Wednesday 31 October 2012

Fuck Halloween

Seriously, fuck it. Fuck it right up the arse with a pointy stick.

It’s that time of year again. The time the green ink brigade of little-England yummy-mummies get their pens out and start writing blandly predictable letters to newspapers about the idiocy of Halloween. How thanks to Hollywood and the evil, evil, eeeeeevil television and imported American dramas shown thereon children now expect to dress up and go trick-or-treating around the neigbourhood.

Such indignity! It’s not enough that these poor harried parents have to give up yet another night of their special ‘me time’; That bottle of sauvignon blanc isn’t going drink itself in a single evening now, is it? No, they have to give that up, and the all too rare chance to watch a depressing Scandinavian crime drama whilst silently loathing their partners, in order to dress their kids up as Princess Sparkle and Cockman and then traipse around the neighbourhood after Jocasta and Sebastian to make sure they don’t get abducted by paedophiles disguised as Iggle Piggle.

Why do we have to put up with this ghastly imported ‘tradition’? We’ve got our own perfectly serviceable autumn festival a few days later anyway. Surely that’s good enough? For the last three weeks all the underprivileged children from the estate have been setting off enough ordinance to level Basingstoke; we can’t have been tolerating all those chavs and plebs and their oikish manners for nothing, can we? And what sort of message do we want to teach our children? That dabbling with the occult is just fine and dandy as long as you’re dressed like a cartoon character? That’s clearly just the top of a slippery slope and before you know it you’re drawing pentagrams on the floor, summoning demons from the netherworld, and indulging in week long orgies populated by imps, satyrs, and Members of Parliament. No. Much more wholesome, family friendly, and just plain English to burn a catholic and celebrate that with some mulled wine and fireworks.

Good clean fun.

While there’s much to admire in this outlook (specifically the capacity for genteel alcohol abuse and the gnawing sense of sexual frustration), it’s not one to which I can subscribe wholeheartedly. The UK’s exported enough of its traditions to the world and if it creates a bit of cheer during the long winter nights I’m all for letting stuff come back the other way. In fact, it’s something of a cultural boomerang. Halloween is an originally European tradition adopted and enhanced in America before being returned to us in a bolder, flashier manifestation. A long-standing process we can also thank for school proms, buddy cop dramas, cultural imperialism, racial tension, religious intolerance, and extraordinary rendition.

Still, it’s all good. Let your hair down and dress like a princess if you’re under 12 or a slut if you’re over 18 and everyone has a good time.

My specific problem with Halloween is much more personal than that. I first came to Japan on the JET Programme when it was limited to three years, with the intention of staying for just one. But it was actually a pretty sweet deal, so I decided to stay for another year. My then girlfriend back in the UK was less than enthusiastic about this decision for some reason, and halfway through my second year decided it would be a good idea if we ‘took a break,’ in the manner of, say, a leg or a neck. I saw through her tricksy use of language and, realizing I now had significantly less to go back home for, signed up for a third year.

So far so unextraordinary. I was enjoying my job for the most and socially things were going well. However, when the end of October rolled around again and I dusted off the Halloween flashcards for the third successive time I was hit by an overwhelming tide of ennui; an existential vacuum sucking at the very centre of my being with such force that using a French word to describe it seemed not only appropriate but practically mandatory.

Was I really here again? Preparing a lesson on subject matter I neither knew nor cared about in order to teach the students vocabulary that is otherwise wholly fucking useless just to fulfill some JTE's concept of ‘cultural exchange’? What, frankly, was the fucking point?

It’s the closet I’ve ever come to a nervous breakdown and it was triggered by my own risibly inept drawing of a happy pumpkin. If there’s something profound and meaningful about that sequence of cause-and-effect I’m actually quite relieved I don’t know what it is.

I do now know, however, that there is a
Suicide Girl called 'Pumpkin'.

Of late, I’ve written more than enough about ALTs being improperly utilized and being regarded as the easy-option, sanitized way to ‘experience’ preconceived notions of foreign culture. Or maybe ‘foreign culture’ (frankly the sarcastic quote marks could go almost anywhere in that sentence). You get the point, and I’m not going to rehash it all again here.

I’ve also touched on The System’s propensity for assuming that being shown something is an acceptable alternative to doing it, even when it’s clearly not. A propensity that’s particularly inappropriate when applied to events co-opted from other cultures. If you’re going to do a Halloween lesson, actually do it fucking properly. If you’re going to do christmas, of hanukkah, or eid, then these are things that carry such a weight of cultural baggage it’s impossible to meaningfully condense them into a ten minute flashcard presentation. Do it right or not at all.

