Social Leverage: Fright night

Social Leverage: Fright night

By Carla Lever

I’m writing this while staying up watching the US election results roll in. Let me tell you, it’s terrifying. The kind of proper refresh-webpage-without-breathing kind of terrifying.
It reminds me of watching horror moves from behind pillows at Halloween. You know, Halloween – the great American import idea where we all get to dress up as if we’ve been violently dismembered, or as if we were grotesquely bloodthirsty killers. No wonder it hasn’t historically caught on in South Africa, then.

…that is, until recently. Yes, we’ve really started embracing the Americanisation of our pop culture. I know this because Woolworths recently brought out a range of microwavable pumpkin pie and if anyone has their finger on the beating pulse of middle class fads, it’s our local friendly employment equity organisation.

Halloween, however, is something I’m rather fond of. Anything that legitimately gives me free reign to dress up in odd outfits and publically parade myself as opposed to privately pose in front of the hall mirror is A-OK in my book.

Of course, the socially acceptable costume options if you’re a girl tend to be a little limited. Well, that’s not strictly true – equal opportunity reigns in some respects. The unwritten rule is that girls can dress up as anything guys can, as long as there’s the addition of the adjective “sexy”. Play with this and you’ll see what I mean. Men’s costumes: zombie, firefighter, wrestler. Women’s: sexy zombie, sexy firefighter, sexy wrestler. Amazingly accurate, eh?

Perhaps we’re learning this from America too – a friend in Chicago recently sent me a photo of the children’s costume section at Walmart (a cultural phenomenon we haven’t yet succumbed to). A generic pack of doctor’s scrubs was helpfully labelled “boys” outfit’. Just in case your little girl was getting uppity in her ambitions, you know.

Speaking about the lessons we learn from childhood, let’s zoom in to Casa Lever, my parents’ place in the suburbs. They stay in the kind of area that’s just close enough to Constantia to get all the upwardly mobile kids with not quite enough disposable income to buy them things to entertain themselves like ponies, but just enough privilege to be thoroughly and indulgently miserable. We get a lot of emos in the hood with nothing to do but sit on the see-saw in the local park. One imagines a whole suburban army on yellow metal poles saying “I’m  – like – so up and down, maaan.”

The last three years has really seen a boom in trick or treating in my parents’ street. Since the suburbs are a lightning rod for breeders, there is no shortage of little visitors to the parental door come 5pm on the 31 October. The first year this really started happening, my mother eagerly rushed off to stock up on the kinds of sweets that would bring instant joy to the faces of the children in inverse proportion to the grimace it would bring to their parents’ ten minutes after the sugar rush hit.

As a mother whose single cuckoo had finally fallen out the nest (returning only occasionally to squawk for food), she sat poised all afternoon, overflowing bowl at the ready, determined her house would be the choice destination for children everywhere. What sad twist of fate led her to answer a phone call at the precise moment the first children rang the doorbell, I don’t know. Whatever it was, my father was the one who opened the door.

For the purposes of this article, let’s call dad a loveable curmudgeon. It’s a stretch, but it massages the humour factor back to life, so I’m down if you are. Having about as much tolerance for small humans as I do, he took one look at their little hopeful faces and bellowed an emphatic “B*gger off!”

Flash forward to the next October and my mother was determined to make amends. New approach, new basket of sweets, brand new sugar-coated attitude. So she sat…and sat. But nobody came. Many hours later, she turned to my father and exclaimed that he’d clearly ruined the Lever reputation in the neighbourhood. His response? “Not at all – it’s just that I turned the doorbell buzzer onto silent.”

So, you win some, you lose some. Papa Lever may have instilled Halloween horror into our household, but – as I finish this column off at a weary 6am having nursed the election polls through the night – Barack just instilled a whole new fervour in American voters. In the words of Charlie Sheen, that’s winning, man.

Follow Carla Lever on Twitter (@carlalever)
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