How Predator Panic Spreads Around the World

Hi Readers! As you may recall, I was recently in Australia, where I was sort of surprised to hear how much their culture mirrors ours in terms of fear. The Aussies seem to be a bit less frantic — props to them — but there were still enough, “What about predators?” to make me feel at home.  (And, for the record, also enough Payless Shoe Stores and McDonald’s.) And now here’s this interesting note from down under about Halloween  on the local soap opera:

Dear Free-Range Kid: Here’s how nonsense goes viral.  After having avoided the Australian soap ‘Neighbours’ for most of it’s 25 years, I get to watch the odd episode now because of our 12 year old’s fondness for it.

A little background info: Halloween is not much of a deal here in Oz, and until a few years ago, it was no deal at all, as in not celebrated. Now some kids do go trick or treating, like my daughter and her friends last night, resulting in not much candy because people don’t expect to be asked for it.

The latest ‘Neighbours’ plot line features a Halloween horror story as its main plot device, however. The characters were all behaving in thoroughly unAustralian ways — i.e., doing  Halloween to the max — and in the middle of all the action one of the children gets kidnapped. Shock! Horror!

We are assured that what ensues will ‘rock Ramsay St to its foundations.’ [Note from Lenore, from Wikipedia: Ramsay Street is the fictional street where the show takes place.]

Anyway, in country that barely acknowledges Halloween, the lovely tradition of hysterical panic over it has now been imported via script writers trawling the net looking for story ideas. — Catherine

Hmm. I’d always sort of THOUGHT that fear spread this way — that the English-speaking media imports it from my country, because America knows what sells — but now I’ve got proof. Thanks for this!  — L

11 Responses

  1. Well you can tell the Aussies that my two sons (11 and 8) went out in black capes as evil Harry Potter characters (Tom Riddle and a Death Eater). They went out ALONE, with no reflective tape, cell phones, or parents. Just a flashlight and a plan. For three hours they trick or treated alone. They only came back early, and in one piece, because their feet were tired. Oh, but they had so much fun. And I had a peaceful night of answering the door, instead of following my perfectly capable children around a neighborhood they know by heart. Happy Halloween!!!

  2. Hey Lenore.

    Just wanted you to know that tonight as I ate my dinner I sat down with the latest copy of Brisbane’s Child ( A free parenting/kids stuff newspaper available at child cares, libraries, school etc) there was a story in there called Freedom or Foolishness?? by Caroline Illingsworth.

    YOu were quoted!!!

    I’ll type it out if youre interested. The article seemed to be on your side… kinda….. the author said she had a free range childhood and thinks she wants the same for her kids, but of course many challenges were printed aswell.

  3. Hi, Lenore. I don’t know if you know this or not, but you made it on Fark! Check out the amusing comments.
    http://www.fark.com/cgi/comments.pl?IDLink=5726931

  4. I wouldn’t call it Preditor Panic. “Neighbours” is a soap opera and does what soap operas do. Days Of Our Lives does worse.

    Besides, “Neighbours” is so light as a soap opera it could almost be called “Children’s Television”. The preditor aspect would not even be considered in the storyline. It would be added for melodrama such as revenge, or even black comedy (accidently taking home the wrong kid).

  5. I think we have to be careful about blaming dramatic depictions of horrifying events on shows that are meant to be dramatic and/or horrifying for people’s real life fears.

    If people can’t separate what happens on a soap opera (a soap opera!) from real life, I have a hard time blaming the people who wrote the soap opera.

    Granted if people are already inclined to be unrealistically fearful or paranoid, seeing it fictionally depicted feeds that, but somehow western culture survived Dorothy Sayers and Alfred Hitchcock and Agatha Christie without absolutely losing its collective mind about reality. If anything, it’s people’s constant exposure to fictional horror via their own choice to constantly indulge in TV (both fictional and sensationalized news) and movies that’s the problem, not the fact that fiction is sometimes exciting and scary in unrealistic ways. (I’m not slamming TV and movies so much as the disproportionate importance they have to many people’s lives.)

  6. I think that’s the problem though, these paranoid parents tend to hang on to every negative thing they hear. Be it from a friend of a friend of a friend, the news, the radio, tv, movies, a commericial even (remember the verizon commercial?).

    I personally don’t think tv shows and movies should change. It’s entertainment, any sane and normal person should be able to distinguish reality from fiction. However, when it comes to the media, I think they should be a little more responsible and NOT just report the most heinous, and rare accounts of crime. Personally I think they should also include, a positive part in their news. Say like “this is a rare account, and we should not live in fear”. But I doubt they ever will, because it wouldn’t sell papers or get ratings.

  7. Eric, I agree — but in a sense, that’s a different point. News just plain isn’t good news reporting if it promotes an exaggerated perception of the frequency of sensational crimes. If Lenore had been referring to a “news” program doing that, I would not have the slightest disagreement. But horrific fiction of any kind bears very little, if any, responsibility for people’s perception of how safe real life is. As you point out, it’s those who have *already* chosen to believe in a horror myth about real life who have it fed by this; others might get a distorted perception from the distorted reporting on “reality” that passes for so much news, but not because fiction includes drastic and frightening incidents. Very few people over the age of six are likely to confuse “Halloween” the movie for what happens to people on Halloween — I don’t mean that they shouldn’t confuse them, I mean that generally, adults *don’t.* But since Nancy Grace et al are non-fiction, the degree to which their antics distort reality because they don’t keep things in perspective, genuinely does create a frightening picture for people who don’t understand that it’s not in perspective — which is probably quite a few people.

  8. The funniest part of the pathetic Neighbours attempt at fear-mongering is – in Australia we’re heading into summer and it’s daylight savings, so in Melbourne at least, it didn’t even get dark until about 8pm that night, and the 2 sets of trick-or-treaters we got both arrived well before that time. Knocking on someone’s door in broad daylight – how scary!

  9. I actually had a trick or treater this year! 1 child possibly 8-10 years old, by himself wearing normal clothes with a mask, came to my door… but I’ve never had lollies for the kids and never had a knock before so I had nothing for him. He was a polite young man and good enough about my not having anything for him, but a number of friends got annoyed at the sulking and carry on some of them got when turning children away. Mine arrived quite late as it was well into darkness. I’d say about 9pm. It doesn’t get dark here till about 8-8.30 at the moment.

    We just don’t do it in Australia and I find it all a bit mystifying that I’d be expected to buy lollies for strangers. I’ve lived on the same prominent street for 6 years and this is the first trick or treater I’ve had. Maybe next year I’ll have something as I do love costumes myself.

    On the Neighbours subject I just love how the mother is being labeled a “bad mother” now when she’d left him in care of his 16 year old sister who for the most part did all the right things and was just unlucky. It is a pretty over-dramatised show anyway and I watch it for the lols.

  10. An interesting shout

  11. like Thank you editor

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