Cady Heron of Mean Girls, social icon, mathlete extraordinaire and expert on all things related to anything, said it best that, “In Girl World, Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” As I perused the shelves of Halloween City looking for that perfect costume that is funny, ironic, feminine, flattering and not cliché, I came across a Playboy Bunny costume that consisted of a leather leotard, ears and a collar. Imagining educated women staggering through the streets of Collegetown wearing a collar reminded me of what a unique social phenomenon Halloween is in Girl World — and also, I’d argue, College World.
I’d bet that almost everyone, regardless of race or nationality, at some point in their lives has celebrated some holiday in which they were allowed to dress up and pretend to be someone they were not. As young kids, Halloween allowed us to imagine ourselves as princesses and superheroes, eat copious amounts of candy and stay up late with our friends trick-or-treating. For college students, or at least Cornell students, it’s a different holiday entirely. Sandwiched between the start of the school year (“It’s O-WEEK, bros!!!”) and New Year’s Eve, Halloween allows everyone, and I mean everyone, to be on their worst behavior — and get away with it.
First, consider some of the costumes. My girl Cady was right in saying that Halloween allows girls, even the most independent feminist-types among us, to get away with calling a leather bustier and spandex shorts a costume. Intelligent men may be found dressed up in wildly inappropriate get-ups that, while usually providing adequate coverage to the necessary body parts, mock others (e.g. the “terrorist” costume I spotted that included a beard, a turban and a plastic “bomb” that is pictured strapped to the model’s chest).
Next, I’d argue that Halloween is one of those rare celebrations on this campus in which almost everyone partakes. Only second to Slope Day, Halloween is probably the most commonly observed holiday on the Hill. Even those who rarely make it out of the cocktail lounge of Uris manage to throw together a costume and find their way to some social gathering on October 31st.
While some of the costumes are absurd no matter who’s in them, what makes the spectacle of Halloween (or Halloween weekend, as it were) even more extraordinary (and arguably embarrassing) is the way that the disguised choose to behave. It seems we are granted behavioral amnesty on Halloween — and everyone takes advantage of the rare opportunity. I can promise that this upcoming weekend will bring excessive dance floor make outs (and I mean more excessive than at a typical frat party), aggressively sexual boy-girl dancing and general debauchery that will be difficult to avoid. Apparently at some point in history, someone wrote that on Halloween, anything goes. And Cornellians no doubt listened.
By wearing costumes on Halloween, we allow ourselves to become anonymous, or at least to fill different shoes than we do every other day of the year. By distancing ourselves from the people we actually are, we can — and I’d argue we do — behave in ways that are uncharacteristically in bad taste. Slutty costumes, slurred words and inappropriate dance floor conduct are justified because we can’t be held accountable. Halloween behavior –— from the leather whips to whatever those two are doing in the corner — is gross. But we must get something out of the skanky get ups and rowdy evenings, or else we’d all sit at home carving jack-o-lanterns, right?
Freud believed we take socially unacceptable beliefs and desires and turn them into productive, “socially useful” achievements through the process of sublimation. I’d argue that Cornellians are extremely well versed in sublimation and all the tricky ways we can manipulate what we want to be doing into what we should be doing. We can bypass a night out with friends in order to study for that midterm, and we can self-talk our way through an all-nighter, reassured that the finished paper is worth the sleepless evening. If wearing a costume on Halloween allows all of our socially unacceptable impulses to be freed, and if we’re all doing it safely, I’d say that sounds like a nice one-night vacation for all of us. No one is harmed by the naughty nurse costume, and if the two in the corner choose to set themselves up for an awkward walk to class the next morning, props to them. Halloween at Cornell brings a level of crazy that is atypical, but harmless.
So, for one night only, Hannah Deixler, the psychology major from Los Angeles who spends a lot of her time doing crossword puzzles but even more of her time on the first floor of Olin, will be unavailable. If you’d like to reach her, you can talk to the girl dressed up as a lion (no collar, I swear).
Hannah Deixler is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Shades of Grey appears alternate Thursdays this semester.