Monday, October 15, 2007

The Unnecessary Sadism in Halloween

It wasn't in my time, but there are people who remember a kinder, gentler Halloween.

Halloween was once far removed from it's pagan origins. Children dressed up as their favorite characters, and the scariest thing you saw on Halloween night was your next-door neighbor dressed as a wicked witch with green face paint. They walked, unaccompanied, door-to-door throughout their neighborhood. They were given apples and homemade cookies and other treats and could eat them without worry.

Many of us long for those days.

But a new trend started in the 1960s. With the onslaught of some truly gory movies, Halloween began to take on an unsettling edge. And in the 1970s, we began to hear of children getting razors and needles in apples, and poisoned or drug-laced treats. Suddenly we could no longer accept Mrs. Bunicetti's homemade cookies, and we had to trick-or-treat in packs or with an adult.

Haunted houses began to take a darker turn. No longer were there merely ghosts, goblins, and witches... now there were demons and demented serial killers, blood, and gore.

The costumes began to reflect this as well. Now the peaceful ritual of Grandma giving out candy was brought to a screeching halt when she opened the door to see a little ghost, a goblin, and... a bloody Freddy Krueger with entrails waiting on her doorstep.

"Oh buck up, it's a brave new world," you might say scornfully. "Who takes this stuff seriously, anyway?"

David Rudd of Texas Tech University actually sees such things as a benefit. "If exposed repeatedly to a fearsome stimulus, the brain will get used to it and no longer experience it as frightening. This is a key behind cognitive therapies for anxiety dysfunctions such as phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder, where a person's system overreacts to perceive something as threatening when it is not, Rudd said. When such cognitive therapies are combined with medicines, their success rate at improving symptoms "is 80 percent," he added," according to Pravda, the Russian government's news machine.

But this has a much more worrisome side to it. As David Rudd admits, we (as humans) grow used to such atrocities with repeated exposure. Is it any coincidence that we also have grown more inhumane?

According to The Disaster Center, "The United States Crime Index Rates Per 100,000 Inhabitants went from 1,887.2 in 1960 to 5,897.8 in 1991.

By 1991 the crime rate was 313% the 1960 crime rate.

In 1996 your risk of being a victim of a crime in the United States was 5.079%, and of a violent crime 0.634%. In 1960 these rates were 1.89% of being a victim of a crime and 0.161% of becoming victim of a violent crime."

I recently went to Bush Garden's Hallowscream, and I was very surprised to see how young some of the children were who were there, gleefully walking through haunted houses dripping with blood and gore. I have a friend who recently took his daughter (I didn't approve). You see, these weren't simply scary things to see: They all had a decided and studied sadism to them. In one venue, we saw people operating on someone who was awake (torture). In another, we saw someone dismembering a corpse in bloody glory. And these venues weren't the exception.

I took my own son to Zoo Boo, a haunted house adventure at our local zoo. There were some delightfully scary haunted houses without gore. We declined going through the one haunted house that did have it.

I am not calling for a Halloween removed of it's sadistic trappings. The horse is out of the barn, and there is no getting it back inside again. But I am calling for all parents to rethink what they are exposing their children to. If enough parents refuse to allow their children to participate in viewing gory movies or wearing viciously depraved costumes, the market would dry up.

And, perhaps if the sadism was reduced from Halloween, we might be surprised to see what Grandma would say is merely common sense: A reduction in crime statistics, too.


The Lazy Iguana said...

Yea, the crime rate is higher now than it was in the 60s. But a lot of crime was unreported back then. Rapes were often unreported. There was no good way to collect evidence to prove guilt anyway. And in the South, a black man hanging from a tree would be reported as a "suicide" even if the man's hands were tied behind his back. Clearly a suicide. Domestic violence was also a commonly unreported crime.

And the population is also greater now than it was. What was the population in the 1960s? 100,000,000? Well it is 350,000,000 now. That is 3.5 times greater. So an increase in crime of 350% would be on par with the increased population.

Halloween has simply morphed into an excuse to collect candy for kids to an excuse to get drunk for adults. This is why some theme parks are doing the halloween horror nights thing. Kids do not have the money to go to these things, adults do. So that is the target market.

And adults would not be happy with the traditional stuff. So the money making venues have to step it up a notch.

President Bush said that operating on people who are still awake is not torture. It is simply a way to keep people from getting addicted to drugs.

Anonymous said...

Halloween when I was a kid was pretty kind and gentle, I remember being a Crayola Crayon, a shark, Ragedy Ann, and of course a witch. My mom made all of our costumes and she definitely ruled out things she did not like.

Just about every year we would go to a haunted forest, I don't ever remember any blood or gore, usually just ghost stories and creepy people lurking in the shadows. I had a ton of fun doing these things and still do, I'm not a fan of blood and guts so if I do seek halloween fun it is definitely more along the lines of the things I did as a kid.

Just to give you an idea I am 26 now. I really believe Halloween, especially for the kids is all about what the parents let it be. Really that is my feeling on so many things, the parents are failing their children all over this country and their genetic results are increasing our crime rates.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Ange, Thanks for dropping by and sharing! Very true... parents set the pace. What sweet costumes! My mom or grandma made all of ours, too. We had some wonderful ones!

Lazy, Wellll, your observations are not accurate. Read what I wrote: The United States Crime Index Rates Per 100,000 Inhabitants went from 1,887.2 in 1960 to 5,897.8 in 1991.

