Monday, January 02, 2006

The Resident Grinch Ignores Christmas. However, When It Comes to Halloween...

The recently completed X-Mas season got me thinking, which is a dangerous notion in itself, because it often leads me to sit down and compose long, rambling, incoherent, unintelligible, overwrought, overbearing, pompous, and ultimately pointless swill that you, the reader, willfully ingest like a holiday ham, and for this, I extend my belated holiday greetings indeed.

But anyway, since brevity is the soul of wit, let me guide you through barren pastures of my mind. Christmas, of course, is by far the biggest consumer-spending orgy in the land, but what is the second-largest? Thanksgiving? No, even with frozen turkeys and copious amounts of Wild Turkey. Valentine’s Day? Roses, chocolate, and broken hearts, forget it. Fourth of July? Bet your stars and stripes and backyard barbecue, nope.

If you said “Stupid Bookfraud, it’s Halloween, what kind of idiot do you take me for?” you are right. Yes, candy and pumpkins and black cats, that Halloween. Americans spend $7 billion a year on Halloween, including $586 million spent on home decorations. Halloween is also the second-largest day for beer sales, behind St. Patrick’s Day.

Thus, another great juvenile event that adults have ruined.

Count to 3-D

Halloween is a personal cause of this scribbler, because it happens to fall on my birthday (Not the other way around). At one time, the day of ghosts and goblins was the ultimate kiddie fun fest. You dressed, ran wild around the neighborhood, hoarding bags of sugar-infested treats. The adults facilitated Halloween and did not dominate it; they bought the outfits, the candy, and escorted us around the ‘hood. They sponsored cheezy haunted houses and generally got the hell out of the way.

Now, costume parties and booze-besotted 30- and 40-somethings rule the day. Not only do families dress up their children, but their houses and lawns, a la Christmas. There are elaborate Halloween bashes at bars and adults dressing up and going to work as witches, wraiths, ghosts, and assholes (some people just go as themselves).

I don’t have any cultural history to back this up, but if I would blame any single person, it would be Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. The character was the first push in de-infintilizing Halloween. Remember her? She was really, well, I don’t really know what she was, but rarely has such a destructive element plagued our land and corrupted our adults. You know Elvira. The pale, large-bosomed lady outfitted in a spiked black wig and a slinky dress that looked like something Edith Head would have done if she were force fed heroin and commissioned to make outfits for porn flicks.

Elvira was innocent enough -- the Elvis ripoff aside -- making appearances in TV specials and mall openings. Then some Einstein on Madison Ave. decided that Elvira would be a great spokeswoman to sell Coors. For Halloween. Kids of a certain age may want to drink beer, but they can’t buy it, most of the time. It's the old folks who drink and pay for the brewskis, which they willingly did, since Elvira seemed to make one Halloween Coors commercial after another, year after year. Things haven’t been the same since.

Elvira’s roots give a clue to this madness. In the early 1980s, a struggling actress named Cassandra Peterson was hired to host a horror movie show in L.A., and created the Elvira character. Peterson was a former member of The Groundlings, a highly regarded improv group, but saw her future in camp.

For those of us weaned on SCTV, there is clearly precedence here: Count Floyd, the alter ego of SCTV newscaster Floyd Robertson, the alter ego of actor Joe Flaherty. Elvira hosted the real-life, non-SCTV version of Monster Chiller Horror Theater. The parallels are clear. In other words, Halloween was ruined by Count Floyd. Ooooh! Look at that 3-D House of Pancakes! Isn’t that scary, kids!

Cassandra should have warned us

It’s just another symptom of a larger campaign for spoiled, narcissistic Baby Boomers and Gen-X types corrupting childhood by reliving it. Nobody wants to act like an adult anymore. You can see it in the slew of celebrity children’s books. You can see it in the sudden explosion in animation for adults. You can see it in adult obsessions with video games. You can even see it in the $10,000 birthday parties for five-year-olds. They represent the adult self-obsessions of our age, how grownups kidnap adolescent and childhood pleasures and make them their own.

Childhood is no longer the provenance of the very young. Kids have had their toys taken away from them. And they call me a grinch.