Cedar Fair Pulls New VR Attraction: Are We Too Sensitive for Halloween?
Photo courtesy of Knott's Berry Farm
Knott’s Scary Farm, Haunt at California’s Great America and Canada’s Wonderland all broke new ground in the haunted attractions industry this year with "Fear VR: 5150." The new upcharge experience had guests visit a research facility, where they were strapped to a wheelchair in a highly themed building. Once inside, strapped down, and armed with a special Virtual Reality Headset, guests were visited by an escaped experiment that had supernatural powers in a terrifying VR experience.
However, a mere week after it opened at the three haunted attractions, it was closed. The reason? A petition signed by only about 500 people called for its closure because a handful of people felt that it painted a stigma against mental illness.
The initial response was to change the name, which draws from a section of the California Welfare and Institutions Code authorizing the involuntary confinement of a person suspected of having a mental disorder. The code was famously used on Van Halen’s album 5150, which saw the first appearance of Sammy Hagar to the band. That didn’t upset the group, instead the apparent use of outdated mental facilities did. The name was changed, and a few days later, Cedar Fair pulled the experience from the lineup. Was this a case of being insensitive, or is it a case of people being a little too sensitive?
This wasn’t the first time that a group has gone after Cedar Fair for their use of an Asylum theme in a haunted house. A group went after Carowinds for their long running Asylum, which was retired the following year.
Horror has a base in reality, and the asylums of old are what most of these attractions are based on. It’s become a staple in the haunt industry. This year, Cedar Fair parks have no fewer than four other hospital/asylum houses, and one house that is based on an actual mental illness, with “The Hoarder House.” Is it insensitive, or are we just exploring our deepest fears?
This isn’t the first year that haunts have been accused of being insensitive, as other haunted attractions were pulled, and outright canceled due to public outrage. In 2013, the pop culture parody show, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure at Universal Studios Hollywood was canceled indefinitely after a blogger accused the show of being homophobic. The show, for those who haven’t seen it, prides itself on offending during its riffs on pop culture, including religion and sexual preference.
The next year, an auction scene in The Purge scare zone at Halloween Horror Nights was cut after a video surfaced showing an auctioneer from the film making degrading remarks towards a girl that was 13. While profanity was used, it was taken directly from a scene in the movie, which is about all crime being legal for one night.
When we venture into a haunted attraction, we are checking our inhibitions at the door. We want to be scared, and shocked. Sometimes that goes hand in hand with being offended. These events are meant for mature audiences, with huge disclaimers at every turn and ad saying that the event is not recommended for those under 13 (and sometimes older). The idea is that we are being suspended from reality, and in a safe environment that assaults our senses. Sometimes that sense can include our morals, but in that case do we need to speak for everyone, or is it enough to simply not attend?
The case of Cedar Fair and Fear VR is one that is a prime example of how society is being overly sensitive in some cases, but completely ignorant in others. It’s also a great example of how keyboard activism is shaping what we are allowed to see and participate in. The reality is, that if we continue to get offended at every little bloody detail, we may eventually see an end to Halloween as we know it.
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