But it gets worse, because ...
America's spookiest holiday is not just for kids anymore. Adult Halloween (by which I mean "Halloween as celebrated by people over traditional trick-or-treating age," and not "a weird costume-based porn site") is getting bigger and bigger in this country, and that's the way it should be. We're grown-ups. We can enjoy Halloween and buy all the candy we want now! We can wear whatever we like, including that controversial Emperor Hirohito costume our parents wouldn't let us wear as kids! It's awesome.
But some things can suck the joy out of Adult Halloween, leaving it as sad and flavorless as a plastic jack-o'-lantern pail full of stale candy corn. Like ...
Remember when you were a kid and you would do anything for candy? Decades' worth of PSAs have been created based purely on children's willingness to leave everything they've ever known and loved and climb into a stranger's car, just because that stranger offered them something with sugar in it.
"Come live in your sugar dungeon, you say? Seems fair."
And then you get older, and all that candy-joy just ... stops. Sure, there are other things you start appreciating more: fine wine, the gentle caress of a lover, the first time your uncle in the mafia lets you kill a man. But candy? Yes, it still tastes all right, but if a stranger came up and offered some in exchange for you getting in his weird-smelling, unmarked van? You'd at least ask him to throw in some beer as well.
It turns out there's a scientific reason for this age-related sugar decline. Researchers theorize that children's love of sweet, candy goodness might be influenced by the hormones secreted by their growing bones. Growth hormones are known to affect the part of the brain responsible for cravings and taste preferences: children's bone-growing hormones, the candy-loving theory goes, trigger an ecstatic response to calorie-packed, growth-promoting sugar. Once that growth stops, no matter how sweet-toothed you are, your childhood sugar-heaven is gone forever. In other words, America's most spooky holiday will eventually be ruined for all of us by our own skeletons. That's like a real-life vampire showing up on Halloween just to piss in the apple-bobbing tub.
"The AB positive adds an extra woodsmoke flavor."
But it gets worse, because ...
If you've been following commodity prices (and who doesn't?) you might have noticed that cocoa prices have more than doubled worldwide in the last few decades. America's chocolate manufacturers have been feeling this delicious, cocoa-y pinch, and in 2008, Hershey's stopped using cocoa butter in a bunch of its products, replacing it with vegetable oil. Many Nestle products have taken a similar "fuck cocoa butter" stance. And this sucks for everyone, because cocoa butter is a big part of what gives chocolate its unicorns-and-rainbows reputation: chocolate with cocoa butter has a smooth, creamy flavor, while vegetable-oil chocolate is more likely to be described as "waxy" and "like my childhood just threw up in my mouth."
The crisp, crunchy taste of despair.
The change is so drastic that FDA regulations don't even allow cocoa-butter-free chocolate to be called "chocolate" anymore: look closely at the bags of Halloween candy next time you're in a store, and you'll notice many of them are labeled "chocolate product" or "chocolate candy" instead. Chocolate makers are now lobbying the FDA to be allowed to call their gross chocolate-substitute "chocolate," which means you won't even be able to tell whether you're getting the inferior stuff without searching through the ingredients on the back of the packaging.
Cathy Yeulet/Hemera/Getty Images
"We lobbied the FDA to remove the ingredients list, too. It's mostly just sawdust and insect parts now."
Most of the year, this chocolate-degradation doesn't matter so much: you can go out and buy pretentious hippie chocolate made with organic, free-trade beans instead if it means that much to you. But at Halloween? The nation's October candy aisles are infested with these new cheap, waxy "chocolate products," and unless you and all of your neighbors have the budget to hand out Ghirardelli squares to everyone who comes to the door, that's what we're all going to be eating this year.
But Halloween is not just about candy, you say. It's also about spookiness! The grim, eldritch, Goth-eyeliner-wearing side of life that our modern, technocratic society represses for the rest of the year! All true, but unfortunately, getting older ruins that part as well.
I'm not talking here about reevaluating one's belief in the paranormal. Even the most grown-up skeptic can still be spooked if they watch the right videos and then go to bed in the right kind of clown bed. I'm talking about the other fears of adult life, the ones that gradually crowd out the older, more exhilarating fears until the terror that once flavored Halloween becomes as dull and faded as your dreams.
When you're an adult, every day is Halloween.
Honestly, having a ghost or two in your house seems downright manageable compared to having $50,000 of student loan debt, or the toilet breaking and not having the money to fix it. Hell, I'd welcome a ghost if it would fix my toilet. In a non-spooky way, of course. I don't want ectoplasm getting in the bowl so that guests think they have a weird digestive issue or something.
