Halloween used to be in soft-focus, fuzzy, less-defined. And it wasn’t just the fact that I needed glasses, and no one noticed until I was about ten years old. Finally, some saint of a teacher noticed the increasingly strange ways I was distorting my eyes to see the blackboard. I was past mere squinting at that point.
When I think of Halloween, I think of an old VHS tape with Halloween episodes of my favorite shows and cartoons recorded on it. Sure, you could watch ’em when they aired on TV each season, but there was something special about playing that beat-up tape with the ketchup stain on the sleeve. There was an imprint in the dust on the bookshelf from removing the tape. The label was filled out with meticulously handwritten titles.
With each replay of this tape, the recording got more fuzzy, the colors more faded, and the tape more worn. But each year, Garfield and Odie marched on to get candy candy candy candy. Linus set up camp in the pumpkin patch. And Charlie Brown still got stuck with a bag of rocks.
I used to worry about that tape. I knew with each viewing, the recording would continue to degrade, and eventually it would wear down to nothing—and that’s if the VCR didn’t eat it first. In terms of today’s technology, the Blue Screen of Death may strike fear in the hearts of laptop owners, but the sight of a chewed-up-and-spit-back-out VHS with the guts hanging out was downright gruesome.
I had vowed to watch that tape of Halloween specials annually, faithfully, but I missed a few years as I grew up. I forgot about it. I caught the end of the specials on TV while flipping through. At some point, DVDs came out. And one day I looked around, and I didn’t even have a way to play that tape.
Somewhere, a museum is fighting against time and nature to reverse decomposition of an old document or attempting to preserve some ancient rock formation. Everything is aging, becoming obsolete. Even us. One day, we’ll even be…old people. Will you still need me, will you still feed me? And we’ll even be turning off all the lights in the house to hide from the trick-or-treaters, so we don’t have to get up and down to answer the door. It’ll just agitate the bum knee.
Everything is supposed to become obsolete. Except, it’s not anymore. Because suddenly, thanks to streaming video, all those hand-recorded press-to-play specials have been preserved forever online, millions of views and counting. And instead of wearing, the quality is only getting better. Digitized. In high-definitions and multiple dimensions. This is only the beginning.
The leafs still fall and crinkle under our feet in October. The grocery store still sets up displays of orange-spackled sugar cookies. Some bastard kids still steal your tombstone lawn ornaments from the front yard. Children still don masks, though they’re not nearly as crappy and inefficient as the ones you and I once donned. And yes, those cartoon specials still come on TV. Poor Charlie Brown is still getting ripped-off with a bag of rocks. But Halloween looks different now. Like everything, like video games and movies and the labels on soda bottles, Halloween, too, has been graphically-upgraded. Things used to be hand-drawn, and hands shake. Computers always draw flawless lines.
These are sort of my opening thoughts to this Halloween Countdown, to place all this Halloween and nostalgia in a certain context. I wanted to start off with these Halloween stickers I picked up at Wal-Mart, and I think they fit into this context quite well.
I notice the cleanliness, the sharpness of the stickers. They are perfectly round and square, with bold lines. They’re cute, even somewhat retro. Retro, I mean, in the way that they make me want to throw a kitschy Halloween theme party. There will be matching napkins. There will be appropriately-retro apple-bobbing. There will be cupcakes decorated with fondant. I don’t even know what fondant is.
But let’s take a look at some real retro stuff, at a couple sheets of stickers from the 1980s, back when everything was a bit more of low-fi affair:
These guys aren’t clean at all. They’re pretty much a few days away from rotting. If the 2010 pumpkins above made me want to coyly wear a feather mask and bob for apples, these guys make me want to drink spiked cider and smoke menthol cigarettes.
And here are just a few other examples of the way things used to look:
These are the classic school stickers, here to remind you that Halloween was unfortunately not a month-long national holiday. Nope, we still had crappy school, and the teachers tried to make us feel better about it with crappy Halloween stickers. Well, the stickers themselves weren’t crappy, but everything else about it was.
Speaking of crappy, these are a total crap-fest. Some of the stickers aren’t even printed correctly. And the stickers are just out-of-their-minds wacko. Boiling ghosts? Pumpkins with candles on top? That’s gonna burn down the house.
Now these next few are some quality, high-class stickers:
Just the look and feel of these stickers—they don’t make ’em like this anymore. All of these stickers have this innate quality. It’s like vinyl records or old-fashioned stunt work. None of this MP3 and CGI stuff, which hurts my head. I like a certain warmth, just like that old fuzzy videotape.
Sure, maybe I’m the one who’s becoming obsolete, the one who’s going to have the bum knee. Although, I don’t know why I’m worried about it. By that time, people will probably be made up of cyborg parts.
The only thing I’ll really have to worry about is who’s gonna feed me when I’m sixty-four.