Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why So Serious?

I received an email from someone who has enjoyed my displays over the years, and they posed an interesting question. Citing the bonds and gags and implied-violence on the Corn Witch victims, they asked why I went so dark this year, since Halloween is, after all, a kid's holiday.

I spent some time thinking about that. And I guess there are two reasons really. The first one I blame on my inner voices. I really didn't have much of a choice to self-censor myself this year. Once the idea formed in my mind, I couldn't help but go with it. My witches are mean. And angry. And cold. Bean and I kept joking with an expression throughout the Halloween build - We put the Bitch back in Witch. For creative reasons, I had to make the 2009 haunt dark and mean. It just felt right. And I think that's what made the entire display work - a sense of danger. And ugliness. And brutality. And I literally had no way of stopping it.

Photo by Bean.

The second thing would be my perception of Trick-or-Treating. I think parents play a critical part of the night. If your kids are old enough to go out in packs with their friends, they're old enough to see fake corpses rising from graves, fake hangmen, and fake blood and gore. If your kids are still pretty young and might be a bit traumatized by images of corpses in bondage or distress, you can simply pass up the house and move to the next one. It's probably even easier than monitoring what your kids watch on TV. On Halloween night, a parent is pretty much in full control of their little one. Not trying to dodge responsibility either. It's just me exposing the relationship that exists between yard haunter and parent/chaperone. Parents are our safety net.

In the end, I think it'd be easy to find something that offends someone in a lot of yard displays - a zombie groundbreaker could be very offensive to someone who just lost and buried a loved one. And certainly something that might terrify (or confuse) a young trick-or-treater. Fortunately for them, the bulk of Halloween decorations displayed at the houses near my haunt are all kid-friendly. My display's the odd man out.

Or maybe I'm just a Victorian-era haunter at heart, when Halloween wasn't just for kids. I dunno. Guess it's a good thing that we're all out there with our individual styles and varying degrees of spooky. I'll always be on the darker side of things, and it's probably going to get darker. Now I'm imagining a parent with a look of disgust and disappointment after seeing my display as they scoop up their child. I hope as they rush their small witch to the next house on the block that she looks back and spots my monsters.

See, it wasn't that bad.


NecroBones said...

Well, that's exactly it, it hasn't always been a kid's holiday. That's a relatively recent phenomenon. The whole trick-or-treating thing was invented to defuse what otherwise was a night of mayhem and vandalism.

Halloween has become a complex conglomeration of historical aspects, particularly originating from Samhain and harvest festivals.

And of course in recent years, there's also been a trend towards horror movies as well, and not just kids getting candy.

So I don't think there's any need to be apologetic (not that you are) about keeping things dark and creepy. Just that different people will have different approaches. And you're right about the chaperones.

Actually I find it ironic that people think of it as a kid's holiday, when around where I am, there's practically no trick-or-treating. The holiday just isn't what it used to be in most of the neighborhoods in suburbia around my area.


Your display is always perfect - a work of art. Many around here go for the "Saw/Texas Chainsaw" gore, which, to me, is overused.

I self-censor sometimes because one year I had almost no small children willing to come to the house. There was an evil scarecrow, it's very long arms outstretched directly over the front door's entrance.

Now, we've been pondering an idea the past two years that we've yet to attempt. We think it's funny, but we know some parents will be angry. We want a smallish corpse in a tattered vintage girl scout uniform, lying with one arm outstretched towards the front door, her hand holding a crushed box of girl scout cookies, with other crushed and torn boxes scattered about all the way up to the front door.

We are quite sure that in Halloween 2010 we will finally go through with this. Hopefully people will get the humor.

Ghoul Friday said...

As someone who mainly decorates indoors, neighbourhood kids simply don't come into the equation when I'm planning a display. It's about fun and expressing an artistic need. It's not even about my party guests anymore.

I love the holiday. I love to create. I combine both passions. End of story.

And NecroBones is spot-on about the slow death of trick or treating in many areas. We had so few the last two years, I decided to skip handing out candy this time around. But that didn't mean I wasn't going to celebrate the holiday.

