Umbrage Running Amok

TOM TEEPEN

October 29, 1993|By TOM TEEPEN

Atlanta -- Two of the rougher political gangs, the Prudes of the Left and the Prudes of the Right, are beating up on poor Halloween, and if the holiday survives at all it will survive no more able to give offense, or delight either, than, say, Tuesday.

Ever notice how the ends of the political spectrum bow around the center to warp toward one another? That's the case here.

Americans have no flair even for lite sin, and our rare attempts to play at wickedness are hedged by hesitations and scolded by misgivings. Still, Halloween lately had begun spilling into the streets in some cities, costumes were becoming racy and the night offered at least small promise of establishing itself as something of a national revel, a last fling before winter closed in. Trick or treat for the kids. Whoopee for the grown-ups. So, of course, it was just a question of time before the grumps rushed in, sounding alarms and pitching cold water. And, sure enough, here they are.

The schools are the first battlegrounds, but the attacks are meant to be object lessons cautioning adults, too, against straying from the straight and narrow and into the evil ways, on the one side, of political incorrectness and, on the other, of mortal sin.

Some schools have been harried out of acknowledging Halloween at all by the animadversions of religious hysterics who have convinced themselves that the holiday's playful frights and cast of characters are a Satanist plot. And many schools that still indulge Halloween do so only with imagery stripped of all possible offense. Banished are the devils, witches and other demons, and with them every implied menace. All that's left are jack o'lanterns and maybe an accessory bat or two. And, believe it or not, in some precincts the order is out that the pumpkins had better be smiling. Scary faces are the devil's work. (Or, alternatively, threaten self-esteem.)

While the religious puritans work on Halloween from one end, the secular puritans are hacking away at it from the other. Witches are out with the PC crowd, too. They are a defamatory stereotype of independent women. No more dressing up as hobos; that would be an act of insensitivity to the homeless. And making up as an old woman or old man is reprehensible ageism.

We're being reduced to masquerades in which the revelers can cavort as, oh, An Office Worker or A Cousin or, if you're especially daring, perhaps A Canadian. Are we having fun yet?

So Americans' brief flirtation with a little sanctioned hedonism is over before it really got started, and it is questionable whether even Halloween's old, tame frights and winkish sport can endure. Maybe we should just scrap Halloween altogether in favor of something we'd really enjoy.

National Indignation Day.

Imagine the thrills of a day given over to censure, resentment and moral outrage. To orgies of righteousness and appropriateness, all titillated -- is titillated still an OK word? -- by the spooky keening of umbrage running amok. And for treats? Why, just-desserts, of course.

Hottest ticket in town for the party animal of the '90s.

Tom Teepen is a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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