Halloween decor wreaks of unoriginality

Michael Williams

I love Halloween.

Every year we utilize this time to overstate our own fantasies of the way we wish the rest of the year to be. At least, that’s how I used to interpret the holiday. Now I’m prone to notice the uniformity of Halloween décor and wonder, “What’s the impact of this unfortunate brand of unoriginality?” Take, for example, the phenomenon of inflatable decorations.

Michael Williams
Michael Williams

Lugging ourselves into the basement or attic or dusty bedroom closet, we emerge with boxes upon boxes of inflatable ghosts protruding from pumpkins in a spectacular, if not gaudy, display of grandiosity and expendable income. The same goes for inflatable turkeys, Grinches and Santas.

Holiday ornaments, neither temporally nor culturally unique, have come to a point of homogeneity fitting to our global civilization. However, I worry that the trajectory of holiday decoration is so uniform, so similar that nausea at the site of the 23rd inflatable vampire today is practically inevitable.

Christmas lights that run 24/7 for three months (as they, naturally, will be left up and lit until February) that illuminate the already illuminated streets are one thing. But inflatable décor in the form of mummies and ghouls require a sentiment for kitsch that borders on the uncouth.

This mass-produced, mass-distributed and massively over-utilized form of ornamentation requires little effort and less creativity. Halloween does not require low-brow schlock to be fun.

At some point in the last couple of decades or so, the prospect of an incarnate Halloweentown became desirable. Here’s the problem: inflatable ornamentation isn’t scary. Not that Halloween must be all thrills-and-chills, but a level of fright involved would not only harden children during their formative years and thus produce more evolutionarily viable offspring, it would be downright fun.

A few years ago, just for giggles, my brother (seven years my senior and about to have a Ph.D. in history, mind you) and I donned traditional Egyptian robes, ivory-white masks and wooden staffs while sitting statue-like on our porch waiting for the promised trick-or-treaters to arrive.
When the little mongrels came, dressed as zombies and Batmans and Disney princesses, we would wait for them to reach for the candy dish placed between us only to move suddenly in the hopes that a scream would ensue. Not only did we make several children cry (it’s good for them), we ended up chasing confrontational individuals off our lawn in what probably comprised their most abrasive Halloween experience that year.

It may sound over-the-top. It was. But we love Halloween. We love the statement of individuality that Halloween conduces. We love the process of acquiring other shticks; independent of the ones we perform the rest of the year. It’s liberating, in its own way.

And yet, the prevalence of uniform Halloween décor is emblematic of a culture losing its creativity.

If one’s ‘haunted’ house looks just like the neighbor’s ‘haunted’ house, where’s the fun? If the trick-or-treater’s experience from house-to-house is more similar than unique, what’s the point? If the point is an overindulgence of sugar, then we have some priorities to assess.

But if the point is to create an evening, once a year, that provides just a few-hour break from the homogeneity of almost every other day, then we have a society that emphasizes creativity.

And creativity, as we know it, is one of the most valuable byproducts of human civilization. A civilization devoid of creativity is one in cultural decline.

Creative fright is the essence of Halloween. Not overdone, ugly kitsch. The spirit of Halloween would be truly celebrated with a little bit of innocent havoc. The alternative, or rather what we have now, is a lame attempt at polite civility, yet the product is grandiose uniformity.

So have fun on Halloween. Enjoy the freedom that costumes produce. Scare some people, if you must. Taking a break from such civility, just for one night every year, while keeping the playtime safe and respectful, would instill appreciation for the other 364 days a year.

A little bit of chaos would capture the true essence of this wonderful holiday.

When future archaeologists (or extra-terrestrials) eventually uncover these pieces of inflatable material culture, they will scratch their heads and wonder about the utility of the deflated Dracula and will then reap insights into our civilization’s decline.