Media critic Parker Molloy is a friend and former colleague of mine, but I'm also a genuine fan of her newsletter The Present Age. Molloy has a great talent for seeing through the BS of hype and panic, with simple, level-headed examinations that cut to the core of every issue.
In the latest edition of the Present Age, Molloy turns her attention to the fears of scary Halloween candy filled with scary drugs by scary people who definitely spend their own hard-earned money on drugs in order to give them to children for free. While this whole thing is obviously bullshit, Molloy wonders: where exactly did this rumor start, and why does it persist? She examines the work of University of Delaware sociology professor Joel Best, who has been tabulating actual, confirmed instances of Halloween candy-related deaths since 1985 (spoiler: there aren't a lot of examples).
But then, she turns her attention to media and Police coverage of the issue, and concludes:
Fear of contaminated/tampered with Halloween candy isn't driven by reports of actual incidents, as Best found there to be few examples, but maybe driven by the annual pre-Halloween warnings about this near nonexistent phenomenon. What does that tell us? For one, it should make both the police departments and the news outlets that publish these yearly warnings rethink their approach on this issue. There's nothing wrong with putting out an annual recommendation for parents to take proper safety precautions around Halloween and trick-or-treating. In fact, it may be worth putting what emphasis there is on fear of contaminated candy instead on traffic safety recommendations, as Halloween does regularly represent the date with the highest number of juvenile pedestrian deaths.
In other words: the "drugged candy" myth only persists because institutions feel the need to make generic gestures towards Halloween safety … but this self-perpetuating cycle ends up distracting from the actual public safety risks from traffic incidents on Halloween.
The persistent myth of drugged Halloween candy [Parker Molloy / The Present Age]
Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons