Can Halloween Survive 21st Century Cynicism?

 

Halloween may well be an outdated brand of the past, and yet All Hallows Eve continues to captivate the hearts and minds of generations young and old.  A transcendental knickknack handed down from a bygone era of supreme superstition, Halloween reminds us that no matter how sensible and adult-like we’ve become; there lurks a creeping subconscious awaiting its chance to wreak havoc on our imagination.  Despite the fun and fancy aspect of Halloween, many parents today view the whole ghost-ghoul-goblin spectacle rather cynically, considering its ideology unfit for our children and its customary practices ultimately unsafe.

Childhood fear by way of imagination and storytelling is not a new thing.  In fact, for centuries, mythologies and folklore were created to scare children into complacency during a time when discipline relied on fear.  Instead of calming and soothing children, fairytales and folklore were used as tools to teach children, albeit at a very young age, the harsher realities of life through metaphorical anthologies.  The Brothers Grimm, for example, introduced their collection of ghoulish, eerie “children’s stories” in 1812, believing the tales were of significant value as they labored to reflect the intrinsic cultural qualities of their time.  Purposefully written in a didactic fashion, stories such as Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood were cautionary tales and warnings for young children rather than comforting and happy make-believe.

In retrospect, our 21rst century bias may feel a sense of triumph over our ‘provincial’ Brother’s-Grimm-past.  And yet all the components that mark our history – violence, war and destruction, disconnect and disillusionment, continue to plague modern day society.  In many ways, while culture has indeed undergone drastic changes, humanity remains very much the same throughout the course of human history.  We have simply traded fairytales for video games and storybooks for iPods and TV, but these newer, fresher renditions of the past, are simply wolves in sheep’s clothing.  So the question remains: What is the relevancy of Halloween in the 21rst century, and should we be concerned over its message and its safety?

Today’s Halloween customs are the amalgamation of an epigenetic inheritance passed down by immigrant families who arrived in North America from the British Isles during the 1800s.  Like many Western traditional celebrations, Halloween takes root in both pagan and Christian ideologies.  Historically, on All Souls Day, impoverished people and children solicited door-to-door, singing and praying for those souls trapped in purgatory in return for food and cakes.   Likewise, customs surrounding the festivals of Samhain throughout the British Isles saw local townspeople wearing guises and costumes to ward-off harmful spirits, while petitioning door-to-door for fuel for bonfires, and food for feasts and spirit offerings. The modern-day notion of dressing-up for Halloween, did not however become commonplace until the late 19th century, when British children disguised in costumes, would parade throughout the neighborhood carrying lanterns made from hollowed turnips.  By 1911, this practice had migrated to the New World along with the influx of British immigrants and by 1952, the custom was widespread in North American popular culture.

Despite Halloween being a very historical and long-lived tradition, the last few decades have bared witness to its change and perhaps its ultimate demise.  Long gone are the days of the five and dime, homespun costumes, treat-bag pillowcases, and groups of unaccompanied children of all ages, (usually chaperoning a younger sibling or two).  Trick-or-treating is becoming something of the past, while kids no longer reach for candied apples, popcorn balls, taffy bites, tootsie rolls and homemade treats.  Welcoming neighbors with hot apple cider and warm cookies are but a wistful image of a time departed, while neighbourhoods, once a child’s sanctuary, are now unlit suspicious streets.  Yes, the very idea of Halloween seems as outdated as the Grimm’s fairytales and their politically incorrect classic Disney counterparts.  So what happened to Halloween?

