Back when I was a kid celebrating Halloween in idyllic, autumn-leaf-strewn Bucks County, my parents and I only worried about the simple things—you know, child molesters, or razor blades and needles in Snickers bars. (Speaking of which, I realize I’m tentatively proud of my generation for the fact that I’ve never encountered an urban legend about a “HALLOWEEN CANDY AIDS NEEDLE” incident.) So I read with great interest this morning 6ABC morning news anchor Matt O’Donnell’s Facebook post explaining that some lady in North Dakota plans to pass out a finger-wagging letter to trick-or-treaters, chastising them about the demon candy that is making Americans fat and diabetic, instead of passing out actual candy.
In the letter, presumably to be handed out to fat kids (like I was) or their parents, the nanny-stater-run-amok begins with a disingenuous “Happy Halloween!” before launching into a tirade about childhood obesity and her completely un-clinical diagnosis that “You child [sic] is, in my opinion, moderately obese and should not be consuming sugar and treats to the extent of some children this Halloween season.”
This lady is loathsome. She thinks she’s setting an example of community responsibility? I’d rate her good-neighbor quotient well below that of the people who used to pass out toothbrushes for Halloween (though, to be fair, well above that of the crazy person who actually did put needles in Snickers bars in 2000).
Yes, as adults, we do have, as our North Dakota leafleteer explains, a duty to our children and their collective well-being. Nobody disputes this. But to sanctimoniously quote the Hillary Rodham Clinton-popularized phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” as an excuse for fat-shaming kids is one of the biggest asshole moves in American Halloween history. It may take a village to raise a child, but apparently it takes obnoxious, lifeless, humorless adults to really get the party started.
In America, 46,500,000 people live in dire poverty. In addition, grown-up Americans worry about war, cancer, religious intolerance, civil unrest, political strife, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, teenage suicide, rape, crazy people killing us, falling onto subway tracks, car bombs, terrorist attacks and, at least here in Pennsylvania, whatever odious sputtering will next come out of Governor Tom Corbett’s mouth. These are all very real, very scary and very possible things, and adults hold a solemn responsibility to protect our children from them. But a key component of this duty of ours is to ensure that the kids need not worry about these things themselves.
We grown-ups enjoy the rights, duties, and privileges of adulthood, like being able to get shitfaced drunk at a Halloween party and hit on that coworker in the hackneyed “sexy nurse” costume. Children do not enjoy these freedoms. Instead, they are told when to get up, when to go to school, that they must go to school, that they must listen and that we know best. Many times, adults do indeed know better than a child; after all, while it sounds fun, not going to work and instead putting on a dinosaur costume in Washington Square Park just really isn’t in the equation for me today. Now, for 7-year-old me, play-eating dead leaves and roaring my way around Washington’s statue would also not have been an option on a Wednesday afternoon, because I would have been forced to go to school instead. But the thing is that as a grown-up, I have the power to make this choice for myself; I could play hooky instead of going to work, so long as I was prepared to suffer the very adult consequences of, inevitably, becoming an unemployed guy in a dinosaur costume in the park.
Children don’t get to make these adult choices. So in exchange for being compelled to listen, to shut up, to sit down and obey whatever bogus philosophy, political affiliation or religion their adults may know to be true, children are given little holidays now and then, where they get to do things like put on costumes and celebrate all that is fun, weird, queer and bizarre. On Halloween, they do this through eating candy and playing Captain America for the day.
Rather than pass out a concern-trolling leaflet to children, this lady would have done better resolving to hand out rocks, harkening back to Charlie Brown’s depressing refrain of trick-or-treating failure, “I got a rock.” After all, she’s already giving out something worthless that will make kids feel bad on what’s supposed to be a whimsical and child-affirming holiday. The very least she could do is be funny about it.