisfying. Great literature teaches lessons about the human condition.

In just about every case, though, the specific intentions of the author seem less important than the objective characteristics of the work. When faced with ambiguity, the reader will want to choose an interpretation that makes the story best hang together. Indeed, ambiguity itself will sometimes provide the most satisfying interpretation.

To be sure, learning something about an author’s intentions or life experiences may lead a reader to discover an interpretation that might not otherwise have occurred to him. Knowing that Ernest Hemingway reported on the Spanish Civil War, and strongly favored the Republican side in the conflict, gives one a handle on some of the books he wrote after that experience. Knowing that Norman Mailer fought in the Pacific helps one appreciate The Naked and the Dead as not only a work of the imagination but also as an accurate depiction of combat during World War II.

In the end, though, an author of a work of fiction is, at best, first among equals in interpreting that work. Her intentions do not control the meaning of the text. . . {and here’s the tantalizing tangent]
Yet even if the intentions of the Framers are clear, why should those intentions control later interpretations of the Constitution’s text?

27 10 2007

UPDATE NYT – Forget about hanging ghouls in a noose this year! (but burning at the stake is just fine? What about the WITCHES??)

. . .I told them that unless they took it down there would be protesters outside their house every day for as long as it took,” Mr. Gamble said.

The women relented. Mayor Miron and the police chief followed them back to their house, and the mayor helped Miss Cervero take down the hanging effigy.

“I decided to put a post up through its back and stand it up in a fire pit,” Miss Cervero said. “I asked Reverend Gamble if there was a problem if we had the guy look like he was burning at the stake.”

Mr. Gamble recalled his answer.

“I have no problem with that,” he said. “That’d be just fine.”

27 10 2007

Pointy costume hat at school – disrespectful to minority; entire holiday banned
Pointy questions of John Kerry at school – get tasered by gang of officers
Noose hung in tree at school- you deserve expulsion and public revulsion
Dark-skinned man’s effigy burned at stake for holiday fun – just fine
Dark-skinned boys beat up white boy at school – don’t be too tough on them
Dark-skinned boy beaten to death as “education” – officers just doing their job

How do kids figure out this culture at all?

27 10 2007

“I decided to put a post up through its back and stand it up in a fire pit,” Miss Cervero said. “I asked Reverend Gamble if there was a problem if we had the guy look like he was burning at the stake.”

Mr. Gamble recalled his answer.

“I have no problem with that,” he said. “That’d be just fine.”

Glorification of gore- yuck! I think it has gotten way out of line. I mean, if it’s in a horror movie (which I would never watch anyway), at least it’s in context. But on people’s lawns? It’s unnerving to me. I feel bad for kids trick-or-treating. We have a few neighbors that decorate to such extreme, with blaring sound effects/music, that my kids won’t go to their house. In fact, we have to run past those houses!

31 10 2007

Halloween foodie stuff here:


“One year I went crazy and made 300 wafer-thin chocolate bats, but this year it will probably just be old-fashioned chocolate chips or macaroons.”
Scott Peacock, chef
Watershed, Decatur, Ga.

“We’re making molded chocolates filled with orange Pop Rocks for the first time. I hope it works!”
Elissa Narow, pastry chef
Custom House, Chicago

“I’m a fan of the body part candies. Kit Kats are an everyday affair; why eat them on Halloween when you can have eyeballs that ooze cherry blood, or candy fingers and ears? I also love gummy pumpkins and vampire bats.”
Nicole Kaplan, pastry chef
Del Posto, New York

“We always get about 1,200 trick-or-treaters at the governor’s mansion; this year we are giving them gummy finger puppets, gum-ball eyeballs, candy corn and SweeTarts. And the cabinet secretaries all come and run their own trick-or-treat booths on the lawn.”
Glenna Fletcher, first lady of Kentucky

“One everyday treat we have is Rice Krispie treats with brown butter and caramelized marshmallows, and for Halloween we make extra.”
Colin Alevras, chef
The Tasting Room, New York

“I am handing out cellophane bags of caramel popcorn because I love it myself, and it has sort of an old-fashioned feel to it. I really believe in giving out something homemade.”
Karen DeMasco, pastry chef
Craft, New York

31 10 2007

Gifted kid costume idea (could be handy for the last minute!) — FavD had her honors party this afternoon on campus and just called to say one girl came as the Goddess Nike (all Nike sports clothes, with a laurel wreath on her head)

2 11 2007

Also posted this at Dawn’s as my comment:

We live on a quiet cul-de-sac street in a neighborhood heavy on friendly retirees, but one family next door to us has three kids and seem to belong to an active church for their socializing. Every Wed. night before dark, cars park in front of our house and disgorge families with covered dishes, presumably for some kind of weekly church circle or the like.

So this Halloween was a Wednesday. More than double the usual number of cars, all up and down our little street, and all the kids are in costume. A party, we figure, how nice. Then about 7 pm there was a loud knock and the whole huge crowd (kids of all ages plus some parents) is at our door, took two bowls of candy to treat them all, and they’re off to the next house! No one else came to our door all evening. I guess no other kids would come on the street when they saw all those cars?

I’m annoyed by this though I can’t put my finger on why — I guess I feel like we were used to host someone else’s private party, without even being asked (warned!) in advance and given the chance to demur (much less being invited! — instead my 12-year-old stayed home and dealt out the candy to all these strange kids not from around here.)

What do you think?

6 11 2007

HARRY POTTER AND THE IDENTITY CRISIS — Is Harry Potter of the Political Left?

(with a muggle-minded cock of the snook to The New Statesman )

Last week, Harry Potter as a left-wing intellectual hero who triumphs over the middle-class petit bourgeoisie. The cover story, “Why Harry Potter is of the Left” identified the non-magical Muggles as the Thatcherite middle-class, and the magical population at Hogwarts as the intellectual aristocracy of the Left.

I translated the article with Altavista’s Babelfish and got back some little nuggets like,

The uncle and aunt of Harry . . . live like the heroes of the world of Margaret Thatcher, in a vain district where all the houses resemble each other. . . where all the power of the middle class is expressed.

In Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban, there is an aunt, particularly hateful, to whom Harry throws a fate. [a magic spell, I think this means?]

It inflates and rises in the airs like a balloon. There one can see a reference to the Dictator of Chaplin (and a figure of the absolute power of the middle class become insane), but one cannot prevent oneself from noticing that the aunt is called Marge, an obvious allusion to Thatcher.

Proving once again that meaning is in the eye of the reader, not just the mind of the author. 😉

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