CN: death, violent/gory body imagery, capitalism, doctors/blood tests mention
This is Halloween; Jack Skellington purses, the scratch of cheap plastic lace and the faint grey slick of dollar-store witch lipstick, inhaling pumpkin spice lattes against the cold like a good white girl stereotype. It is carnival; carne vale, the people are starving and prowl for meat. Welcome to Halloween in a capitalist hellscape, fangmarks as a safety valve; I think of how in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the vampires, mouldering and abased, are aristocracy. There are literary critics who can speak, eloquently and at length on this – they have doctorates more than I. All I know is I look at my government, how they take and take; all I know is I look at my friends, growing more tired and pale by the day, a league of Lucy Westenras being eaten alive by college debt, and I think: Halloween is a festival for every day of the year.
Let’s cast the net wider, though: when I was fourteen, my English teacher gave me a copy of Lord of the Flies. I tugged my uniform sleeves down over my hands as he said to me we are all masks. Give someone a mask, and they feel safe. They feel like no one can see what they do. I think this is true and not true; the crime rates on Halloween skyrocket and it’s no coincidence. But that’s not where I’m going with this. Let’s go back to the mask. They feel like no one can see what they do. That’s not what I use Halloween for. Halloween is a festival for every day of the year. And I’m spending my final year of my undergraduate reading about monster studies, the academic theory behind what we as society other as too ugly or too much. Queer theory, feminist theory, disability theory: they all intersect into this branch of thought. So when I think of Halloween, I think of intersections. I think of painting my face to go into the doctor’s and how it is different to how I painted it when I used to go to church. I paint my face into its contours, highlight the cheekbones to point out the skeleton that lies beneath. I paint my face to be seen. When I go to the doctor’s, I let myself go as pale as a sinner on Sunday, pale as a bad US remake of an Asian horror heroine. I go pale as the inner forearm of a Victorian invalid, swooning on her daybed and begging to be healed. I’m the Pan’s Labyrinth extra, one of the wilting crushed flower monsters in the back of the waiting room. When they run blood tests, I think about slicking my lipstick on to match.
We use makeup to be untouchable and we use Halloween to grieve. When I go to church, I paint my lips like a 50s housewife and pick out a nice dress. For Halloween last year, I went as a zombie prom queen because the teenage version of me would have liked to eat the hearts of my enemies. We surround ourselves with greasepaint and laughing skeletons because Halloween comes from a Puritan tradition and you can still hear ashes to ashes, dust to dust in the midst of all the paraphenalia. We can always hear it, the ticking down of our own DNA as we slowly oxygenate, but in the Western tradition; where Death is an unspoken taboo and dead bodies are whisked out of sight, we rely on one day a year to express that make up is preservative and we are not exempt. There’s a line in Catherynne M. Valente’s Deathless, about cosmetics as a form of sorcery – death, keep off, and you will not deny me – and I think this is never more apparent than on a day where we make our own demise commercialised and sugarcoated.
So, when I think of Halloween, I think of monsters, capitalist and hidden away in hospitals; I think of makeup to flaunt and Halloween to hide; I think of how we enjoy what we cannot control precisely because it is uncontrollable. And I start picking out the intersections like I do my costume – carefully, with consideration, and with an eye on the end cost.
Sarah Caulfield, Get Real. contributor