As Halloween approaches this year, I can't help but notice the abundance of social media posts mourning the death of the way that it used to be -- describing this Golden Age during the '70s and '80s when terrifying people represented the true spirit of the holiday and sugared up kids roamed the streets all night long, gloriously unsupervised.
Of course, there was something quite wonderful about staying out until your pillow case was full of candy (long before designated Trick-or-Treat times drove a stake into all of the fun), or punishing those morons who dared pass out healthy snacks with a teepee shower. And the charmingly DIY aspect of it all cannot be discounted. However, for this "sensitive" boy from Jersey for whom the idea of anything frightening (from skeletons and goblins to horror movies and murder mysteries) literally induces cold sweats, it was also a very dark time.
Let me be clear, I am proudly a child of the 1980s. My toys all had parts that could either be swallowed or embedded deeply into the flesh of another. My idea of a healthy meal consisted of a Stouffer's TV dinner with some barely recognizable "vegetable" smothered in cheese, and television raised me. But unlike most of my peers, I have always hated being scared... Not rollercoaster-adrenaline scared, but bloody, death, monsters scared.
Being of the Reagan Decade, I couldn't help but happen upon the occasional schlocky gorefest (i.e. Creepshow 2 in my neighbor's basement with his older brother), or urban legend passed around at summer camp (I still won't ever reach under my bed without looking first). However, in the interest of full disclosure, each of these occasions would be followed up by at least a week of sleepless nights on the floor of my parents' bedroom.
Why put myself -- and my parents -- through such an ordeal over and over again you ask? Oh that's easy... so I could be cool. And let's be honest, just like wearing Members Only jackets, listening to Prince, and rocking a rattail, reveling in twisted crap was just something that popular kids in the ;80s did. Plus, I looked at it like suntanning: the more I exposed myself to this stuff, the more I would be able to handle it.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. In high school, I spent a week back on my parents' floor after watching Drew Barrymore strung up by her guts in Scream. I kept it to myself at the time, but while my friends were busy chanting "Gut her!" at the screen with, dare I say, alarming glee, I was obsessing about how her own (fictitious) mom and dad would ever get over such a senseless tragedy.
While this same crew laughed hysterically as the Blair Witch wreaked havoc in the woods, I was preoccupied with thoughts about missing campers everywhere and the pain that this must cause their loved ones. And while my four college roommates lambasted The Ring as yet another uninspired Hollywood remake, I moved my TV out of my room so that no hellspawn tween could suck my soul while I slept.
It's extreme, I know. But what can I say? The sight of blood makes me physically ill; even if it's not real, all you have to do is throw some ketchup on a person and I can get a head rush at the mere thought of injury. Hindered by this fact, Halloween has always meant something very different to me.
In the second grade, I dressed up as a '70s lounge singer, complete with day-glow orange blazer and sequined blue bow tie. I thought it was one of my best looks yet -- one guaranteed to make my classmates green with envy. They were not. I spent the day being called a sissy weirdo by a parade of ghouls, witches, and Disney Characters. In the sixth grade, I thought it would be so much fun for me and my friends to go as the 90210 gang -- hint, if you're one of the "popular" kids at this age and have an idea to be anything other than bloody convicts or bloody serial killers, hold that thought.
Now, as an adult gay man, I find myself experiencing very much the same thing -- after all, hell hath no fury like a homo with some fake blood and a few plastic severed limbs. I do understand the connection: horror much like camp exists in this hyper-exaggerated universe where often a sardonic comment is someone's only defense against the cruel world, and for a subgroup with a history of high school torment, who wouldn't want to see the jock chopped up into fish bait?
But when did horror (and comic books for that matter) replace theater, actors and actresses as the new gay obsession? I apparently never got the memo. Which is why, being a lover not a fighter -- or a grown up baby, depending upon whom you ask -- I have no problem with this gradual evolution of Halloween from scary to sexy. Give me Spartans and cowboys. Give me Magic Mike and Christopher Atkins in The Blue Lagoon (more points for slutty + pop-culture). Give me booty shorts and chest glitter. Girls, I don't even mind you being a million variations of the same slutty cat.
The way I see it, the world is an intensely scary place right now. I know you can argue the same thing about previous decades, but whether or not it's true, current issues like Ebola, another Cold War, Global warming, ISIS, certainly make the thought of heaping more terrifying stuff on my plate quite unappealing, So this year, you can keep your American Horror Story gets-ups and your bloody severed corpses, I have enough drama in my life. I just want to pour myself a glass of some oddly colored punch, binge on Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and stare at some pecs and ass.
BTW: I'll be going as Channing Tatum in Foxcatcher.