I suppose it's similar to the idea of Christmas not being all about the presents; for many, Halloween isn't all about the candy.

ShellHawk said...

Not that this entered at all into your planning, but the darkness of your display can be linked with the general doom and gloom feeling of the econonomy, too. We have to let that out someplace, like when the movies about alien invasion came out because of fear of the Communist threat in the 50s.

crudedoodle.com said...

neat discussion.
It's no different to me than seeing a mummy exhibit. I don't know how many parents would keep their kids from seeing that. Probably none. And if they do, it's probably the same parents who sign their youngins up for the new sports programs where no one keeps score, everyone gets a turn at bat, and there are no winners or losers.

Pam Morris said...

I agree with the others, especially with 'spookshows' comment, "your display is always perfect - a work of art". For me, your art IS Halloween...I don't think I've ever seen a display or individual piece of art that evokes the kind of eerie, disturbing, look over your shoulder type of feeling that your work elicits. Your display and your 'creatures' capture the very essence of Halloween. Keep on creating as your inner self dictates--for me, the darker the better, but I'll enjoy viewing whatever you come up with. No censorship, please!

SeƱor Scary said...

Halloween is certainly a kids holiday but it's not ONLY a kid’s holiday. While the cultural "norms" have shifted in this direction, Halloween didn't even start out as a kid's holiday (if you look at its history). Halloween should be a time when boundaries are pushed, and imagination can run dark and rampant.

Ultimately parents have the choice (and responsibility) of how and where to celebrate. If you don't want your innocent children exposed to the horrors of Halloween, stay home and lock the door. Please go as dark as you want. It's Halloween.

– Jerry, MyScaryHalloween.com

Mantan Calaveras said...

Generally speaking, most haunts are actually more graphic than yours, employing copious blood and gore, as well as often employing characters of horror movies, Michael Meyers, Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, etcetera. Ironically these things are actually emotionally safer than your more original works.

Your haunt is suggestive of horror, the twisted anguished faces of your corn-husk men, are more effective because they are more suggestive, rather than more graphic.

It is notable that they mentioned the hoodwinks and other suggestions of bondage in this years haunt. Of course, bondage has in recent years become a mainstream kink, and people today are very very sensitive about separating their children from violence and sexuality.

I think the question of age appropriateness is a fallacy. Children are not a species removed from the rest of the human race, they are merely developing humans, and I think that the infantilization of modern children is more a safety device invented by parents for themselves, than a necessity for the child's development.

As a child I loved haunts, and was not afraid of them, and I am sure I would have loved your haunt when I was a kid.

I would say this, treat your haunt as it's own piece of artwork. Do not show anything to children, that you would not in good conscience show to an Adult, and you'll be fine. Historically speaking children have endured real horrors, so play horrors are not really a great threat.

This is an interesting debate for me to watch, because I am planning a more robust haunt for next year, and I have some ideas that some people might find potentially offensive. But then that is what Halloween is about, facing the darkness, and maintaining the lights.

NoahFentz said...

It is after all the Fall season...ever since the first time I saw your display there was always an association with the natural balance of the season. Shrived leaves falling from the trees. Fall winds breaking tree limbs. The first frost killing any kind of vegetaion. Night falls sooner. Nobody thinks twice about the process...its natural.

Halloween is our reminder to celebrate the natural process and your displays do just that.There is definitely a connection between your paper mache creations and what nature leaves behind.

As far as your works of art displaying a dark tone? No comment... The creepier the better.

Sara said...

As a conservative parent, hells NO would I bring my little guy to your haunt (which is a full-fledged compliment), but there is indeed no problem with him "earning" your type of haunt as he gets older in years and ventures out with friends on Halloween night.

I mean, I am constantly torn. As a horror film lover, I struggle with how little and how much to expose him to as he gets older. I take complete solace in the fact that as the parent, I DO have control.

I don't think your haunts "glorify" all violence the way some do (being over-the-top gory is soooo unclassy anyway)and I definitely appreciate the reality of the themes chosen. Dude, witches weren't comic relief. So, I'm glad you didn't show them to be so...

