Hallowe’en Grinch

I have had two good and, as a child, a few so-so ones. The first good one occurred when at about eight or nine, my friends and I read about trick-or-treating and decided to try it – in Manhattan. In a city of apartment houses, one can hit a lot of homes in an evening going up and down corridors. Most of the people we confronted had never seen trick-or-treaters and said “Oh, how cute! I don’t have any real treats, but…”, dropping some coins or even bills in the bag. We came home with almost two hundred dollars, and that in the days when a buck was a fin. My parents took a lot of the shine off the evening when they saw me dump out the bag and confiscated most of the loot for my college fund, though. Of course we made our own costumes and went out on our own, not chaperoned by parents lurking in the background.

The other good one was a couple of years ago with a visiting Italian family who had never carved pumpkins. They loved it and we had a great time.

That’s it; I really despise Hallowe’en in its present form. I hate the mass paranoia that has made people so afraid of razor blades in apples (something that as far as I know has never actually happened) that they deny their kids any healthy treats and one winds up giving away endless piles of awful little candies in sealed wrapping. I hate the complete vacuity of a holiday that now celebrates (and respects) nothing, except maybe sleazy sex for a slice of the young adult crowd and senseless, unsatisfying purchasing of junk at the drugstore seasonal aisle. I hate the kitschy and ugly commercial decorations, and I hate the Great Pumpkin, a completely nonsensical ersatz myth from a three-joke, two-emotion, weakly drawn comic strip. I hate the degree to which adults have taken over and programmed the kids’ experience of it, assuring that whatever it entails, it doesn’t include anything the slightest bit scary, and I really hate this.

Go play the Mephisto Waltz, or A Night on Bald Mountain, or the Symphonie Fantastique, and boycott this tepid, pallid, cheesy, forced orgy of plastic pumpkins and icky sweets. No-one else is actually having any fun either; you won’t miss a thing. Kids want to do Hallowe’en? Give them a room to make a haunted house in and leave them alone to enjoy their own imaginations.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.