Halloween is big business and getting bigger all the time. And this isn’t just for kids, but for adults as well. According to the National Retail Federation, US Halloween spending now exceeds $7 billion, while in the UK, Halloween is reportedly worth about £330 million.
But why? Especially once we’re a grown-up and don’t trick-or-treat anymore? (Or, at least, we’re not supposed to.)
“It’s our desire to flirt with danger,” writes Stacy Liberatore in the Daily Mail. It turns out, according to one Purdue University professor, that Halloween is when individuals are able to have their fear and disgust buttons pushed without actually being in danger. ‘The guy with the axe isn’t actually going to kill you,” explains Daniel Kelly, associate professor of philosophy. “You’re not actually going to contract the infectious zombifying disease.”
In fact, that’s what’s making the current plague of creepy clowns so scary: They hit too close to home. “The theory that we enjoy being creeped out when we know it’s not real makes sense, and may also explain why the sightings of scary clowns across the US and Europe not at Halloween has caused such a meltdown because it has crossed that sacred line from fake scary into simply scary,” writes Paul Watson for AskMen.
As it turns out, humans enjoy intense emotional experiences in groups, to experience a sense of connectedness with others and to share intense emotions, even with strangers, writes Kashmira Gander for the Independent.
Indeed, getting scared together is a bonding experience, Gander writes (which may explain Outward Bound, ropes courses, and other adrenaline-raising group-bonding activities). “’Self-scaring’ has long been a way to unite people, giving them a sense of belonging and boosting feelings of power, says Margee Kerr, a sociologist who specializes in fear,” she writes. “We’ve been scaring ourselves forever—from scary stories around the campfire to jumping off cliffs, to sledding down hills, we’ve always chased the thrill.”
Of course, there’s those of us for whom the mere words “group bonding exercise” strikes terror into our hearts. And it’s true that not everyone loves Halloween, particularly parents. A survey from Mumsnet found 65 percent do not like their kids wandering around in the dark, 57 percent hate children stuffing themselves with candy, 31 percent would be happy if the event did not exist, and 16 percent downright hate it, Liberatore writes. “One in five adults even turn lights off and close curtains to avoid strangers,” she adds.
Nonetheless, some of us like to be scared. That stipulated, why is it we continue to like being scared by ghosts and spiders, rather than network security issues and the IRS? (Not to mention the upcoming Presidential election.) It’s because the things that creep us out for Halloween touch something deep and primeval in us.
“We should be afraid of driving too fast in a car, of smoking cigarettes, of eating unsaturated fats, and so on. Our Halloween decorations should feature such elements prominently, but they don’t,” writes Mathias Clasen, an assistant professor in literature and media at Aarhus University specializing in horror, for the British Psychological Society Research Digest. “Why? Because humans evolved too swiftly to detect, respond to, and develop phobias of stimuli that posed a threat over thousands of generations. The dangers posed by fatty acids and cigarettes are evolutionarily novel and have left no impression in human DNA. When we thrill to supernatural monsters and giant spiders, we are thrilling to the ghosts of dangers past, ghosts that persist in the human central nervous system despite relaxed selection pressures.”
But how does that explain creepy clowns? “Although there were no child-eating clowns in prehistoric environments, a character like Pennywise the Dancing Clown has achieved pop-cultural infamy because it effectively targets danger-management mechanisms in human cognitive architecture,” Clasen explains.
So feel free to celebrate Halloween at work, and do it with a clear conscience, knowing that you’re merely getting in touch with your ancestral feelings and bonding with your co-workers.
Just leave the clowns at home.
What about the real, unforeseen threats in the office? Just as we may not inherently fear saturated fats, we don’t always make the safest choices for our businesses. When it comes to the workplace, one of the scariest potential situations is finding yourself caught in a disaster with no business continuity plan. Be prepared with our complimentary guide to business continuity planning.
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