Undoubtedly tremendous change in both the makeup of our population and how we live our lives has reshaped the social and political landscapes of our civilization – stretching, pulling and retracting the very fibers of society.  While 100 years ago most people lived in rural areas alongside several families, today, we see the majority of our population in metropolitan centers, with households of no more than one or two people.  Along with the drastic population growth, developments in both the private and business sectors, together with the ‘Technological Revolution,’ has ushered in the dawn of a new age.  Over-crowding, competition, redefined family structures, immigration, globalization and social media are some of the many things that has made our world a much smaller place, and a much bigger threat.  Having replaced communal strategy for individualistic thought-think, we are seeing an insurgence of isolationism, distrust, suspicion and tenacity, the many pitfalls of our modern, fight-or-flight society.   Given these changes of the social mechanism, it does not come as a surprise that Halloween and other traditional holidays and festivals, have come under much scrutiny and controversy in recent years.  We have arrived at the event horizon.   Cities now offer alternatives to the traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating, by providing gatherings and festivals at churches, community centers, and neighborhood malls, while in some cases, trick-or-treating has been banned altogether.  Hospitals continue to offer X-rays for Halloween candy, and health officials resume their campaign for germ-free in the name of prevention, while those Children who do choose to brave the streets, are shadowed by a studying parental presence.  It is a fact: gone are the days of laissez-faire Halloween-ing. But it’s not the homemade costumes that we miss, or the candied apples, or the story telling or the worn-out pillowcases and Ouija boards.  What we truly yearn for is a return to the nostalgia of historical society – to the authenticity of family and community, to the simplified lifestyle of DIY without the busybodies of Wikipedia and YouTube.  We covet earthly connection, to our food source, to our friends and family, away from the Big Brother watchdogs of cyber world’s final frontier.  Halloween may indeed be out of favor, but our politicians and corporate heads are still churning the pot, chanting: “double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble!”

Even though street safety and in some cases, safe costume-wearing and costume-handling, is just as prevalent a threat now as it was 50 years ago, we must reconsider the meaning of Halloween in the 21rst century.  Pumpkin patches, pumpkin carving and pie making, pumpkin seed roasting and jack-o-lantern flickering, bobbing for apples and fireside stories, dress up and make-believe, decorations and corn mazes… castles of leaves, parties and hay rides, friends and family and treats!  The value of Halloween is in the gatherings and get-togethers, the laughter and fun, the sharing, the caring.  And whether you choose to trick-or-treat, or buy your costume or make your own out of bed linens and tablecloths, this Hallows Eve is all about the little toasts of the season.  After all, that’s what life’s about, right?  All the little things. So eat, drink and be scary!

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

 

So What’s This About October 24th…?

October 24 is United Nations Day, a day that is meant to celebrate the achievement and ongoing success of the United Nations.  This year’s celebrated theme echoes Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s most recent statement: “Let us unite, seven billion strong, in the name of the global common good.”  Yet one can’t help but wonder, what is the “global common good” and how does an organization like the United Nations help to unite our seven billion strong?  What does the United Nations actually do? 

Well, just like its name, the United Nations is in fact, a union between nations worldwide.  An international organization whose stated purpose is to facilitate cooperation in international law, international security, social progress, economic development, human rights, and achievement of world peace, the UN acts as a global governing advisory assembly.  The six principal organs of the United Nations are the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretariat, the International Court of Justice and the United Nations Trusteeship Council (which is currently inactive). Other prolific UN System agencies include the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO), and United Nations Children’s Fund  (UNICEF).  Each branch of the organization labors to implement its missions.  For example, the Security Council is charged with upholding peace and security worldwide by facilitating binding decisions that member states must adhere to under the terms of the Charter.  Although the Security Council is made up of 15 member states, only 5 are in fact permanent.  These include China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.  The International Criminal Court on the other hand, is charged with trying those who commit the most serious crimes under international law, such as war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.  The Economic and Social Council however, assists in promoting international economic and social cooperation and development, and whose chief finance ministers also head central committees like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.  Financed solely from assessed and voluntary contribution from its member states, the United Nations remains a global cooperative, seemingly forged from the needs of humanity.

Now it may seem that a political liaison among the world’s super powers and their allies is either counterintuitive or rather avant-garde, and yet, the UN is not the beacon of our postmodern era.  In fact, the United Nations was founded in 1945 following the Second World War, a historical concept born about by historical events.  A replacement for the League of Nations, the UN was initially designed to be both a global goodwill ambassador, and an intergovernmental policing platform, to stop armed war between countries and provide an arena for open debate and discussion.  Since it’s beginning, membership has significantly grown to presently include 193 member states, with the joining of South Sudan in 2011.  Today, the UN is more commonly known for its peacekeeping initiatives.  While the UN does not maintain it’s own military, peacekeeping forces are therefore voluntarily provided by its member states.  Commonly referred to as the “Blue Helmets,” the UN’s peacekeeping force is recognized worldwide by the UN’s renowned blue and white insignia, and boasts many accolades to boot, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988.

