A Gathering Voices Post by Rev. Martin Otto Zimmann
My daughter is a wonderfully sweet and naïve eleven-year-old. Our church recently had a “Mario” themed float in the local Halloween parade. My wife and I reluctantly took Chelsea to a local Halloween costume store—the kind that are seasonal and pop up around the country every September.
The moment we walked into the store, my mind went into overdrive, deconstructing the meanings behind the various costumes. What does this say about our culture? What does this say about gender performance? What does it say about the commodification of human sexuality? What kind of ethnic stereotypes are being exaggerated in these aisles, providing proof that even now we are still prone to racist assumptions about others? There is no “one size fits all” answer to these questions. People will buy costumes for a myriad of reasons, many of which fall somewhere under the rubric of escaping their social norms for an evening of fun before returning to the quotidian tasks of every work day.
My daughter was looking for a “Princess Peach” costume, of which there were many varieties, both “sexy” and… not. The costume she wanted cost $40, which grated against every ounce of corn-fed Midwestern stewardship values I possessed. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Other than Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving, Halloween is the fourth largest holiday cash cow in America, raking in almost $4 billion in 2013.
We settled for a less expensive, generic princess piece, and left the store feeling stressed and tired because of the negotiations which took place with our vexed offspring in view of other shoppers. I don’t blame Chelsea for wanting to be the most authentic “Princess Peach” possible. The pop culture world in which she lives is demanding, and somewhere in the past few decades, many of us found ourselves acquiescing to our children’s demands for store-bought costumes in place of the homespun variety, which very few of us have time or skill to create anymore.
Savvy marketing preys on the vulnerability of our kids. In 2010, the average American child logged 4.5 hours of television viewing per day. This resulted in being exposed to 40,000 advertisements. This is to say nothing of the targeted marketing within the alternate world of social media. Halloween, of course, creates its own special buzz, twanging our nostalgic and folkloric strings to the point where we will fork over lots of cash to have a “good Halloween experience,” whether it is for our kids or ourselves. I could be wrong, but perhaps the siren call of Halloween marketing basically boils down this: “This is the time of year to indulge in your fantasy, to be that brazen hyper-extended self that is not acceptable at any other time.” We become our own golden calf (which would be a great costume, come to think of it).
For those of us who are grounded in a covenantal relationship with our Creator, there may be a conflict of interest within the soul. Every person of faith should wrestle with the question of what is permissible for themselves and their children. Human sexuality, ethnic diversity, and healthy gender roles are not things to be exploited. People should not subjugate themselves or others, and the rationale of “aw shucks, it’s all in good fun” is not an excuse for those who strive to love God, and one’s neighbor as one’s self.
Halloween has a wonderful heritage within the history of the church, marking the evening before All Saints Day, where we remember those who have died and share in the hope of resurrection. As a parent, a pastor, a person, and a cultural theologian, Paul’s advice in Philippians 4:8 provides me with a great filter through which I can enjoy the Halloween experience. I commend it to you as well, and wish you all a happy and safe holiday: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
About the Author:
Pastor Martin Otto Zimmann holds a PhD in American Culture Studies from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He has taught at Siena Heights University in Adrian Michigan and Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio on a variety of topics, including Ethnic Studies, Literature and Composition, Climate Change and Sustainability, and Apocalypse Theology. His hobbies include sustainability and earth-conscious stewardship, including urban farming and goatherding. He is on the advisory board of the Interfaith Sustainability Center in the Middle East. For the past eighteen months, he served the English Congregation of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem.