Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood


All Hallows’ Eve. Am I scared? Boy, eh. Election jitters all around, and yet under it all a preternatural sense of calm as if the outcome has already been decided. Most U.S. voters are feeling that way too, apparently. This despite the surprise reappearance on Friday of a certain bearded fellow -- Osama the anti-Santa, an ominous cross between the Grinch who Stole the Election, and the Ghost of Terrorism Future (although those weren’t chains he was rattling, but bones).

"Voters, Their Minds Made Up, Say bin Laden Changes Nothing," is the shock-horror headline in today’s New York Times.

Certainly helps get you in the Halloween spirit, though, doesn’t it? On my street, inhabited mostly by old folks and students, there’s just one pumpkin-bedecked front porch. But a trip last night to the nightmarish megastore Wal-Mart plunged me into an orange-and-black mock necropolis of plastic skulls and cauldrons and skeletons, animatronic cats and ghosts, not to mention life-sized moaning ghouls and shrieking witches -- actually, that was the parents shuffling frantically through the racks of kiddie outfits in a last-minute dash for costumes.

Forget about what you’re going to be when you grow up: the more pressing question for the American child is what are you going to be for Halloween? Dan Savage and David Schmader have a few highly topical and off-colour suggestions, if you’re still looking for a last minute idea. (Busytot is already sorted: he’s going as “what my Mum got at the rummage sale for five bucks,” i.e. a flying dinosaur. He informs me it’s an “opadon,” although the dinosaur dictionaries are curiously silent on this unknown species.)

As I skirted the costume aisle at Wal-Mart, I glimpsed the usual complement of fairies and superheroes, but strangely it was the ladies’ sleepwear department that pulled me up short. Amid all the sensible pastel delights and the occasional naughty glimpse of deadly-sin red, stood a large rack of khaki-coloured shortie nighties. Not so much camisoles as camo-soles. One style featured embroidered medals over the left breast and the legend “Little Miss General” on the back; another, in full camo pattern, announced “Sergeant Sweetie.”

Ick, I mean, ick. They didn’t come with dog-collars and leashes, but I couldn’t banish the image of Lynndie England getting dirty in a non-reciprocal fashion with the benighted prisoners at Abu Ghraib. I’m a broadminded person, and there is admittedly something hot about a uniform (Helllooo, Mr/Ms Fedex) but where’s the sex-appeal in this? “Drop and give me fifty, you ’orrible little man.” OK, maybe.

There’s been a lot of talk about how this country isn’t acting like a nation at war. No tax raises, no requests that the citizenry make sacrifices (apart from the families who are frantically purchasing the equipment their enlisted relatives desperately need -– this is the new comfort package, not knitted socks and fruitcake, but body armour and boots). Trust the brave retailers of fashion-for-the-masses to take the first step in the right direction: ensuring that the boudoirs of the nation are suffused with saucy fighting spirit. Hup two three four.

Will it get them to the polling booths, though? I don’t know anyone over in Iraq (only friends of friends), but I know at least half a dozen ordinary people who are fighting on the electoral front. Two New Zealand friends who’ve flown in from Wellington and Munich to volunteer in any way they can. A mum of two-under-five, a qualified lawyer, who’s heading to Florida to be a polling supervisor. A union organizer who’s been spending evenings on the phone calling up undecided voters in swing states. This weekend, a husband-and-wife professor and administrator, as well as at least one of my students, are driving up to New Hampshire -- the nearest swing state -- to campaign door-to-door. It's an all-volunteer army.

So who’s going to swing it? There has been so much pre-match analysis, based on so much prefabricated theory and premasticated data, that it feels simply foolish to attempt a prediction. Even the barometer site that tracks the electoral college tally based on the latest polls, Electoral-Vote.com, flips as rapidly as a tossed coin on its way up, and we won’t know until after it lands (and perhaps until after the Supreme Court has a jolly good look with a magnifying glass -– although at least we know to watch out this time for that two-headed penny).

But my money’s on the youth vote, that great unknown mass of first-time voters who can’t be polled because they all use cellphones, and whose prior voting record is a tantalizing blank. A very stroppy piece by Kevin Criss in Salon argued as much:

Kerry will take about 70 percent of the young vote. I am predicting, collectively there will at least 20 million more voters from these two groups, young'ns and blacks. You maybe think "yeah the fuck right" -- but trust me. On average 30 percent of African-Americans vote. Expect a minimum of 50 percent this time, maybe close to double. That is anywhere between 7 to 9 million more blacks voting. Young'ns will have a similar margin. Again, we at most vote at a 40 percent rate. Young'ns will easily double their numbers, going from 18 million to about 36 million.

(While we’re talking numbers, let me register the new report in the Lancet -- full text here -- that estimates the number of Iraqi civilian deaths since the current war began at 100,000, not the 10,000 that has been conventionally quoted. Naturally, Downing St begs to differ).

So who and what is pulling in those disenchanted and misunderestimated young voters? Let me put it this way: Do you believe in rock n' roll, can music save your mortal soul? In a last-minute dash for the polls as significant as Osama’s pop-up video, bad-boy Eminem is marshalling the troops that Springsteen, P. Diddy, Linda Rondstadt and the Dixie Chicks haven’t yet reached. Young people, angry people, men and women, black and white, and pretty much anyone else who watches the video for his new single “Mosh.”

Even if you’re not a fan of Mr Mathers, I suggest you check out his latest work (see the video at iFilm.com if you have enough bandwidth, or read the lyrics). He calls for a march on Washington and to the ballot box in language that channels equal parts MLK and Malcolm X – absurd, but it works:

Come along, follow me, as I lead through the darkness
As I provide just enough spark that we need, to proceed
Carry on, give me hope, give me strength, come with me, and I won't steer you wrong
Give your faith and your trust, as I guide us through the fog, to the light at the end of the tunnel
We gon fight, we gon charge, we gon stomp, we gon march through the swamp, we gon mosh through the marsh, take us right through the doors
Come on

The lad has, for the moment, grown up.

Eminem doesn’t explicitly endorse Kerry, he simply raises some hard and sinister questions about the domestic effects of Bush’s policy, and urges his listeners to rise up and vote. Oddly, so does Osama bin Laden. Not a man known for espousing the democratic process, he addresses Americans directly -- "I wonder about you" -- and intones “Your security is in your hands,” sounding for all the world like a social studies teacher giving a crash course in civics to a bunch of worryingly underenthused students.

Or a serial killer taunting the police: “Vote for Bush/Kerry and/or I’ll strike again.” These are terror tactics, I might add, also enthusiastically adopted by Bush’s dark lord of a sidekick, the man who says “nuclear device” as often as his boss says “hard work.” As The Onion put it, only slightly satirically, Cheney Vows to Attack US if Kerry Elected.

So, what now? Is a vote for Kerry a vote for bin Laden, as the Bush camp wants to argue? Or a vote for Bush a big thumbs-up to bin Laden’s favoured tactics, as the videotape seems to suggest? What the heck is bin Laden running for, anyway? (We know what he’s running from, albeit in very very slow motion, waving over his shoulder and singing “catch me if you can!”). And where does all of this leave those of us without a vote, but with an interest?

Roll on Tuesday November 2 – which is not just Election Day but, as everyone schooled by nuns will recall, All Souls’ Day. May whatever spirits are abroad protect all our mortal souls from the requisite ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties as well as all the things that go bump or boom i’th’night. And may everyone who can, stand up and VOTE!