BEWARE to all trick-or-treaters occupying the streets of Fargo, North Dakota tonight. Children are in for a rude awakening when visiting the residence of a woman who has clearly forgot the true meaning/purpose of Halloween. A letter written to a local radio station, by a woman identified only as “Cheryl,” is sparking a great deal of interest on outlets of social media.
Cheryl ignited controversy when revealing her plan to trick obese children this Halloween by filling their goodie bags with warning letters instead of quintessential treats and candy. These letters voice her opinion of how “the moderately obese kids should not be consuming sweets and treats to the extent of other children this Halloween season.” Although, it is evident that Cheryl’s intention is to send a message to parents of kids that are noticeably overweight it seems that this is the wrong way of going about addressing the issue. Unfortunately, Cheryl is not taking into account the great deal of harm that this little prank could create. Rather than solving the problem of childhood obesity, this could create a feeling of demoralization and ultimately cause children to form negative self-images.
By choosing this “solution” in an attempt to solve the problem of childhood obesity one must be left wondering if Cheryl considered the expectations of the children and the people that she might violate during the process. This brings us to the concept of the expectancy violations theory, an idea by Judee Burgoon. This theory is commonly studied in psychology or communication studies classrooms. It claims that communication is the exchange of information which can be used to violate the expectations of others; this violation can then be perceived as negative or positive depending on the relational status between the two engaged.
In this specific situation, we assume that Cheryl does not know each and every one of the trick-or-treaters and parents that plan to come to her house and therefore it would be difficult for her to assume their perception of her “treat”, It is assumed that children dressed up in costumes, knocking door-to-door, with buckets in hand, are in search of mass amounts of candy. It is almost guaranteed that those children who receive a mean note rather than a yummy piece of candy are bound to be upset and react in a negative way. Unfortunately, it does not seem like Cheryl took into consideration the fact that she will not know each of the trick-or-treaters on a personal basis and therefore could really offend them with her unpleasant note. Although it seems as though she wants to solve a problem, this does not seem like the best way to go about it.
-Parker Farfour, Caitlin Ford, Kaitlin Batson, Alex Corrigan
Expectancy violation is a nice connection here. Some expectancy violations can be positive and “break the ice” in positive ways but clearly this is not likely to be one of those moments. But what’s interesting is why we all likely think this is a violation. Is the advice wrong? No. Would the kids benefit if they took the advice? Probably. Is there anything particularly rude about the letter? No. Yet . . . So part of our reaction is grounded in our culture of hyper individualism that says “mind your own business!” regardless of the level of dysfunctional behavior I may engage in. Yet, we are told in other contexts TO intervene if we see a bruise that suggests child abuse. Given the health implications of obesity (did you see the TV show “We’re Killing Our Kids”) should outsiders intervene as we’ve been told to for more traditional forms of neglect and abuse? This seems to get messy quickly. But our reaction is not grounded in the mess I just summarized above. It’s grounded in the occasion of Halloween. Rhetoric is SITUATIONAL so Halloween has situational expectations that would likely ask folks to suspend such attention to nutrition and such. Just as an awards show is not the time to shout out political beliefs, Halloween is not time to focus on sound nutrition.