Remember that show The Addams Family? It was about a family who seemed to live Halloween every day of the year. Some of the characters resembled “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark,” Frankenstein’s monster, a large mop of hair and a fully capable severed hand. They lived in a spooky haunted house. The show was a comedy.
The humour was in the idea that these people looked scary but were actually harmless, kind, normal people. This irony led to misunderstandings, from which (subjective) hilarity ensued.
The theme of the show was “don’t judge a book by its cover.” In a feature film based on the show, the daughter — Wednesday — summed up the basis of the show by stating its opposite. On Halloween, someone asked Wednesday, who was dressed just in a plain dress, why she wasn’t wearing a costume. Wednesday replied, “This is my costume. I’m a serial killer. They look just like everybody else.” The flipside was true of her family — they looked weird, but they were just like anybody else.
I once met someone who had come from an African nation to raise her family in Canada. Many things that we do here in Canada were new, strange or incomprehensible to her. For her first few years here, she didn’t allow her children to participate in Halloween because she “thought that it was only for bad people.” After a while, she realized that that is not the case and her kids now enjoy the celebration.
People born in Canada might find this mistaken impression quaint. Of course Halloween isn’t for bad people. Just because we take innocent children and dress them up as horrific, dangerous monsters doesn’t mean we’re bad people. The surface appearance of the custom might appear “bad”, but it’s just harmless fun.
But many Canadians have not learned the lesson of Halloween or The Addams Family. Think about it: we like to dress small children as monsters and frighten them, but we mean no harm. Even if we only do it on the one day designated as OK to engage in such behaviour, it’s still odd behaviour. It’s understandable that a newcomer might find the behaviour itself frightening or reprehensible. But underneath the scariness of the behaviour and costumes lies community, camaraderie and harmless fun.
So why do many born-and-raised Canadians look at people whose surface appearances seem scary and incomprehensible and decide that those people are dangerous, suspicious and bad? We can laugh at The Addams Family and even set newcomers straight in good humour, but when we see a huge tattooed guy with safety pins in his eyebrows and inch-wide plugs stretching out the holes in his earlobes, we think that he’s the one who is likely to beat us up?
He isn’t. He just wants to be left alone to dress up all weird. That’s all. He’s usually harmless. In fact, I thank him for holding the boundaries of freedom stretched wide for the rest of us. In the summer of 1997, the person in charge of the Shaw Conference Centre was quoted in The Edmonton Journal saying that, that year, Marilyn Manson’s fans had been far better-behaved than the Backstreet Boys’ fans.
How many times have you heard a criminal at large described as having “a blue 12-inch Mohawk haircut and sewing notions as facial jewelry?”
From my experience in Alberta, freaky-looking people are usually not dangerous. Muggers and vandals don’t generally choose a conspicuous appearance. The ones who look “just like everybody else” (or perhaps a bit desperate) and who thus can get away with more are the people you should keep an eye on.
David Lloyd is a writer and musician who grew up in St. Albert.