Friday 5 November 2010

12. The Cultural Politics of Halloween

Halloween last weekend – lots of residential fronts and condo foyers decorated with pumpkins and vampires, bats and Hitchcockian crows, spiders’ webs and skeletons. In the foyer of our block, along with the plastic pumpkins and the odd witch nailed to the wall, was a notice inviting volunteers to give their flat numbers to allow children to come and call for trick-or-treat. I did notice the one or two with their plastic goodie bag in the lift from time to time.

On the night of 31st there was a big parade in The Village (Greenwich village) – I preferred to watch it on TV. It was cold. Halloween now seems less and less about ghosts and ghoulies and more about people just going out in fancy dress to celebrate "the imagination". I saw two groups (mostly white) dancing like Michael Jackson (not very imaginative, but at least he is dead), a blonde (of course) as a Barbie doll in a box, another guy managing to look like someone on an outside toilet – think of Bernie Clifton riding his puppet ostrich (called Oswald, by the way) and then overlay it with the wooden lavie we used to have at the bottom of the garden. Other promenaders were 33 people trying to look like Chilean miners (practically the only Latino input that I saw), not many African-Americans (except for a High School marching band), a couple of Caribbean girls ‘dressed’ in a few feathers, as if it were Carnival, overall it looked very white and middle class. Oh, also some Adams Family look-alikes, including the TV commentators and interviewers. There is a Broadway version of the old TV show at the moment.

It was also mid-term election week, the big coverage being for the race for the NY State Governorship: so, of course, we were treated to the response of the two main candidates to trick-or-treaters knocking on their doors: Andrew Cuomo, smooth politician that he is, answered the door himself (unusual enough to be commented upon, as well as “wearing a crisp white shirt and blood-red tie, smiling and holding a large bowl of candy”). The independent Republican Carl Paladino seemed not to be in, but then he appears to live in a parallel universe anyway - perhaps he was in the parade and was not noticed among the other zombies. The door was opened successively by his wife, the dog, and his aide. Cuomo was elected, by the way, and since he has no wife but a girl friend, there is now discussion in the news as to whether she qualifies to be his official First Lady as State Governor. And talking of gender issues, there is also news of some politician, South Carolina Senator, Jim DeMint, declaring that unmarried women who are sleeping with their boyfriends should be not teaching in the classroom (nor should anyone who is openly gay, but unmarried straight male teachers sleeping around are presumably OK - see

Coming back to what the trick-or-treaters got out of the would-be governors, the goodies given out were apparently “non-partisan”, whatever that means: Cuomo: Laffy Taffy, Butterfinger, Kit Kat and Three Musketeers; Paladino: Junior Mints, Dots, Kit Kat and Tootsie Rolls. I can see Kit-Kat qualifies as non-partisan since both gave it, and is the only one I have eaten, or even come across, although Laffy Taffy does ring a vague bell, from Guy Fawkes nights gone by in the 1980s. But going further back, whatever happened to sherbet lemons, dolly mixtures, spangles, blackcurrant fruit gums, and Pontefract cakes? Not to mention raspberry ruffles! Actually we only got those at Christmas. They probably never reached New York of course, especially not Pontefract cakes, which I hope you can still buy.

And while we are at it, what about Smith's crisps? with a choice between salted and unsalted, because you got that little blue bag of salt in the packet which you could use or not, and in whatever proportions you cared to. Now they are all salty. I can still remember when a second type of crisp came onto the market or at least into our local fen-land village shop - Golden Wonder - ready salted.

Things started going down-hill when ready-salted came in. They are slightly further down the hill here, I reckon. Today there was a report that someone has marketed a bacon-flavoured soda, not ‘crispy’ bacon, note, but it is kosher and vegetarian friendly, honest (all chemical in other words). It is a company called Jones Soda, apparently. See half-way through the New York 1 local news TV channel Review of the Papers. It may be a hoax to get Jones drinks into the news, but I would not bank on that. Some (unspecified) “European” wannabee early-adopters who presumably could not get hold of it tried putting raw bacon into a can of diet coke - see the Halloweenesque result on

Whatever next? Jimde Mints to be handed out with the after-dinner coffee at Tea Party fundraisers?