Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Are Mental Asylums Offensive In Halloween Attractions?

So the debate rages on over “political correctness” culture – it's a constant thing now. Like one of the most recent things I've read about is a backlash over is haunted houses and the way they sometimes depict mental asylums. As a connoisseur of haunted houses and someone who has never been institutionalized, here is my take on it which none of you asked for.


You've seen them everywhere – dark, dankly lit mental hospital corridors, often lit by flashing strobe lights. Scare actors lurch around and lunge at you with blood on their face. Cackling like devils, they can be found dragging other scare actors, screaming, through the halls. As you travel through the haunts, people may bang on doors, begging to be let out. Themes like “inmates run the asylum” run rampant through these kinds of haunts.

I get why some people's initial reaction is to be angry. “What?” they proclaim, perhaps choking on their morning coffee and spitting some of it out on their computer screen. “How are haunted houses getting so PC? They won't allow mental asylums to be depicted now? Are we even allowed to SAY ANYTHING ANYMORE?!”

Well, yes, you are allowed to. I am living proof of this as my blog hasn't been shut down by Obama's totalitarian death machine government yet, even though all my reviews have anti-government propaganda in subliminal messages in them.

But haunted houses are based around shock tactics and horrific, weird imagery – and it's natural, then, that some people may be upset by them. People have always gotten upset. That isn't a new phenomenon. You just didn't see it back in the 70s or something – it was perhaps easier to ignore. Now, you can't so readily just ignore the people who are very understandably upset that mental illness is depicted as some evil, Satanic thing. They have just cause.


Mental illness is a real thing – and haunted houses, particularly lower-rent ones, tend to have little tact. I mean it isn't like the people making these are Nobel laureates. Though I would be interested to see the kind of haunted house a Nobel laureate would come up with.

However, the world is a big place, and we maybe should put less emphasis on “crazy mental patient” being the scariest thing you'll see in a haunted house. I don't think the houses should be closed or forced to censor necessarily – but come on, you must have some other ideas. That's just how society works – if something like this bothers people or has something inaccurate and damaging in it, then we should adapt to it and make changes for the better, rather than just whining about how we have to “censor” ourselves. Frankly, if your only idea you ever had was “let's make a scary mental asylum,” and you literally have nothing else, maybe you need to exercise your creative muscles more, anyway.

Now, I'm not gonna get on a high horse here and pretend I am above enjoying a scary asylum. In spite of what I just wrote, I think they can be a lot of fun. I've been to a lot of haunted houses with exhibits like that and I always liked them – the aesthetic is cool and it allows the imagination to roam free with thoughts of devil possession, evil criminals and the circumstances by which the place could have fallen to free-range evil. Like, I never come away from one of these thinking mental patients are bad. I'd hope most people wouldn't. If anything, I think some of the better ones tend to not lean very hard on that idea.

BUT... at the same time, I am not married to the concept. And again, if your only idea or theme is 'mental patients have something inherently wrong with them' then you really weren't working with something that interesting to begin with. So long as no one is arguing to shut these places down solely based on that, I don't see a problem with bringing it up and talking about it. Hopefully people would be open to changing shit if they had to.

If people are so bothered by the imagery and innuendo of these mental asylum haunts, I'm sure there are other ideas haunt-makers can explore. The article above has several examples – a more general 'hospital' or 'laboratory' setting. That can still be cool. I mean, it's not like they're turning it into a kiddie-friendly McDonalds play pen and forcing them to take out all blood or violence. It can still be scary without demonizing mental patients, and it can still be good.

If a certain subset of people who, through no fault of their own, are being stigmatized or made to look like bad guys or negative stereotypes, then we need to adapt and change. That's just how it is.

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