Thursday 29 October 2015

This Halloween, Tell Us What You Really Think

Halloween is loved and loathed worldwide for exactly what it has become: a celebration of freedom of expression, often in the face of opposition. For one night, individuals disregard accepted behavior, governments intervene (or don’t) as they see fit and everyone gets to share a bit of what they really think. Below are five responses to Halloween from around the globe that highlight underlying tensions that might otherwise go unspoken.

Brasil, Brazil, Halloween, Dia do Saci, Saci Day, October 31
Saci Day meets Halloween [Source: R7]
Brasil: In 2005, hoping to mitigate the rise of Halloween, Brasil’s government made October 31 a two-holiday occasion by adding Saci Day to the roster. Saci, the beloved one-legged troublemaker from traditional Brazilian folklore, seems to have worked his magic on the imported Halloween: check Twitter this weekend and we predict you’ll see more than a mention or two of Dia do Saci.

Saudi Arabia: A 2009 report from the United States consulate, made public by WikiLeaks, revealed that the rules of conservatism don’t apply to KSA’s elite, especially on Halloween: “Behind the façade of Wahabi conservatism in the streets, the underground nightlife for Jeddah’s elite youth is thriving and throbbing. The full range of worldly temptations and vices are available—alcohol, drugs, sex—but strictly behind closed doors. This freedom to indulge carnal pursuits is possible merely because the religious police keep their distance when parties include the presence or patronage of a Saudi royal and his circle of loyal attendants, such as a Halloween event attended by ConGenOffs on October 29…As one high society Saudi remarked, “The increased conservatism of our society over these past years has only moved social interaction to the inside of people’s homes.””

United States, Halloween, STARS, Students Teaching About Racism in Society, stereotyping, ethnic stereotyping, cultural stereotyping
Halloween in the U.S. [Source: STARS]
United States: In 2011, Ohio University’s Students Teaching About Racism in Society (STARS) launched ‘We’re a culture, not a costume’, a campaign to challenge the cultural and ethnic stereotypes that have become normalized in Halloween costumes. Sarah Williams, then-president of STARS, explained, “The best way to get rid of stereotypes and racism is to have a discussion and raise awareness.” The group has succeeded in initiating a national dialogue that continues to this day.

Rwanda: In 2013, Minister of Sport and Culture Protais Mitali banned celebrating Halloween in any capacity, public or private. Mitali argued that Halloween undermined Rwandan culture and labeled the ban an act of protectionism against Western influence. A Twitter debate ensued, as well as articles in favor of and against Rwanda’s Halloween ban. Of note, Ugandan writer Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire equated Rwanda’s ban with using “a sledge hammer to swat a mosquito” and Akua Djane of Ghana argued, “If Halloween came to Ghana from Nigeria for example, Ghanaians would call it “juju”, evil, occult…But because Halloween came from “the whites”, Ghanaians and other Africans have embraced it, no questions asked! Poor Africa.”  

Russia: In 2014, Georgy Fyodorov of Russia’s Public Chamber petitioned Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky for a nationwide Halloween ban: “Unfortunately, since the 1990s, lifestyles and behaviors that are very different from our cultural values are being actively thrust upon us. I believe it is necessary to give an ideological assessment to this holiday and launch a counteroffensive.” Medinsky dismissed the petition as a request beyond the scope of his office. This year, Russia’s Arkhangelsk region has taken up Fyodorov’s fight by banning Halloween celebrations in schools

For many, October 31 is one night of freedom following 364 of conformity to social norms that antagonize their very nature. Once released, this bottled expression frequently oversteps its boundaries and delves into the otherwise forbidden fruits of carnal pleasure, stereotyping and worship of the foreign other. Underneath, however, is a holiday whose global appeal is rooted in a desire to be honest—to show people who we really are, who we want to be and how we really think, sentiments that find themselves expressed most openly from behind anonymity’s mask. Halloween brings out a version of ourselves that perhaps isn’t our ‘best’ self, but also doubles as an opportunity to challenge those beliefs that would otherwise remain within. 

Halloween is yet another example of the ineffectiveness of constraints on freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Restrict what people can say and do and they’ll simply keep it in until they can hold it no longer; what form it takes at that point is anyone’s guess.

Love it or hate it, participate or conscientiously object, recognize that this October 31 is your opportunity for self-expression.

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