Halloween is fast approaching, and once again, people are getting their panties in a bunch over keeping kids safe from the perceived threat of convicted sex offenders. Ben Radford’s piece over at Live Science covers the rational and practical aspects of the phenomenon, and I am hard pressed to disagree with his assessment. I do suspect, however, that this is something deeply rooted in our culture; and maybe even in our DNA. In fact, it probably springs from the very impulse that spawned Halloween in the first place.
People like fear. We pretend not to, and we all express this in slightly different ways (I’m the kind of idiot that enjoys deadly storms), but we seem to have an odd fascination with the things that scare us. Halloween, regardless of its mangled and now indistinct set of roots, has always been, on one level or another, about celebrating fear.
Halloween serves the secondary purpose of reminding children of the dangers “out there” in order to keep them in line; the implication being that wandering off or not listening to one’s parents will result in something “getting them”. In our culture, where most kids don’t believe in witches, ghosts, vampires, and evil spirits; at least not in such a way that they actually fear them, our Halloween mythology has evolved to include a new monster: the child molester.
This new Bogeyman serves the dual purpose of giving parents something to worry about, which they appear to thrive on, and allowing them to scare their kids (whether or not this is their intention) with something real, even if the dangers are exaggerated and misunderstood.
So, while I agree with Radford that energy and resources would be better spent on actual threats, and am as annoyed as anyone with all the fear mongering, I find it interesting to look at the aspects of human nature that contribute to this perennial phenomenon. I hate to be cynical, but I’m not sure how much it can change.