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Thursday, 31 October 2013

Halloween

I said I'd write about it, didn't I?

Today is a good day, I figure. 

Can we talk about death for a moment?

I don't like it. I don't like mention of it, hints at it or even the thought of anything physically painful. It all makes me flinch. I don't know if I've mentioned it before but the thought of dying (myself, other people*, animals*) can bring me to tears if I dwell on it for too long. I don't like the way the news loves to centre on people getting hurt/killed and I hate every minute of conversation spent talking about such news. No, I don't bloody care if someone got killed in a grocery store's parking lot. Do tell me there was a natural disaster and people need help, spare me the gut wrenching images and videos. Don't fucking show me war. I don't know how many would agree with me, but I'd take my distaste for death a bit further: I don't like such things being discussed around children and I judge every single person who dares bring up the subject in the presence of a child. 

Though I agree that the concept of death is an important one for children to be aware of, there should be some tact in the way it's brought up in conversation. I believe in explaining why some behaviours are dangerous and can lead to serious injury ("serious injury" being something best left to the imagination of someone who feels a scrape on the knee is very close to what the end of the world feels like). I believe in explaining why loved ones won't be there any more and teaching how to deal with the ensuing emotional pain. I don't believe in lying to disguise or ignore important issues, but I do think it's fair to scale them down by appropriate word choice. If a child is playing parkour on furniture I think the right thing to say is "Be careful. You can fall and bump your head." not "Don't do it. You will crack your head and die." To explain that some objects (knives, guns, some tools and even some toys) are dangerous I'm all for saying "You can get hurt." rather than "You will lose your [limb/body part/life]." I quite simply don't believe in using intimidation through fear of death or serious injury. Not when you can use warnings to treat them like thinking little people who can tell the difference between doing something that will cause them pain and something that won't. Before they're thinking little people they either need you to make sure they don't get in trouble or need no more than a firm "No!" to stay away from it.

So, to recap: death is cool. It invites thoughts about the living and life and what you do with it to make it count. The gruesomeness of it all is not appropriate for children (or so I say).

Why bring children into the discussion? Well, because Halloween. Duh. 

I'm not exactly sure how we ended up marketing Halloween to children, but we did. And it's fine by me, really. More than fine. If you think of Halloween as a cultural phenomenon, one where we celebrate death and life and for reasons unknown to me we play with our identities while indulging in candy (not sure how those ended up in the mix either), it's not that bad at all. Religious folks who worry this is all about worshipping the devil, may I point out that 1) I really wouldn't call it worship, 2) it's not the devil if you're not into doing bad things (i.e. dressing up as a witch certainly beats dressing up as an inquisitor) and 3) you're the ones intimidating others through lies only you believe in. You will have to excuse me for calling them lies but we can't call "hell" a universal truth and for the subject matter of this conversation it's as real as Hades and Faerieland. As I was saying, Halloween is a night when we get in touch with mystery and the unknown. You could argue these aren't the words of a true scientist, but I would have to bring up the fact that curiosity of the unknown is what started science in the first place. Superstition comes in where our brains fill in voids that science can't just yet and, as long as they're not harmful, they're just good fun.

It doesn't matter if you don't believe in ghosts. You have probably wondered what happens to our soul/consciousness/self when we die and ghosts are just one answer we'v never completely given up on. It doesn't matter if you don't believe in magic. The truth is that most everything we don't understand the workings of is magical. Imagine yourself in a dark room where only very faint figures are visible. Science shows you what those things are. Superstition is everything you thought of until  you shone some light on them. There's a certain beauty to how much we could imagine and these alternatives are often more interesting than the real things so I do think it's legitimate to keep their spirit alive even after proven wrong. This is even true of religion, come to think of it. If it's ever proven without a shadow of a doubt that faith is a lie, it's the pretty lies surrounding it that are worth keeping the traditions. Like with Christmas.

I can't tell you why we eat candy on Halloween. I can only guess pumpkins and scarecrows have some kind of Autumn-related association. Witches, creepy dolls, black cats and the like are there for the unknown factor. I suppose that's why in some places they also bring up aliens for the decorations. Mummies, skeletons and ghosts are there for the death element of the unknown. Dressing up, if I had to guess, was probably to fool haunts into not bothering you. I like the fact that it plays with the unknown inside you: who/what can you be? Who/What would you like to be? Gore, however, is a completely different matter. You see, while I understand it's linked to the whole death subject, touching on the nitty gritty specifics of it is just a needlessly unpleasant reminder. 

While I respect and even admire the curiosity behind "what keeps me alive?" and "what's inside me?" questions, I don't really share in that curiosity. I understand they're important matters, because they led to fields like taxidermy, medicine, biology and anthropology. I don't mind at all if gruesome injuries don't bother you in the least and you can skin an animal without flinching. I do mind having to look at zombies and people who might as well have been in a horrible accident. Understand that I look away or close my eyes during violent, bloody or even just painful scenes, I can't even look at needles when they're going near me (though I can brave the pain of getting my blood taken for a sample) and an unsuspecting glance at raodkill can upset me. The fun of being spooked is lost to me when it's done through images of violence. Not that I'm particularly keen on being spooked, but I can see an element of fun in being startled and then finding there was nothing to worry about.

Not quite the same as being scared of a zombie who is actually just a person dressed up as one. The gut reaction is a different one, even if we also associate it to fear. Just like a nervous laugh has nothing to do with laughing at something genuinely funny. To deliberately make oneself watch or witness true (or fake-true) horror is torture for me. To play with guts, blood and death seems a bit disrespectful for a species who mourns and buries their dead. The whole reason we started burying dead people (as I understand it) is because we couldn't' bear the thought of seeing them rot and turn into carrion. Why would you negate all those years of treating dead people as people and not just sacks of meat and bones? I just don't understand it.

There's a nugget of truth there, I guess: we do turn into sacks of meat and bones. My issue is that we weren't always and we deserve special treatment. Organ donors aren't bits of meat. They were people who chose to help others and there's a difference. Though we are just a collection of cells and molecules, we are also thinking, sentient beings science can't completely explain just yet. As such, we are magical. Some good, some bad, some deserve to live and others not so much. All magical nevertheless. To treat magical beings as objects is just off to me.

A good doctor sees patients, not experiment subjects. A good biologist sees organisms, not molecules. A good taxidermist will give new life to the animals (who died of natural causes). It's one thing not minding the gore, it's another if you can't see through it. It's one thing if you want to play being scared, it's another if you do it by playing with very real scenes of death.

So, um... tone down the violence, everyone. We can have fun without it. Thanks.


*Disclaimer: It's admittedly hypocritical to say that of all people and animals. It's only true of those I have an emotional attachment to or could empathise an emotional attachment for. I'm not a vegetarian and, while I'm not 100% proud of eating meat I also don't feel particularly guilty about it.

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