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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Halloween doesn’t mean you can kill someone for decoration, guys

Halloween has always been my favorite season, though typically it has ranked just behind Christmas in my personal holiday canon. Something mysterious happens in college, however; the twinkling lights and family bonding of December lose favor to the trashy movies and boozy parties of October.

Maybe it’s the existential dread that comes with college that makes us all that much more susceptible to the morbid charms of this season, but students certainly seem to embrace Halloween in earnest. Dorms put pumpkins and ghosts in their windows, fraternities and sororities erect horror displays in their front yards.

Decorations should not, however, value free speech over safety. The argument essentially boils down to free speech versus public safety, the boundaries between an individual’s right to display horrific shit on their front lawn and everyone else’s right to feel comfortable walking down the sidewalk in front of said lawn.

My own personal decorations for the season have remained consistent since year one: a single, plastic string of purple and orange spider lights and a black jack-o’-lantern with a bat carving. I may be willing to admit that this display is as much about being festive as it is about pitifully combating the growing despair at my ever-receding childhood memories.

All fun and games aside, Halloween decorating is perhaps the most contentious of holiday topics outside the never-ending winter vs. Christmas break argument. This year has already provided us with a severe example of Halloween-decorating-gone-wrong, with the recently trending Parma, Ohio, display that had locals of that town demanding their neighbor remove a set of decorations, including a female mannequin being crucified upside down, and a child mannequin being impaled on a pike.

While that homeowner ultimately decided to remove their decorations last week, citing unwanted visitors to the display in their front lawn, a much more gruesome scene was forming across the state in Chillicothe, Ohio: a single female body, draped over a fence, bloody and devoid of life. This display was originally taken for a fake, though investigating police soon discovered otherwise.

These two stories from Ohio certainly broke the mold in terms of the usual Halloween controversies, though they both highlight the potential dangers in over-the-top, super realistic Halloween displays.

College campuses are no stranger to these sorts of debates, though their concerns are not necessarily Halloween-specific. Earlier this year, several fraternities across the nation grappled with university administration over lawn signs that expressed less-than-agreeable messages. One Old Dominion University fraternity put up several signs in August, one of which read, “Freshman daughter drop off,” leading to that fraternity’s suspension.

Another fraternity at Texas Tech University ran into similar trouble in September, with their own lawn sign reading, “No Means Yes, Yes Means Anal.” Ultimately the discussion over these public displays is always cut short by a swift administrative response, either from the university or the fraternity’s national leadership. The decision is obvious: the enjoyment of several fraternity brothers over a bad joke is in no way more valuable than the general feeling of safety by the broader student body.

The decision when it comes to Halloween decorations should be similarly swift. A gory lawn display can be just as triggering, just as unsettling as a rape-y fraternity sign. While violence and horror are certainly an integral part of the holiday for some, this doesn’t mean that it should be acceptable for a few to force their personal way of celebrating onto everyone else.

The goal of any holiday is to provide a break from the mundane and an opportunity for communities to come together. When celebrating starts to actively alienate individuals within the community, then that’s when Halloween officially begins to jump the shark. And everyone knows sharks aren’t Halloween scary. They’re just regular scary.

Follow Greg Castro on Twitter.

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