Halloween movies and teen perceptions

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Once October rolls around, it’s all about the Halloween-themed horror movies like Scream, Scary Movie, Truth or Dare, and It that often include teenage characters who reflect one of two narratives: teens who run into trouble at crazy Halloween themed parties, or teens who don’t want to trick or treat because they’re too old. Movies like these tell a narrowly specific story about teens and their behavior around Halloween time. 

While movies are staged and scripted versions of reality with added supernatural and thrilling elements, teenage characters often engage in risky behaviors and conform to more unrealistic standards of society. In portraying teenagers this way, films enforce the stereotype that teenagers should seek adventure and adrenaline during Halloween, and that they’re too old to indulge in trick-or-treating. 

Senior Neeharika Kotimreddy said, “There’s a stigma against doing something childish. [Especially in terms of costumes] teenagers are expected to dress up ‘sexy.’” 

Senior India Lott added, “The media [pushes the standard] that you have to dress or act a certain way to get attention.”  

There’s more to horror movies and media than just costumes, as they influence popular culture and perceptions on behavior. Senior Joie Ning added, “Movies definitely expose you to certain perceptions… the thing is not every teenager [acts the same way]. Different behaviors are more popular in different demographics and places.” 

Townsend Harris culture proves to be different from the narratives shown in popular movies. Sophomore Samuel Tsai said, “Our school is more [sheltered]. We aren’t as exposed as other kids.” Neeharika also said “[risky behaviors] aren’t a huge thing in our school… [because] we’re not surrounded by [that type of] environment.” 

She emphasized the the NYC urban environment we live in influences how we behave. She said, “In New York City we have such a different high school system that we don’t have the same experience… [as students] anywhere else.”

Some Townsend Harris students balance seeking adrenaline and having innocent fun. India was one of many students to visit a haunted house saying, “I got a good scare… and really enjoyed the adrenaline.” Joie represents the other side of the spectrum as she does “like dressing up” because “you don’t get the opportunity to do it all the time and it’s fun to do.”   

Ethnicity and background also have a large impact on how students view themselves, their peers and Halloween traditions. Senior Cathy Chen said, “People who have never watched Halloween movies… weren’t exposed to that kind of [culture]… or experience. [I saw it] as a time to have fun with my family for thirty minutes and have some laughs.”   

The entertainment industry lacks inclusive, realistic teen stories. The need to thrill and create a grand adventure is apparent, and many agree that realistic and engaging horror films aren’t even those that include teens. Joie said, “The things that [teens are] portrayed as aren’t good representation, which is why they don’t have as good reception.” 

Halloween culture is about many things for teens, from costume parties, candy, and an excuse to wear all black and watch horror films for a month. Sophomore Jenny Chen said, “Ultimately, do whatever you think is fun. You only celebrate Halloween once a year.”

Art courtesy of Dennis Frenkel