Thursday, November 07, 2002

One surprise--for me--from All Souls Day (Nov. 1, when the dead are traditionally honored in Catholic countries) was that the American party (juerga) called Halloween is imposing itself strongly upon us. Above all, among the children, often in the schools. Another example that Anglo-Saxon culture has begotten horrendous vastages, from the repulsive Dracula to that frenzied Freddy Krueger, including the repugnant Frankenstein, the idiotic Mummy, and whatever. The cinema is committing atrocities here. It appears that for the Anglo-Saxons death consists, boiled down to it, in a maniacal succession of horrors between grotesque and sadistic, totally opposed to the dignified behavior and "cult of the dead" of the Greco-Latin or Chinese cultures, those which have survived longest on this planet. (Liberal translation of near-indescipherable last sentence. Antonio questions: typo in original? missing words?)

Good God, where do we start? First, Porcel must be a complete imbecile if he hadn't noticed that Halloween has become a popular celebration, especially among kids, in the last ten years in Spain. (Interestingly enough, Spain gets many of its American trends through France, of all places. Four of them are Halloween, country music, blue jeans--in again--and fast food. The French sort of filter and vet American trends, and the ones that catch on there make it to Spain in a year or so.) Second, most Americans are about as "Anglo-Saxon" as Porcel himself. Les anglosaxons is slightly snooty French for anyone who speaks English; they need a term to lump us Brits and Yanks and Aussies all together with. Francophile / Anglophobe Spaniards like to show how sophisticated they are by adopting the term. Third, who is Porcel to dis Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker? Or the brilliant filmmakers behind the original Frankenstein and Dracula movies? Would he do the same to Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote in a similar vein? Or Victor Hugo? Or even Stephen King, of whom I am no huge fan, but who is a thousand times the writer that Porcel is? Or the guys who make those silly Freddy and Jason horror movies? Sure, they're silly, they're supposed to be silly, for Chrissakes, just bits of fluff entertainment. The people who make those movies aren't morons and the teenagers who like those movies aren't morons. It's all just for fun. The only morons around here are the people like Porcel who take seriously a silly but fun bunch of crap like children's dressing up as monsters for Halloween. Trust us. Halloween is meaningless for us Americans. It won't contaminate Catalan culture. Look, Halloween is the American equivalent of Spanish / Catalan Carnival. People get to dress up in costumes and go to parties. That's all it is; like New Year's Eve, it's just an excuse to have a good time. You already have Carnival. Why not two dressing-up holidays?

They say that Halloween comes from the Celts. I don't know. But the Celts had a concept of the immortal soul, their celestial pots full of delicious wild boar, the venerated priest, the druid, who even constitutes an antecedent of the Christian soul. Meanwhile, Halloween is a disrespectful, tacky (hortera) masquerade which instantly plants two disquieting questions: would you like to be thought of like that, on the part of the living, once you've died? Do you contemplate the memories of your parents and grandparents as cheesy (chabacano) and repulsive? That's not the point, those who are always up-to-date rush to say, Halloween is just for fun, though macabre fun. OK, fine. But the real problem stands: the child will not be taken to the cemetery, true to that cult of the dead that creates deep family and territorial, even patriotic, traditions, understood like the land where you grow with your roots, and which gives to the human being a historic heritage and transcendence, a metaphysical mystery. No, the child will be induced to dance around foolishly, strictly within himself, as if the Beyond were reduced to a silly game.

Good God, where do we start? It's clear that Porcel just doesn't get that, while Catholics are the largest religious group in the US, America's Ur-culture is Protestant. That is, we don't generally do Catholic holidays like the Immaculate Conception or Lent or the Assumption of the Virgin or All Saints' Day, or any saint's day at all. Because we don't observe All Saints' Day, does that mean we don't honor our dead? No, we honor our dead so much that we have both Memorial Day, the holiday to honor the dead in general, and Veterans' Day, the holiday to honor war veterans, both living and dead. In addition, anyone is free to honor the dead whenever he or she pleases, and perhaps there is more virtue in doing so on a day which is NOT scheduled for such observances. I also remember a year or so ago that some Spaniards criticized the American homage to the dead of the Sept. 11 attacks, calling it maudlin, exaggerated, and chauvinistically patriotic. Well, which is it? Maudlin and exaggerated, or superficial and disrespectful? Please choose one at the sound of the buzzer. Slander America one way or the other, but please be consistent. And there's no reason why the kid can't both dress up as a monster for the class Halloween party in the morning and then go with his folks to lay flowers at the cemetery in the afternoon, anyway. Notice, though, that Cataloonies like Porcel (along with many other Europeans, especially the butts of this ten-year-old Francophobe Spanish joke: "You know, the Gulf War was so short that the French didn't even have time to change sides.") are prepared to read something sinister into the most innocent manifestation of American culture. Why must Porcel not only criticize, but even ridicule and insult something that he obviously does not understand at all? Where does he get this knee-jerk anti-Americanism? Orwell would have said that the answer is that he's a nationalist and so he sees everything in terms of the comparative prestige of the unit he owes allegiance to. Catalonia's comparative prestige internationally is pretty low, as it is seen in Europe by even those who are aware of its existence as a region of Spain with some local peculiarities. Outside Europe, it's virtually unknown. The Catalanists just can't stand this. If an American celebration is being adopted in Catalonia, but no Catalan celebrations are being adopted anywhere, much less in America, then this is a priori a bad thing in Catalanist eyes.

