Knott's Berry Farm closes Halloween attraction after mental health advocates complain about content

Posted Thursday, September 29, 2016 9:44 AM | Contributed by Jeff

Knott’s Berry Farm and its parent company, Cedar Fair, announced Tuesday that they are shutting down the Halloween attraction Fear VR after the feature caused concern among mental health advocates. Mental health advocates nationwide emailed Knott’s and Cedar Fair administrators expressing their concern over the last week, that the portrayal of a possessed girl in a hospital as part of a virtual-reality horror show stigmatizes and denigrates individuals with mental illnesses.

Read more from The Orange County Register.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016 9:53 AM

I have to admit that after years of thinking that people might be over-sensitive to this kind of thing, maybe not. Our culture definitely stigmatizes mental health issues in a serious way. I've known enough people to commit suicide, suffer from chronic depression, bipolar disorder and eating disorders now to not really see a lot of humor or entertainment in it. It's probably time to be more enlightened. People will readily tell you that they're going to the doctor, but few people are willing to say they're going to a therapist or psychologist, and that's kind of screwed up. (For the record, I have at various times seen a therapist, and I'm better for is just as I would be for seeing a doctor when I'm sick.)

Thursday, September 29, 2016 12:45 PM

When it comes to Halloween, someone is oversensitive about EVERYTHING.

The way we tend to celebrate the season (and it is a season now) is meant to be scary, over the top and ridiculous. No one is undermining you because they turned whatever it is you are or you identify as or feel strongly about into fodder for celebration. The very point is to take elements of life and twist them to present them as scary, over the top and ridiculous.

Last edited by Lord Gonchar, Thursday, September 29, 2016 12:46 PM
Thursday, September 29, 2016 1:00 PM

So are you arguing that a little empathy is not warranted?

Thursday, September 29, 2016 1:15 PM

I don't see where the two are mutually exclusive. I can celebrate halloween by twisting the idea of a possessed girl at a hospital into a fun and scary experience and still have empathy or respect for those with legitimate issues. This is why we can make entertainment like movies and songs and art about things like death and cancer and hate and tragedy. It's ok to explore these things or use them in an entertaining way.

I'm arguing that everything is not meant to be an affront to someone.

Thursday, September 29, 2016 2:11 PM

I'm not arguing that it is. But I would still argue there's a difference between fantasy characters, like zombies and aliens, and characters rooted in real-ish conditions. I probably know the answer to this, but would you be OK with a chainsaw wielding mentally disabled person, or an amputee throwing fake legs at you? Would it bother you more if someone related to you had either of those conditions? This kind of bleeds into our political discussions, but I think there's a broader belief that if one can't empathize to a situation, then it's not worthy of consideration.

I'm just wondering where you draw the line, because apparently Cedar Fair agrees that they may have crossed it.

Thursday, September 29, 2016 2:57 PM

What about the Slaughterhouse? Why aren't the animal rights activists all over that one? Sure, they're foam pig heads in there, but it depicts gruesome and bloody acts that some consider "cruel".

And I'm certain they're not portraying a modern mental hospital - I'm sure they're going for the American Horror Story/Asylum kind of vibe, where the treatment of the patients was often scarier than the idea of a mental illness itself. I don't know about you, but the idea of electroshock therapy, a straight jacket or a padded room, plus any other number of "treatments" is was scarier to me than any of the modern mental health issues they could be trying to stage in there.

Thursday, September 29, 2016 3:08 PM

I don't draw the line. Nothing is off limits...regardless of how close I am to it. I'm the guy that saw no problem with the actor at HHN calling the teenage girls, "whores." (and I hate the argument that I'm just not close enough to the source material)

And if you managed to cross that line with me, I'd a million years expect you to change for me. I'd avoid the things I'm adverse to like a reasonable human being.

In the case of Halloween, the real stuff is more desireable to me. Zombies and aliens are stupid...kinda. Some bat**** crazy mofo wanting to take my head off is pretty fun. Being trapped against my will and subjected to whatever is scary.

I despise the idea that entertainment has to be a certain way because someone doesn't like it. Too close to censorship for me. (and that's a weird place to plant the flag, I know, but it is what it is)

Cedar Fair is doing what any large publicly traded company would do in this situation...caving. It's not their place to take a stand. It's their place to be as middle-of-the-road accessible as possible. It doesn't take much noise to make things happen anymore. With likely no loss of business because of this removal, the bad PR likely "costs" them much more if they keep it.

