Arts & Life

Halloween: Our most important cultural celebration

Every society has a calendar of holidays, observances, and celebrations. Each has their own significance, meaning and symbolism. Over time, changes in our cultural values can transform the meaning of these celebrations. But one celebration has served a timeless need for our society, allowing for a release of energies that must be contained all the rest of the year: Halloween.

I’ve come to believe that Halloween is actually our most important cultural celebration. And no one will ever forget the true meaning of Halloween: dressing up super slutty without fear of social stigma.

“Sexy Deputy Prime Minister”, “Skanky Toy Truck”,”Slutty Muppet” – all so popular over the years as to have become cliche. But chide these seekers not! See past their plagiarizing eyes to their honest and very human desire to dress up super slutty.

Dressing up super slutty serves a very important human need: the need to dress up super slutty. Deep down, the vast majority of us occasionally want to dress up in clothes that say: I’m a big slut. I’m a fun person! I could party… We want inhabit that part of ourselves that’s playful and flirty and wild. We want to exhibit our inner exhibitionist, and give the world a glimpse of our uninhibited sexuality in all its tempting splendor. We want to show off. We want to feel hot. We want to feel free. We want to dress like a big slut.

I want to be clear: I’m using the word ‘slut’ in the most sex-positive sense. I use it as it has been appropriated by those who believe a woman should freely and safely be able to inhabit and express her sexuality. Because let’s face it: our anti-slut sentiment as a society is largely misogyny.

That’s right folks: the roots of our stigma towards dressing slutty lie in our fear of female sexuality. You’ve probably noticed that one of the major themes of human history has been men reacting terribly to the fact that women possess sexual power. It’s been disgusting really. You can read about it in books. And you can still see it all around the world today. Women are hot, and so men look for some way of dampening their power with all manner of social, political, religious control.

The old double-standard is alive and well – while men can get away or even be celebrated for most of their sluttiness, women slutting it up are thought immoral. When will we as a society grow past this shameful shaming? Who knows.

That said, there does exist some social stigma for men in dressing like a slut too. Come into work dressed as the skanky Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle: Michelangelo, and you’re going to have some co-workers raise an accusatory eyebrow. Which is a shame, because sometimes men wonder: could I make it as a “Midnight Cowboy”? How hot would I look as “Farmer Who Spilled Ice Cold Lemonade All Down the Front of His Overalls”? What would it feel like to receive the gaze of ‘the other’ as “Potentially Emotionally Available MMA Fighter”?

For one night, Halloween lets us explore these questions. It allows us to inhabit a part of ourselves that we normally have to keep in the bedrooms, chat-rooms, fantasies and dungeons. And letting our sluttier-suited selves out in public is exhilarating. It’s a thrill. It’s a relief!

What would happen if we were forced to contain our desires to dress up super slutty? What if we never got the opportunity to blow off the slut steam? What would happen if there were no Halloween? Presumably a huge buildup of sluttension until an inevitable slutsplosion that consumes the entire fabric of civilization. Thank goodness our culture conjured this wondrous rite.

And when you’re experiencing the elation of freely dressing as “Into-leather Janitor”, “Barista with benefits”, or a theoretical orifice, you can’t help but be captured by the dream of a future in which we can dress up super slutty every day. Why can’t we have this year-round? Where is the amendment that protects the right to bare skin?

The truth is, it may be impossible. Human sluttiness is complex. How do you know if a young woman is freely expressing herself or if she’s being pressured by her record label to present herself as a sex object? How do you know if your neighbour is free spirit or a confused old man who dresses in slutty clothes to get attention at the expense of any other effort to develop himself as a person?

And think of how children respond to Halloween. Every other cultural occasion seems to involve lying to kids, inventing some mythological figure that pulls off its essential functions. Surprisingly, Halloween is one about which everyone is honest with kids. We just tell them: it’s about dressing up slutty. And how do the minds of children respond? They dress up as monsters, superheroes and princesses and go around asking for candy. Quite an interpretation of human sexuality. Apt and troubling at the same time.

Maybe we’re just not yet mature enough as a species for more than one night a year of dressing super slutty. Perhaps human sluttiness just has a little too much power over our imaginations. Because it’s true: human sluttiness has its tricks as well as its treats. At this point in the history of the species, more than one night of uninhibited sluttiness may be a little too scary for us. Too spooky.

Ross McCannell is the arts editor for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him on twitter @RossMcCannell