HAPPY WHORE-O-WEEN?

For Weekly SurgeOctober 30, 2013 

Come Halloween night, take a look around as the teenagers are hanging in your neighborhood, or just poke your head into one of the dozens of costume parties and masquerade balls that are going on. What started back in the Middle Ages as a way to honor the dead has gone through a long evolution of shifting definitions, leading to its current status which appears to be an excuse for everyone to dress like a slut.

But how did we get here? Since when did trick or treat become a sex position? Has the depravity always been there? Who knows? Who cares? It would appear no one does. There are those who choose not to participate, but there’s no public outcry condemning it. Halloween appears to have found a moral loophole, a sexual renaissance, a newfound lascivious freedom, and everyone might as well enjoy it.

That’s why we hit the orange-and-black adorned streets, to see who had their pumpkins hanging out, as our intrepid co-reporter Angela Pilson prepares to attend the ball. And co-reporter Derrick Bracey tries to reel his tongue back into his mouth. We investigate the Grand Strand’s Halloween stores to get some provocative possibilities. We search for answers in aisles of corsets and garter belts. We sought out an expert in British literature and history to see how Halloween ended up in the land of lust. In other words, we dive deep to get to the bottom of Ho-O-Ween.

Witch Please! – The Female Perspective

There are few times in a girl’s life where she can dress for the ball – the prom, select birthdays, her wedding. And then there’s the holiday where she can dress however she wants - Halloween.

She can be a princess, witch, Minion, Power Ranger, cowgirl, superhero, zombie, fairy or cop. And she can parade in wearing a sexy, sometimes scandalous costume that some would normally consider lingerie. Halloween is the one day a year women can dress up as someone else, but why dress up as a skimpily-clad someone else?

“It’s just one day where you can dress up however you want and not worry about what other people think,” says Cassie Garrett, a student at Horry-Georgetown Technical College (HGTC). “Everyone dresses up like sluts.”

Garrett and her friend, Cora Castro, also a student at HGTC, are shopping in Spirit Halloween for their costumes. They say they always try to dress up together and play off of each other’s costumes. They’ve been celebrating Halloween together since they were 14. “Last year, I was a devil and she was a Victoria Secret angel,” says Castro.

“We’re always trying to match,” Garrett adds. This year, they’re looking at superhero costumes - shiny miniskirts and corsets with the superhero logo blazoned across their chests. Spirit Halloween has wall space dedicated to sexy superhero corsets and bloomers: Batman, Robin, Superwoman, and a red, sequined Spiderman. They want to add masks to their costumes to make it more creative and to add something a little different to this years’ designs.

But there are some girls who just find these barely-there costumes annoying. Olivia Gawler, a student at Myrtle Beach High School, is shopping with her friends Nayana Pires and Serena Bethle, but they’re not looking for French maid or sexy zombie costumes. They’re shopping for an outfit to wear on Senior Day during homecoming week. “It’s theatrical, but I think they’re over-sexualizing women,” says Gawler.

“It’s degrading,” says Pires. “Some of them aren’t supposed to have boobs hanging out.” We discuss a sexy Freddy Krueger outfit. “Yeah, that’s not really what he looks like.”

Bethle explains she’s creating the Corpse Bride costume when I ask about the black corset in her hand. “I’m going to do a corset top and make it so it’s not so sexual and have a long, flowing skirt. I think I might do black because then her skin color would pop out more.”

Surrounded by corsets and fishnets, Bethle agrees with her friends on the sexification of Halloween costumes. “I think it’s trashy,” she says. “I don’t like it. I think if it’s too much cleavage or too low, that’s just inappropriate. That needs to be put away. I don’t think you’d want little kids walking around looking at you like that. They think, ‘If she can dress like that then I can dress like that.’”

Speaking of exemplary role models, we tell her that there’s a Miley Cyrus costume based off of the singer’s recent controversial MTV “Video Music Awards” (VMA) performance and Spirit Halloween was already sold out. Bethle’s eyes widen, and then she gives an exasperated sigh, “She’s a bad influence. I don’t really care for her anymore.”

Regardless of whether or not you care to show a little cleavage, the most common response among females as to why more and more women are wearing less and less is simply because they can. “When I grew up, we dressed sexy,” says Gayle McClanahan, an employee of Spirit Halloween. “But it was homemade sexy, we made our own costumes. Now, it’s done for you.”

For the past three years, your female Surge correspondent has been unable to celebrate this fantasy-filled holiday because of obligations out of town. A Storybook Belle (think sexy “Beauty and the Beast ) costume has hung neglected in the closet since 2010. But when we head to Imaginations Inc. at Fantasy Harbour for a new costume, we’re drawn back to Belle, this time by Leg Avenue, a picture of a beautiful, leggy brunette in a yellow sequin corset with a gold tutu skirt and white stockings and heels.

