“Dear Prudence: Do I really have to hand out candy to poor kids? Signed: Halloween for the 99 Percent.” A question for the ages—or at least the age of rampant income inequality. “Yes, you do, you cheapskate.” A rather zingy answer from the famous advice columnist.
Yes, someone really asked this question, and it has generated some lively discussion online, as the writer effectively asked Prudence for license to turn low-income trick-or-treaters away from the door and Prudie delivered a blistering response. The writer, who identified herself as living in a wealthy community, wanted to know why “what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from [their] neighborhood” and what she could do about it; Prudence basically told her to suck it up and stop being such a miser.
While “Halloween for the 99 Percent’s” city of residence is not revealed, and Prudie speculated that it might be “the impoverished side of Greenwich or Beverly Hills,” one community sprang to mind immediately: Palo Alto, and possibly even more tony Atherton. Atherton has become famous for its ridiculous police blotter, but both cities, located in the heart of Silicon Valley, are also known for something else: Their extremely high cost of living.
The San Francisco Bay Area in general is now officially more expensive than New York and its environs. Palo Alto is the most expensive city in America, and it doesn’t escape notice that residents of Palo Also have been known to complain about the hoi polloi of East Palo Alto, aka the wrong side of the CalTrain tracks, aka, the poor people, though even that community is starting to gentrify. While it can’t be categorically proved that “Halloween” lives in Palo Alto, it’s not out of the question, and it would certainly make sense; the meme of low-income children hopping into a van to trick-or-treat in more tony neighborhoods is certainly a documented phenomenon now.
Amelia McDonnell-Perry at The Frisky may have summed up the problems with “Halloween” rather perfectly with her commentary: “That this person is bothered by the presence of poor children on any day, let alone a holiday where they dress up as mermaids and superheroes and ghouls, in their wealthy neighborhood is grotesque. That he or she thought to write in to an advice columnist about this problem makes them even more putrid.”
She also noted that the letter writer was clearly a “terrible human,” something Prudie certainly stressed in her response to the letter of complaint about whether “Halloween” was really required to provide candy to all who knocked on her door: “Your whine makes me kind of wish that people from the actual poor side of town come this year not with scary costumes but with real pitchforks. Stop being callous and miserly and go to Costco, you cheapskate, and get enough candy to fill the bags of the kids who come one day a year to marvel at how the 1 percent live.”
Tell us how you really feel, Prudie. It’s lively commentary for the advice columnist, who has been known to spark controversies in the past, but certainly isn’t afraid to speak her mind, even though her readers might not always agree with it. Apparently, Prudence feels as passionately about income inequality as many others in the 99 percent, and this letter provided the perfect opportunity to talk about it.
While people write agony aunts for a number of purposes, actually asking for advice usually isn’t the primary reason. More commonly, people are looking for affirmation. They want an advice columnist to settle an argument in their favor, for example, or to support a bigoted view on a social issue. In this case, “Halloween” wasn’t looking for advice; the letter writer really just wanted a platform to complain about having to provide a little extra candy every year. She wanted Prudence to back her up, confirming that she was, in fact, justified in her attitudes about Halloween. What she got was a sharp reality check.
Jenna Mullins at E! Online noted how pleasurable shutdowns like this are for readers of advice columns, touching upon the reasons why we read advice columns. We’re seeking affirmation, but we’re also looking for that schadenfreude experience of seeing someone else get hauled over an advice columnist’s lap and thoroughly spanked. “Confession: There is little that makes us happier than when kindly advice columnists go off on terrible human beings. It gives us life,” she wrote.
Mullins gave a delightfully eyerolling summation of the situation:
You poor thing! Kids are coming to your house to get candy? On Halloween?! The nerve of them. To think that you have to buy a couple more bags of candy to keep in your giant house just in case more riff raff come around. That must be complete hell on earth and we don’t know how you manage to survive.
Meanwhile, Kim Z. Dale at Chicago Now spoke to what it’s actually like to live in a community where low-income trick-or-treaters come around because their communities aren’t safe, or the Halloween haul may be diminished because many people can’t afford very much candy for young visitors:
Ours is not one of the wealthier neighborhoods in the country, but we are certainly better off than others. I am happy to be able to bring a little joy to everyone who wants to come trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. (Okay, I do begrudge teenagers who come to the house multiple times and aren’t even wearing costumes, but everyone other than them.) It’s fun. If you don’t agree, then boo humbug to you.
Zak Cheney-Rice at Mic may have nailed the situation by bringing up the money-empathy gap in his response to the letter (which, he argues, may be evidence of this year’s worst person ever, or a brilliant troll, thanks to how over-the-top it feels). Money makes people oddly stingy, with low-income people actually prone to donating a higher percentage of their income to charity than high-income and middle class people, and wealthy people seem especially uneasy around ruffians like the hordes clearly terrorizing poor “Halloween.” Some theorize that the tendency for low-income people to give more stems from their firsthand experience with need, something that “Halloween” has perhaps not experienced.
By and large, the Internet seems both delighted by and supportive of Prudence’s answer:
Terrible person complains that poor people come to their rich neighbourhood to trick-or-treat: https://t.co/h8Eu8c7eKq
— Dana (@ywgdana) October 24, 2014
Best. Answer: “Dear Prudence: On Halloween, poor kids come to trick-or-treat in my neighborhood.” https://t.co/RcBPYkig2A
— tcita (@tcita) October 24, 2014
Halloween as class warfare: Dear Prudence column sets rich against poor trick-or-treaters https://t.co/I64fp1SahS – #ows
— The #OWS Times (@OWSTimes) October 24, 2014
Seriously? “Dear Prudence, kids from poor neighborhoods trick-or-treat in mine. Do I have to give them candy?” https://t.co/qwugjDZGP2
— Javaun Moradi (@javaun) October 24, 2014
Clearly, if there’s one thing the Internet can unite on in a time of social turbulence, it’s that we should be nice to children on Halloween, no matter which neighborhoods they come from. Whether “Halloween” lives in Atherton, Greenwich, or Beverly Hills, I hope she remembers to hit Costco—or whatever the rich people equivalent is—for some candy bars.
Photo via Daniel Lewis/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)