Halloween: Facing Fear and Breaking Taboos

Last week, I wrote about why I think horror movies resonate and appeal to people. This week, I’d like to build off of that and talk about why I think it’s important to have dark holidays like Halloween.

Halloween gives us permission to face fear, anger, sadness, death, destruction, and taboos. We shouldn’t necessarily need permission to approach these subjects, but I think we often feel like we can’t most of the time. Society has made them unmentionables. We come into contact with them only when we have to, and then because they’re so unfamiliar to us, we’re unequipped to face them. I don’t think it’s healthy or even possible to try to avoid dealing with the darker aspects of life, and because society tries to pretend they don’t exist, we need an outlet. Halloween provides that outlet.

In October, we feel that we are allowed to openly express the things that all year round we’ve been pressured to keep buried. They not only become allowed, they become expected. Few people, at least in the area where I live, do nothing for Halloween. Yards and houses are decked out in grotesque decorations. Adults and children alike design their most fearsome costumes. People host parties centered on macabre themes. Art shows pop up featuring gruesome works. There’s even a community zombie run, not to mention the ghost walks and haunted shows.

It’s the time of year when we can openly approach the disturbing and uncomfortable as a community, and as a community, break our own community rules.

But it does more than that.

It provides an outlet that turns fear, anger, sadness, death, destruction, and taboos into amusement, which is very important for a couple of reasons.

First, we need to know that fear doesn’t rule us. Taking fearful and somber topics and reducing them to comical absurdities allows us to face our fears and build the tools for overcoming them. The whole purpose of so many aspects of Halloween is to scare the shit out of people, and we do it deliberately to ourselves. There’s something exhilarating about approaching the things that disturb you and choosing to face them down. It’s empowering to take fear and turn it into a positive, fun experience. Seeking out fear in a safe environment gives us an opportunity to build tools to use in less safe environments. We learn that fear can be exciting, not just terrifying. We find ways of soothing ourselves as we head into the unknown, and we discover the tremendous high that comes when we face a fear and conquer it.

Second, it’s important for us to “blaspheme.” Taking the somber or taboo topics and turning them into a game gives us a break from their seriousness and takes away their power. Humor is an important coping mechanism, and dark humor (or satire) has a long history of helping people through difficult transitions and of enabling social action. Whether it’s someone buying a costume of a priest, which has recently taken on a more sinister quality than the mere desecration of a sacred symbol, breaking gender norms, or dressing up as a zombie Jesus, Halloween gives us a means of safely denigrating things that are normally off limits. It allows us to point out the irony of the world around us and to reduce or release the tension that is built up. Humor and ridicule bring these things back down to a form that we can handle.

On a slight tangent, I think the reason that so many girls like to dress “slutty,” as some would describe it, is because one of our biggest societal taboos is allowing women the freedom to their bodies. I’m hoping that in addition to the general disregard for modesty, women will also use this year to express the other attempts at suppression on their bodies like the invasion of their reproductive organs.

Next week, I will upload some pictures of my own Halloween preparations and discuss the personal applications of the Halloween season.

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One thought on “Halloween: Facing Fear and Breaking Taboos

  1. […] a post I did on Halloween in 2012, I talked about the value of “dark” holidays in giving us permission to approach our fears and reduce them to conquerable representations. What […]

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