Fellow decorators, friends of the costumed, and ambivalent hipsters hovering in the foyer: Let me say to you, welcome. No matter what walk of life we come from, we all share the urge to decorate. At first, the string of lights is enough. But then, you want to add a few balls. Maybe a figurine. But this is the gateway to life-size animatronics, whether they’re spiders, Jesus, or menorahs that sing. At that point, no amount of tinsel, timed light displays, or chortling skeletons can satisfy the craving. Your tolerance is too damn high, and your square footage is limited. All that’s left is to wake up glitter-encrusted amid a bed of smashed light bulbs and battery-drained iPods on your front lawn.
As neighbors, we walk the line between enjoying the foam ax that lunges out at us from the balsa-wood coffin, and having a sit-down with somebody who has bought a blow-up Lincoln doll for President’s Day. Decorating is a personal choice, and we can’t be our brother’s keeper. But is turning a blind eye a form of enabling? Or is this very sentiment, the notion that there is an “appropriate” amount of decorating, inherently un-American?
The cultural norms vary by region. In Los Angeles, we have collectively agreed that you gotta keep it on the DL decor-wise for Christmas, Chanukah, and July 4th. But please, feel free to blow it out your ass for Halloween. In a city that is home to thousands of people who pretend to be someone they’re not for a living, Halloween is practically a religious occasion. There are marches, masquerades, the transformation of formerly milquetoast street corners into gushing fountains of blood. The hoi polloi of slutty nurses and indistinct superheroes pay tribute to the gods of Creative Costumes under fake-spiderwebbed eaves.
In terms of aural decoration, purposefully “scary” music has always been a failure. It is comical at best, and window-shattering at worst. But this is not scary; it’s simply a code violation. Those who wish to genuinely scare themselves musically must delve into the treacly depths of synthesized pop music, produced in hermetic chambers in the San Fernando Valley, where, it is said, nothing with a soul can grow. Logically, these very conditions make the musically scary decorators the hardest to observe, so we do not think of them as being part of the affected population. But they’re there, underground, playing a medley of Ringtones on repeat.
While many of these folks will observe the holiday without permanently erecting a fake headstone, others will continue to suffer through their addiction unnoticed, making mid-January raids at Aahs! and the dingier boutiques on Melrose. Those of us lucky enough to have mastered our decorative urges will both see and not see them as they scurry past us, hastily concealed Door Mounted Grim Reaper cackling from their hoodie pocket. But if you prick us with a tinfoil sword, do we not bleed? To deny that we are all decorators is to forsake our humanity. And to forsake our humanity, we must forsake ourselves. No: We stand, or often lurk, united. Embrace yourselves: You are loved, and your face paint is adorable. Thank you, friends.
Julia Ingalls is primarily an essayist. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Slate, Salon, Dwell, The Nervous Breakdown, The LA Weekly, Forth Magazine, and 89.9 KCRW. She's into it.