• Dan Nosowitz writes about October 30, “Why Is Mischief Night Different From All Other Nights?” This is familiar territory for me, but it was strange to learn that it’s not familiar territory for most people:
In 2013, graphics editor Josh Katz created what would become that year’s most-visited New York Times story: a linguistic quiz for Americans. “I was studying statistics, and I’ve always found linguistics interesting,” he says. “So it seemed like a dataset that would be interesting to apply some statistical methods to.” That quiz, with uncanny accuracy, can guess where an American is from based on a series of dialect questions by matching answers to the results of a survey. Some of these are classic, diagnostic matters of pronunciation (like whether “cot” and “caught” sound the same), while others are based on local curios, different words for the same things (like what you call the strip of grass between a sidewalk and a road, if you call it anything at all).
One of the strangest results of the survey was in this question: “What do you call the night before Halloween?” That map shows three main answers. Most of the country—from Maine to Florida, Los Angeles to Seattle, the Great Plains, Big Sky, and Deep South—replied: “I have no word for this.” Another was highly localized in Michigan, and another was focused on Philadelphia and New Jersey, with little splinters into Delaware and New York.
Katz, it’s probably worth noting, is from the Philadelphia suburbs of South Jersey, right in the heart of the hotspot of “Mischief Night.” Mischief Night is so common as a term there, so built into the season and the place, that those of us from this area—I’m from southeastern Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia—continue to be shocked that this is a local phenomenon. “Mischief Night had always been one of those things that I remembered from growing up,” says Katz. “I feel like it wasn’t until I went off to college that I found out that the night before Halloween wasn’t called Mischief Night everywhere in the country.”
The thing about regional distinctives is that you have no way of knowing they’re regional until you encounter people who don’t share them. I thought everybody had Mischief Night, and was so surprised to learn that it’s mainly a Jersey/Philly thing that I wound up rewriting the lyrics to “Backstreets” on Twitter.
I suppose this is why the 2002 low-budget horror flick “Mischief Night” changed it’s name to The Collingswood Story. There was another low-budget horror click called Mischief Night in 2013, and then another in 2014 — with another in production for release next year. I have to wonder what folks outside of Springsteen/Wawa territory make of that title. (Motown residents will be happy to know there are more low-budget horror movies called “Devil’s Night” than there are “Mischief Nights.”)
There’s also a 2006 comedy called Mischief Night, but it takes place in England on November 4 — the night before Guy Fawkes Day. Nosowitz thinks there may be a connection between that custom and the one that has teenagers soaping cars, tossing eggs, and TP-ing houses around here. Maybe.
• Amid some other reflections on Halloween, rmj at Adventus shares some awful seasonal excerpts from posts on Nextdoor:
“I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas. I feel this is inappropriate. Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children,” the anonymous homeowner whined.
This is the sort of thing people feel free to say when they’re shielded from the potential consequences of Mischief Night. Without Mischief Night, the implicit threat spoken by every costumed child — “Trick or treat” — becomes meaningless. Familiarity numbs us to what’s really being said there, “Treat … or else.” Plus those little kids in their costumes are so adorable that we tend not to notice that they’re all telling us, explicitly, “Candy or consequences, hand it over.”
Halloween candy isn’t charity. It’s a peace treaty. It’s how you keep eggs off your windows, TP out of your trees, and flaming bags of dog poop off of your front porch.
This is also how we got the New Deal.
• In 1989, Spin magazine arranged to have anti-rock charlatan-evangelist Bob Larson go on tour with Slayer, a heavy metal band famous for songs about Hell and Satan. That might’ve been interesting if either side of that contrast really believed what they were making a living pretending to believe, but it turned out that thrown together in close quarters, neither side could maintain kayfabe for long.
The video below is more candid. This is a “trailer” for a new podcast from Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson in which he and biblical studies Prof. Steve Friesen discuss the “Satanic” imagery in his music. It was, Dickinson says, unshockingly, an attempt to shock:
Dickinson’s co-host, Oxford psychologist Kevin Dutton, ties this to the generally “anti-establishment” tendency of all forms of rock and roll. That’s a fair point, until he says this: “You can’t get more anti-establishment than Satan.”
And here I want to scream No. If Dutton is Team Milton, then I’m on the opposing team, Team Walter Wink. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
The Powers That Be. The Establishment. “Satan.” So many names.