Yes, Virginia, there is a value in getting creeped out.
I love reading Julie Gunlock’s great work on the culture of alarmism, and as she writes this week, Halloween is a holiday surrounded by “Debbie Downers out to spoil the fun.” The candy is not suitable for overweight kids, they say, and some costumes are offensive. Let me take on another Halloween mainstay that is slipping away from us in this alarmist age: the idea that getting scared is OK.
A little story: when I was about five or six years old, one of my favorite Halloween specials on TV was “Garfield’s Halloween Adventure.” I loved the fat orange cat’s comic strip and Saturday morning cartoon. But wow, the Halloween special deviated far from the normal Garfield fare. I won’t go into the whole plot (if you want that, read this), but the special was known for having a few intense and spooky scenes. For example, there is one scene where a trick-or-treating Garfield is chased by enraged pirate ghosts. Definitely nothing rated-R here, but something that could potentially frighten young children. You can judge the whole episode for yourself here. (Did it scare me? Well, maybe just a little…)
This week, the entertainment website A.V. Club has a rather lengthy discussion of the Garfield Halloween special, including the question of whether question of whether such a show could air on TV today. The writers’ consensus was definitely not, given that airing such a show could result in backlash from overprotective parents.
One of the writers, Ryan McGee, makes what I think is a great point that cuts to the heart of Halloween and being a kid:
There’s something to be said for unexpected inoculation/indoctrination along the way, especially if there’s someone watching with us with whom we can process those fears and incorporate them into our everyday worldview.
In short, getting scared is OK, especially if there’s a parent there with whom to talk about fears.
Think about it: is there any sort of children’s programming these days that deals with facing fears, and isn’t learning how to handle fear an important lesson, even from a young age? The same goes for Halloween—for today’s children, Halloween is more about candy and pumpkins and less about ghosts and ghouls. More emphasis on the fun, less on the frightening. Now, having fun is great, but I do think today’s kids are missing out not only on the spooky, creepy aspect of Halloween, but also the ability to process and handle things that scare them.
Look, I am definitely not in favor of traumatizing children, and only parents can know what is too frightening for their own children. But getting spooked is a natural part of being a kid—teaching a child how to face those fears is the responsible thing to do.