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Neighbors, Porches & Pumpkins


Yesterday was Halloween...and another occasion to greet the neighbors and admire the energy they've put into decorating their homes and their children. The thing about Halloween in the US is that -- unlike Thanksgiving or Christmas -- it's a holiday that's less about celebrating family than it is about celebrating neighborhood. So -- as far as I'm concerned -- it's a great opportunity to take note of neighborly interactions and the semiotics of material culture. Halloween is one of the few occasions on which neighbors welcome one another into their yards, up on their porches, to their front doors. Anyone who is willing to put on a wig and some makeup and make the rounds of the neighborhood can drop in on any neighbor indicating his willingness to receive visitors with a jack-o-lantern on the porch.

Halloween is a day of inversions; signs that we normally use to frighten and turn away trespassers are used to draw them in: mutilated bodies, headless bodies, bodiless heads, blood and suffering, bugs and bats.... I saw a house that was draped in yellow crime-scene tape this year. Territory that is normally considered private is opened to the neighbors' approach. And neighborly interactions (hand-outs, no less) are politely demanded under threat of retaliation by vandals. You gotta love it.

Of course, I didn't have a pumpkin on my porch. (I don't really even have a front porch.) My lights were off and my front door undecorated -- an unambiguous sign. And it's not that I don't like pint-size superheroes or political satire as performed by teenagers desperate to maintain their sugar high. It's just that...I think that a single guy handing out candy to children is kind of creepy if he doesn't have any children of his own. Or maybe it's just that I'm too lazy to run up and down the stairs every three minutes to answer the door for all those trick-or-treaters. So instead, I take my camera and wander the streets. It's hard to explain to the neighbors that I'm taking photos because I'm interested in issues of territoriality, privacy, and ritualized interactions in urban neighborhoods. Now I'm sure they think I'm really creepy.

November 1, 2004 in Private / Public | Permalink


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But were you dressed up AND taking pictures? I think you should have included a pic of your costume.

I think the stranger phenomenon (or is that I never did this when I was a kid because I lived in a suburban neighborhood?) is kids going to stores to trick-or-treat. Just what would a kid expect if they went to a furniture or beauty-supply shop? My corner bakery (an understandle trick-or-treat location) was giving our cookies to trick-or-treaters but would not let me take one of the cookies even though I just bought something from there. (Maybe I am upset about that.)

Posted by: ed | Nov 2, 2004 5:24:46 PM

That's so sad that they wouldn't give you a cookie at the bakery. Were you dressed up? I wasn't in costume while I was taking pictures. Maybe it would have been less creepy if I had been. But I did get offered candy.

Posted by: Jay | Nov 2, 2004 6:44:16 PM

No costume, no treat.

Store Policy.


Posted by: Whatever | Jan 11, 2005 5:55:12 PM


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