Shall we just not bother with Halloween this year? It’s looking, quite frankly, as pale as a ghost, next to the daily glut of terror we’re surrounded with every day. If it isn’t swivel-eyed Jihadi John, coming to behead you, it’s Ebola ready to infect you. Or, if the thought of haemorrhaging out of your eyeballs, and at every pore, doesn’t loosen your bowels, there’s always the precarious Ukrainian dominoes neatly being stacked for a nuclear WWIII Armageddon.
Illustration: Don Grant Too distant? Like your bogeymen closer to home? May I suggest the Latvian lurking by the canal or the gangs of middle-aged men in towns from Rotherham to Rochdale ready to rape our children or the, apparently inevitable, home-grown explosive response to Syrian air-strikes? I won’t bother with the rising cancer rates and even if you're still willing to bury your head in the sand, your exposed backside is in for a tanning as climate change will send us all to a boiling hot hell… in a handcart.
Somehow Halloween, the sweet festival of ghosts and ghoulies, witches and pumpkins, seems little more than a faded facsimile of horror, a charming parade of archetypes of the ‘unknown’ that inspired fears in a more innocent age. The ‘unknown’ traditionally considered more frightening than the ‘known’; which is why horror movies only show their monsters in the last reel. Once they’re seen they’re somehow less powerful, they’re quantifiable, within comprehension.
But our modern terrors are all too visible; and visceral. They’re being injected straight into our eyeballs through the media’s non-stop news agenda. How many of us would have spotted any of the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (ISIL)’s stomach churning LiveLeak decapitation videos, swiftly removed once posted, amongst thousands posted every hour? But even The Times was eager to describe the last moments of Alan Henning with macabre pleasure. A “hooded jihadist covered his mouth and began to cut his throat,” they gleefully recounted on their front page. “A muffled scream of pain was clearly audible…” Right up to the closing shot of, “Mr Henning’s body lying in the desert with his severed head on top.”
Pointless exploitative voyeurism? Or is the media’s need to feed, and sell their ‘product’, being exploited by the political agendas of terrorists and politicians alike? With the titillating Page-3 girls and the News of the World’s naughty vicars retiring, an endless stream of costumed neo-Halloween candidates, from balaclaved Russian troops to maniqāb cloaked Jihadists, are rising to take their place.
It’s win-win for the media. Fear is essential to us and one of the easier ways to catch our attention. It’s one of the defining characteristics in our survival and evolution. It was, after all, those idiot fearless bipeds, strolling into the jaws of the local lions, that failed to breed. Cautious, scared, careful, homo-erectus, with the impulse for ‘fight or flight’, inheritor of the adrenaline rush in dangerous situations, avoided the merciless nature of, well, nature.
Sadly, fear seems to be the one emotion that inspires people to action more than love, hate, greed or even the annoyance of getting your Costa latte with too much froth.
Franklin D. Roosevelt reckoned the only fear was phobaphobia, that the, “only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” A tautological paradox which is about as useful as saying the only thing we have to drink is drink itself; making the cocktail menu very short indeed.
We may not have bombs raining on us (yet), or national conscription into grisly wars (yet), but still, every day, we have to contend with a gamut of fears. As the world becomes more crowded, our sense of belonging and identity feels more precarious. The rise of terrified little UKIP, united in their terror of displacement by alien hordes of immigrants and the distancing of power, seems inevitable. In a world where ‘jobs for life’ are a distant memory, we constantly fear for our livelihoods. We fear being sued, we fear the olive-skinned man on the tube with the wires hanging out of his backpack.
As I write, I’m grappling with my own fear; of being accused of prejudice, just as the Rotherham Police apparently did; allowing the rape of 1400 teenage girls to continue for years. I wrote, then erased, the words, ‘predominantly Asian’ when referring to the convicted paedophile gangs, as if the difference of belief backgrounds between abusers and victims couldn’t, shouldn’t, be scrutinised as to cause. But what terrors do we let in the back door when we guard the front for fear?
From the cold war threat of a nuclear winter, through countless acronymic terrors, AIDS, BSE, SARS, to today’s climate change, citizens of the peacetime West have had innumerable fears to fill the dark corners of their imaginations. None actually reached their promised fruition except, of course, the ‘Zombie Apocalypse’; but I guess we can cope with the victims of iWear, the loping, transfixed, headphone wearing, walking dead, stumbling around. Even with their 5:2 low-carb diets, they’re not about to start eating brains.
So now, with trepidation almost a national pastime, shall we cancel Halloween? At least it’ll be a brief respite; a nostalgic look at a time when horror was little more than a pumpkin with a candle. Even if we’ll never again let the little darlings go ‘trick or treating’ alone…