Ah, Halloween, when the ghosts and goblins come out and scares are in the air and the terrifying shrieks of angry college kids, “triggered” by an offensive costume here or a culturally appropriated candy there, echo across America’s social media landscape like the cries of banshees in the frigid night. Like its equally ridiculous brethren the War on Christmas, every year it seems like the activist left’s unofficial war on Halloween begins earlier and earlier. What used to be a carefree holiday, when humorously transgressive behavior among both kids and adults wasn’t just tolerated but was a part of its very DNA, is now one giant politically incorrect pitfall to be avoided at all costs, lest the always vigilant internet mob descend with its torches and pitchforks and tear you apart piece by piece.
So, with that in mind and before Yale once again erupts in a supernova of millennial snowflakes angry somebody suggested they think for themselves, before a white guy posts a picture of himself dressed as Odell Beckham Jr. getting hard at the sight of Lena Dunham, and before somebody has an Asian-themed “Harroween” party, let’s all enjoy the first drop in what’s sure to be an eventual deluge of supposedly “problematic” crap. It comes to us courtesy of Orange County, California, ground zero for the fallout of the anti-vaxxer movement and a place where white people are so free from natural predators that they have to actively seek out things to be afraid of. Enter Knott’s Berry Farm’s annual Halloween attraction, Knott’s Scary Farm — get it? — and one particular ride featured on its midway this year.
The park had planned to run something it called “Fear VR,” which was basically a virtual reality ride centered around a possessed patient named Katie, who arrives at a hospital that promptly descends into chaos and horror. Fear VR debuted in three different parks owned by the parent company of Knott’s, Cedar Fair, last week, but, as it turns out, that was just enough time to generate a backlash from those who claimed that it “stigmatizes and denigrates individuals with mental illnesses.” And so of course that led to this: a defense from Cedar Fair that it didn’t mean to, you know, stigmatize and denigrate individuals with mental illnesses with its fucking Halloween ride. “Over the past week, we have heard from a number of people expressing concern that one of our temporary, Halloween attractions – Fear VR – is hurtful to those who suffer from mental illnesses,” the statement reads. “Contrary to some traditional and social media accounts, the attraction’s story and presentation were never intended to portray mental illness.”
Still, everyone knows how it works these days: a coordinated campaign of even a handful of offended people is enough to stomp out whatever happens to be offending them. And that’s exactly what happened here. The parks chose to shut down the attraction entirely.
Now here’s the interesting part: Among the usual suspects in a case like this, the amateur and professional mental health advocates, there’s another name that pushed back against this attraction hard and this may come as a surprise: Saddleback Church pastor and giant sentient goatee Rick Warren and his wife, Kay. Their youngest son, Matthew, committed suicide back in 2013 after a lengthy struggle with depression and since then they’ve been fierce proponents of mental health awareness. Now obviously, what happened to the Warren family is a tragedy, but you could certainly be forgiven if you heard about a scary attraction featuring a possessed girl and a vocal campaign against it by Rick Warren and figured he was just miffed about the insult to the Lord our Savior and was out to throw a monkey wrench into the Devil’s favorite holiday.
But no, this apparently really is all about the Warrens’ own personal trigger. “I’m so grateful (Knott’s and Cedar Fair) listened to the voices of the mental health community,” says Kay Warren. “I get that someone wouldn’t know what that’s like unless they have a family member or themselves going through this pain.” Now of course she’s right, but that’s precisely the point. First of all, setting aside the fact that the girl in Fear VR is supposed to be possessed and that a terrifying mental hospital has been a horror trope pretty much forever, it’s ridiculous to shut down a scary Halloween attraction simply because the scares hit too close to home for some people. Good horror is grounded in reality otherwise it’s not scary — and if you have to run every haunted house past every fucking potential patron just to make sure nothing in it is “triggering” their fragile sensibilities, you may as well just call off Halloween altogether.
Halloween is supposed to confront you with images and ideas that scare you. That’s the whole fucking idea of the holiday. But of course, we now live in a world where no one is ever supposed to feel uncomfortable, let alone scared, so — there you go.
One person who’s thrilled Cedar Fair and Knott’s Berry Farm made the “right choice” to close down Fear VR is John Leyerle, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Orange County (someone who you’d figure would have much bigger fish to fry than this, given that this is O.C. we’re talking about). “I feel good about what happened here,” he says. “Thankfully, this attraction will no longer further mental health stigma. By closing this ride down, they’ve moved things away from a negative place.” Well, thank Christ for that. In fact, now that I think about it, maybe they should move from that negative place into a really positive place. A safe place — or safe space, if you will. Knott’s Berry Farm could replace the Fear VR attraction with a big room full of pillows, puppies and balloons — maybe even a running loop of Jimmy Fallon playing Candy Land with Aziz Ansari and Taylor Swift.
Ironically, some of us would find that utterly terrifying.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.