So I don’t. And, because the stuff I’m doing instead obviously does matter, everyone is just fine with that. Though, I’m slightly ashamed to admit, a small part of me does kind of miss getting a class full of 16-year-olds to endlessly repeat the word ‘goblin.’


  1. It's weird doing a cultural lesson on something that isn't actually part of your culture. I reckon the average Japanese high school kid would know as much as I do about Halloween.

    Easter would be a hard one too. My Japanese teacher once asked me why we don't eat meat on Good Friday. I told him because it turns into the flesh of Jesus. His face... freaken hilarious!

    1. Trust me, as a long 'lapsed Catholic', your explanation makes as much sense as the Catechism.

    2. I don't know why Easter isn't a bigger deal over here. You'd think with all the cutesy bunnies and chicks they'd lap it up. I'm sure they'd have no problem skipping over the death and resurrection stuff, like most of the rest of the world.

    3. I did try to explain our Labour Day holiday to Japanese students once. You know, the day we have off work in Australia to celebrate getting a 40 hour working week... they didn't get that either.

      The death and resurrection stuff is the best part of easter. Zombie Jesus FTW!

    4. I really like having no Easter here, I don't know why, but it would probably have something to do with getting all this chocolate that I don't want to eat. Plus you get a couple of days off, but the pub is shut.

  2. I understand your pain. I never did this as a child, so I don't really know a lot about it. I got so sick of the same routine where I was asked about Halloween, to which I replied that I don't know about it and have never done it, to which my interlocutor reacts with surprise at my verbal attack on the homogeneity of foreign culture. How dare I. I do know that it was a Pagan holiday or something, but I don't understand why America took it up as it is basically the antithesis to the religious and puritan culture their modern country was founded on.

    All the kids are doing it these days and fair enough I suppose if they want to. Exploitation of culture is just that regardless of the holiday. Good business for the dentist. Kids are also watching various fetishes and are addicted to porn these days too I suppose. Oh, the decay of modern society. I remember when people were saying this about Splatterhouse 2 in its 16-bit pixeltated glory and how 256 colour consoles were breeding the next generation of violent youth. Final Fight and Streets of Rage, threats to our youth.

    However, if Halloween involved celebrations from Helloween and Slayer doing a Reign in Blood style gig, I would be there for sure. Maybe even Dio could come back from the dead for a one time comeback gig. I wouldn't be wearing my good clothes though.

    What made you stay that second year? Just the complete ease of it all? She sounds like a nice girlfriend waiting for you, not a lot of people could hold out that long these days. I had no girlfriend when coming here, so thankfully it wasn't an issue.

    1. The second year? I was young and stupid, in a nutshell. I was barely out of my teens when I first came here and I retrospect obviously took that relationship far too much for granted and could have no complaints when she decided to move on. Certainly didn't feel like it at the time though.

      I've just finished writing a kind of sequel to this post, which I'll stick up in a couple of weeks, so I won't speak to your other points just yet, except to say well, yeah.

  3. Just make them regret asking you.

    We had an 'American Football' team once visit our school, and one of the poor Japanese teachers made the mistake to ask me about it, as if I should know: I am Canadian, and don't do contact or spectator sports - never did.

    However, I do have two older brothers who did, so I gave him a dissertation on the differences between Canadian and American Football, which are not few, and musings on how low down the draft ranking the players had to be to come to Japan, after missing out on the NHL, and the CHL (Canada).

    He won't bother me again.

    1. I'd been here maybe two weeks and a colleague asked me if we had four seasons in the UK too. I (blessedly) still didn't realise that was a thing, and figured he was just a bit ignorant.

      As you know I'm a geographer by training and patronisingly didactic by nature, so I launched into a ten-minute long explanations that involved hastily sketched diagrams and the phrases 'axial tilt' and 'precession of the equinoxes' and ended with the conclusion: 'so you see, basically everywhere between the tropics and the polar circles has four seasons.'

      He never asked me anything again, either.

    2. I wish I could be that good, my usual comeback is, "well don't you have five then?"

      When I go back to Sydney occasionally, I usually get, "so you must of[sic] fucked tons of Asian bird by now mate?" Which I still don't know how to respond to well, hopefully that one goes away with age.

    3. Or maybe one that goes away with leaving Australia. You're famous for your misogynists now, you realise?