So, one might ask, what is the relevance of an organization like the UN, if conflict between countries persists?  One might also consider the moral caboose of the UN – whether or not a central governing body should in fact be responsible for the well being of individual states. Despite the apparent successes of the UN, criticism and conflict continue to plague the organization for its perceived failures.  Many argue that due to the UN’s intergovernmental nature, member states demonstrate reluctance to achieve or enforce Security Council resolutions, and that disagreements in the Security Council about military action have failed to prevent many of the atrocities of the 20th century, including the Cold War, the Rwandan Genocide, the Second Congo War, starvation in Somalia, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the continuing conflict in Darfur.  In addition to these professed shortcomings, critics have also accused the UN peacekeeping force of sexual crimes starting in 2003, in the Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Sudan, Burundi and Cote d’Ivoire.

Apart from controversy over the UN’s actions, the very structure of the United Nations has been called into question.  Critics challenge the democratic nature of the UN, stating it serves only the interests of the governments of the nations who form it, rather than the individuals within those nations.  Other concerns are aimed directly at the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.  Some contemporaries are quick to criticize their veto power, while others point out their heavy investment in arms exportation and exclusive rights to nuclear power.  In this respect, the UNSC is viewed as a platform for the strategic interests and political motives of its permanent members.  Critics argue that examples can be taken from the UN’s protection over the oil-rich Kuwaitis in 1991 and its dithering with the resource-poor Rwandans in 1994, as well as its quick military action through NATO against Libya in 2011, but its present-day indecision over whether to take military action against Syria.

Whether or not one agrees with the political or moral aspects of the United Nations, or whether one even agrees with its relevancy to date, the United Nations is inarguably still a vital force for globalization, which sees the cooperation of many different states, societies, cultures and histories under the incentive of world peace.  Too good to be true?  Perhaps.  But where it fails, it may also succeed, and while the world is becoming smaller through mico and macro technologies, organizations like the UN seem to be where our future is headed.  So all hail on October 24!

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

 

 

 

TEDx At The Penticton Lakeside Resort, October 27!

This month the most talked about event of the year is happening right here at the Penticton Lakeside Resort, Saturday October 27th!  TEDx is more than just an event; it is a movement. Based on the incentive of global integration, TEDx strives to integrate local community within a global perspective from which the world is constantly evolving.  This year’s theme, Where Do We Go From Here, echoes the reality of change whereby we are constantly on the precipice.   TEDxPenticton is indeed a movement based on creation and change in real time, a revolution that we are all inherently apart of.

A nonprofit initiative, born from the TED enterprise, (Technology, Entertainment, Design) and fashioned by the spirit of its mission: Ideas Worth Spreading.  The scope of TED has exponentially grown since its beginnings in 1984, reaching communities all around the world with TEDGlobal, the award-winning TEDtalks video site, the Open Translation Project and the inspiring TED Fellows and TEDx programs.  The TED initiative continues to attract millions of subscribers worldwide, partaking in free, accessible knowledge lead by the world’s leading, front-line thinkers and doers.  Past TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sir Richard Branson, Nandan Nilekani, Philippe Starck, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Isabel Allende and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.  Over the years the TED initiative has helped to create an international platform from which positive change in people and their societies is made real.  In this sense, the movement of TED is quite literally the movement of humanity. 

In an effort to convert the dialogue of modern day into a comprehensive thought-think, TEDxPenticton draws upon the communities of the South Okanagan, to share in a TED-like know-how, by engaging societal and individual appreciations on all levels.  This year, an inspiring program orchestrated by world-class speakers and stirring musical performances touching on a wide-range of subjects, will leave you wanting more.  Streaming live from the Penticton Lakeside Resort, TEDxPenitcton 2012 will be made accessible to the world through the renowned TEDx website, a ground-breaking affair you won’t want to miss!  Following the event, an exclusive dinner at the Bufflehead Pasta and Tapas Room, hosted by Executive chef, Chris Remington, will feature a set menu of mixed greens, a choice of salmon, chicken parmigiana, or an 8oz New York steak, served with seasonal vegetables and potatoes with a tiramisu dessert for only $25++.  Seating is limited at both events, so to reserve your table today, go to www.thebufflehead.com or call 250-493-9768, and to book your TEDxPenticton experience and for information, please visit: tedxpenticton.com

- Elizabeth Cucnik