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Chapter 6-12

SOCB50H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 6-12: Shasta County, California, Morphine, Embezzlement

Course Code
Joe Hermer

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The Razor Blade in the Apple: The Social Construction of
Urban Legends by Joel Best and Gerald T. Horiuchi
1970s—witness of Halloween sadist, gave dangerous, adulterated treats to children
Halloween approach brought warnings to parents
Legislatures in California and New Jersey passed laws against Halloween sadism
oSchools trained children to inspect their treats for signs of tampering
oSome communities tried to ban trick-or-treating
Parents restricted their children’s trick-or treating, examined their treats or arranged
parties/indoor celebrations
Halloween sadism is thought to involve random, vicious, unprovoked attacks against small
children. Attacks seem irrational, and attackers are routinely described as disturbed or
insane. Described as child-haters theorized to “have had a really deprived childhood”
having been “abused as children.” Seen as “frustrated and filled with resentment against
the world in general”
A Holiday for Sadists?
True incidence of Halloween sadism cannot be measured, newspaper reports reveal
changes in public reaction to the threat
Examined coverage of Halloween sadism in four daily newspapers between 1959 and 1984
New York Times—Unusually complete, short items of a sense or two
Chicago Tribue and Los Angeles Times—Less thorough
Fresno Bee
oFound stories about 76 alleged incidents of Halloween sadism, including community
and nature of the attack
Reasons why it is unlikely many serious incidents were overlooked
o(1) Papers coverage was national
o(2) 76 reported cases were generally not serious—unlikely that newspapers would
choose to print accounts of minor incidents, while ignoring more serious crimes
Halloween has a long history of tragic accidents. Newspaper and magazines print lists of
safety tips

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Examining reports of 76 incidents lead to 3 conclusions
o(1) The threat of Halloween sadism has been greatly exaggerated.
Two deaths found were attributed to Halloween sadists, and did not fit the
image of a maniacal killer randomly attacking children
Most victims were not seriously hurt. No reports where anonymous sadist
caused death or a life-threatening injury
o(2) Many of Halloween sadism are of questionable authenticity
76 reported incidents had two cases that were identified as hoaxes, other
cases were undiscovered fraud
¾ children reported receiving contaminated treats had no injuries
o(3)Press should not be held responsible for the widespread belief that Halloween
sadism poses a serious threat
The press has given Halloween sadism relatively little publicity
Knowledge of Halloween sadism spreads by word of mouth
Roots of an Urban Legend
Halloween sadism is an urban legend
Urban legends are contemporary, orally transmitted tales that “often depict a clash between
modern conditions and some aspects of a traditional life-style”
Traditional legends often feature supernatural themes, most urban legends are grounded in
human baseness. Descirbing criminal attacks, contaminated consumer goods, and other
risks of modern life
Halloween sadism combines two themes—danger to children, contamination of food
Typically told as true stories. Gratifying our desire to know about and to try to understand
bizarre, frightening, and potentially dangerous or embarrassing events that may have
happened. May have a factual basis
Belief in Halloween sadism is maintained through orally transmitted warnings about the
dangers contemporary society poses for the traditional custom of trick-or-treating
Halloween sadism seen as a serious threat dating to early 1970s
oPeriod when press began reporting more incidents and warning parents to inspect
treats, and legislature began passing laws against Halloween sadism
Urban legends are products of social tension or strain—expressing fears that complexities
of modern society threaten the social order

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Folklorists typically examine a legend’s elements for clues about its roots—some feature a
transparent message, others are more difficult to interpret. Halloween sadism—legend’s
flowering in early 1970s was tired to heightened social strains of the period
Threats to Children
Growing sense that children were no longer safe in the United States
1960s & 1970s—physicians and social workers promoted child abuse as a major social
Rhetoric of this campaign—emphasized all children were potential victims. Child abuse
occurred in all sectors of society
Social conflicts of America made parents wondering if their hopes for the next generation
would be fulfilled
Fear of Crime
Fear of crime grew substantially between mid-1960s and early 1970s
Violent crimes involved offended and victims who were acquainted. Fear of crime focuses
on the threat of an anonymous attacker
Mistrust of Others
Rising expressions of general mistrust during early 1970s
Social conflicts of 1960s and early 1970s may have encouraged doubts about the
trustworthiness of other people—providing another form of strain during the period when
the belief in Halloween sadism spread
Halloween sadism remains because:
o(1) Some of the same sources of strain continue to exist: media still publicize threats
to children, fear of crime and strangers remain high
o(2) Halloween sadism is an established urban legend; it can remain as a taken-for-
granted, part of American culture
o(3) Folklorists have traced the evolution of some legends over centuries. Expresses
fears about criminal attacks
Urban Legends as Unconstructed Social Problems
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