Halloween, Trend-Tracking & A Moshpit of Parenting Styles

pumpkin.jpgHaving just received a “flaming bag of poo” interactive e-card for Halloween to ‘virtually stomp,’ a video clip of the world’s largest “Haute dog HOWLo’ween parade and pumpkin splat, and a plethora of costumed dachschund avatars and buddy icons as “Hallowieners,” I’d say digital media is having a field day of fun in the ol’ pumpkin patch.

Zip through the aisles of Halloween stores that pop up in every vacant retail space like collapsible carnivals in town for the day, and you’ll stay current with KIDS’ influences in pop culture, but I have a few theories and predictions for the trick or treat door tonight that I’ll be tracking as a cultural trend in itself…a new breed of parents.

This article by Steve Smith in MediaPost’s Mobile Insider reveals it well in au courant prose about bringing “The Long Tail” into retail for Halloween happenings. He believes kids have ‘moved on’ to niche characterization, because “America is so over mass culture now” citing the former preschool waves of seven Princess Jasmines lined up at once.

I’m not so sure ace…lots of “sheeple” out there, all depends on regional, socioeconomic, and age-based influences, not to mention a moshpit of parenting styles.

Granted, it would be a cold day in hades that I’d send creativity to the attic in favor of group-think, even if it’s accompanied by pleas of ‘but my friends are all gonna be the same thing’ too…(in fact, especially it that’s the mindset) But hey, I’m a counter-marketing queen, and a creative director to boot, so I may not be the best ‘mom’ gauge.

Still, let’s deconstruct this colleague/columnist’s POV a tad…

I’m tabbing him as perhaps a ‘thirtysomething’ guy, nowhere near the “newest of the new” parent posse, but you can see the cultural generation gap widening as parents move the bar back and forth on what is and isn’t normative/edgy healthy/toxic in the media and marketing mix.

I need to ping some ‘creative type’ daddy bloggers to see if my theories hold true…especially since this one describes Halloween as I remember it myself, right down to the description of the “fancy” $3.99 flammable lead costumes that came in a cereal-type box with a view window of a creepy flimsy plastic mask and a plastic jumpsuit (that went over your clothes)”

Are we of the same vintage, Tony? Can’t be, ’cause your profile says you’re ‘thirty-something’ which goes to my point about the demographics/pop culture values being all over the board…

Am I nuts feeling there’s a serious pornification of pop culture goin’ on? (careful, now…be kind to your elders)

For example, Steve self-identifies as a ‘pop culture slut,’ but let’s face it, if this guy is feeling ‘out of touch,’ I’m dinosaur-ancient, since I still flinch hearing the word ‘slut’ used as both an adjective and a noun in mainstream media with casual context, rolling off the tongues of hipster parents and tweens alike…

I’m really NOT a genteel sort, honest, just not quite ready for slut to enter the lexicon of everyday conversation…

Steve says he gave up on ID-ing trick-or-treaters a few years ago, because:

“Who can keep up with all those Anime characters? The second-string crewman on all those Sci-Fi channel series. Even when I ask them, “Who are you supposed to be?” the answer eludes me. Garga-Linga? Oh, from which planetary system?”

Ah, too true. He also posits:

“The Jasons, Michael Myers, Freddies and such are to be expected, of course. And what would Halloween be without low-level political satire (this year’s Hillary and Rumsfeld masks)…

But it does my heart good to know that somewhere out there people remember the ’50s pin-up Bettie Page, who seems to have her own line of costumes now.

There are minor Marvel comics villains who get aired out every year. And Lord knows Elvira needs to make a living, doesn’t she? Dig deep and you’ll still find a giant Venus Fly Trap from “Little Shop of Horrors,” bit players from “The Simpsons” and the original Desperate Housewife, Betty Rubble.”

