Picture this: a dummy resembling a person fallen to the ground is placed in front of a garage door to look as if the head has been crushed by the door — blood on the door and suggestive puddles on the pavement included. It looks as real as you can imagine. Anything more would be the real thing.
A neighbour calls 911 and a discussion ensues.
It happened in more than one place. Comments abounded. The majority were a reverberation of, “Come on, it’s Halloween!” and praised the creativity of the displays. A matter of opinion.
Others argued that we shouldn’t allow for something that creates fear or unease.
One such commenter was told to look the other way if she couldn’t take it, while another who suggested we should return to what Halloween used to be (goblins, ghosts, black cats) was deemed a witch and told, “What did they do with witches back then? Burn, witches, burn!”
Feeling uncomfortable yet? Intolerance of a different opinions punctuated with implied violence is never a good thing.
Halloween is one spooky day, everyone agrees, but suggested violence — to the extreme, in this case — can stir negative emotions that are not conducive to good fun. Most commenters suggested that children would be the first ones to find the display funny because they know what Halloween is about.
I disagree. Creepy and horrifying is not funny. Normalizing violence is not acceptable. Halloween or not, some boundaries should not be crossed.
Our 92-year-old neighbour reminisces about Halloweens that were not about zombies and severed crawling hands. “Halloween is for kids,” she said. Jack-o-lanterns and decorations, trick-or-treat if they wished, but horror was never part of it.
Children nowadays are exposed to myriad stimuli that may or may not be appropriate for their level of understanding. They seem to know more, but knowing is not the same as understanding.
Children’s brains need time to grow and rushing serves no one. They need time to learn to make the distinction between fake and real.
Present-day Halloween décor is different from what it used to be. Children, young and old, get a big dose of gore, dismembered bodies and zombie action, on top of the old-fashioned ghosts and skeletons, which seem tame by comparison. Save for the last items, I am not sure children can take the above-mentioned in the expected stride. Some will, some won’t.
One way to honour human nature is to not desensitize children to violence. In my youngest son’s class, some kids still believe in the tooth fairy, while they also talk about watching clips from movies like Chucky and Candyman.
If violence happens out of the Halloween context, children are referred to counsellors for help. Parents have a hard time explaining it. Violent images in the news can shock children. We know that.
Movies have parental guidance warnings for a reason. Not only is the plot geared toward a mature audience, but the horror elements and sexual references are clearly not to be seen, let alone understood, by children and tweens.
I watched 20 minutes of a scary movie once. I was already an adult, yet it made me cringe.
I grew up with very little television. We played outside and read. But here’s an interesting thing: many of my favourite books included sword fighting (Alexandre Dumas) and gunfights (Karl May’s books describing the Wild West). I was never uneasy or scared. The violence wasn’t gratuitous, though.
I am trying to raise my boys the same way. We have always been outside a lot, around our yard, town and on road trips. We read books depicting times past and present and the heroes within — real or fantasy. Ditto for movies.
They never feared “monsters” under their beds — until this year, that is. My youngest now struggles when night approaches.
He was told about a bad guy who comes and kills you in your sleep. Some kids at school talked about it. The name is Candyman. Just the product of someone’s imagination, we told him. He knows, but fear has stuck for now. Having our home broken into recently doesn’t help.
As a result, he is ambivalent about Halloween. Excited about the dressing up part, troubled about the anticipated scary, possibly gory, décor and costumes he might see that day and the stories associated with them.
It shouldn’t be this way; it should be fun — kiddie-appropriate jack-o-lantern, goblin and ghost fun. After all, like our 92-year-old neighbour said, “Halloween has always been fun for kids.”
We should keep it that way.
Originally published as a column in the Kamloops Daily News on Saturday, November 2, 2013.