Halloween preparations in the United States were projected to reach $8.6bn this year alone, an average of $82.93 per shopper (Jones, 2016). The holiday accounted for $2.63bn worth of confectionary sales in 2015. To put that another way: candy sold for Halloween accounts for around 34% of confectionary sold over holidays & 8% of all confectionary sold annually (Belluz & Zarracina, 2016). Taking a look at statistics from outside of the US reveals that this is not merely a cultural peculiarity. Halloween has grown as a financial & cultural event in Britain steadily over the last 11 years (Butler, 2015), nearly doubling consumer spending to £461m in 2015 (Statista, 2016).
|£ in millions|
Table 1. UK halloween spending by commodity type. Source: Statista, 2016.
Whilst this seems enormous, considered on the level of an Imperialist economy like Britain or the US, Halloween has an almost negligible impact. The total US consumer spend for all holidays in 2010 was $228bn, of which Halloween accounted for only 2.6% (Weissmann, 2011). Similar trends are clear in present day Britain. In 2015 consumer spending for Christmas in Britain stood at £75.96bn, an enormous amount more than on Halloween (Centre for Retail Research, 2016).
The picture that emerges from this data is quite clear. Halloween has a small financial impact upon the Capitalist world. It enables a temporary boost in commodity liquidity to certain industries, with an associated temporary increase in seasonal employment (Investopedia, 2016) within these industries. Profits sucked in by the sale of candy bars, pumpkins, horror films & costumes increase dramatically over a brief period.
This is striking when we consider its implications. Alomes (2012) describes the US model for Halloween as ‘a marketing festival driven by the confectionery companies and the supermarkets, which decorate their confectionary aisles with spider web and skeletons.’ This would suggest that Halloween as a form of consumption is the cause of Halloween as a cultural event in modern day Imperialist society. This is further suggested by Spencer’s (2013) analysis of the historical development of Halloween as a tradition in various different locations. Whilst both of the authors place the emphasis of their analysis on Halloween in its modern form as an aspect of US cultural Imperialism, this is not the question with which we are presently concerned.
Table 1. breaks down the various commodities upon which British consumers spend money for Halloween by group: food, decorations, entertainment & costumes. Out of these groupings 2 are specifically ornamental (decorations, costumes) & 2 are assumed as altered products (“Halloween food”; “Halloween entertainment”). All are cultural. Whilst the economic aspect of Halloween – as it relates to certain sections of the bourgeoisie – certainly provides a central dynamic of its realisation as an event in the real world, this emotional – that is, cultural – aspect cannot be dismissed. Whilst Alomes & Spencer do consider Halloween in its cultural aspect they do so narrowly. There can be no purpose but gold in their analysis.
What, therefore, is the emotional/cultural aspect of Halloween?
Alexander (2013) describes the “death” of the Halloween horror movie. To put this bluntly: film studios used to release their horror movies around Halloween, with leading contenders like the Saw franchise & the Paranormal Activity franchise scheduling annual releases around the 31 October. A steady stream of horror films released in other months began to prove themselves successful – for example, White Noise released in January of 2005. Since around 2013 more & more horror films have released outside of October.
Fig. 1. Google Trends: Horror films. Popularity over time. 2004 until time of writing.
This does not, however, negate the fact that there is an association between horror & Halloween. There is a separation between production & consumption. Fig. 1. displays the popularity of Google searches for the phrase “horror films”. Each of the peaks it shows occurred around Halloween.
Halloween is not about horror, that much can be observed from the cultural rituals that have come to surround it. Dressing up as Harley Quinn & the Joker doesn’t scream “I am afraid”. Eating mountains of concentrated sugar is not an action of the human in horror. Rather, Halloween is a celebration of horror. More than this, Halloween does not rely on horror in the abstract. Those costumes which are most enduring – witches, skeletons, zombies – each seem to stand as indication that Halloween stands as a celebration of monsters, that its emotional core is a tongue-in-cheek monstrosity.
This is key to our understanding. The bourgeois dictatorships of the present age are built upon the bones of the bourgeois revolutions of the past. The ideology best suited to the bourgeois in revolt was 1 of reason, which meant obliterating the superstitions of the past – their monsters & their myths. This poses a contradiction. As Fanon (1967) makes clear: myths & monsters are central to class rule. To maintain order it is necessary not only for the bourgeoisie to rule, but for that rule to be, in as much as it can, invisible. Monsters, vampires & rituals are, to Fanon & here, an othering of the horrors of oppression.
Halloween is the solution to this riddle. Othering may continue in the now adapted form. Halloween is the consumption of monsters so that we may rationalise them, unaware of the mystical pellet still contained within our candies.
Alexander, B. (2013). Who killed the Halloween horror movies?. [online] USA TODAY. Available at: https://goo.gl/gKfvXq [Accessed 31 Oct. 2016].
Alomes, S. (2012). Ghastly consumerism haunts Halloween sham. [online] ABC News. Available at: https://goo.gl/YASdxa [Accessed 31 Oct. 2016].
Belluz, J. & Zarracina, J. (2016). The obscene amount of candy eaten on Halloween, in three charts. [online] Vox. Available at: https://goo.gl/R5DyLl [Accessed 31 Oct. 2016].
Butler, S. (2015). British retailers spooked by Halloween frenzy. The Guardian. [online] Available at: https://goo.gl/HeZVmo [Accessed 31 Oct. 2016].
Centre for Retail Research, (2016). Shopping for Christmas 2015. [online] Centre for Retail Research. Available at: https://goo.gl/wZjLdp [Accessed 31 Oct. 2016].
Fanon, F. (1967). The Wretched of the Earth.. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
Investopedia, (2016). How does Halloween affect the economy?. [online] Investopedia. Available at: https://goo.gl/pGTtid [Accessed 31 Oct. 2016].
Jones, C. (2016). Americans to spend $82.93 per shopper on Halloween. [online] USA TODAY. Available at: https://goo.gl/KQCAjt [Accessed 31 Oct. 2016].
Spencer, G. (2013). Halloween as an Example of American Cultural Imperialism. [Blog] Music, Art, Culture and Politics. Available at: https://goo.gl/TldQPw [Accessed 31 Oct. 2016].
Statista, (2016). Halloween spending in the UK 2014-2015. [online] Statista. Available at: https://goo.gl/tOxPr5 [Accessed 31 Oct. 2016].
Weissmann, J. (2011). The Halloween Economy: $2 Billion in Candy, $300 Million in Pet Costumes. [online] The Atlantic. Available at: https://goo.gl/xLDva [Accessed 31 Oct. 2016].