In anticipation of Halloween, I spent some time inside the oddly charming Spirit Halloween store on Lincoln at Pico. Although it’s a temporary operation, the place was filled to bursting with products you and I could never imagine, unless at some point in your life you’ve said, “I would really like to own a human skull punchbowl for serving drinks.” Much as the costumes for sale at Spirit capitalized on popular culture, there apparently wasn’t enough time for the Chinese to get out a version of our most ubiquitous haunted apparition this season.
But rest assured, there will be Sarah Palin costumes this Halloween. Because ultimately, mass recognition becomes a kind of freestanding industry that works its whammy way before you get into whatever the entity identified stands for. Arnold Schwarzenegger is still “Ahnold” way before he’s governor of California. We all kind of love, or at least tolerate, his global “Oh, it’s him”-ness before we ever start talking in detail about his actions, such as going to bat for McCain in Ohio during the sinking and stinking last few days of the Republican presidential campaign.
The Palin costumes will work the same way. My guess is that very few of the adults, female or male, who sport Sarah Barracuda costumes to a Halloween party will actually do so to provoke any intelligent dialogue about the Palin phenomenon and the very dangerous way a voraciously ambitious and baldly careerist cheerleader got so close to the White House. Because like the more traditional dimensions of Halloween, the Palin character is ultimately located on the same shelf as the rubber Freddy Krueger masks and the fake blood, and the thing that looks like a knife in your head.
While sales of such Halloween frippery this year will tally somewhere around $5.77 billion, we all acknowledge that none of this holiday “horror” junk really scares us. It’s something more akin to wearing a Santa hat to your office on December 23. In our culture right, now a person dressed as a zombie munching on a human arm is, basically, “cute.” So on Halloween 2008, with so much of the mechanics of real life teetering on what seems to be a rollercoaster track with loose bolts, what really does scare us?
A structurally faltering economy on fire with a doddering and wildly inconsistent Republican candidate waiting to grab the reins should have rightfully frightened the hell out of us! But instead of scary, McCain and Palin became more like the plastic junk in the Halloween stores: They devolved into rubber masks barking one-liners out of a tinny box powered by two AA batteries. When the Halloween store’s $249 Anthony Hopkins mannequin purrs “Hello, Clarice…” through his plastic bite guard, the scratchy audio could just have easily been “Obama will raise your taxes,” or “Domestic terrorist William Ayers…” and it would have brought the same bemused smile to our faces.
The camouflage of Halloween decorations and wigs may, on the eve of the election, somehow provide us with comfort against that which really frightens us when we’re alone with our thoughts. For example, what kind of party costume represents the fear that you’ll owe more money on your mortgage than your home is worth? We can dress up like scary nurses and doctors, but what would really be terrifying this Halloween would be to wear a large printout of the hospital bill from something like a heart bypass procedure… with the words “Your name here” at the top.
How do you dress up like a small business first hammered by big-box monoliths like Wal Mart and Costco, and then given a stake through the heart by a massive meltdown of the economy in general? What kind of costume looks like a hard-working father telling his kids he’s very anxious about their chances of having the money to go to college? Can I talk four or five buddies into dressing up like AIG execs getting massages at the St. Regis Hotel? We’d be covered with blood, but it wouldn’t be our own.
Sometimes it’s the smaller bumps in the night that really frighten you. While you wouldn’t call it a Halloween TV special, the October broadcast of a two-hour NOVA episode on global warming was the scariest thing I’d seen in some time. The first hour was basically “Bush did nothing,” followed by a second hour that explained how energy (nee oil) companies are spending almost nothing on alternative energy development and continuing to dispense carbon into the air we breathe, and skies above us.
Then there’s the little shiver you get realizing that most of that $5.77 billion we’re spending on Halloween this year will go right back to China. Well, when we need it, they’ll loan it back to us, like the trillion we already borrowed. But I wouldn’t blame them if they had a laugh by dressing up as vampires on the day they hand over the check. At least, I hope those are costumes…