This Year’s Halloween Costume Hysteria

The moral panic over the malign influence of Squid Game and the theoretical dangers of children wearing ‘dangerous’ fancy dress.

In recent years, all the hysteria about ‘inappropriate’ Halloween costumes has been led by the Woke Left and has been increasingly tied to ideas of ‘cultural appropriation‘, the demonisation of mental illness with ‘psycho’ costumes or tutting at overt and inappropriate sexiness (in the guise of condemning sexism) and bad taste. It’s old-fashioned moralising in modern, fashionable dress and has been very successful – while Christians rarely had much success in shutting down ‘Satanic’ Halloween costumes and celebrations, the last few years has seen businesses scrambling to pull ‘inappropriate’ or ‘offensive’ costumes after a handful of contrived complaints by well-coordinated groups who love nothing more than to flex their muscles and dictate what everyone else can say or do.

It’s oddly reassuring, then, that in 2021 we seem to have gone old-school with our Halloween costume panics. Three primary schools in New York (and no doubt others elsewhere) have pompously banned pupils from wearing Squid Game-themed costumes because they might glorify violence and then doubled down by expanding the ban to include any costume that is “too gory or scary”.

Hit South Korean show Squid Game has already run the cultural gamut from popular hit to critical darling (the critics definitely played catch-up here) to Cause for Concern as stories of children copying the show in the playground began to spread. Now, we’re not saying that kids are playing games where the losers are killed. Indeed, there seems little actual evidence of any violent behaviour at all, just a lot of vague claims by teachers and education groups about children playing ‘aggressively’ – which children have done for a long time. The stories about Squid Game‘s influence are so vague, in fact, that it has the feel of a good old-fashioned moral panic in the making where apocryphal stories from people with vested interests are unquestioningly presented and accepted as fact – we’ve seen this in everything from the Video Nasties scare to panic over video games.

The problem with Squid Game is that the whole show is based around the idea of adults playing lethal versions of playground games and so there is obviously going to be some similarity between what the series shows and what kids are doing in the playground. To see children playing these games and assuming that it must be because they have watched the show is really putting the cart before the horse and showing a certain short-term memory – the one thing that moral panickers have in common is a completely false memory of what being a kid was actually like. In this case, it seems especially misguided – not only are these the same games that kids have always played (yes, sometimes rather aggressively because kids do love a bit of rough ‘n’ tumble) but I’m not really sure that subtitled dystopian science fiction is the genre of choice for eight-year-olds anyway.

Now, I don’t know if pre-teen kids are lining up to wear Squid Game costumes at Halloween or not – it seems a bit unlikely, to be honest, but not impossible, especially if their parents pick/make the costume. But let’s be clear here – this is a kneejerk reaction to something that currently only exists in the imaginations of headteachers. In any case, a ban seems like hysterical overkill. As for banning costumes that are ‘gory’ or ‘scary’ – well, that’s very much an individual value judgement, isn’t it? Where do we draw the line on a Halloween costume being ‘scary’ anyway – isn’t being scary the whole point?


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