Halloween costumes inspired by the Netflix hit “Squid Game” have been banned by three elementary schools in Central New York, with administrators citing concerns about the violent content of the show.
The South Korean drama revolves around a competition in which deeply indebted people face off in childhood games, such as tug of war and red light green light, to win a large sum of money — or face a gory death.
“Staff members have recently noted that some students at recess have been mimicking games from ‘Squid Game,’ a Roblox video game and a Netflix show that is intended for mature audiences due to the violence depicted in the show,” Craig Tice, the superintendent for the Fayetteville-Manlius school district, just outside of Syracuse, said in an email statement. “Because of this activity, our principals wanted to make sure our families are aware that it would be inappropriate for any student to wear to school a Halloween costume from this show because of the potential violent messages aligned with the costume.”
After its September debut, “Squid Game” quickly became one of the streaming site’s most popular shows and caused a Halloween shopping frenzy, with viewers clamoring to buy teal tracksuits, red-pink boiler suits and plastic masks to dress as the players and guards.
In his statement, Mr. Tice reiterated the Fayetteville-Manlius school district’s guidelines for Halloween costumes, which include that “no items that can be interpreted as weapons should be brought to school, such as toy swords or guns, and that costumes should not be too gory or scary so as not to scare our younger students.”
Jonna Johnson, the principal of the district’s Mott Road Elementary School, informed parents of the ban in an email last week after observing students playing versions of the games depicted in the series. “If your child is familiar with this game, we would appreciate you discussing it with your student and reinforcing that recess play or costumes related to it are not permissible at school,” she wrote.
Jennifer Erzen, a parent of a second grader in the district, said she supported the schools’ decision.
“I agree with them banning people playing these games at school and banning the costumes at activities this coming weekend, but there’s always some movie or TV show that parents get upset about and don’t want their kids exposed to,” she said. “When I was a kid, nobody wanted anybody dressed up like Freddy Krueger.” She also noted that her family had not seen the show.
Larissa Brenner, a parent of two Fayetteville-Manlius middle schoolers, said the ban was in line with the school’s existing policies. “It’s not a new practice for the school to say that certain things are off-limits for Halloween. They’ve always said, do not bring weapons to school, even toy weapons, as part of your costume,” she said. “They’ve also always said that they don’t want the kids to wear masks that cover their entire faces.”
Ms. Brenner, who has seen “Squid Game,” added that “it’s entertaining, it’s good for adults, but I wouldn’t want my children to be exposed to that in school. The schools kind of have to strike a balance between what’s safe for the kids and what’s free speech.”
Schools in other countries, including Ireland and Canada, have also issued warnings about “Squid Game,” urging parents to pay attention to what their children are consuming. But some experts say the show’s appeal to young viewers should not be cause for alarm.
“We often forget how much children love scary and creepy things,” said Carly Kocurek, an associate professor of digital humanities and media studies at Illinois Institute of Technology. “Adults are often uncomfortable with the way children engage with those things. We’ve seen this before — 20, 30 years ago we’d be like, ‘Oh, you can’t dress up like Freddy Krueger’ or ‘You can’t wear the Scream mask.’ But a lot of classic Halloween costumes are actually scary, like vampires or skeletons.”
Patrick Markey, a professor of psychology at Villanova University, said that violence in popular culture is often an “easy scapegoat” for violence in the real world. “It’s much easier to be upset about violent video games or ‘Squid Game’ than it is to try and tackle gun ownership or mental health issues,” he said.