The Collegian
Saturday, June 25, 2022

Halloween: candy, costumes and commonality?

Halloween. As kids, it was the chance to stockpile more candy than a small country consumes in a year. In college, it's - surprise, surprise - another chance to party, but one of the best, probably second only to Pig Roast. Trading Snickers for Smirnoff, students suit up in their scariest, their silliest, their sluttiest. But is that all? Is that why we love Oct. 31 so much? I hope not.

In light of October being the Month of Free Thought and Global Diversity Awareness Month - according to an outlandish holiday Web site I recently uncovered - I'd like to explore an alternative explanation.

What if the stereotypical slutty-nurse costume is not women at their worst, but rather a symptom of a society that represses natural desires and chains us to unnatural roles? Perhaps we love Halloween for the freedom to escape from the norm, the stereotypes society tells us to carry, the costumes campus tells us to wear and the heavy lines that carve out our social strata that haunt us more than any Jack-o-Lantern.

Class, race, ethnicity, sex, gender, sexual orientation, etc., are the real longitude and latitude that divide our world. The University of Richmond campus, though more beautiful than where 99.9 percent of the rest of that world lives, is no different, and maybe even worse. Not only do we recreate those stereotypical divisions every day through whom we hang out with and how we view each other, but we also add more: coordinate colleges, fraternities, black sororities, white sororities, sports teams, class years, separate orientations for multicultural and monocultural students, etc.

We already use alcohol to soften some of those lines, but that's every weekend. Halloween, on the other hand, is one night that presents the ultimate eraser, or at least the most potential for a less conventional and more cohesive community.

If Martin Luther King Jr. had delivered his speech two months later, at the end of October instead of August, his dream could easily have been for people to "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their ... Halloween costume." Character and costume, although not interchangeable, are similar in that they ask us to interact with each other on a basis alternative to the cues we typically use to categorize each other.

On this one day, the normally dominant costume of polo shirts and insert-the-latest-trend-here - although surely spooky in itself - gets overthrown for Michael Jackson, Balloon Boy and maybe even a potentially rabid fox or raccoon. In costume, we can't rely on the stereotypical signs - clothing labels, Greek letters, skin colors and facial features - that cue us on whom to nod approvingly at, say hello to, sit next to in class or initiate conversation with at a party.

Let's pretend, for the purpose of this column, that Halloween required everyone to wear masks and full-body costumes. This way, physical characteristics, such as race and devilish good looks, would be off the table. And the costumes would have to be homemade - because, let's be honest, that's the best kind - so socioeconomic status would also be inapplicable. Except none of that make-your-own, ironed-on Greek apparel, so sorority and fraternity divisions would be gone too. After my apartmentmates hosted a highly segregated pre-game this semester - international students in the front room and U.S. students in the back - I bet costumes would mix things up better than we ever could.

And with all that candy - and I guess a little alcohol wouldn't be unheard of on this campus - no one's thinking straight, so we wouldn't be able to remember which apartment, lodge or off-campus house is affiliated with which group. No more of that lame, "I can't come to that apartment. I'm not in that frat," from guy friends, or high-pitched sorority reunions from the ladies that leave others feeling like the loneliest lasses in the room.

And in the spirit of the Month of Free Thought, let's push the envelope a little further. As Halloween blurs gender lines of what is "appropriate" dress for males and females - I've heard the Jonas Brothers costume idea from both - what if we didn't have sex to go on either? The effects could range from revolutionizing pre-games that require drinking games in order to initiate inter-sex conversation, to abolishing gender norms entirely.

Because it's also GLBTQ History Month, as well as National Coming Out Month, what if we widened the spectrum for everybody? Drawing from an intriguing conversation I had with a friend recently who said she couldn't classify herself as straight, gay or bisexual, what if, instead of seeing male or female, we just saw people?

The expanded prospects would not only make walking into a party much more promising (especially with the freshman class male-female ratio up to 40-60, either claws or creativity will have to come out). But they would also embrace students such as the ones quoted in the GLBTQ panel story on the front page of last week's Collegian, some of whom have been physically assaulted by other students or have even contemplated suicide. There is no "norm," so we're insensitive to hold one supreme.

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Sadly, our society has not only set these separations and sterotypes in stone, but it also makes money off them. Take, for example, the casting announcement in last week's Collegian for the new season of MTV's "The Real World," which said producers were specifically looking for "a person who is physically challenged, struggling with weight issues, affected by a natural disaster, received home or alternative schooling ..." Although I'd like to think the goal is a noble one - to promote solidarity by familiarizing viewers with diverse experiences - it's MTV, which tends to promote controversy by relying on extreme stereotypes to boost ratings.

Lucky for us, Oct. 31 has also been tagged Reformation Day, and falls conveniently at the end of Peace, Friendship and Good Will Week, as well as Disarmament Week. Halloween also falls on a weekend, which means we have three days to recognize the freedom of dressing up as whatever we want and interacting without the codes, clues and cues. So when the costumes come off, the stereotypes don't have to come back on.

Contact opinion editor Maura Bogue at maura.bogue@richmond.edu

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