We shop around for other costumes, focusing on the bustiers and pieces we could mix and match that are near the dressing room. As we pick up a red corset, a man waiting in a chair near the entrance glances at it. He gives a small laugh, says, “We have a little devil in all of us.”

A devil indeed, but sometimes you have to go with your instincts and be Belle, because every girl wants to be a princess at least once.

Prince Alarming – The Male Perspective

For dudes, Ho-O-Ween is sort of a win/win – they get to enjoy the fairer sex in all their glory, and it’s a chance for them to geek out and play dress-up too. The costumes for men range from the Hugh Hefner-type bachelor to something over-the-top macho to just plain silly. Men have the option of flaunting it if they want or going for laughs or putting on a mask and calling it a day. The pressure isn’t as high for them to pull off the sexy pirate.

The men’s costumes at Myrtle Beach area Halloween stores can be a little basic – The Boxer, The Doctor, The Cop, The Priest and on down the occupation list. It works out kind of like this - if a dude is buff, he lets the abs fly. If he’s not, he can rely on laughs or cool effects.

“The biggest difference is men always come in with their girlfriends or other guys to buy costumes, and they usually go for the masculine, the manly,” says Neshea Cundiff, employee of Halloween Alley at Coastal Grand Mall and a student at Coastal Carolina University. “Women can come in by themselves, look at the picture on the package and compare themselves to it, want to mimic it.”

Cundiff tells us that seven out of 10 people that walk in the doors of Halloween Alley come to get a sexy costume. “We get a lot of college students, but we also get couples. The other day a woman in her 50s or 60s came in looking for a dominatrix outfit,” she says. “Halloween means a lot of parties. You might as well go for it.”

Halloween Alley’s two best selling costumes are Lil’ Red Riding Hood and sexy cops. And there are plenty of sexy cops to choose from. Cundiff thumbs through the racks, “Let’s see, there’s Lieutenant Lockdown, the Dirty Cop, Handcuff Honey, Sultry SWAT, and then there’s Officer Payne, Officer Bombshell and Officer Patdown.”

Peter Thompson and his wife Cindy Thompson are shopping for sexy costumes that match. This is their first time sexing it up for the holiday. “Yeah, Halloween night is the coolest. You get the best of both worlds, the scary and the sexy,” Peter Thompson says.

Surprise – the Thompsons opt for his-and-her sexy cops. “I’m nervous about it, but I’ll get over it,” says Cindy Thompson. “This is the night when anything goes.”

Over at Spirit Halloween, Brent Hudgins, owner of Shore Thing Billiards on Lake Arrowhead Road, is considering donning a costume this year. “They don’t have anything that suits me,” he says. When we ask what he thinks about the rise of sexy costumes, he responds, “It just allows girls to be what they really want to be.” And when he asks what his favorite female costume is, he says, “the one with the least amount of costume possible.”

Cundiff admits the lure of letting your inhibitions go is hard to resist. “I was a sexy pirate last year, and I’m going as a firefighter this year. Why not? I’m young and I might as well do it now,” she says. “Men want a fantasy. Women want to create that fantasy and not be judged.”

She’s right – why not? And who are we to judge anyway?

An Educated Mess – A Historical Perspective

Halloween is an offshoot of Samhain, which means end of summer, the third and final harvest of the year and the beginning of the dark half of winter. In the Celtic tradition, it was celebrated as a night of spirits when time and space go screwy, and the worlds of the living and the dead connect. Feasts of the dead were held – chairs set for ghosts, food was left on doorsteps, apples were buried for lost spirits. Candles burned in windows to guide spirits. Turnips were hollowed and carved to represent protective spirits because the dead pulled pranks on the living.

People didn’t travel at night, and if they did, they wore white (like ghosts) or made disguises from straw or dressed like the opposite sex to fool spirits. Cattle and livestock were slaughtered. Bonfires, or bone-fires, were built, and bones were thrown into the fire during the feast for healthy and plentiful livestock in the coming year. Stones were marked with people’s names, thrown into the fire and retrieved in the morning. The ashes were spread over the harvested fields to protect and bless the land.

We still see some version of these traditions today. But none of it is an indicator for the rise of slut-gear or the ancestor to bustier-wearing partygoers. For those answers, we turn to an expert on renaissance partying – Tripthi Pillai, assistant professor of Renaissance Literature with an expertise in Cultural Studies at CCU.

