In the midst of recent ISIS hostage events, some American businesses are having to tread lightly. This week, Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia, made headlines when it chose to remove certain props from its annual Howl-O-Scream Halloween event. Following the horrific ISIS hostage beheadings, some customers reportedly complained about the insensitivity of Busch Gardens’ Halloween display, which included rubber severed heads, reminiscent of recent ISIS events. Video of the ABC News report can be viewed here.
Criticism reportedly came after several photos (right) were published in a local newspaper, resulting in a wave of backlash from some of the concerned public. These photos displayed some Howl-O-Scream scenes, severed rubber heads clearly evident.
On September 18th, Busch Gardens released a statement via their Facebook page regarding its decision to remove certain props from their Howl-O-Scream display. The company stood by its decision, stating, “The horrible tragedy and loss of life for journalists and an humanitarian aid worker in the Middle East is unspeakable and we would not want anything in our park to seem insensitive to that.” It continued to state that the removal of the props would not detract from the attraction experience.
This comes in the wake of another PR mistake, after 20th Century Fox received major criticism for its promotion of its TV Series Sleepy Hollow, urging consumers to celebrate “Headless Day” a few weeks earlier. The Sleepy Hollow PR Team quickly followed with an apology, providing their condolences for the affected families and apologizing for the poor timing, specifically with the insensitivity and promotion of #HEADLESSDAY.
In addition to its Facebook page, Busch Gardens released another statement as well, part of which read, “The props in this year’s event were designed and purchased several months ago. In light of recent events, some of these props have the unintended consequence of appearing insensitive and are being removed. Busch Gardens apologizes for any offense they may have caused.” This leads to the topic of ethical relativism.
Under normal circumstances, the gruesome rubber severed heads are a normal display for the annual Howl-O-Scream event. Should Busch Gardens have acted earlier and prevented the situation all-together? Would that have been following its duty of non-injury to its customers, or does not providing the typical Howl-O-Scream experience, a traditional, annual event, violate the company’s duty of fidelity?
Customers attend the event for a specific purpose, which includes the realms of terror and fear typically associated with Halloween. Does updating a display following IS events help protect customers, or ultimately take away from the experience they expect and pay for?