Ok. So, I love his pithy prose and clever observations of the range of costumes and generational icons, but again, ‘does my heart good’ would not be my word choice for the resurgence of bondage and fetish pinup queen Bettie Page who’s enjoyed a cult following after being ‘born again’ in an ‘05-’06 film based on her notoriously edgy antics during the mid-1930s through the mid-1950s…(even if it does star actress Gretchen Mol as the adult Page)

Sure, it’s interesting from a nostalgia/intellectual media observation standpoint, but from a ‘kids cues’ perspective it indicates to me the proliferation of objectification… then, now, and rampantly on the rise…

Without a doubt, women and girls are going backwards in social stratification, with fantasy models for the strut-n-slut poseurs out to get attention (there, I said the ‘s’ word…bleh).

Personally, I think this nonstop voyeuristic T&A treatment of females continues to pile up the highly sexualized behavioral cues…trashing kids’ self-worth and adding to the media mix.

Steve may not even notice it with his comment right now, but he has a daughter, so give him a few years…

This is what I mean by the desensitization of media catching up to parents down the line…We take certain things as a given, then whammo, the impact starts showing up, and parents are backpedaling like crazy!

astronaut-melroy.jpgI mean, c’mon…Wouldn’t you rather the females in your life costume as real-life astronauts like our CURRENT space station commanders over a pinup Playboy/bondage queen of yesteryear?

Do we NOT think messaging matters? Am I being prudish and school-marmy?

Clearly, there are parental voices and choices way off my ’40-something’ radar, so we need to take a hard look at how multi-generational parenting in ever-saturated media environs is an influence in itself.

Not sure if it’s an age-issue or a values-based one, but in our neighborhood we have parents of tweens that are a solid decade my junior and they fall into an entirely different media mix, even though our kids are ‘BFFs’ and the exact same age.

For example, the mom is a credentialed elementary school teacher, yet the entire family slates media time together for the “Ultimate Fight Night,” which to me, is culturally akin to a tacky street brawl…

They keep up with reality shows citing first names with faux-media intimacy, they don’t even blink at some of the stereotypes, violence, or sexual cues on tees, play videogames together with junk food snacks for breaks, and feel the whole concept of what we’re doing here at Shaping Youth is roll-of-the-eyes absurd.

This is indeed a ‘new breed’ of parents…

You can’t attribute behavior to any one demographic, or psychographic because each parenting style is splintered, unique, and remarkably influenced by media intake and consumption…

So you see what I’m saying?

For every parent wincing at the cellphone yakking preschooler in leopard-wear garb, there’s obviously a parent who has endorsed the look and culture clash…

Likewise, the ‘mini-me’ role play (which I call the ‘kids as fashion accessories’ syndrome) is simply a mirrored projection of the parenting cultural zeitgeist.

Chances are, there’s a ‘thong-wearing hot mama’ who sees absolutely nothing wrong with plastering ‘Juicy’ and ‘sexy’ on her child’s backside if that’s what she’s bouncing around in on the playground.

This is one of the reasons we’re using media itself to bring messages to parents via internet film…

One look at the APA Task Force findings on the Sexualization of Girls, or the psychological research recently presented by Dr. Karen Dill on media violence and dysfunctional social influences, and you’ll begin to see the relationship growing of ‘we reap what we sow,’ when it comes to parenting in a media-centric world.

Many parents just don’t see the cause and effect until it slams them in an e-mail link to an Onslaught video or they marvel at the message in a SuperSize Me reality show.

Weigh in with your own observations on boomers, Gen X and Gen Y parents highlighting different media and consumption of what patterns are sticking…what’s going on in your neck of the woods?

Is trick-or-treat even happening where you live?

Are there ‘safe streets’ and cordoned off parties instead?

Are people giving out items OTHER than candy with the obesity dialogue in the forefront?

What about the costumes? What’s big in your area?

Are they all over the board? Pop culture spoofs, niche characters, or mass market media waves?

Thankfully, my preteen daughter opted out of the trashy tartlet scene to use my OLD costume from a Rolling Stones Halloween concert, safety-pinned and tucked here & there, to accompany my counterpart who was hilariously costumed as a 6’3, “devil with a blue dress on.”