“Critics of the pop-culturizing or Hollywoodizing of Halloween might consider the transformation of the celebration to be a uniquely crude one and symptomatic of social excess and depravity. But they ought to remember that such phenomena are not unique to present times or to American culture,” says Pillai. “Most societies, pagan and Christian, have a rich tradition of what might be called, carnivalesque subversion, rituals and festivities that enable citizens to let loose their otherwise disciplined desires and embrace a relatively uncensored expression of desires – be it sexual, economic, political or social.”

Pillai tells us that festivals such as Halloween act as temporary “fuses,” allowing people to release pressure accumulating throughout the year. These fuses are an escape from the everyday codes of conduct. “Festivals like May Day and Halloween have served similar purposes and undergone transformation upon transformation over centuries,” she says. “Typically, these celebrations discarded the religious component or at least appropriated them into a subdued presence.”

Halloween’s origins are linked to agricultural cycles, where workers could celebrate months of hard labor by taking a day or more off for drinking and feasting and merry-making. “On these occasions, they’re allowed to turn the world upside down for a short period of time,” says Pillai. “Entertainment usually involved costumes, masks, satires and role-playing. The masks allowed for relative anonymity of course but also for intrigue. It was rowdy, a lot of sex and alcohol involved, but the small indiscretions were mostly seen as harmless fun and forgiven or overlooked because when it was over, they returned to everyday lives and responsibilities.”

Pillai goes on to explain further this transformation from Halloween’s somber tradition to raunchy celebrations of fantasy. “There’s something moderately liberating and playful about the idea of people taking the chance to be expressive in ways that they couldn’t on most other days of their lives,” she says. “But as it presents itself today, it stops short of being a medium for individuals’ expressive playfulness.”

What most would say is a Halloween culture that is going too far, Pillai seems to think could go even farther, if it moves in the right direction. “Over the past five years, I’ve seen thousands of sexy zombies walking around in groups. There’s nothing unique about them,” she says. “They all seem to be wearing the same costume, more or less. Really, it’s the same as most other days of the year, when they’re wearing different colors of the same T-shirt that say, GAP or Abercrombie on them.”

“It may sound harsh, but it’s problematic, the way Halloween culture has been rendered mainstream,” Pillai says. “There’s nothing subversively individualistic or expressive about the Hollywoodized Halloween. The sexy costumes are mass-produced now, generic hottie Halloween costumes and appropriations of mainstream Disney characters. What should be a celebration of individual revelry and expression has somehow dwindled into a predictable affair with individuals falling into types.”

Pillai seems saddened by what she calls “the inability or unwillingness to embrace the transformed nature of Halloween as an opportunity to celebrate imagination, to create and express fantasies. While they may wear masks, it seems ironic that in hiding behind them, they merely betray their lack of imagination. Of course, there are exceptions to this norm of Halloween. But they are just that, exceptions.”

Dirty Dancing in Broadway’s Balls

We arrive at Broadway at the Beach’s Terror in the Square around 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 26, one of the Myrtle Beach area’s largest and longest running adult Halloween parties and costume contests - shifted to almost a full week before the actual holiday to take advantage of the weekend. On display all around us are the sensual, the humorous, the grotesque – zombie slaves with bags of rats, Gru with his minions, characters from horror and action movies, Disney and cartoon characters, video game characters, characters from TV commercials and oddities of all shapes and sizes.

The Kruegers are there. Cross-dressing nuns smoke cigarettes. A herd of Santa Clauses converge at Broadway Louie’s, drinking something that is most certainly not milk or egg nog. Inanimate objects have come to life, a six-pack of Corona and Zoltaire, the fortune-telling machine. Hell, even Tom Hanks’ castaway and Wilson the soccer ball are there with the whole cast of “The Wizard of Oz” and some of the cast of the HBO series “Game of Thrones.” We’re surrounded by vampires, dancing hamsters, heroes and villains.

Among the throngs of partygoers – the masks, face paints, spandex and SOLO cups - there’s a fair share of sex kittens and cougars and plenty of cops - sexy cops. We make our way through the square, the music loud, the crowd alive with energy, no one being themselves. We pause to take photos of the hodgepodge – the creative, the funny and the downright raunchy revelers of the night. Celebrity Square is packed with decorated bodies, bouncing to hip-hop and club music, an anachronism, surreal.

Isn’t this what Halloween should be – the transformation – the rising above their everyday lives to become something other than themselves? Isn’t this the time of year when you can forget yourself and get away with it? Isn’t this the harnessing of the fantasy, the showing of a side of yourself that you only let out once a year?

So what if it only results in smudged makeup, hangovers and waking up with the version of you that was there before all this mess?

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