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The good ol' ghoul games

IF parents are really concerned about their children, then they ought to take a good look at what's happening to Halloween costumes. Today's kiddy garments are without redeeming social purpose, having about as much emotion as a computer printout. For example, the big costume in 1982 wasn't a scary goblin but a mechanical gobbler: Pac-Man. In fact, for every Casper the Friendly Ghost, there were 20 Pac-Mans (Pac-Men?). Way behind were such other ho-hum characters as Smurf, Indiana Jones, Spider-Man, and Wonder Woman. There were so many Pac-Man costumes that elementary-school teachers were startled as they watched Halloween parades: a nearly uniform army of tykes with bytes.

In 1983 it was a new but still boring ghoul game. Pac-Man was overwhelmed by Krull, Return of the Jedi, Big Bird, G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe, Garfield, and Super-Hero. During the next two years, store shelves were filled with high-tech monsters that have absolutely no personality whatever: Cy-Kill, Megatron, GoBots, Dr. Doom, Man Tech, Trans Former, and Optimus Prime. This year -- well, it's more of the same.

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If I had my druthers, I'd like to see kids take a giant step backward to the Halloween traditions of the 1930s and '40s, when I grew up. In those days, a kid and his parents would sashay down to the corner drugstore, buy a mask, then go home and ``create'' a costume. The prizes that were awarded in the school parade were based on originality (like the costume designed by my friend Stush, which had a Frankenstein face, zombie body, and reptile legs), and on performance -- that is, how you played the part.

Today the expectation is to buy the whole shebang -- boxed, even according to size. What is worse, traditional Halloween masks are really hard to find. The witch, werewolf, skeleton, and devil characters have been singled out as loss leaders, consigned to a dusty corner shelf.

In the old days, kids weren't kids in the Halloween parades unless they cackled like witches, howled like werewolves, rattled like skeletons, and looked as sinister as devils. Such antics introduced them to role-playing long before the term became popular, often providing the confidence to perform in the world at large.

Halloween, in sum, used to be educational, part of learning the great game of life.

So parents, don't let this rite of passage fade -- at least not without a good hoot and holler from some of the old witches and werewolves.

Thomas V. DiBacco, a historian at the American University, was Satan in a 1944 Halloween parade. On occasion he still plays the devil's advocate.

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