(image from www.deadmonton.net)
And here is a compilation of my speaking notes for the night, which roughly matches up with the slides above:
For someone who has grown up in Edmonton, or who has lived here for awhile, or for whom Edmonton is home, the sound of the word Deadmonton can be physically irritating. Like nails on a chalkboard – it makes you tense up, you try your best to ignore it, and you just hope that it will go away soon.
Every city has its own pejorative nickname, although nickname is really too passive a description. A better term to describe them would be municipal slurs: Cowtown, Winterpeg, Toronto, and other words that are designed to annoy. Edmonton has a few of them actually, but Deadmonton is the one that stands out. Deadmonton is also the one with the most potential.
The word Deadmonton makes a strong impression. It is clever, or at least it seems clever when you first hear it. And it rhymes, which can be pretty hilarious. Most importantly though, Deadmonton hints at both blandness and violence, and blandness and violence are two of the insecurities that Edmonton must struggle with as a city. It is not just us though – every city struggles with them to various degrees. No one wants to think that their home is boring or dangerous, and that is why Deadmonton works. Deadmonton is just us – it is not them – and that makes it funny. Between the catchiness and the subtext Deadmonton might just be a perfect slur. And it is all ours. We are very lucky.
A favourite rebuttal of Deadmonton is to claim that it no longer applies to us. “Yes, we may have had problems in the past. But that was a long time ago, and we’re not as bland and violent as we used to be. That other city over there is much more bland and violent than we are now. Give them a nickname instead.” This is missing the point. Slurs do not just go away. No matter how far we come, Deadmonton will always be right behind us. Maybe it is time to stop running.
Deadmonton is annoyingly catchy, and Edmonton could always use more catchy. Rather than hoping that Deadmonton will one day retire, what we need to do is reclaim it. We need to make it work for us rather than against us, and to take that slur and turn it into a point of pride. If Edmonton is Festival City, then why not have a Deadmonton festival?
There already is a Deadmonton festival – the Deadmonton Horror Film Festival – which is organized in conjunction with Metrocinema. This is not a surprise, as there have been many horror and gore film festivals over the years, and Deadmonton is too good an idea to pass up. A horror film festival will always have a limited, niche appeal however, and it does not need to conflict with a larger Deadmonton festival. The fact that another festival already exists is actually the point.
A Deadmonton Festival would be something bigger. For one week every year, Edmonton would become Deadmonton. Tying it in with Halloween would be an obvious choice, and everything going on in town would fall under the Deadmonton banner. All the atmosphere and events that a festival needs are already in place at Halloween. The ancient pagans have already done most the work – now Edmonton just needs to give it that extra push.
Halloween will always be about little kids going trick-or-treating and about big kids going to the bars. Outside of that is everyone else, and work and school. Could those traditional Halloween activities function as part of a larger festival? Absolutely - because a festival is just about building excitement. Little kids probably don’t need help with that, but bars certainly aren’t going to complain. Neighbourhoods could become more involved with competitions for spookiest house. A “Get your Goth On” day at the office might not seem practical, but a week later CFR will be asking everyone to dress up as cowboys. It is a lot easier to get black nailpolish and eyeliner than it is cowboy wear.
Aside from the traditional Halloween activities, we also have the film festival through Metrocinema, the annual bash at the Shaw Conference Centre, the Scarecrow Festival in mid-October, Halloween Alley, historic Ghost Tours, and Interfear. All of these exist with various levels of success, and there are many more.
A Deadmonton festival would not be about replacing or superseding any of the events that we already have. It would be about creating a climate where they could thrive. A larger festival would increase overall interest in what they are offering. In the right environment what we have would become stronger, and new ideas would spin out of it. Fear Itself is a horror television show that is being filmed here. We have a large and prominent goth sub-culture. Some cities have zombie walks. Movies-on-the-square happens in late October in Churchill Square, and it is a fun event but it could be bigger. Maybe over time a city sanctioned safe-Halloween could be started for Churchill - Fright Night in October to First Night in December. The possibilities are endless.
The individual events themselves are secondary though; they can come and go. The idea of Deadmonton is to take all the little, unconnected events and to connect them into one big Event. It would be an event with a capital “E” - something to market and build on; something for the websites and guidebooks; and something that is uniquely Edmonton. Ultimately it is a branding exercise. It is about taking what we already have, slapping a sticker onto it, and saying “This is new and exciting. You need to pay attention to this.”
Some people won’t like Deadmonton; that is obvious. Every idea has some detractors though, so what about most people? For most people is it too much? Is Deadmonton too irredeemable? Is it destined to be a PR nightmare when someone dies on or around Halloween – and unfortunately that will happen, either through violence, traffic or natural causes. The question that is probably most important is would most people want their kids to be involved? To succeed, a Halloween festival would need to be for everyone.
The largest disconnect that I can think of is this: an Elementary School holding a Deadmonton Bakesale. Could it happen, or is the word Deadmonton insurmountable? It really doesn’t need to be. If we decide to reclaim Deadmonton, then we get to decide what it means. We can make Deadmonton as cartoony and non-threatening as we want. By reading this far you have seen the word Deadmonton used several dozen times. Has it softened at all? Have your perceptions of it changed? Has its potential changed?
We just need to start using Deadmonton and that will redefine it. If we do that then all those negative and ad hoc definitions will fall away, because are meaningless. We will pre-empt them: “Deadmonton? Oh yeah, it’s this great festival that we have in October. It’s tonnes of fun. You should totally come. Here’s a t-shirt.”
Deadmonton cannot be retired, and it will never just fade away. But Deadmonton should have been reclaimed ages ago. If we start using it, and the media starts using it, and businesses start using it, and if Edmonton starts using it then that will give it meaning. And then we will not have to hide from it anymore. And then Deadmonton will find all sorts of interesting new uses.