In 2020, every day has been like Halloween. It’s been a year of scares and shocks.
Joe Biden in fourth place in early primaries; Joe Biden the Democratic Party nominee for president.
A novel coronavirus silently infected millions, killing hundreds of thousands and shocking the economy.
And that’s just in the United States.
President Donald Trump has been making surprise his daily fare: The Military Times reported that he refused to visit the American First World War dead at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in France, calling the Marines who died there in the summer of 1918 “losers” and “suckers.”
A year with the most big-ticket disasters in U.S. history — and there are still two months to go.
A presidential debate that sounded like a shouting match, with Biden calling the president of the United States a clown, the President “winning” by the count of total interruptions, and Biden saying, “Will you shut up!”
Is there room for any more shock? Actually, yes.
The virus could take a more deadly turn. The shut-down economy could hurt more people. The fire season in the West has months to go. In a nation closely divided, half are going to be hurting after the election.
Enter a night with dark visions of mysterious powers and scary creatures. It’s 2020 to the max. Like Aladdin at the end of his movie, pulling the evil Jafar into one little lamp, Halloween is a chance to put all our fears into a stylized exaggeration of our Year of Living Scarily.
Halloween is a night for dressing up our scares, living them out, and then putting them away at the end of the evening.
But like the bare store shelves in the first weeks of the pandemic, there were not many people ready to take on Halloween.
West Minnesota Avenue in DeLand has been a MegaHalloween celebration for decades. Last year, we had about 2,000 costumed characters; this year, a few dozen.
I may have been the only one on the street who kept open for trick-or-treaters. I dressed in tune with my profession: the teacher, Miss Frizzle, from The Magic School Bus; as Mr. Frizzle, I had not a lizard, but A1 the Alligator at my side.
One house even had a life-size casket, painted black with big white letters: “Keep Safe and See You Next Year.”
No hundreds of hot dogs as in previous years; no PinWheel of Fortune with treats ranging from big chocolate bars to little trinkets or lint.
I even needed to persuade people to stop by.
I called out from my porch, “Treats anyone?” In the dark, I would hear, “No thanks; just taking a walk.”
Or, “Hey, he’s open … ,” and on they came — the few, the proud, the suitably creepy.
During a year full of fears and fake news, what was left for the smattering of intrepid ghosts and ghouls? They actually offered a fair sampling of our kids’ culture, from the sea of popular culture to their own imaginations.
One family made tangible claims to stranger things than the reality of 2020, with almost the whole cast of the Netflix hit series Stranger Things.
Marshall from kids show Paw Patrol is a rescue dog in Adventure Bay. He may be kind of clumsy, but we might need his rescue mojo.
One soldier came to the rescue, but with a “dollar store outfit.” He was clear that he was not a “Stolen Valor” stand-in for an actual soldier.
The show and movie series The Purge presents this year and this night on steroids, with 12 hours when all is fair game — even crimes.
Four trick-or-treaters were content to show it and say it, rather than acting out any kind of purge.
The visit of the video-game character Cuphead inspired some clues about how to deal with our terrible, no good, very bad year.
Like this lead character, maybe we’ve been distracted by our prior prosperity. Cuphead’s optimism can be an asset, but will sour times be an opportunity to deal with problems, rather than only seeking more riches?
As with all of us in Reality Land, the video gamers decide the ending.
We also had visits from the brutal fictional character Michael Myers (of the Halloween series of slasher films), and from a stand-in for our real-life terror, Patient Corona, along with anime character Yuno Gasai.
The night by the numbers produced a winner, with three ninjas. My personal favorite character was Scary. “Oh,” I asked, wondering if this was a character in some show I had not heard of. No, it’s “not a character and not an outfit; it’s just something scary.” That’s alright.
Other characters included an angel and a demon (together! If they can work together, how about it, politicians?), a pirate, three Power Rangers, a deer (a “dark deer”), and nun Sandi working for world peace. That’s alright.
I also did some Halloween recruiting. When calling out “Treats anyone?” some passersby responded. I asked if they had an outfit. No, they said with some puzzlement, we’re just “transplanted retiree bums.” That’s alright, too.
To all out there enduring this Halloween year, take heart from all the creatures from miniHalloween this year. For any horrors that cannot be confined to just one night, keep on working for a brighter day.
— Croce is professor of history and director of American Studies at Stetson University; see his other essays in Public Classroom and The Huffington Post, and see his satire, “New University Logo: NO TESTS,” in the Stetson Reporter at http://bit.ly/crocesatire.