A Seven Billion Dollar Fantasy

October 31, 2011

Well, it’s the big day.

Honestly, I like Halloween.  I always have.  I loved dressing up and trick-or-treating as a kid.  It saddens me that we don’t get that many trick-or-treaters.  I guess a lot of parents think it’s not safe.

I never understood the Christian parents who got caught up in the “paganism” or “satanism” of the holiday.  I respect that point of view, but I think it’s taking it way to seriously.  It’s just a day for kids to dress up.

But speaking of taking things too seriously, have you noticed something, well…different about Halloween lately?  Kind of like Christmas, Halloween has changed.  It’s a bigger, sexier, multi-billion dollar holiday than it’s ever been…even in a bad economy.

And I’m still left saying, aren’t we taking this a bit too seriously?

The Reason for the Season

Halloween as we know it is not that old of a tradition.  Kids started trick-or-treating less than a century ago.  Adults thought it was a public nuisance at best, and flagrant harassment of decent, God-fearing citizens at worst.  Cut a couple of holes in an old bed sheet, grab a pillow case, and bam, you’ve got a kid ready to blackmail the neighbors for candy.

And now, here we are, with a holiday that comes equipped with as much preparation as any other major holiday.  NPR reported this week that a lot of moms (with obviously nothing important to worry about) feel “anxiety” over meeting the “expectations” of the holiday.  People spend a $300 million on costumes…for their pets.  And of course, adult costumes probably rake in as much, if not more cash than the kids’ department…even though they are typically made using less material than a child’s costume.

Honestly, I don’t care if adults dress up for Halloween.  I don’t care if you dress up our dogs and cats.  What I find curious about the whole day is how we’ve justified it with one word…


The Fantasy Isn’t Real, but the Money Is

Escapism is a multi-billion dollar industry.  And apparently, we as a culture think escapism is pretty important.

So now moms feel stressed out about October 31?  Why?  Because, apparently a suburban mom’s job description now includes providing a sufficient amount of escapism for her children on major holidays, birthdays, and most weekends.  When I was a kid, our very Ned Flanders-y neighbors dressed their kid as a picnic one year, a costume I assume would justify a call to child protective services today.  As kids, our fertile child brains were responsible for creating our own escapism.  Not Mom.

We also live in a time when adults want to be considered to be children until they’re thirty.  And by then, we should all have some hobby that allows us “escapism” for a time equal or greater to that of a part-time job.  Escapism is the reason for innocuous things like Halloween, nerdy things like Star Wars conventions and World of Warcraft, tasteless things like romance novels and Twilight, and for destructive things like alcohol addiction.

And I just have to ask: what are we trying to escape from?

What Are We Escaping?

I don’t have an answer for what it is we’re trying to escape from.  Work?  Responsibility?  Family?  Decisions?  Grief?  Loneliness?

I do know this: we spend way more days than Halloween trying to escape.  Some of us would rather spend more time in a fantasy than in reality.

And by trying to “escape” all the time, we assume that life is nothing but pain and unpleasantness.

And I know that constantly “escaping” doesn’t change any of the things we’re trying to avoid.

And by “escaping” all the time from the unpleasant things we imagine, we’re probably missing out on some very good things.

If you want to dress up on Halloween, or go to a Star Wars convention, dressed up like a Wookie, go ahead.  But call it what it’s meant to be: a hobby.  It’s something you do to refresh yourself so you can get things done.  Don’t use it to “escape.”

Your turn!  Do you think our obsession with “escapism” is a sign of unbridled creativity, or have we become obsessed with living out our weird fantasies?  What’s your “escape?”

22 responses to A Seven Billion Dollar Fantasy

  1. Hi Matt,

    Congratulate me. My entry this morning marks my 1,500th blog posting.

    Thus, I suppose that writing books is my favorite form of escapism… and writing blog postings and commenting on your blog is my favorite way to escape having to write my own books.

    Does that make sense?

    Anyhow, after writing 1,500 postings, I suspect that one of these days I may actually have something worthwhile to say.

