The importance of research and data
Student discussion: Why is it important to double-check your candy or ask parents to check the candy of young children?
Do you remember hearing, “Beware of unwrapped candy and ask your parents to check the candy before eating it?” These ideas were popularized through the media, as detailed in Barry Glasner’s book Culture of Fear. But it took sociologist Joel Best to investigate and declare that this was a myth propagated through popular culture. See this post about the sociologist who discovered this urban legend.
How is Halloween a product of American culture?
There are many ways to look at Halloween sociologically. One way is simply as an American holiday, or rather a moral holiday. Moral holidays are special days or times when culture deviates from the norm.
How is Halloween a moral holiday?
When I was in Japan in 1996-97, it was clear how different it was. As an American, I wanted to celebrate this holiday, but imagine living in another culture dressed up as some creature or character – how strange that would look to people who had no idea it was a holiday. And then to think about handing out candy and/or asking strangers for candy—how strange that would seem to a non-American. So, a few other Americans and I found an American restaurant where they were having a Halloween party, and we limited our celebration to an establishment where it wouldn’t violate Japanese norms. Although traveling to and from the suit was a little interesting.
Halloween and culture around the world
Another way sociologists look at Halloween is through the costumes Americans wear and what they represent to our culture. Examine this post using a conflict perspective.
- What do you notice about the costumes?
- What socialization messages do costumes convey?
- How does this relate to power or inequality?
Notice all the costumes that promote sexism and misogyny. There are so many costumes that seem only acceptable for today, but they are sexy _____ (fill in the blank). The message is that if you’re a woman, you can dress as long as you’re sexy and use your body as an object to be looked at: sexy/sloppy pilot, taxi driver, etc. And this happens even to small children.
Costumes can also promote racial stereotypes, as noted in this post.
Make sure these people are sociologically aware by posting photos that defy racially stereotypical costumes.
This explanation from The Society Pages. Which includes this video explaining Halloween costume fails.
Check out this poetry slam by four girls who reveal this truth.
And this post about blackface.
Cultural values - how do costumes reflect a changing economy?
Another way to look at it is through American values, specifically consumerism. Over the past few decades, America has gone from being a producer to a consumer. Both industrially and locally, we were a country that made things. Whenever we needed something, we made it, whether it was a machine in the factory, a tomato in our garden, or a Halloween costume at home. We have now become a consumer culture, as is typical of Halloween. The kids choose their costume and then the parents buy it. So when there’s trick or treating, sometimes you’ll see 4 or 5 of the same costume, whether it’s Batman or a princess. I remember growing up and my mom trying to find a way to make me a costume. Sometimes it involved sewing, make-up or creative use of materials. But she was always unique, creative and authentic; it was productive. I think the modern thinking would be that if a suit is homemade, it doesn’t look as good or as polished as a store bought one. It can also be assumed that homemade is cheap. And so value becomes consumed; buy one in the store. Thus, culturally, we become as dull as our industrially produced tomatoes; many of us buy the exact same things instead of growing our own tomatoes or making our own costumes.
Here are some costumes from past Halloweens:
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