Thinking about Halloween this past weekend, brought me back to when I was a kid growing up in Brookline, Mass. People decorated their homes with pretty standard Halloween stuff: Gravestones that say “RIP,” ghosts hanging from trees, spider webs, and pumpkins. For all of my life, these are the kinds of things that signified Halloween. Scary? Hardly. But these things have always been associated with Halloween, and they always did the trick. Little more was needed.
That’s why, as a Boston, Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer, I’m appalled – and disgusted to be more exact – at how the commercial Halloween haunted house business has grown to a billion-dollar a year business, and how it goes to extremes to attract customers.
Live-actor displays involving:
* Serial killers.
* Bondage and gagging.
* Scenes depicting torture.
I’m horrified all right, because the orange-and-black envelope has been pushed so far that nothing seems macabre enough. At these haunted houses, grisly crimes of abuse and torture– which are far too commonplace in our society – are being marketed as Halloween "entertainment." Here’s some examples of what I’m talking about:
Last year at a haunted-house attraction in New Hampshire, the company staged the grisly discovery of fake human remains in woods. They even paid local police in the area to “play along,” to make it all seem real. (I’m purposely not giving the name of the attraction, as I don’t want to publicize this business.) It’s not real enough that actual remains of people who have in fact been tortured, raped, and abused, have been found in the woods? To the shock and horror of their families? Those families have been scarred for life with this kind of violence. How crass to market their agony as "fun."
One of the more shocking of these “attractions” was in N.H. A family-friendly resort was turned into a – get ready for this – torture chamber. Visitors would pay good money to be handcuffed to a bed while cockroaches – yes, live cockroaches – crawled on their bodies. Am I wrong when I say this is mental illness? What kind of person in their right mind pays to have this kind of crass experience?
At a haunted house in New York City – whose name I refuse to reveal -- people engage in staged abductions, waterboarding and forced stripping. And they sometimes pay as much as $135 for it.
At a haunted house in San Diego, run by a couple in their backyard, the fun includes being stuffed in a coffin, or being force fed. The kicker? They have a waiting list of more than 17,000 people, as they only allow in two people per night.
I’m outraged – and you should be too. Why? Because it makes you less safe in this country; In fact, it makes you statistically more likely to be the victim of violent (very violent) crime or murder. Our society is far too desensitized to violence, and hard-core haunted-house experiences simply desensitize everyone all the more. And in some cases, this horrific "entertainment" is offered year-round! This isn't "entertainment" - it's mental illness, writ large. As a Boston assault attorney who sees violent crimes in the court every day, I can assure you that the net effect of violent "entertainment" like that offered by Halloween theme parks, is to desensitize the public: Exposure to this type of violence and sadism numbs people to the worst violence imaginable - and leaves us all the lesser -- and less safe - because of it.
You've heard of the "Dumbing-Down" of America? I call this type of activity the "Numbing-Down" of America: Our culture has become so desensitized that not even the most disturbing, mentally ill torture scenes revile us anymore. A little scare is one thing - but these commercial businesses and their displays cross the line into psychological pathology. Credit the media - both news and entertainment - for desensitizing us all. Proof? A student last shot up a Washington state school, killing one and wounding 4 others. In most major city daily newspapers, it didn’t even make page one.
Parents, do your children and yourselves a favor: Don't patronize these businesses - no matter how small or large. Our culture is exposed to enough real sadism and barbarity - from terrorist groups like ISIS and here at home as well. Don't desensitize yourselves, your children and your family even more.