Halloween as American cultural imperialism


If you’re not an American, there are many reasons to hate Halloween. You can be, like me, a misanthrope who hates the idea of being bothered at night by dressed-up kids demanding sweets (fortunately the demographics of south-western Wooloowin consist of old Italians, young Indian families, retired nuns and mentally disabled adults – none of the above likely to knock on my door in the evening, and even the retired nuns don’t dress like nuns anymore). You might be worried about the mixed messages of “trick or treat” and “don’t accept candy from strangers”. You might bemoan the phenomenon of adults dressing up in costumes and looking silly.

But, above all else, it helps if you are on the left of the political spectrum and are infuriated by yet another tacky American cultural import taking over Australia, without any local roots and traditions, driven purely by the US pop culture of movies, TV shows and music videos.

See, for example, the ever-dependable Van Badham in “The Guardian” two years ago (I have no evidence that Van has changed her mind since them and become a new-born ghostie):

What genuinely spooks me about the event is what its placement on our calendar reveals about how much more tuned into the commodities of imported cultural ritual we Australians are than to the material reality of the environment around us…

The adult generations of Australians who didn’t grow up with trick-or-treating are just not yet quite hip to the protocol. For people like my mother, it’s a deliberate rejection of the kind of US imperialism that suckered her generation not into witches hats and candy, but Australian participation in the Vietnam war. For people like me, there just aren’t enough seasonal cues to realise that it’s Halloween. Real pumpkins aren’t in season, for a start. Salad vegetables are.

There you have it; you start dressing up as vampires and next minute you are the actual imperialist vampires sucking out blood of Third World freedom fighters. And season-specific celebrations are misaligned between the hemispheres, so best not have them. White Christmas might be the next to go.

Not unexpectedly, many of those who object the loudest to the cultural import of the Halloween celebrations with its garish dress-ups and trick-or-treating, are the same people who are otherwise keen to import a number of other foreign holidays and events. for example:

  • Earth Day (22 April), which started in the United States in 1970 and for the first two decades was largely confined to that country, before gradually becoming an international event. Like Halloween, its purpose is to scare the child-minded with horror stories and trick-or-treat governments into giving out a lot of candy to the environmental movement.
  • International Women’s Day (8 March), which is another American import, originally thought up by the Socialist Party of America in 1909 to commemorate a march a year earlier in New York City by 15,000 women demanding voting rights and better working conditions. Having achieved both over the past century, it’s now a matter of demanding flowers and chocolate (or fighting sexist bigotry which makes you think that way).
  • Harmony Day (21 March), which is the Australian version of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It was inspired as a commemoration of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre of black South Africans by the apartheid police force, proclaimed by the United Nations in 1966, and adopted and adapted in Australia from 1999 onwards.

Forget about its American origins; Halloween should be likewise embraced by the trendy and the progressive for its essential socialist spirit. After all, what is “trick or treat” than a symbolic representation of the big government in action, turning up uninvited on our doorstep and demanding our taxes it does not deserve, all under the threat of unleashing mischief upon us should we refuse to part with our hard-earned money?