Your recent Halloween submissions brought to my mind an incident that took place nearly twenty years ago but I still second guess myself on it.
When I was in college, I lived in a duplex. Our side had three women that shared the space and the other side had three men. One of my neighbors was in a premed comparative anatomy class with me where we were dissecting a cat, a shark, and a necturus (a mud-skipper type of amphibian). Our neighborhood was very trick or treat friendly and we always decorated our door and turned on the lights for the kids. Well, this particular year several groups of kids and parents started complaining about my neighbor’s door. He had taken the cat we were dissecting and hung it on the door!!!! It was horrible. He thought it was a grand idea. It was totally inappropriate on so many levels.
I removed it from his door and called the police. I didn’t even think twice about it. However I became shunned in our pre-med class and told that I over reacted. I was told I should have handled it in a quieter manner; that removing it from the door was enough. I disagreed then and still disagree, but I have always been rankled by the shunning that occurred. I thought it was completely disrespectful to the cat that lost it’s life so we could learn about anatomy and serve humanity, disrespectful to the kids, and disrespectful to the university and it’s property. It was just plain wrong and should not have been tolerated.
Should I have handled it differently? 1014-14
Did you call the police because the dissected cat was university property that your neighbor had “taken”? It seems to me that the best person to contact the police would be the owner of the property who, once informed of the whereabouts of the taken property, can choose in what manner they wish to reacquire it. Removing an actual carcass, regardless of how well preserved it is, from a doorway of a shared domicile, seems fine with me.
As for the shunning you received, I find it more fascinating that what defines bad taste to the point that severe peer pressure is applied has changed culturally in 20 years. Hasn’t anyone ever wondered why gory, horrifying Halloween displays, both commercial and residential, have no scenes of animal torture or death? Why not display rotted, gory horses, skinned buffalo carcasses or dogs hung by their legs with their fur burned off or hide flayed? Why not skeletons of cats, cattle, baby lambs? Or a pit bull fighting ring with some poor Chihuahua being the hapless bait dog? There are haunted houses with over the top human butcher scenes but I doubt any have ever attempted to depict an actual abattoir. I suspect the reason is that there is a greater perceived threat of being on the receiving end of severe community ire as well as animal rights activists if fake animals become part of the scene.
In the previous post on public Halloween decor, readers who defended the gory, horrific Halloween displays justified their positions that 1) it was all in good fun; 2) tell your kids it’s fake; 3) you can’t shelter kids forever; 4) those of us who find it offensive are overreacting; 5) it’s a public space; and, 6) they can do what they want. In a few cases,there was an almost arrogant superiority in having raised children to view these scenes as “fun”, as if being desensitized to human depravity at a tender young age was a good thing. Why wouldn’t all these justifications also apply to animal oriented horror displays, or, for that matter, displays such as one reader mentioned in which the neighbor had hung dead black bodies from a tree with a confederate flag waving re-enacting a lynching scene? It’s all in good “fun” after all, you can’t shelter the kids forever, it’s a public space and the home owner can do what it is they want…..unless you happen to put up a graveyard in your front yard that contains a certain tombstone.
Several homeowners in Oklahoma and Arizona placed fake tombstones in their front yards with the name “Obama/B.H. Obama” and a death date on them and the community outrage has gone viral with online comments and news media taking notice. For the record, I believe putting the names of living people on a tombstone used for Halloween displays is in very poor taste. But apparently what qualifies as “bad taste” changes according to how politically incorrect the decorations happen to be.
It appears that moral relativism, the concept that right or wrong are not absolutes but can be determined by each individual, factors heavily in how some people reading this blog and commenting decide whether a particular action is in bad taste or not. Morals and manners can be altered from one situation, person, or circumstance to the next depending on each person’s beliefs. And therein lies the problem. If one action can be dismissed or justified as simply good, clean fun, but other actions of similar bad taste receive scorn and shunning, etiquette merely becomes a guilt manipulative tool to bludgeon others into either tolerating your own bad taste or agreeing with you that other people are behaving distastefully (while you are not). I don’t like moral relativism on Etiquette Hell. With the freedom to engage in a specific action comes the responsibility to not abuse that freedom. What people do inside the privacy of their home or backyard is one thing entirely. May they have the freedom to express themselves to the fullest. But when it goes “public” and thereby removes the freedom of choice one’s neighbor has to not view this, the responsibility to honor thy neighbor out of kindness takes precedence over personal preferences.