On days like today, when faced with real-life horrors perpetrated by real-life monsters, it can be difficult to indulge in silly frivolities about ghosts and ghoulies. I’ve whistled past plenty of graveyards in my limetime, but the sheer enormity of events can overwhelm even the most centered (or jaded) of us.
I start wondering “what right have I” and feel pangs of intense guilt before I arrive at the same answer I always do on these occasions — “because it’s what I do.”
Halloween is a cultural coping mechanism, a sanctioned celebration of primordial fears whose remnants linger to the present day. In olden times, it was the last hurrah before the Long Cold Dark returned, rejoicing the harvest bounty while acknowledging the former half of the seasonal cycle of death and rebirth.
As a New Englander, I feel its rhythms acutely. The turning of the leaves, the longer nights, the slight chill in the air all trigger responses so habitual they border on hardwired. Summer gives way to a riot of harvest color gives way to the skeletal solemnity of the pre-solstice stretch. It’s bracing and intoxicating and downright magical, and always marks a shift in tastes and behaviors.
Even when I got a slight taste of it a month back, I put aside the summer playlist of party jams and pulled out favored selections from my piles of goth rock and postpunk LPs.
I’m not alone in this. The spooky season has been seeing something of a renaissance over the past decade and change. You can’t make it to the second week of September before folks start chomping at the spectral bit. It would be easy to pass this off as an effect of the every-lengthening holiday retail cycles, but I suspect there’s more to it than just a marketing push.
We live in a legitimately terrifying age. Halloween takes the edge of those fears by offering more fanciful and familiar ones. I’m past the point of being convinced there’s a monster outside my bedroom window or compelled to hide behind the couch during a Creature Double Feature showing of an old Hammer flick, but I can still remember those old fears and bask in the residual thrill.
At best, it can strengthen one’s fortitude against genuine horrors. At the very least, it’s a nostalgically fun distraction.
Recommended listening: Bauhaus – In Fear of Fear (from Mask, 1981)
Setting a new bass line for terror.