In my case, Halloween spookiness was ruined by sleep paralysis, a kind of waking nightmare that features hallucinations, extreme feelings of dread, and being unable to freakin' move. Bad sleep paralysis is like living out your own personal horror movie, starring you as Frozen Guy About to Pee Himself.
He was nominated for an Oscar for the scene where the urine stain gradually seeps through the bedding.
You'd think such experiences would make Halloween more spooky, but really the opposite happens. The first time you wake up with a hideous old-lady ghost beside you dripping blood on your face, it's terrifying and you don't sleep again for days. The second time, you think: "Well, it's her again." By the fifth time, you've given her a name and it's all: "Hey, Gladys! While you're here, can you fix my toilet?" After you've gone through the real ghost experience, ghost stories just don't do much for you.
On the plus side, chronic sleep paralysis does mean that you always have cool stories to tell people at Halloween parties. If you get invited to any, that is. Which brings me to ...
When you're young and single, the Christmas/Thanksgiving holiday marathon is not such a big deal. There's little pressure to host a photo-perfect family celebration: mostly, you just have to show up at a relative's house and then not start any fights. But that holiday-anxiety bullet that young people dodge at Christmas and Thanksgiving? It has now been transferred to Halloween.
That wig isn't part of the costume. Her hair just fell out from the stress.
First, there's the issue of choosing a costume. Gone are the days when you could just throw a white sheet over your head and go as the ghost of someone who got strangled in a load of laundry. No, these days your costume has to be clever. You think you're being all trendy and topical by going as Elsa to this year's Halloween party? Good luck, sucker, because at that party there will be a Slutty Elsa and a Zombie Elsa and a Steampunk Elsa and a Bad Fan-Art Elsa and an Alternate Reality Cyberpunk Elsa and an Elsa's Vague Abstract Sense of Regret, and you'll be looked on with pity for your naive, unoriginal simpleness.
And what's worse than not having a good costume? Not being invited to a party at all. Getting out-costumed by your friends is sad, but it's not as sad as silently dressing up in your Gamora outfit and then gazing into a mirror for a while before drinking yourself to sleep.
"I woke up surrounded by wet tissues smeared with green paint. I hope it was from crying."
And if you decide to reject all the social pressure and voluntarily stay home, you still might not escape this specter of disappointment, because ...
The first year I lived in California, we had a huge Halloween turnout at our house. So many costumed children showed up that we actually ran out of candy, and I had to run out to the store still dressed as Princess Buttercup and fight a sailor for the last bag of Laffy Taffy. The next year, thinking we'd be prepared, we stocked up on candy early and ... maybe one-third of the kids showed up. See, the neighborhood had organized a "trunk-or-treat" event, in which parents take their kids to a parking lot and everyone distributes candy out of the trunks of cars.
I guess it's always a good thing to get children comfortable with approaching people's car trunks.
We've complained about trunk-or-treating before, but it's not the only Halloween-ruining activity spreading over America like a bad rash: there's also "mall-o-ween" events, now held in every decent-sized city, where kids are ferried out to a mall for an afternoon to receive candy from friendly local capitalists.
This shift from neighborhood trick-or-treating to private supervised events is partially about convenience, but we can also thank the media's decades-long Halloween terror-boner, because the old "strangers are going to kill your children this October!" obsession is still dragging itself around after us like the shambling corpse of Nancy Grace. This year, for example, police are warning parents that criminals are planning to hand out pot-laced candy on Halloween, because if there's one thing people love to do with their pot, it's give it away for free in a manner that will immediately attract law enforcement to their homes.
"Think about it, man ... in a way, aren't we all already in jail?"
I get that people want to keep their kids safe, and that trunk- or mall-based candy giveaways are sometimes the only choice parents have. But Halloween is one of the only times of the year when people in a neighborhood unite in a way that's not based on age, marital status, religion, or political beliefs. And if a hurricane full of Ebola ever temporarily knocks out civilization, things will go more smoothly if you've already met the people who live near you and bonded with them via the mutual exchange of fun-sized Snickers bars. Trick-or-treating isn't just about dressing up like superheroes or novelty Disney princesses: it's about building a relationship with the people you share space with so that one day you might also be able to share your jerky rations and generator fuel and hazard suits.
But now, thanks to media scares, one of our last bastions of neighborhood interaction is being replaced by an activity where children are driven by their parents to a consumer-friendly environment, herded around to a few stores, and then driven home again to their cold, silent houses. Enjoy your lonesome Ebola, America.
And be sure to check out The 5 Most Unintentionally Gay Horror Movies and 5 Awesome Things With Inexplicably Bad Reputations.
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