The Monsters Among Us
Uncle Ted’s Ghoul School was a campy television program that aired every Friday night at 11:30 PM on a local channel in the community where I grew up. The show was a mix of cringe-worthy comedy skits and third-rate magic tricks performed by the host during the intermissions of each week’s low-budget horror flick. The lineup never included classics, such as Dracula or Night of the Living Dead. Uncle Ted was more of a Cannibal Girls From Planet X and Revenge of the Atomic Ants kind of guy.
It didn’t really matter, though. At least not to me. I couldn’t get through 20 minutes of whatever film was featured before turning it off and going to bed. My real life at the time was scary enough. I didn’t need a horror movie to make things worse.
Like most people, I have had my run-ins with monsters in different forms. Bullies. Teachers. Coaches. Clients. Girlfriends (well, one in particular). I never had a monster boss or a monster employee, but as a consultant, I talked to others who have. Nearly all of those creatures were shapeshifters who could transform themselves from something recognizable and good to something grotesque and evil when the moon was full or the conditions were ripe. They could be one thing in public and something entirely different when no one was watching. Hiding their real self was more than a gift, it was their superpower.
Those were the monsters I knew and experienced. But I’ve noticed a change over the past few years. Monsters no longer seem to worry about masking their identity. Today, most seem to live out in the open for everyone to see. Cable news outlets and social media platforms are two of their favorite hangouts, but no place is safe from them anymore. They occupy board rooms and movie studios, tech companies and philanthropic organizations, City Halls and halls of Congress. They are in big metropolitan areas and small Norman Rockwell towns, living in public spaces and in private homes, doing all those terrible things that monsters do.
What’s more frightening than the monsters themselves is the indifference (and sometimes, attraction) we have to them. In nature, organisms make a binary choice when confronted by creatures that can do them harm. They either put up a fight or flee to the nearest exit. Humans have adopted a third way: join them and become a monster, too.
If Hollywood were to make a modern-day Godzilla, it couldn’t portray people frantically running for their lives and screaming in fear as a Goliath deliberately trashes their communities and destroys everything in its path. Facebook and Amazon do that every day and almost no one even notices. An updated version of the story would have the soon-to-be victims sitting in a Starbucks sipping on a latte while checking out their FB, Instagram, or Twitter feeds or ordering the latest 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker on Amazon Prime as their world crumbles and burns behind them.
The same is true for the tales we tell of the undead. Fictional zombies dig themselves out of graves and break through solid walls as they relentlessly pursue their targets. But the real-life zombies of today don’t have to work nearly as hard to increase their numbers. They can add to their ranks by holding political rallies, conducting Tiki torch marches, and staging insurrections. Creating zombies just ain’t what it used to be.
Even the films about aliens who hover above Earth waiting to destroy our planet would be too far-fetched for anyone to take seriously these days. No one would ever believe that humans would unite and do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves, our children, and future generations from a cataclysmic event. A realistic rewrite would need half the population questioning whether the threat is even real and if the aliens actually exist.
Looking back, I wish I gave Uncle Ted’s Ghoul School more of my time and attention. Maybe I would have learned how to defeat some of the monsters that are wreaking havoc in this world, or at least know how to put up a better fight. I only saw the first half-hour of those movies when people were cowering in fear, hiding in closets, or trying to outrun the terror in their midst. I never made it to the parts when the heroes saved the day. I don’t know what they did. I don’t know how they won.