    John Cowart

    • Congratulations on 1,500 blog postings. I’m sure you have plenty worthwhile to say, because some of it is on this blog! :)

  2. I don’t really get escapism… maybe that is just how I live my life, escaped.

    I have tried for a lifetime to understand traditions, holidays, what the fuss is over being rich, what the attraction of certain places is. I have traveled to some supposedly amazing places and was disappointed. I bought the hype.

    I don’t really know what to say, most of all this seems pretty childish along with celebrity worship, and star gazing.

    My escape from life is being with my family, enjoying the sunshine and being in the presence of God. Otherwise I go to work and pay the bills.

  3. Your post makes me wonder if escapism and a poor economy are related. That would be an interesting statistic.

    I see nothing wrong with dressing up; kids or adults. Especially kids. Imagine a world where little kids don’t play dress up and use their imaginations. How sad would that be?

    My escape? A combination of tv and woodworking. When life gets overwhelming I escape into a drama series on Netflix. I can stream an entire season or series commercial free. Or, I go out into my wood shop and build something. Jesus was a carpenter and I feel a bit of a connection with him when I’m out there.

  4. You ask, “aren’t we taking this a bit too seriously?”

    I have to then ask a few questions of my own:

    -Is it even possible to take Christianity too seriously?

    -Do we believe the Bible? Are there really such things as demons? If they do exist, should we be celebrating their existence?

    -Don’t some costumes – I’m thinking of the skimpy women-as-meat variety – appeal to the flesh, instead of drawing the spirit upwards to Christ?

    – Can the holiday really be justified by calling it escapism? Can escapism be justified? Shouldn’t our “escape” be into Christ?

    -What is there about Halloween that can possibly be of benefit to Jesus?

    It’s not my job as a Christian to condemn the fallen for celebrating Halloween. My job is to lead them to new life, and Halloween is of no help in that regard.

    • I agree with a lot of your points. Once you have come face-to-face with a demon, it changes how you feel about things. Yet, I don’t see Halloween as Satan’s birthday. And yet even the appearance of evil causes others to sin – which is a sin.

      When it comes to taking Christianity seriously in a religious sense, I don’t. I recoil quickly from the talk of Christianity and the powerless philosophy that gets debated.

      I love the presence of God. I love to pray and listen to him speak to me. I love how He uses me and others with our gifts to minister to others in powerful ways.

      Me, I am seriously in love with Jesus, and we talk all the time!

    • You are right, our escape should be into Christ. If it is, then I say, that Halloween is permissible, because it has been put in it’s rightful place – just a fun day for kids to get candy – no more, no less. I think there are a lot of things that don’t have to be “holy” or “evil.” If Halloween were put in the right perspective, it could just be “neutral.” Kids aren’t celebrating demons by trick or treating, in my opinion.

  5. I guess you might say that escapism could be classified as a “hobby gone wrong”. Echoing Eric, I wonder how statistically tied escapism and economic stress are. There are statistics to prove alcoholism, drug use and depression all go up in a down economy – so my educated guess would be that escapism also goes up.

    Could it be that we escape into something else because we haven’t learned how to handle stress or that we have willingly or unwillingly taken on too many stressful activities?

    To borrow a phrase from Dave Ramsey, we’re spending money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like. All this in an effort at “Keeping up Appearances” (which is a great British comedy showing the ridiculousness of trying to be more than we really are).

    The sad part is, I think, that many times we’re trying to escape the life we’ve created.

  6. I don’t really care about halloween, but my neighbors invited me to their party, and I care about my neighbors. So I cut some cat ears out of felt and attached them to a headband, stuffed a black sock w/ cotton & pinned it to my pants, drew whiskers on my face, dressed in black and carried a bag. What was I?

    • Someone who cares about Halloween? :)

      • Oh Matt, you’re not even trying. Who let the…..
        “CAT OUT OF THE BAG?!?!?!!?”
        Get it? Cat. Bag. Cat out of the bag?
        (insert groan here)
        But guess who one the costume contest. The two store bought pirate outfits. Okay, mine wasn’t stellar, but there were some really creative costumes, yet the K-Mart pirates won. Makes me sad.
        So I escape on the internet and live vicariously through your blog.

