No more, not now, not in New York as the month turned. On October 31, the herds, perhaps 50,000 strong, flocked to Greenwich Village for Halloween revelry and parades. On November 1, perhaps 2,000,000 people gathered in five boroughs to watch 42,000 participants in the ING-New York Marathon. Except for the losers among the elite runners, these mobsters seemed cheerful.
I once thought that marathons were Apollonian. Wearing shorts and sneakers, their bodies stripped down to muscle, the runners were paragons of form, training, and self-discipline. Do not break stride! In contrast, Halloween was Dionysian. Wearing costumes, their bodies concealed, the celebrants were paragons of freedom from form, training, and self-discipline. No "nots" allowed.
No more, not now. Halloween and marathons share the status of being public feel-good events, more so for the spectators of the marathon than for the runners straining to achieve their individual goals. Both Halloween and marathons stir up jollity and a sense of communal well-being, unless one is a runner veering towards the side of the road to vomit. On Sunday morning, an NBC announcer ,waiting for the endurance test to begin on Staten Island, marvelled at being at a "modern day Woodstock." The marathon's theme song was Frank Sinatra's canonical rendering of "New York, New York." On Saturday night, on 6th Avenue in the Village, a person in a mask whined, "Can you see through your mask? I can't see through my mask." This tedious spoilsport was violating the spirit of the night.
Because they are public feel-good events, the Halloween festivities and the Marathon are robust , wholesome popular entertainment. Both, of course, have deep historical roots: Halloween in the cycle of the Celtic year, which Christianity then adapted; the marathon in Greek history, when a messenger ran 26 miles and 385 yards (such is the spurious precision of historical fables) to tell Athenian citizens that Greek forces had whipped the Persians at a place called Marathon.
Not surprisingly, these spectacles efface history. The Villager revellers have taken the Hell out of Halloween. One woman emerged from a grocery store wearing a witch's hat, but she was pushing a stroller in which the baby was wearing a tiara and a pink princess dress with flounces. A man strolled through the crowds with his dog on a leash; the little canine was strapped into angel wings. The organizers of the Marathon fail to remind us that the Greek messenger who first ran these demanding miles dropped dead when his job was done. On the contrary, on the day before this year's Marathon, a story in the New York Times mentioned a study that had concluded reassuringly that only .8 of every 100,000 marathoners died because of their exertions.
Enabling both spectacles, and insuring their safety, are the New York police. On Saturday, at 3:45 p.m., they stood in formation at the intersection of 6th Avenue and Waverly Place. Their wooden barriers and steel fences, for crowd control, were already in place. The men and women seemed genial and relaxed. A French tourist, in elegant suede boots, posed in front of them, her male companion focusing his cell phone camera, both perhaps dreaming of Dolce and Gabbano ads. On Sunday, police on gleaming black motorcycles, along with the media, accompanied the elite runners--their knight consorts.
Both feel-good herd spectacles are glocal events, at once global and local. Marathons are run in several countries and at the Olympics. Halloween may be infiltrating previously foreign spaces. A Mexican anthropologist,with me in the Village said that she now sees United States Halloween masks at Day of the Dead celebrations in the Mexican villages she has studied for decades. Scripted as triumphs of human resilience, in the case of the Marathon, and of human cavorting, in the case of Halloween, they are harmless boosts of civic spirit. It is far better to have sneakers than blood on the street; far better to pretend to be a nasty devil than to be one.