How Adults Stole Halloween from American ChildrenRoundup: Historians' Take
tags: sex, Halloween
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory (Yale University Press).
In 1975, anthropologist Margaret Mead published a plaintive article about Halloween. It was once a night of youth rebellion, Mead wrote, when “children were granted to take mild revenge on the adults.” But the holiday had been tamed, leaving the grown-ups firmly in charge. “Where has all the mischief gone?” Mead asked.
Now it's back, marketers tell us. Witness the boom in so-called “naughty” girls’ costumes, a centerpiece of the $8 billion Halloween seasonal industry. Seven- and eight-year-olds can trick-or-treat as sexy Snow Whites, sexy Dorothies, and even sexy Little Bo Peeps (don't ask). And this season, Walmart has been selling a “Naughty Leopard” costume – complete with black lace and cabaret sparkles – for, yes, two-year-olds.
Tasteless? Yes. A threat to young girls’ body image? You bet. But “naughty” and nonconformist? Hardly. The sexy-costume trend reveals how far we have strayed from the truly naughty roots of Halloween, which used to be a time for kids to challenge their elders. Now it allows them to imitate the grown-ups, via the most American ritual of all: mass consumerism. Sexualized costumes are just another way that adult consumerism has invaded American childhood....
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