November 21st, 2005

Brad @ Burning Man

When Doesn't Your Behavior Count?

With Halloween in the recent past, it wasn't that long ago that I was thinking, yet again, how much I love masked festivals. As Walter Otto said, Dionysus is a god of masks. The rural Dionysia and the Bacchanal provided people who lived in a rigidly structured, highly economically competitive, never far away from grinding poverty society, that was always in the middle of a protracted senseless war or could see one coming on the near horizon, with a much needed outlet. As Otto pointed out, when the stress of a society like that (which is to say, including a society like ours) is driving you stark raving crazy, you can do one of two things. You can go somewhere where your behavior won't be held against you and there isn't anything valuable you can break, and get crazy there, and get it out of your system so you can go back to your high-stress life refreshed and ready to work again. Or you can go crazy at home, or in your workplace, or anywhere in your daily life where everything you say and do will be held against you, and where all of the most valuable fragile things in the world (your family, your children, your home, your savings, your career) are there for you to destroy in a temporary fit of madness. Which is one of the reasons why, in one of the pieces of writing that I'm most proud of, I argued that drunken sex can be good for you. That's why I said, only half in jest, that the person of a bead whore is sacred to the God: because a bead ho knows that this is a Bacchanal, that she can flirt with the crowd as sluttily as she wants without being accused of being a slut when she gets back to her normal life.

Halloween means all of that to me, and two more equally special things, besides. For one, I'm a lover of the costumer's art, so Halloween means to me a time where I can wallow in perfectly acceptable folk art and boggle, with my jaw figuratively hanging down around my knees, at some truly amazing public art. For another, Halloween is the one night of the year when everybody can temporarily embrace John Lilly's mantra: "You can be anything you want, this time around." If there's some aspect of your personality that you can't fit into your daily life without mucking it up, there's a costume that will let you express that part of your personality for one night. If there's a road not taken that you sometimes whistfully dream about, you can be that person for one night. But yeah, especially now that adults have taken over Halloween, on top of those two wonderful things it is also a time when people from San Francisco to New York put on masks and then go to a party, or go to a bar, or go to a parade, and go totally freaking hog-wild nuts in a perfectly socially deniable way. I think of it as one of the two "bookends" of the year, the two times a year that you can mask up and do that: Mardi Gras in February or March, and Halloween at the end of October, both conveniently almost evenly spaced. It means that if you need to go wild in a deniable way, there's hardly ever more than six or seven months that you have to hold it in.

But not long after I was thinking about this, one of my female friends admitted something to me that she doesn't tell very many people: she's not as cheap a drunk as she lets on. The silly girl thought that she was the only one who drank not for the biological effects of alcohol but for the social cue it provides and for fellowship with other social drinkers. But that nails down the other extreme. At one end of the spectrum are dreary puritans who believe that everything has to go on your permanent record, that there are no releases or escapes from your "true nature," and that if you ever feel the urge to do something, let alone act upon it, that means that you're always going to be judged as a person who does that, as if you did it all the time. At the far end, though, are the people who get drunk every weekend, or at least pretend to be drunk, so that they can escape from the customs and mores of society for an evening and blame it on the liquor. Hence the old, tired joke about the mating call of the Blonde: "Oh gawd, I am SOOOO drunk!" But in between those two alternatives, there's a range of possible answers to the question: when doesn't it count? Not in the sense of "when should I not be held responsible for my actions or their consequences," but in the sense of "when should I be able to do or say something without people assuming that I'm like that all the time, or want to be"?

Poll #616978 When Doesnt It Count?

What are the times and events when you think you can do something you wouldn't normally do without people treating you as if you were always like that? When do you extend the same benefit of the doubt to others?

New Year's Eve
0(0.0%)
Mardi Gras
0(0.0%)
Spring Break, if you're a college kid
0(0.0%)
Halloween
0(0.0%)
The company Christmas party
0(0.0%)
One or more other annual holidays (feel free to comment)
0(0.0%)
Your birthday
0(0.0%)
When it's late enough at night (midnight? 2:00 am?)
0(0.0%)
Weekends
0(0.0%)
When drunk or stoned
0(0.0%)
At any party
0(0.0%)
At any costume party
0(0.0%)
When out of town on business
0(0.0%)
At a science fiction convention, an SCA war, a Renaissance Festival ...
3(4.7%)
At or after a rave
1(1.6%)
At a leather event, swingers event, or other sexually themed event
1(1.6%)
Other (feel free to comment)
2(3.1%)
Never
14(21.9%)