That's per 100,000. That means whether we have a greater or lesser population, they factor all that in with the statistics. There is no doubt that crime has risen. In fact, according to even Thomas Sowell and other intelligent pundits (not all have a conservative axe to grind), there weren't really as many lynchings as have been believed. (After all, one lynching would be more than enough to send a message usually.) So I think you'd be surprised at how that statistic wouldn't make a great difference. It would have to be another Slaughter of the Innocents to skew the statistics to any degree.

I don't like Bush either, but (although I know you were kidding) I would hardly accuse him of operating on people w/o anesthesia.

As for the excuse for adults to drink heavily, you have certainly hit on part of it. But then, St. Patty's Day is a day for adults to drink heavily, yet we don't have movies of leprechauns going on murderous rampages. Well... there WAS a horrid series of movies, but they were intended to be shown on Halloween. I don't think Irish Pubs would feature them on St. Patty's Day. My point is: We can do without the gore if all we want is an excuse to party.

The Lazy Iguana said...

It is also about marketing and making money. And what seems to be selling? Well lets see here.......

I actually think the increasing crime is the end result in our economic system and our rampant consumerism, but that is another post.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Lazy, and you have a good point: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Or, in this case: Societal horrors or horror films? It could be argued that the films and sadistic Halloweens are simply a result of our society. But I don't think that excuses their being made or indulged in. After all, child molestation is now heard about everywhere, but we still do not allow child porn to be made legally (even though it DOES sell). Some of this can be attributed to our culture's easier of acceptance of violence over sex. But if it's unhealthy, why indulge in it?

The Lazy Iguana said...

I do not think Halloween is "unhealthy". It is just there. People have fun. Kids collect all manners of (unhealthy in large quantities) candy, and everyone has an excuse for a party.

In other words, it is what you make of it.

what I was talking about with the economic system and consumerism is fairly complex and would require a long comment. Also it has nothing to do with Halloween or the horror flicks.

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Hi Saur,

Good to see that you are still blogging, and this is a topic that is very deserving of discussion.

Halloween used to be fun, (and safe.) Hope you are well.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Lazy, I don't think you understand: I am NOT calling Halloween 'unhealthy'. I am calling the sadistic part of Halloween unhealthy. It isn't really simply what WE make of it anymore, however. After all, we can't help but be exposed to billboards touting terrifying things to promote Bush Garden's and Disney World's Halloween extravaganzas... and they're usually quite frightening for young children to see. We also see the gore-infested costumes and are exposed to disgusting advertisements touting all sorts of things. We would never have seen these things even 10 years ago. It is getting worse, not better. So no... we can't really make Halloween what we want.

And yes, there is certainly the law of supply and demand being fulfilled. But then... there is supply and demand for child porn and yet we eschew it as a society.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Barbara, how GREAT to see you again, my friend! So you're back to blogging once more!

The Lazy Iguana said...

Sure we can! You can choose to go to Busch Gardens or not. You can choose to go to Universal Studios or not.

I choose not. I do not deal with large groups of idiots that well. They tend to grate on my nerves.

I can not imagine Disney going overboard on the Halloween Horror thing. At least not in the Magic Kingdom. MAYBE, just maybe, I can see it in the MGM park. But really, Universal Studios has the horror thing locked up. Disney would be smarter to go for the untapped market, Halloween Lite.

The creepiest costume I have seen on sale so far is that sadistic Burger King King thing. That would totally freak me out in a dark alley.

Three Score and Ten or more said...

I miss the popcorn balls. When I was a kid, the only sadistic thing about Halloween was moving someone's outhouse back two or three feet so that when they went to the outhouse after dark they might find a steep surpise. Oh yes, and some of the outhouse content was put in a paper bag, placed on someone's porch, set afire, and the doorbell rung so that the householder, following instincts would stomp on the fire to put it out.

I guess the sadism has changed mainly in its themes. In answer to your question, even at risk of exposing my age, yes, I did both of those things, more than once. (Hangs head in senile shame.)

The Lazy Iguana said...

The old poop in a bag set on fire prank. A classic that never goes out of style. And it never looses its humor value. For the pranker. Not for the prankee.

As for all the sadistic stuff - I do think it goes over the top. It seems a lot of it is just there to be there.

mckay said...

i agree with you saur. in fact i think the rise in teen terrorist in high schools is due to all the violence and gore in video games for the same cognitive reasons you mentioned. i mentioned this to a guy at work after this last colorado shooting and he thought i was nuts. ah well.

eshuneutics said...

The trend to sadism is just as nociceable in the UK. In fact, the trend is noticeable as American influence. Even the small corner shops are stocking hallowe'en gear. The scary, toothless witch mask. however, is easily outnumbered by something else...masks from Hollywood slasher movies. The mythology of fairy-tales and witches, ogres, goblins, has been replaced with images of murderers and torturers. Like you, I wonder if parents really see what they are exposing their children (or their children's victims) to?

Jamie Dawn said...

My son went to an amusment park last weekend that currently has a Halloween theme. He said he screamed like a girl when he went through the haunted house with his friends. He said the workers actually jumped out and grabbed them!! I would have probably peed my pants!
Also, one of the roller coasters he was on had some kind of malfunction with the brakes, and he was on that ride for over ten minutes. THAT to me is scarier than the haunted house.

I'm not a fan of the horror flicks being putting out these days. They desensitize our kids to murder and violence.