I’ve noticed a lot of humor and puns taking over in for fanciful last minute costumes from teens on the fence about whether they’re ‘too old to trick or treat’…and some door knockers that are six-feet plus which I take to mean ‘kids really WANT to be kids’ if and when they can…so let’s all stop rushing childhood and let kids have some fun!

Here are just a few from the Family Fun magazine…Rolls of Smarties tart candy taped to jeans? (‘smarty pants’)…A capital P drawn around kids’ eyes (‘black-eyed peas’) a giant cardboard coin taped to sweats (‘quarterback’)…a fake arm extension and a sheriff’s badge? (‘the long arm of the law’) …a sweatshirt pinned with single serve cereal boxes with steak knives driven through them (“cereal killer”)…

You get the drill…lots of simple DIY costumes and sweats on hand/you’re-good-to-go ideas.

Anyway, my own tween transformed into “Maleficent” the evil witch from Sleeping Beauty for a party Saturday night, even though her tween crowd would normally avoid Disney characters like the plague…The sell? Black lipstick, black nail polish, scary theatrical makeup, and I ffered to do a stellar eye-mask job to go with the sparkly-purple flowing gown and wicked-cool horns from an ersatz villain- costume bin…

Alas, not sure if she’s gonna reprise the look tonight for Halloween though, as complexions and acne outbursts are a fear factor…

Plus her peers are all pushing costly ProActiv like little infomercials (talk about a “must-have” media blitz on the middle-school front, even the local dermatologist mentioned it, so it’s beyond the web celeb bit, even listed as a resource on local parenting sites like ParentMap out of Seattle and such)

Anyway, I have a separate article on the marketing of adolescence and puberty forthcoming soon…Meanwhile, Happy Halloween…I’m hoping someone will be able to answer my pop quiz on what’s happening in outer space. (so far my indie survey is a great big goose-egg, in EVERY age group sigh)

Tonight I’ll continue my quest to give out a special Halloween prize for ANYone who can answer ‘whassup’…adults included. (yes, part of my ‘new breed of parents’ anthropological data quest)

It’s one thing for space to be considered the ‘final frontier,’ it’s another to realize that pop culture is creating space between people’s ears like a vacuous galaxy of virgin terrain.

And just to show you I’m not a trend-tracking killjoy…

Here’s a “really-really-viral” little guessing game from young online community media man Noah Kagen at Okdork to track what trend is soaring off the charts that few people talk about publicly (most are guessing porn). I hope he eventually reveals the answer so we’re not all spinning on this…

What do YOU think it could be? Trick? Or treat?

Sadly, I’m guessing with the masses on this one, because it feeds right into what we’re talking about on media and marketing’s influence on kids. I’ll keep fingers crossed that it’s not, but the media maven in me knows better.

Ding-dong…Please let that be an astronaut at the door! Happy Halloween, all.

Visuals: Astronaut Pam Melroy, USA Today photography by Joe Raedle, Getty Images, Pumpkin; FotoSearch thumbnail



  1. Yes, that is correct. I did enjoy years of flammable lead plastic jumpsuit costumes that came with cheap masks that distorted my vision so I couldn’t see any cars while crossing streets.

    It’s amazing that I survived.

  2. heehee…I actually only got the ‘fancy one’ once, a Cinderella one as I recall. I can still see the fuzzy raised stamped out design on the front with that apron string neck tie and cheap mask with edges that gave us paper cuts… egad. Now they’re probably selling on ebay for a mint as ‘retro’ icons or somethin’…;-) Thanks for stopping by…

    p.s. No astronauts. No knowledge transfer. No current events clues whatsoever…sigh. Maybe next year.