Changing the subject: we are evidently looking at a commercial operation, the most gratuitous consumerism, as we are also again obeying the command of the dominant culture, the North American, in another of its most banal manifestations. And here's where Halloween fits in: a world of immigrants who have come from everywhere, for whom roots and tombs no longer exist, only material and moral deserts in which the wolf devoured the carrion of the dead under the ululating delirium of the night wind. And I repeat my emphasis on the dimensions of Greco-Latin and Chinese culture: no other possesses their almost 3000 years of fruitful riches.

Well, at least we know where to start: great imagery, there, "ululating delirium". Translating this has been such a pain in the ass that I'm going to smoke a whole bunch of dope to escape the blubbering idiocy this guy Porcel has reduced me to. Maybe I'll even hit the state of ululating delirium, but this hash is pretty weak so I don't think I'll get that stoned. Anyway, first, what consumerism? Costumes are dirt-cheap, just paint the kid's face or put a sheet with eyeholes over his head. Candy is not precisely a hugely expensive item either. Maybe it's all a plot of the pumpkin growers, who did some tidy business during October this year. Note the sneer, by the way, in "another of its most banal manifestaciones". Note the fear of immigration. Note the fear of change. Note Porcel's very arrogant assumption that he somehow has more roots than other people, that he has more roots than 300 million Americans. All I can say about my roots are that three of my grandparents were descended from British Isles and Palatinate German ancestors who arrived in the United States before the Revolution, and that the fourth was of Austrian Empire German descent, specifically from Bukovina, who arrived in the 1880s. They'd emigrated from Württemberg to the Austrian Military Frontier out east sometime in the 1700s and from there to Kansas 150 years later. The fact that my roots are from fairly distant places doesn't mean I don't have any. This is something Mr. Porcel should know, as his roots are in Mallorca, not here in Barcelona where he lives. Also, Mr. Porcel should recognize that we Americans, as members of Western civilization, are just as much the cultural heirs of the Greco-Romans (and the Judeo-Christians, too, which Mr. Porcel failed to mention) as anyone else. Or does he think that our laws, our economic and business practices, our popular and cultural traditions, our way of doing things in general, were not inherited by the northern Europeans who founded the United States from their ancestors? And what about the cultural contributions of the descendents of the Africans who were brought to America against their will but have done so much to make America what it is? Of course, what America is today has been influenced by many other cultures as well besides the WASPs and the blacks (the later arrivals influenced America's outside appearance much more than its foundations, though), most notably the Italians, the Eastern European Jews, the Eastern European Slavs, and the Mexicans, all of whose roots are also in the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian tradition. (Right. I know, Mexico, the Aztecs, and all. But they speak Spanish and are Christians.) The only group of non-European Americans that has strongly influenced general American culture is African-Americans; the black heritage in our shared culture is what differentiates us European Americans from other Westerners. Is that what Mr. Porcel's problem really is? Of course not, but he's so anti-American that he doesn't understand that being anti-American means being anti-African-American too. And I haven't noticed Mr. Porcel leading any demonstrations to increase the number of immigrants to Catalonia from North and sub-Saharan Africa.

Oh, by the way, China's existed as a culture for considerably more than 3000 years, and should Mr. Porcel find it congenial, he is most welcome to move there. And did you notice that he didn't mention the fruitful cultural riches of the Jewish heritage, yet again, though Jewish culture is also some 3000 years old and has been as influential as any other on Western civilization except possibly the Greeks?

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