Hopefully these people make a bit of noise too...because they make WAY more sense.

Last edited by Lord Gonchar, Thursday, September 29, 2016 3:09 PM
Thursday, September 29, 2016 3:17 PM

Seriously, what ever happened to people not subjecting themselves to something they find offensive or objectionable? Complaining about it and becoming an activist in an attempt to get rid of it is the trendy thing now. I objected to some of the content in last season's American Horror Story less than 15 minutes into the first episode. I turned it off and didn't bother watching the rest of the season. End of story. I know theme park haunts aren't TV, but...they're more alike than they are different, at least in this sense. Don't friggin' do haunts if you can't take the haunts.

Last edited by Vater, Thursday, September 29, 2016 3:20 PM
Thursday, September 29, 2016 3:33 PM

If I'm allergic to peanuts, should I forbid YOU from eating them?

Seems silly at first....but what if I'm seated behind you in an airplane and the peanut dust is enough to cause my serious distress?

Seems like there can be some give and take....I mean, we confront death on a regular basis, and laugh at it/about it, and that's something ALL of us will one day deal with....

Thursday, September 29, 2016 4:16 PM

Art and entertainment can certainly be offensive to people. I get that. Sometimes the context and content matters more than other times though. As much as I'd like the world to be otherwise, I understand that social contracts generally prohibit me from dropping F-bombs in public situations. I might think it's silly, but as a functioning member of society, I'll respect the contract. I think using mental illness as the basis for entertainment, in this context, is starting to drift into that territory.

Last edited by Jeff, Thursday, September 29, 2016 4:16 PM
Thursday, September 29, 2016 4:30 PM

rollergator said:

If I'm allergic to peanuts, should I forbid YOU from eating them?

Seems silly at first....but what if I'm seated behind you in an airplane and the peanut dust is enough to cause my serious distress?


The pragmatic approach would be to cater to the many. But we increasingly do practically the exact opposite of that.

Approximate 0.6% of the US population have a peanut allergy. Seems to me the other 99.4% shouldn't be inconvenienced and that the vast minority adjusts accordingly.

Now that sounds silly when the comparison is someone eating a peanut vs another's potential death. And certainly that's got to be considered. But at some point it just seems insane to me to cater to the few at the expense or inconvenience of the many. Yet we do it more and more and in increasingly niche situations.

At what point does one have to accept their own limitation instead of expecting everyone else to?

Jeff said:

Sometimes the context and content matters more than other times though. I think using mental illness as the basis for entertainment, in this context, is starting to drift into that territory.

Interesting. Because it's exactly the context of Halloween fun that makes this ok.

For the record, I'd let F-bombs drop like bite-size Snickers into plastic pumpkins in this case too. It's fun. It's over the top. It's escaping that everyday crap and getting a little "dangerous" for fun. That social contract is temporarily suspended.

And if that's not how you like your fun, then find a place where those social contracts are upheld even in the fictional fantasy of a Halloween attraction. There are all flavors out there. Please don't make them all plain vanilla because that's what YOU like. I might like mine to have a sprinkling of..."nuts"

Thursday, September 29, 2016 4:46 PM

I can't help but circle back to the empathy thing, maybe because we as a nation seem to really suck at it, in the general sense. You don't see a line to cross, but for a mass-market attraction, I wouldn't be OK with the mentally disabled and amputee examples I gave. And it's not because I want everyone to see the world the way I do (despite admittedly feeling particularly alone in that sense), it's just because those seem like things that go a bit more personal than superficial butthurt.

Apologies for not getting "butthurt" into the conversation sooner. :)

Thursday, September 29, 2016 4:49 PM

I'm a bit confused on this. Definitely get the need for empathy and not to stigmatize those with mental illness. But the attraction, while having elements of treatment or institutionalization for mental illness seems to be going on the fact that she's actually possessed by something. The suspension of disbelief, which I assume is implied at all Halloween attractions, should cover the fact that they're going for demonic possession rather than exploiting mental health issues.