  3. I have to confess: Halloween’s my favorite ‘holiday’ of all….No obligitory gifts, greeting cards, etc., but it always has been an excuse for one’s creativity, imagination, fantasies, whatever….(Or even what’s Easiest, Cheapest, Most Comfortable, Outrageous, maybe,– or Enjoyable!!!….)—Kills me to see the big Outlay of $$$s for “THE Costume” among the younguns (unless the parents catch a find on E-bay early on–arrgh…)–Am further disgusted by the Politically-Correct “Police” who’d like to see this ‘holiday’ outlawed,disposed of,diminished, etc. forever…..Yet, I abhor the slut-factor (I’m not the blogger; I can use the word outright) inherent in Oct. 31 lately….

    –I’m reminded of “more simple times” when the “copy-cat”/”what’s the cool thing to wear this year” wasn’t quite in vogue….Nope, it wasn’t a marathon race to see “who could get the most candy in their trick or treat bags”–(we had more than enough of those cavity-collectors in the house for the other 11 months of the year–aacck!)—but I swear: there was more elbow-room for Kids’ “desires.”—-

    How well I remember my own love for the macabre, spooky stuff, etc. and had TONS of ideas, costumes,etc. in that category, but my own sweet girl-child (who later became a very influential woman of some reknown) insisted upon ignoring the “costume closet at home” and begged (she won!) to be a lovely little BRIDE (satin dress, veil & all!) for Halloween…..

    Moral of this story? None, frankly…. Just a “weird” observance.—Any commentary, Ms. J.????

  4. Pretty typical, plays to the ‘we always want what isn’t there’ syndrome…Like the straight-haired girl in rollers and the lovely curled locks being ironed flat (now THAT’s something I recall from yesteryear…and not Halloween either)

    Guess it goes to your point about not overthinking and political correctness…But like this dad blogger says, he draws the line at clueless neighbors that dress as a pimp to escort wee ones dressed as princesses…I can almost hear the dialogue, “so what are you supposed to be daddy?”

    “Well…I’m uh..I’m a…well, tell you what dear, run up ahead and get some candy…”

    Chalk it up to the ‘what was he thinking’ factor…

    Hilarious blog post here and commentary too. Check it out. It’s a guaranteed guffaw!


  5. Oh, and on the same blog post he talks about “pet parents”…he actually had some folks in all seriousness ring the doorbell with a ‘rat dog in costume’ saying “tick or treat”…egad…

    And yes, you wanted a reaction on the bride bit? Well, I was Cinderella and an angel and I think a bride too…and look how pithy and indie and Murphy-Brown-esque and absurdly outspoken I turned out to be, eh?

    I never wanted to do the horror/fangs/spooky witch stuff cause I scare myself, yet MY daughter went as a scary/red-eyed devil with blood capsules and evil incarnate with a practiced glare…so hey, opposites reign supreme.

    You’ve GOT to see Tony’s epilogue on his Halloween night…it includes tidbits on honor too, like this one:

    “A note to parents who leave an unattended bowl of candy on their porch—Are you crazy? Some neighbors down the street left an unattended candy bowl out and I saw 3 (around 9 or 10-years old) boys dump the ENTIRE bowl into their pillowcases. I ran over telling them they’re not suppose to do that —- there’s something called the “honor system” where you take one and leave the rest for others to enjoy.

    They all looked at me like I was Abraham Lincoln smoking a crackpipe.

    One of the boys started putting some candy back, but he was cherry-picking through his bag leaving behind BRACH’s, Tootise Rolls and other random hard candy (or “old people candy”) that kids these days hate. The others thought it was a good idea and followed.

    I guess that’ll keep other kids from dumping the bowl in their bags.

    Later, I had visions in my head of some old people trick or treating and dumping the entire bowl in their bags and then running home to watch Jeopardy.”

    Funny stuff. This dad is one to watch…I think I need a bigger blogroll or Google reader with all the links I’ve been adding…so many sharp minds and virtual friends out there…

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  7. Well it’s good to see that you’re using proper grammar.

  8. Thanks for a great post, I never thought of it like that before.

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