Costume Culture

To an egomaniacal prepubescent animal, Halloween is sacred. I recall crafting costumes for the entire month of October, placing financial and creative demands upon my nuclear family. I truly became the monster I sought to mirror. Like an amateur method actor, I embodied my character in both behavior and attire on Halloween day. Given my tendency towards violent costumes, this was a scary affair. I paraded around the house with a pronounced sense of entitlement, snarling at my siblings and demeaning my parents over their candy selection. I barked “where are my fangs?!” to no one in particular, with the expectation of instant gratification.

Considering the psychological influence of our clothing, Halloween is a terrifying holiday. It is well known that our personal aesthetic can impact our mood–the term “dress for success” has a firm basis in reality. Our style impacts how others perceive us, and also how we perceive ourselves. What are the implications of dressing up as a monster? Does Halloween socialize children to behave aggressively?

Trick-or-treating exemplifies two well-documented social phenomena: the herd effect and the veil of anonymity. Group mentality perpetuates intense emotionality. In many cases, the mob acts as an incubator for aggression. Anonymity instills a sense of courage. When our actions are not visibly linked to our identities, indecency is incentivized. When kids unethically take handfuls of candy from the single serving trick-or-treat bowl, their bad behavior is encouraged by group insulation and costume anonymity. Halloween may be inspired by pure hedonism, it has the potential to breed real harm unintentionally.

While the adolescent Halloween experience may be wrought with dangerous psychological mechanisms, college Halloween traditions are even more harrowing. Candy is swapped for alcohol. The stress of academics is channeled into an excuse for binge drinking and escapism. While costumes may not be as anonymous as elaborate childhood get-ups, they still represent a detachment from identity. Fueled by a misplaced sense of courage, this detachment becomes conducive to reckless decision making.

Halloween should be practiced with intention. Instead of establishing a Halloween culture that glorifies fear, perhaps we should seek to emulate our heroes on October 31st. Encouraging children to dress as scientific pioneers, cultural icons, and social activists could inspire a new generation of productivity. In an election season entrenched with polarization and villainization, we hardly need more monsters.

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