November 1, 2011

Salon covers Halloween hype

As it turns out, I didn't need to write my annual column on Halloween this year, because Tracy Clark-Flory over at did it for me -- even quoting my blog musings on the topic:
Year after year, new measures are introduced to keep registered sex offenders of all stripes from coming into contact with trick-or-treaters -- and yet there is zero evidence to support the legislative trend.... It isn't just law enforcement that is joining in the Halloween paranoia: Tech entrepreneurs are hyping new smartphone apps -- including a brand-new one for Facebook -- as tools to steer kids clear of sex offenders’ homes and even allow parents to track their kids by GPS, instead of actually accompanying them in person....

Karen Franklin, a forensic psychologist who has long railed against the Halloween crackdown, calls it "security theater" and "the Halloween boogeyman."* She says "the scare feeds into a deep-rooted cultural fear of the boogeyman stranger."Just as with scary movies, this holiday allows us the thrill of confronting our fears in a controlled manner. Similarly, the inevitable spate of stories about stranger danger each October both exploit and assuage parental nightmares. Canny entrepreneurs sell parents ways to protect their kids from "real monsters" -- as though safety and control were but an app away -- while local politicians and sheriff’s departments circulate press releases to celebrate their own valiant efforts fighting ... a problem that does not appear to exist.

Most interesting of all to me were the comments on Ms. Clark-Flory's column, which were universally critical of the overblown hype surrounding sex offenders, and also raised the issue of civil rights and the infringement of civil liberties.

By the way, credit for the term "security theater" goes to Bruce Schneier, who writes and blogs about security. Schneier defines security theater as "security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security." Prominent examples include airport screenings and increasingly ubiquitous metal detectors. Thanks to Dave S. for alerting me to Schneier's interesting blog.

** I actually spell it "bogeyman," but opinion on the correct spelling is not unanimous.