Saturday, November 01, 2008

I am reprinting the following essay from Larry Gambone's Porkupine Blog as it expands what are often my own feelings, especially around a time of year like Halloween. Both Larry and I are old enough (and we both grew up in "the boondocks") to remember a time when children were allowed to be children, when their lives weren't regimented from sunup to sundown, when they weren't under the constant supervision of so-called adults.
My own childhood was hardly "injury free". From skull fractures, to a railway spike through the foot (hence my present Christ complex) to cutting my thumb to the bone on the neighbour's wood lathe to many other things, I hurt myself enough. Neither was it danger free, from plunging through the ice on a slough, to staying out in thunderstorms, to climbing up on a fence post and petting the meanest bull in the RM, to, once more, many other things, I seemed to be determined to make my parents pay for a funeral. But what I can say is that I actually lived a happy childhood. The operative term is "lived". I wasn't driven from school to home to dance classes to hockey practice to home again. I wasn't controlled and glared at (excuse me- "supervised") for every second of my waking life. My time was my own. I read, played, explored, imagined and fought the eternal countryside war against insects, crows and gophers either alone or in the company of other children whom i had freely chosen as my friends.
It's been decades since the majority, or even a significant minority, of children in North America have had such freedom. We adults may think we are doing the right thing by our obsession with control of our children, but are we really ? The "family values" of my childhood were hardly the sickly sentimental idea that you have to fill every second of your child's life that is so popular today, in both left and right wing versions. To speak as an old fart, back in dem days, you simply did what was right to protect and educate the kids. You had enough faith in them to leave the majority of their time to themselves.
But there again this is the voice of what Paul Goodman called a "neo-lithic conservative", someone who actually lived the small town life that the cultural right makes up fantasies about. It sure as hell wasn't the religiously governed totalitarian state that they imagine and want. Neither was it the opposite dystopia of the social working left and their school of indoctrination. It was what it was, not total freedom but a closer approach to it than any thing planned by present day ideologues.
Anyways, here's Gambone's essay. Read it, Enjoy. Try to imagine how we might once more let children be free people ie children rather than little robots enslaved to our illusions.
The Day After Halloween:
Far fewer kids seem out on Halloween trick or treating these past few years. One more example of the decline of community. Halloween has been replaced by phony parties in the malls. Commercialism reigns triumphant once again. One aspect of this decline has been the fear generated by the media about what might happen to those kiddies roaming around in the dark in your neighborhood. Add to this the urban legends that always appear about this time – poisoned candy, needles in apples or oranges. The latter was current when I was a kid 50 years ago!

Halloween was part of communal culture. You went around in home made costume to your neighbors and got gifts from them. Back in my day and beyond, Halloween also served another function – a kind of safety valve in the community. Living in a very authoritarian and repressive society, the young were given this one day of the year to cause mischief and torment their tormentors. While aimed at adult authority in general, the holiday also served as pay back time to individual members of the community who were unpleasant to children, such as the nasty teacher or the hateful old man down the street. They would get their windows soaped or the air let out of their tires. And the kids would snicker about this for months after.

Today, for the most part, the brute authoritarianism is gone. Children now face a more sublimated kind of tyranny. Every aspect of their lives is monitored and organized. It is of course, like the floggings and denigrating tirades of the past, "done for their own good." For "out there" lurks an army of kidnappers, child-buggerers, and gang members just waiting to pounce on Little Jason and Amanda.

Somehow I doubt it is all that much worse than when I was a kid. The difference is the lack of community. With real towns and real neighborhoods, we kids knew who all the "pervs" were and avoided them. Today "the public"is too aware, but then, overt knowledge of such things as pedophilia and incest was suppressed. We kids understood and expressed our awareness through warnings about not bending over to get the soap in a public shower and jokes about scoutmasters, priests and choirboys.(Molly Note-Larry is a little bit older than me, but my father was born in 1895, so my old man had a few years on his. Old Tom used to tell us that the stories of priests and boys were current in his!!! day as a kid. Oh wow, I wonder how many centuries back this reaches) In real communities, as the late Jane Jacobs pointed out, there are thousands of eyes seeing what goes on. The sick can't get away with much.

The anonymity and alienation of suburban life has given a much freer rein to the emotionally sick amongst us. This creates fear, and fear in turn, further destroys community. The suburb is a vicious circle that eternally grinds down everything that makes us human.The only way Halloween and all other forms of communal, non-alienated activity will revive is through rejecting the American-style suburb and a return to living in real neighborhoods.


Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

A return to living in real neighbourhoods is not on the horizon. In the meantime I would suggest taking your kids picnicing and/or camping as much as possible. And leave the electronic crap at home!

Larry Gambone said...

I agree, "not on the horizon" but I do think "just over the horizon" does apply. When Peak Oil kicks in, people will have no choice but to abandon the burbs and create new compact, humane scale, walkable, integrated, and therefore real, communities. But in the meantime, for sure with the camping and picnics - and blow up your TV too!