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Walter Rodgers

Take the horror out of Halloween

Silly costumes are one thing, but bloody artifacts of horror are another. Why do we expose children to Halloween's cult of death and call it 'fun'? We have no idea what we are nurturing.

By Walter Rodgers / October 20, 2010

When I was a boy, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. My friends and I would scamper from house to house ringing doorbells and trick-or-treating. We had, at best, meager costumes. But fecund imaginations transformed us into pirates or hobos or the Lone Ranger.

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When you’re 7 or 8, dark nights are, in themselves, scary enough to spawn all sorts of imaginings. Fears are amplified by clattering columns of dry maple leaves driven by a chilly autumn wind. So why do parents today make things worse by perversely turning what I recall as an innocent children’s harvest holiday into a cult of death?

Artifacts of horror

Recently, I strolled through several stores, checking out this year’s crop of Halloween costumes and masks. It reminded me that Americans are inclined to carry nearly everything to excess, Halloween being no exception.

This season, for just $15, you can purchase a box of three polyresin human skulls with flashing eyes to line your driveway.

Also for sale is a “Mist Making Skull.” “Just add water!” say the directions on the box. The same package carried this warning, “This is not a toy, it’s a decoration.” Such a disclaimer won’t offer much comfort to little children dressed as ladybugs and princesses who will recoil in horror at the skull.

The problem with most artifacts of horror is that fear and violence are too often just below the surface in human consciousness, with unpredictable consequences. We have no idea of the power of suggestion or what we are nurturing when innocents gaze up at glowing skulls or green ghouls’ heads floating around in trees in the front yard.

Graphic images for children?

Of course, a macabre spirit was never far from Halloween. To our medieval forebears, it was Allhallows’ Eve, “the night of the traveling dead,” when witches and demons cavorted with the dead.

Still, you have to wonder what some modern parents are thinking when they indulge their children with whatever is commercially available without reflecting on the grisly ideas they are imparting. Why do we serve children a diet of death and call it “fun”?

I suspect that American parents who buy some truly frightening Halloween paraphernalia for children simply have not seen enough dead people (Hollywood murders don’t count). As a reporter, I covered too many murders and too many wars to find anything funny in death fetes.

At the very least, in the name of fun, may we not be dumbing-down children’s inherent sensitivity? Gazing at one store’s grisly “skull with hair” masks, I wondered if some child might emerge from behind a mask and launch his own private Frankensteinesque experiments to torture a cat.

Reality and history


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