Thursday, September 29, 2016 5:08 PM

Without actually seeing the attraction I suppose it's hard to really say for sure if it crosses the line but in general I would say Halloween is supposed to be all things creepy and scary and demonic possession is creepy and mental illness and old fashioned treatment of it can be very scary. I probably wouldn't have a problem with the attraction. I'll point out that I'm saying that as someone who has close family members that had to be committed against their will for psychiatric evaluation more than once. Did you know that if a family member says yes, they can keep an eye on someone the hospital will send a completely delusional person and a bottle of pills home with them? That's scary. Yes, we have a stigma attached to mental illness but I don't think a Halloween attraction necessarily contributes enough to that for it to be a serious problem.

Thursday, September 29, 2016 5:10 PM

The biggest thing that stands out to me in this article is that the couple "heard about the attraction" and rallied to have it shut down. I could be wrong, because the article didn't say, but did they actually ask to *view* the attraction? Or is just hearing about something good enough these days?

Jeff said:

1) I would still argue there's a difference between fantasy characters, like zombies and aliens, and characters rooted in real-ish conditions.

2) I'm just wondering where you draw the line, because apparently Cedar Fair agrees that they may have crossed it.

1) Demon Posession is no more "real-ish" than zombies or aliens. (Although I'm sure there are some who might disagree)

2) It seems to me that CF pulled the plug on this attraction not because they feel they "crossed the line" but because they don't want the negative PR and it's just easier this way.

Last edited by Tommytheduck, Thursday, September 29, 2016 5:11 PM
Thursday, September 29, 2016 5:26 PM

I'm a therapist, a teacher of all things mental illness related, someone who battled mental illness personally, and someone who loves to squash stigma and ignorance about mental illness whenever I can.

So you know where I stand, right? Maybe not...

Stuff like this drives me crazy. This is a story about possession, so if anyone should be pissed it's the Jesuits. As mentioned above, this is a Halloween attraction set in a theme park...there are two gigantic layers of "suspend reality" as you walk through the gates of each.

I also disagree with the premise that attractions like these perpetuate and inflame stigma. That sounds great to say, but it's a comment and a leap of logic based off of no real evidence to support it.

One area of research I'm into is the study of humor, and I see a parallel here. There is a commonly held belief that a comic who performs a racist or sexist act does nothing but perpetuate racism, sexism, and all the negative stereotypes associated with it. That actually sounds logical...until you study it. Instead, what is found is that people who did not hold racist/sexist views beforehand remained that way afterward and vice versa; in other words, the "entertainment" package of these attitudes had no impact on the subjects' personal views...they came out just like the came in.

There is so much more good work that needs to be done in order to educate the public about mental illness, and this, in my opinion, comes down to a colossal waste of everyone's time, energy, and resources, because the result is null.

The outcome? A number of people got their way and feel their egos stroked by bringing down a big company's benign efforts to entertain, while others honestly think they just accomplished something.

Incidentally (and I'm not kidding) I also teach a class each Fall on demonic possession called "Demons and Diagnoses" perfect would it have been for my class to fly out to Knotts and visit this haunt.

In my practice, I encourage people to learn how to laugh at their circumstances. And no, because someone laughs does not mean we aren't taking it seriously as an issue, it just means we learn how not to lose our **** over things that aren't worth losing one's **** over. I suppose that fuels my perspective on this.

Last edited by OhioStater, Thursday, September 29, 2016 5:31 PM
Thursday, September 29, 2016 6:16 PM

Jeff said:

Apologies for not getting "butthurt" into the conversation sooner. :)

Yeah, we all kind of failed there.

Thursday, September 29, 2016 6:31 PM

This is a bit old news, as every time that Knotts has attempted the mental institute attraction someone has filed a complaint and gone to the media. In the past they have scaled back things and kept the attraction open for the rest of the season. This time they caved completely and shuttered it.

Thursday, September 29, 2016 6:49 PM

Don't they still have a whole maze called the Sanitorium or something like that at Knott's that uses the same mental asylum trope?

I'm a pretty liberal guy but PC culture is getting insane at this point. This honestly seems like the coolest use of VR technology that I've ever seen and it's a shame that a few angry people shut it down for all of the rest of us. I have tons of empathy for people who are suffering from mental issues and politically advocate for us spending much more on mental healthcare... but today's modern mental healthcare looks nothing like oldschool asylums that are used for horror tropes that disappeared from American society ages ago.

Someone should just leak the VR video on the internet. That way we can all experience the fun and the whiney crybabies that had an issue w/ a Halloween attraction don't get to win.


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