Halloween is a holiday typically associated with children. They comprise a vast majority of the target audience because they love nothing more than to dress up in whimsical, spooky outfits, gorge themselves on candy (since they're far too young to worry about healthy diets), and because they're easily scared.
Most of Halloween's kitsch is cute and harmless, but there is a slightly-less-than-subtle dark element to it all. Seriously. When you think about it, Halloween really serves no purpose other than to give both young and old an excuse to expose, mock, glorify, and celebrate their over-fascination with the macabre; particularly anything associated with evil and death.
Traditionally (bear with my glossy summary), All Hallow's Eve, being the night before All Saints Day, was believed to be a night when all the evil spirits converge on earth to wreak whatever mischief they can achieve before the Holy Deceased have their feast day. Most Halloween fans are probably only vaguely aware of the implications of this holiday, but, true to its origins, Halloween does seem to bring out the primal pagan in its perpetrators.
This past weekend's experience is a prime example. Thanks to a good friend of mine, I had the opportunity to participate in an annual event put on by Oklahoma City's favorite rockstars, The Flaming Lips. As part of the official Halloween Parade, hundreds upon hundreds of loyal Lips fans (and their curious friends) suit up in skeleton costumes, smear paint on their faces, and march at the end of the parade in row upon row, carrying tiki torches and accompanied by wagons blasting fog and creepy music.
My friend and I showed up at the appointed time (the entire thing was coordinated by the Flaming Lips website, roadies, and the band members themselves), received our costumes, put on our makeup and lit our torches (after standing around for some time). I was somehow on the outside edge, nearest the onlookers, as was my friend who was directly ahead of me. Everywhere I looked were witches, ghouls, blood-spattered zombies and vampires and the odd star wars character. Most of them were likely drunk and, at the over-enthused prompting of my friend (who was very excited) shreiked and cried their approval. I entirely forgot that I was part of the freakish spectacle...I gawked at the crowd as much as they gawked at me. I turned while walking to stare wide-eyed at a street full of endless walking skulls and fire. It was utterly surreal.
The actual experience was pretty fun and silly. But it was unsettling somehow. Everyone knows there are things to be scared of in this world, and Halloween is a holiday in which people reveal rather interesting methods of acknowledging them. I understand this completely; heck it's really fun to get to dress up in something gruesome or funny or just simply odd.
But perhaps it was the magnitude of this event. Seeing such numbers of people all embracing their macabre side was mildly concerning. People have a fascination with evil, even in such benign forms as the off-color joke costumes like naughty nuns. Realizing this is universal and then giving everyone an opportunity to exploit this aspect opens the door for much less benign forms of cutting loose and having mischievious fun. That dark potential which lies within each of us is perhaps the scariest thing of all.