Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween!


There are many ways to look at Halloween sociologically. One way is simply as an American holiday, how interesting and different it is. When I was in Japan it was clear how different it was. As an American, I wanted to celebrate this holiday, but imagine being in a different culture dressed up as some creature or character - how strange that would look. And then to think of handing out candy and/or asking strangers for candy - how odd this would seem to a non-American. So, a few other Americans and myself found an American restaurant where they were hosting a Halloween party and we limited our celebrating to within that establishment where it would not be violatng Japanese norms.

Another way sociologists look at Halloween is through the costumes Americans wear and what they represent about our culture. Notice all of the costumes that promote sexism and misogony. There are so many costumes that seem to be accepted just for the day but they are sexy _____(fill in the blank). Checkout this post for a number of examples of the sexualization of girls' costumes. The message is that if you are a female, it is okay to dress up like these things as long as you are sexy and you use your body as an object to be gawked at. sexy (slutty) nurse, police officer, whatever...And this is even happening for young kids. Costumes can also promote racial stereotypes as in this post. Checkout these people being sociologically mindful by posting pictures that are against racially stereotyped costumes.  Checkout this poetry slam by four girls who are exposing this truth:


Another way to look at it is through the American values, especially consumerism.  Over the last few decades America has transitioned from a producer country to a consumer country. Both industrially and locally, we were a country that produced things. When we needed something, we made it, whether it was a car in a factory or a tomato in our garden or a Halloween costume at home. Now we have become a culture of consumers as typified in Halloween. Kids pick out their costume and then parents buy it. So when the trick or treaters come by, sometimes you'll see 4 or 5 of the same costume whether it's batman or a princess. I remember growing up and my mom struggling to find a way to make a costume for me. Sometimes it involved sewing, makeup, or creative use of materials. But it was always unique, creative and authentic; it was productive. I think that the contemporary thinking would be that if a costume is homemade, it doesn't look as good or as polished as a store bought one. And the assumption might also be that a homemade one is cheap. And so the value becomes consume; buy one at the store. So, culturally we are becoming as bland as our industrially produced tomatoes; a whole lot of us buying things exactly the same rather than growing our own tomatoes or making our own costumes.

Do you remember hearing, "Be careful of unwrapped candy and have parents check the candy before you eat it?" These ideas were popularized through the mass media as detailed in Barry Glasner's book Culture of Fear. But it took a sociologist, Joel Best, to research and publish that this was a myth propagated through the popular culture. See this post about the sociologist who discovered this urban legend.

1 comment:

  1. hey students, former Sal-ite here!

    I'm teaching abroad right now in Seoul, South Korea and just had to put a short comment in on Sal's Halloween post.

    First of all, no Koreans celebrate Halloween. They know about it, though. I've spent the last week or so teaching my students some vocab and we even played an amazing ZOMBIE ATTACK game I made up for them.

    Some of my American friends and I went out Saturday night in a party-ish district in Seoul in full costume. We were Korean grandmothers, called "ajumma" here and they have a style all their own. Needless to say, we were some of the few that were dressed up and this brought quite a bit of attention upon us. We were nervous before going out but....

    we were treated like celebrities. I must have smilled for 300 random pictures that night with my friends. We were the hit of the town. We even got some smiles from the real "ajumma"'s in town. I got the same reaction when I wore my costume at school that Friday.

    I think, sociologically, Koreans are fascinated by the idea of dressing up in unconventional outfits. They have holidays where it can be appropriate to wear a costume, but it almost always consists of traditional garments.

    More importantly,it was nice to see that we were not offending their culture by sort of mocking the "ajumma" get-up. This, as some of you future international travelers will learn, can be an exceptionally difficult line to judge. When is it going too far? When is it taken as appreciative instead of scornful?

    Anyway, Halloween was a blast but it could have easily been a wreck. It is quite the experience to celebrate the holiday in a country that treats October 31st as a standard day.

    Best,

    Eric Grant


    P.S.

    Sal - we introduced ourselves as ajummania! thought you might enjoy that - Grant

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