Deviance functions

I set out Jack o lanterns for a few weeks each Halloween. In very recent years past, drunken students hit them, throw them and otherwise molest them.

Folks tell me how terrible it is until I tell them my evil plans.

Then they laugh. This article is not about my evil plans. It is about our strange sensitivity to Halloween pranks. We seem to tell ourselves stories about how bad young people are today regardless of how good young people actually are. Testimonies from an old newspaper tell us something about young people years ago that we have forgotten. I will use sociology not to explain the pranks, but to explain our sensitivity to them.

I found an Oct. 31, 1968, edition of The Express in my old house. It was nearly 36 inches wide and very fragile. A 4-year old boy was killed when he put a car in gear. Reverend Robert Klingensmith of St John Lutheran Church had a heart attack.

Lock Haven Trust Co. would be closed election day.

They “urge you to vote.”

Alka Seltzer was $0.39 at Keller and Munro.

They also urged you to vote.

Widmann’s had Overnite Pampers for $0.88.

Del Grippo Shoes sold boys’ Red Wing boots, no doubt American made, for $4.97. It was near Robb School, if you did not know.

Big N sold a color Zenith for $795.88, also no doubt American made.

You could also buy a 1960 Ford at Casselberry Chevrolet for $295. It would make a good “hunting car.” Never heard of such a thing.

Miller’s Gun Shop had 150 guns in stock.

“Young People Commended… Police Pleased, Halloween Pranks are Mostly Minor.”

I believe it was authored by Harold Coffin, but I cannot quite tell for the dried river mud. He interviewed Lock Haven police Chief Kenneth Shoemaker and Avis police Chief Tomas Welsh.

Complaints were at their “lowest level ever.”

Kids soaped windows and threw eggs and fruit.

“At 65 cents a dozen and the way they are being thrown, a person would believe they were free” said one cop.

Vandals cut television wires and smashed tomatoes into the gas tanks of lawn mowers.

I chatted about this with local friends who confirmed the lunacy. One told of burning stacks of corn stalks in the road and then egging cars when they stopped for the obstruction.

Another told of marking up windows with candles and tipping outhouses.

The 1968 Express even had a section, “it seems like yesterday …” that told of Halloween night in 1898.

It used phrases like “boys and girls out in full force.” They threw corn hard and removed front steps from houses and stole business signs from Salona and placed them in Mill Hall.

This newspaper was from Oct. 31, which means these “minor” shenanigans happened before Halloween and not just on Halloween. This certainly puts pumpkin smashing into perspective.

At the date of this writing, my Jack o lanterns are still intact, yet people are frustrated about the ornery young today.

Old-time French sociologist Emile Durkheim could explain our collective neurosis today and do so from back in 1895. Like an organ in any organism, if something exists, it must function, otherwise it would not exist. In a society this includes grocery stores and schools, yes. But it also includes deviance… such as vandalism. Deviance functions? Huh? That’s right.

Shenanigans are a matter of perspective, or how we see them. To have a proper society with some solidarity, its members need to define it constantly with the framework of the opposite; such as the abnormal or deviant.

When we have less deviance than we did in the past, we must become hyper sensitive to anything we could call deviance. This is so we can remind ourselves of our own virtue and togetherness.

Deviance is built into good societies.

Durkheim said even a society of saints would develop deviance.

Sociologist, Kai Erikson, put Durkheim’s ideas to the historical test. The Puritans in America were a society of saints … and they saw witches where witches were not. They even lit innocent people on fire. This is a powerful lesson and the best explanation of the Salem witch hysteria.

Thus when we improve, we do not see the improvement because the deviance and crime are sources of our solidarity. Our anxiety and talk about crime has always been unrelated to the actual crime rate. As we improve, our anxiety lifts up and away from the reality and we begin to see monsters in the darkness. We wax anger at the rare smashed pumpkin, when children used to wax our windows, removed our front steps and burn corn in the middle of the road.

Perhaps we should be a little concerned about the future, not because children go wild, but because they do not. I don’t know what to do with a rotten pumpkin.

(Greg Walker is a sociologist and lives in Lock Haven. Email him at Durkheim’s 1895 The Rules of Sociological Method and Erikson’s Wayward Puritans: A Study in Sociology are available in Stevenson library.)