Hopsy the beer drinking clown said...

Although many children are out and about in my neighborhood on Halloween I do not find myself pandering to their preference for cheap horror movie characters nor do I feel the need to tone it down either. Halloween is not just for kids after all.

It would appear that Halloween, like so many other things in this world are being sanitized and made politically correct so that parents don't have to think about what their children are doing or seeing.

I have an eleven year old, he has yet to see any R rated horror movies while some of classmates are already watching movies like Scream and Saw, I find that way more irresponsible than almost anything I could put in a static-prop yard haunt.

I think that adults need to take more responsibility for their young, impressionable children and that means getting involved in what they are doing sometimes. Some of the adults thought my personal costume was too intense for the younger kids, but it was actually the older teenagers and adults that found it unsettling-my goal achieved!

Rot, it was the artistry of haunts and creatures like yours that inspired me to get off my butt and try it myself, of all people you should never censor yourself...

Grim said...

I often worry when building a prop, asking myself "How would this offend someone?". Then I go ahead and finish it as I intended, and HOPE that common sense prevails.

K.O. said...

It made me upset to read your statement "Now I'm imagining a parent with a look of disgust and disappointment after seeing my display as they scoop up their child." There is NO need for you to feel bad about, defend, or justify your work to people who don't get it. You are clearly an artist, and art does not have to conform to what people expect or want or approve of. You are keeping the Halloween tradition alive and contributing to the magic of a holiday that gives adults and children so much joy. Furthermore, I'm sure that one of your own inspirations is the happiness Halloween brought you as a boy. If that leads you to capture the intrigue and mystery of the holiday's "dark side," all the better. It is that darkness that fascinates us Halloween lovers from childhood, and your work is a tribute to this core element of the holiday.

Gregory said...

I believe what tends to get get lost with many people is that everyone can have an opinion but they don't HAVE to agree with each other.

There is a little too much 'Political Correctness' influence, leading many to believe that it's important to find offense more than is really necessary.

It's a shame that our freedom to express ourselves must be constantly questioned.

Now I will take my soapbox and turn it into a creepy box for storing a scary creature that might just get out again if motivated...

Unknown said...


I'm surprised but very, very pleased reading the lengthy comments for this particular post.

You see, I'm the guy who asked "why so serious" in the first place. Although in the spirit of journalistic integrity my actual question was "why so dark?"

I'd like to elaborate.

And maybe clarify.

I, too, think PRs haunts transcend what most people expect from a Halloween display and move into the realm of art. I think they're nocturnal installations that truly tap into the darkest fears we have. Grim childhood images. Things that do more than go Bump in the night.

Nightmares that have existed before written word.

Sinister worlds that exist well beyond a cheap hollywood mirror (I also believe sticking a hockey mask onto a stuffed flannel shirt and soaking it with fake blood is the crutch of a weak imagination. Proof? Here's my haunt for your viewing/judgement: http://tinyurl.com/ygqcesr .)

I believe PRs display is a fantastic imagining of the kinds of things we all fear, old or young. I have copied more than one of his techniques/effects for my home haunt. I have no problem with his display or his artistic integrity. And I applaud the vox populi for coming to his defense in what may have seemed like a call for censorship.

"Tone it down for the kids" as it were. "Don't be so scary." "Lighten up, Francis."

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I have three kids who all love Halloween and I would take them to his house without hesitation (although my youngest might not share my enthusiasiam just yet.)

Fact is, I was just curious as to why he decided to explore darker themes this year. You have to admit, it was a bit of a leap from past haunts.

Although I have to admit it was a logical Next Step for an artist to take.

Rot, stay Dark.

Don't go PC. Don't worry about scaring the kids. Don't worry about people questioning your vision.

Just keep being you.

I look forward to next year's display.


(P.S. NecroBones: if there's no kids where you are—move. I had over 150 kids this year.)

Rot said...

Thanks for posting this commment, Dean. And for the question in the first place.

Great photos. Thanks for the link.