Wednesday, October 9, 2013

30 Days of Halloween - Day 8: Dressing Up As the Other

If you haven't started already, pretty soon you'll be thinking about your 'costume' for Halloween night (and littler versions if you have children).  This is one of the funnest aspects of the holiday.  We dress up as superheroes and princesses and police officers and all sorts of things besides monsters. But I think monsters still predominate. Certainly 'decorations' for Halloween are pretty strictly of the macabre and ghoulish variety.  At any rate, I want to focus today on dressing up as monsters, as the Other.

The 'Other' is a term academics use to denote those people in our lives that we tend to think of as Truly Different from ourselves, be it ethnically, nationally, sexually, culturally, religiously, socially or what have you. (You can pause a moment right now and pretty quickly identify the people or types of people in your own life that genuinely strike you this way.  We all do it.)  We often think of these Others as so different from us that they might as well be monsters or aliens. They come from Another World and they're probably dangerous.  Our best bet, we surmise, is either to avoid or exterminate them.  No real interface can be hoped for, and certainly nothing deep like communion or community.  Many of our horror stories are about these fears and attitudes.  The zombie or vampire or swamp creature or carnivorous alien in that film is about Those People, the ones we don't understand and feel profoundly threatened by.  Many of us inhabiting the same cinema are projecting each other into that monstrosity, bolstering our mutual prejudices as we munch our popcorn and jump at the same scare scenes.

So the fact that we dress ourselves up in the very skin and bones and blood of The Other at Halloween strikes me as nothing less than redemptive!  Well, it at least points to the possibility of reconciliation.  Maybe we just do it to superstitiously ward off the evil of The Other in our midst.  But maybe, just maybe, we get a real feel for what it's like to be inside their 'hideous' skin and buzz for a night to the rhythm of their blood--so like our own!--pumping through our veins.

Another term academics use is 'ludic', which is a fancy word for our human propensity to play. And that is what we're doing when we dress up as monsters on Halloween.  It's a Ludic Otherness or Ludic Monstrosity or Ludic Horror.  Instead of just hiding in fear, we go out in the streets to play with the monsters, to mingle among them as one of them for the night.

And rumour has it that there is One above us all, One who is truly both the Wholly Other and the Holy Other, one in whose very image we are made (horror of horrors! wonder of wonders!), One whose Holy Ghost comes down on these freakish festivities and blesses such monstrosities with His numinous touch, a glad and terrifying chill running up our spines as we playfully subvert our own bigotry because we are really participating in His own redemptive work in the world He made and loves.

photo ©flannery o’kafka