Friday, November 10, 2006

Halloween: The Carnivalesque OR The Return of the Repressed

Everyone kept telling me that Halloween in Santa Cruz is a "thing"--as in, a thing not to be believed. This seemed strange to me as I haven't taken Halloween seriously since, oh, around 1985. Maybe five years ago, I dressed up--but that was only to attend a party. So Halloween being a "thing" here is pretty strange to me.

But Fosco is nothing if not a good sport, so he dressed up.

You know those "conceptual costumes" that are really popular with college students? The ones where they dress up as an idea or a pun or a phrase? And all because:

  • college students are too clever for their own good.
  • they're broke and it's easier to make a clever sign than to buy/rent a full sexy nun's habit.
Well, Fosco hates those kinds of costumes. Hates them.

And yet... Fosco is ashamed to admit that his empty pockets (did you know that UC grad students don't receive their first paycheck until November 1? It's true.) and excessive cleverness got the better of him, causing him to resort to costuming himself as... A THEORY. And not just any theory, sadly, but Lacan's Theory of the Divided Subject (the barred S, for those of you who are keeping score at home). I'm not proud of this, but luckily, there are no pictures.

I do have pictures of better costumes, such as those worn by Best Couple Ever nominees Michael and Laurel. As you can see below, Laurel is Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, despite the fact that she is unquestionably lovelier. Michael is tricked out brilliantly as Canadian hockey announcer (and all-around nutjob) Don Cherry.

The Santa Cruz Halloween thing involves going downtown (to the Pacific Avenue shopping district) and people-watching. How could this be entertaining? I guess I forgot to mention that 15,000 other people do the exact same thing.

And it's true: I could not believe Halloween in Santa Cruz could be such an event. For almost ten blocks, Pacific Avenue was packed with thousands and thousands of people in costumes, many/most of them drunk. What were the popular costumes? It varied, not surprisingly, by gender.

Popular Male Costumes
  • Nacho Libre
  • Borat
  • Ghostbuster (I know! Can you believe it? I think that was my 1985 costume.)
  • Jedi
  • sheepfucker (we saw THREE! see one below)

Somehow this guy (whoever he is) fails to be appropriately embarassed. Sigh.

And for women?
  • sexy devil
  • sexy butterfly
  • sexy angel
  • sexy cowgirl
  • sexy woman
Or, perhaps it would be more succinct this way...

Popular Female Costumes
  • whore
I really wanted to take a picture that would illustrate this point, but I felt a bit uncomfortable taking pictures of scantily-clad whore-women. Finally, I snapped the photo below from a distance. As far as I can tell, each of the women in it are a different variety of whore...

Does this make anyone else uncomfortable?

As a grad student in literature, there are two ways I like to think about this kind of Halloween event. On the one hand, the downtown scene seems clearly an example of Bakhtin's "carnivalesque"--the state of social disorder/misrule in which authority is (temporarily) overturned. I always thought this sounded like fun; now I'm not so sure. If Santa Cruz Halloween is a good example of the Bakhtinian Carnival, then it's actually pretty scary. Last year at SC Halloween, there were seven stabbings; this year, with increased police presence (and floodlights), there were only two (plus several melees). Although most of the violence seems to be gang-related, it's still pretty scary to be in the middle of a huge crowd where
  1. identity is almost totally concealed
  2. most people are intoxicated or high
  3. the police (despite being nearby) aren't close enough nor powerful enough to re-install order
  4. there are plenty of non-costumed middle-aged male spectators standing on the streets ogling the lingerie-clad women
Now, I don't want to live in a police state (did I ever think I would start a sentence like this?), but there is something to be said for everyday norms of public interaction.

The other way of thinking about Halloween is in terms of the Freudian "uncanny"--as the "return of the repressed." But what does this mean for Santa Cruz Halloween? My colleagues and I are puzzled. All of the sexuality on display on Pacific Avenue would seem to be a good candidate for repression IF these costumes weren't so similar to what women wear to go dancing every other weekend of the year. It's hard to consider this spurt of Halloween over-sexuality as a return of the repressed, if sexuality isn't repressed in the first place. Are our notions of Halloween now absurdly out-of-date? Has it become a holiday devoted not to the scary or the uncanny, but to the frankly sexual? I think I would feel more comfortable about this if it weren't just the women who ended up dressing like whores. Can I see some sexy men next Halloween?

Oh yeah, and it was freezing that night (well, actually around 45, but that's cold for here...), so Fosco got a smidge of a cold.

1 comment:

John Mackey said...

AEJ had her share of your much-hated "conceptual costumes." In 1992, she wore a black t-shirt with white iron-on lettering that read, "Bush / Quayle '92." The letters were ironed-on in reverse. She was...
Negative Campaigning.

This is what happens when you have an Ivy education. I, on the other hand, on more than one occasion, have worn a brown trash bag and said I was dressed as A Bean. (This is what happens when you attend public school and then go to music school.)