A zombie is shambling down the street, one leg dragging, arm waving at the sky before collapsing on a discarded cardboard refrigerator box. A thin trail of blood can be seen on the back of his dirty shirt.
It’s not Halloween yet. It’s just Thursday.
But in the America of Drag Queen Story Hour, of homeless encampments, random arsons, gangs smashing their way into stores, street takeovers with blowtorches and meth addicts screaming into the night, all the monsters are real and every day of the year is Halloween.
Zombies and monsters are real. Some are dead end vagrants from skid row. Others operate at the highest levels of government.
In Pennsylvania, John Fetterman, Frankenstein’s monster reborn, shambles, looms and issues strange noises that faintly resemble human speech as he strives for the Senate. Joe Biden attends conferences and offers impromptu word salads while dressed as the naked emperor. Neither are functional human beings, but our standards are low enough that we accept any level of dysfunction as normal. Anything else would be “ableist” and we fear words more than monsters.
But it’s the ‘Halloweenization” of ordinary life that gets far too little attention.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the streets of major cities were filled with men and women wearing black masks over their faces. The long Halloween of the lockdown, perhaps the longest on record, was just one of those costume changes in which all of society got a makeover.
But masks can be taken on and off. Social dysfunction is a lot harder to fix. The drug addicts lying in gutters are not just wearing a costume, they’ve become the costume. Just as if we had worn the masks long enough, we might have become the masks.
Costumes are everywhere.
One day, Dr. Rick Levine chose to put on a dress and a long flowing blond wig and he became Rachel Levine. The Biden administration decided to make Rick into a four-star-admiral and now he’s Admiral Rachel Levine allowing him to wear an exciting new costume. In a society where a man can become a woman by thinking it, he can also become a four-star admiral.
When every day is Halloween, reality is just another hate crime and anyone can pretend to be anything they want to as long as they’re willing to pay the price.
TikTok trends drive massive transgender identification among teenage girls. Some begin taking hormones or even undergoing surgical mutilation that they will forever regret.
But then there’s no taking off the mask.
The endless Halloween of medical costume shops ensures that the temporary desire to change bodies, to escape the unwelcome physical reality, will become an inescapable nightmare. Unlike Walmart or K-Mart, there’s no returning these costumes. And there’s no escape from the playacting of a surgical center.
That is what an unserious society has trouble understanding.
“They wanted to have a good time, but they were like children playing in the street; they could see one after another of them being killed—run over, maimed, destroyed—but they continued to play anyhow,” Philip K. Dick wrote in the afterward to his novel A Scanner Darkly. “Drug misuse is not a disease, it is a decision, like the decision to step out in front of a moving car. You would call that not a disease but an error in judgment. When a bunch of people begin to do it, it is a social error, a life-style.”
The days when drug abuse was the worst effect of the counterculture are now a fond memory. The zombies, the ones already here and those yet to come, are everywhere. The old drug epidemics have given way to the terrors of fentanyl. Three New York City professionals, a Wall Street executive, a Columbia Law School grad and a therapist, died of cocaine overdoses laced with fentanyl provided by a phone delivery service.
They were just playing in the street, but playing in the street is a life-style.
We’ve become a society of people playing in front of moving cars while pretending that moving cars are a society construct created by whiteness, the patriarchy and outmoded ways of viewing the world. What was once a risk has become a virtue and a social cause. The zombies lying in cardboard boxes and shivering in tents in the Valley noonday heat are just casualties of the cause.
The cause is destroying reality and replacing it with fantasy: an endless night in which we can become anyone we want to be and replace society with a series of egotistical fantasies.
Reality is as real as ever. The only ones we’re destroying are ourselves.
In the endless counterculture Halloween in which drag queens cavort in front of schoolchildren, teenagers go under the knife in the hopes of being reborn into another sex and the people of a united nation join separate warring tribes, there are newer exciting forms of madness on display.
Wearing costumes was a transgressive act in many cultures. A night or a day of brief fun, people testing what it was like to be someone else and to turn the social order upside down. Nobody wanted to live in a world in which there’s no way to know what is real and what isn’t.
But that’s the world we live in now.
Costumes have become the norm and normalcy is the aberration. Men dress up as women. An NAACP president turned out to be a white woman who identifies as black. New York State Senator Julia Salazar is an antisemite who identifies as Jewish. And it’s revealed that prominent Indian activist figures, Marlon Brando’s Oscar night princess, a prominent academic, a poet, were just white people even though they took to dressing up as Indians all year round.
Identity politics values what people identify as more than who they are. Magical thinking leads people to believe that life is just a costume that you can change when you want to. In a world that is becoming increasingly unreal, it’s easy to think of reality as endlessly malleable.
Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford, dressed up in Steve Jobs drag and convinced investors to hand her hundreds of millions of dollars. No one actually checked to see if she could do what she promised because she wore the right costume. Lesser dot com con artists have taken to doing the same thing. And buy themselves private jets from the proceeds.
Money, like so much else, is becoming unreal. Facts give way to narratives. And skilful propagandists have discovered how to make not only morality, but reality appear relative. Everyone becomes a conspiracy theorist, digging so deep that nothing seems true anymore.
That is the endless Halloween in which the game, the funhouse mirrors and costumes, give way to the sudden panicked realization that there is no more reality, only a perpetual game of let’s pretend.
And there’s nothing playful about the game anymore.
The monsters are real. And sometimes they’re obvious. Other times they’re authority figures discussing how to sexually mutilate children. Nobody is a monster in their own story. And even those dressing up as monsters, don’t believe that they are. But monsters are defined not by what they believe they are or what someone else believes what they are. The only test that truly matters is the one of consequences. Everything except reality is just a series of word games.
Millions of people would like the costume party to end. They’re done with the masks, the drag acts and the lies. They’d like everyone to take off the costumes and bring reality back.
The good news is that reality didn’t go anywhere, the bad news is that we have. And it’ll take more than the midnight of one day to bring reality back.