  7. I have the same issue with Halloween. Money, money, money, money. (and, really, how many sexy kitties does the world need?) How do we afford to have this much fun? Oh yeah, credit. Trick or treat.

  8. Yeah, George Carlin asked, “What ever happened to a child who just went in the back yard with a stick and dug a hole?” A lot of people (myself definitely included) is on stimulation overload because I’m trying to escape the silence and loneliness in my life.

    I think it’s fun to have hobbies and things that entertain us. But I think a reason we have fallen into escapism is like what Oscar Wilde said. “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” Art is supposed to imitate life, not the other way around.

    All I know is that tonight, we’re gonna have a crapload of candy.


  9. Hi Matt!
    Great topic. Fantasy is everywhere, especially in the shopping world–Anthropology does it excellent for its female clientele, as does the sister store Urban Outfitters does it for your hipsters (I loved that post!).

    I’m involved with animal rescue (dogs) and had a table set up at Orvis (a very upscale sporting lifestyle store) at the manager’s invitation (dogs, especially hunting dogs fit with the company’s image). Although no one adopted my mixed-breed Black Labs,I came home with a catalog called “The Orvis Hunting Book”. Talk about fantasy and escapism!–page after page of expensive sporting clothes ($695 “Manor Tweed Sport Coat” made with imported wool so you’ll look like an 18th century gentleman hunter on a pheasant shoot in England)along with luscious descriptions of well-trained dogs with impeccable pedigrees and all-inclusive hunting trips to plantation homes situated on vast acreage of top hunting grounds. The entire catalog was an adventure in colonial style Great White Hunter myth-making.

    While the catalog is an armchair cultural curiosity for me, someone has to be buying this stuff!

    • Ooh, I hadn’t even really touched shopping escapism and how everything we buy feeds the perception of ourselves that is being sold to us. (Like why I buy Dos Equis – because I consider myself an interesting man!) Good thoughts!

  10. Judging by the movies and books that are popular, I would guess we are trying to escape from comfort. From little on up we are sold this lie that the best possible life we could attain is one that involves a mortgage we can’t afford and a boring but stable job. Once we buy into this, and things become relatively comfortable, we start looking for adventure and excitement, anything that will wake us up.

  11. Every dollar spent is another step toward the virtual, Matrix-like escape that many are searching for. Seeking a way to completely enter a different world. The grass is always greener. When we get over the fence and turn around we find our perspective was throwing off our color perception. We then want that grass back. No matter where we are we want to be somewhere else. SAD.

    I think we are searching for peace but it can only be found in one place.

  12. I think we do take things too seriously. It is an issue of our works-based culture that says you have to perform constantly and you are only as good as your last accomplishment. Whereas in the Bible, in Psalm 1:3, we are compared to trees planted by water that bear fruit in season, meaning that there are times that we are not bearing fruit.

    So people work hard to appear to be perfect, don’t get the results they want and escape into fantasy where outcomes ARE controllable.

    I am not a big fan of Halloween, but I never wanted to deprive my kids of the fun of dressing up and getting candy. However, I have always stressed to my kids that we should be bringing the light of Jesus into a holiday with no purpose except self gratification. I did not go nuts over the costumes–if it couldn’t be made with existing clothing, and either duct tape or a hot glue gun, I wasn’t interested in it. I was a little nuts about making sure to buy the best candy because I printed out Bible verses on return address labels and stuck them on the wrappers. I did NOT want to be known as the Christian lady who hands out lousy treats with Bible verses. So in past years, I feel that we have born fruit and brought Jesus into the holiday.

    This Halloween, our lights are out because last night, all FOUR of my kids took turns emptying the contents of their stomach, which took them at least three rounds. So, to keep from possibly handing out some tricks hitch-hiking on our treats, we decided to be a dark, silent house to bear fruit another time.