Fun, Football, and Carnality before Paris

This post was largely finished before the Paris terror attacks. I criticized costumes that mock and mimic violence, writing, that these outfits “cut too close to the bone.” Those words of mid-week cut even deeper now.

Halloween is over, but Fall Football isn’t. In his magisterial A Secular Age (45-6), Charles Taylor writes that

wizard of oz halloweenCarnival and similar [Medieval] festivities, such as the feasts of misrule, or boy bishops, and the like [are] . . .  periods in which the ordinary order of things was inverted, or “the world was turned upside down”. For a while, there was a ludic interval, in which people played out a condition of reversal of the usual order.

Boys wore the mitre, or fools were made kings for a day; what was ordinarily revered was mocked, people permitted themselves various forms of licence, not just sexually but also in close-to-violent acts, and the like.”

I can’t help pairing Taylor’s passage with the suspicion of Barbara Ehrenreich that some sports — consider gb4professional American football —  may be a form of carnival. (See Fritz Tucker’s good discussion of Ehrenreich,  Zeteo 11.02.2015)

After all, the Fall Season can be seen as a series of geographically dispersed ludic festivals, culminating in Superbowl Sunday drawing the largest TV crowds of the year, and followed world-wide.

Fans can dress crazily, players can indulge violent acts and spectators can cheer them; undressed cheerleaders can parade as the prize winning team members cart them off at the end; drunkenness and rowdiness are the order of the day, and so forth.

Taylor considers an enigma in these displays:

their human meaning was at once very powerfully felt in them — people threw gisele-bundchen-tom-brady-marriage-troublesthemselves into these feasts with gusto — and yet also enigmatic. . . . the festivals were not putting forward an alternative to the established order . . . that is, presenting an antithetical [social, political] order of things which might replace the prevailing dispensation. The mockery was enflamed by an understanding that betters, superiors, virtue, ecclesial charisma, etc. ought to rule; the humour was in that sense not ultimately serious.

I’d only add that they’re serious enough. Fun and faux-rebellion and the carnal in carnivals and among faux-royalty are serious enough.

We don’t really think Tom Brady, king of quarterbacks, should be king or president or (heaven forbid) a priest, though he is allowed, as royalty, to cart off the prettiest girl in the world, the most super of super models, Gisele, and live with her in a Castle remote from the mob. Football, in that sense, and Halloween, are not ultimately serious — though serious enough.

images-1Paying off begging children with goodies at the door is not really philanthropy or respect for the weak and poor.

Speaking of inversions that are seriously provocative — even obscene — consider:

In the midst of Jerusalem stabbings, you can dress up on Halloween wielding a bloody knife, imagesor dress up as the victim of one. These costumes cut too close to the bone. And as news from Paris attacks continues to cast a pall, it seems even ugly to display Halloween costumes faking bloody attacks. They are ugly carnal.

They’re more ugly-carnal than Tom and Gisele are beautiful-carnal. We can smile in good-nature at football, carnality, and carnival.

Terrorism aside, behind the scenes in football, carnival and Halloween, the devil really is at work: the capitalist juggernaut. Here is a friend in England:

Think about it, Hallowe’en is surely part of the relentless effort to get us to buy an almost unbelievable amount of useless stuff which, in turn, keeps the big wheels of global capitalism turning. Planet Retail — “the world’s trusted provider of global retail forecasting, trend analysis, shopper insights and market information” — tells us that, between 2001 and 2010 UK spending on Hallowe’en goods rose from just £12m in 2001 to £235m — a 20-fold increase. . . . The Guardian reports that “supermarkets are banking on a sales surge this Hallowe’en, with one City analyst calculating shoppers could spend up to £460m on fancy dress, food and decorations.” . . . [Nearly] 16,000 Halloween costumes are being sold every day on Ebay’s UK site.

images-4Are the exorbitant millions paid to football stars as devilish as the exorbitant millions paid for Halloween trinkets and masks?

I usually don’t quote Bible, but maybe, as my British friend suggests,  Peter 5:8-9, is apt:

Brethen, be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour . . . .

—Ed Mooney, Zeteo Contributor

Citations: Fritz Tucker, “Halloween as Social Movement,” Zeteo 11.02.2015; Charles Taylor: A Secular Age, Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 2007, pp. 45-46; Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy (Holt Paperbacks, 2007), see Tucker, “Halloween”; for the quote from Peter, for the citation from Taylor, and for more on capitalism and carnival, see Rev. Andrew Brown’s blog,  01 Nov 2015. And thanks to google images.


  1. William Eaton

    “Your adversary is the devil” — but “the devil” is also within us all. (And at times happily?)

    This post brings to mind the controversy surrounding Halloween costumes and related protests at Yale. (Two urls below.) And when we discuss the devil and his/her place in our lives, we are tapping into our heritages, our Puritan heritage certainly included, and also of course phenomena such as the Holocaust and terrorist attacks against anonymous civilians (as you note).

    I would urge, from my particular “religious” perspective, recognition of the existence of “the devil” or of our wild and destructive impulses (which are linked to artistic, erotic, aggressive, and competitive impulses that are not necessarily destructive). It seems to me that there need to be places and moments for seeing and accepting ourselves in all our (not always happy) complexity and for finding ways to express ourselves in all our complexity. (And even for embracing our unhappiness.)

    If we try to keep a lid on, we boil over. And if we try to project the devil out of ourselves and onto others—the “axis of evil,” etc.—we are denying who we are, who each one of us is. To me, there can be no good in such an approach.



  2. Very interesting point about the growing market for Halloween. Carnival, similar to religious practices, always seems to contain an element of showing one’s devotion to the group by being wasteful and extravagant. I guess in a completely commoditized world (with even one’s time being commoditized), that there’s no way for one to be extravagant and wasteful without someone else somehow benefitting.


  3. Ed Mooney

    I guess the biblical quote got me thinking of capitalism as devilish, the demonic. Of course under the Puritan dispensation the devil was within each of us. I don’t like that picture. I’d rather think of those in the community with whom I live and move and have my being as being devil-free — rather than repositories of devil-energy that they project falsely on others. To call the work of smart-crazy persons or institutions the work of the devil is to appraise that some span of work as objectively evil/clever/evasive. and to use the historical moral-power of “DEVIL” to give proper gravitas to one’s appraisal. It’s not projection, as I see it, but a realistic and hardheadedly correct appraisal of capitalism or terrorism that leads me to invoke the devil at work. There is, in my view, objective evil, and that’s where I find the devil (though I wouldn’t go too far into defending the devil’s dense ontological status).


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