What I’m about to tell you sounds like the kind of thing made by an AI story generator designed to spit out the final segments of the local 11 o’clock news, but here goes: A few weeks ago, firefighters in Glens Falls, New York, got called to the scene of a burning home. Except it wasn’t burning, it was a very elaborate Halloween display made with some LED lights, fabric, a fog machine, and a fan. An NPR Morning Edition report called it a “fire.”
Chances are, though, you didn’t hear about this first on NPR. It, erm, blew up on TikTok. Or, rather, videos of fake-house-fire Halloween decorations are all over the platform, which currently has about 140 million views on videos that fit the description of “house on fire Halloween decoration.” It’s absurd.
Not to be a total bummer—it’s me, hi, I’m a killjoy, it’s me—but the level of Halloween decorations going viral on TikTok is out of control. In addition to (not) burning homes, there are jack-o’-lanterns impersonating Michael Scott (Steve Carell’s version) from The Office, silhouettes of horror movie icons, and whatever this dot matrix rave is. They all have thousands, if not millions, of views, and creators who are getting even more likes by posting tutorials on how they made their decoration bonanzas.
Not that 2023 is the first year this has happened. Back in 2017 police in Tennessee had to put out a Facebook APB asking residents not to call 911 over what looked like a dead body trapped under a resident’s door. A Pirates of the Caribbean-themed display got the fire department sent to a home in Los Angeles in 2020. Last year, a yard scene featuring many fake dismembered body parts brought TikTok fame and infamy to a Texas man.
Recently, though, there’s been a shift. Rather than someone spotting a cool display and putting it on social media, Halloween decorations are made with the intention of being put on social media. When they’re mass-produced for the purposes of getting clout, they lose authenticity. They lose the reason things are supposed to go viral in the first place. They’re hype for hype’s sake.