“We don’t know that, sir.”

There’s a great movie from the 80s (maybe not Goonies great, but still up there) called Monster Squad. On the surface it seems like a typical monster movie; when danger threatens, the adults don’t believe in the threat, so the kids take it on themselves to deal with it, and only when they’ve done so, do the adults realize that it had been real.*

Although it’s full of great lines, the one most often quoted around our house is at the beginning of the movie, when the principal is trying to convince the boys that the energy they put into their monster club would be better put into school work, because “Monsters aren’t real.” Sean responds, calmly and politely; “We don’t know that, sir.” Admittedly, since they are in grade school, they still are discussing questions about whether “Fat Kid farted!” or “Wolfman’s got nards”, but even so, they bright enough to be aware that, while they have the slight advantage of accepting the reality of monsters, and knowing about them from old movies, they are not really equipped to deal with a problem of this size.

They want, and seek, the help of their parents, the police, the army; they even enlist the aid of the local “Scary German Guy”, (another example of them being open minded about what is a real threat and what isn’t), who at the end of that scene admits that he “supposes he does know a great deal about monsters” (the camera zooms to a close-up of his tattoo from a Nazi concentration camp). Much of the brilliance of the movie is that while allowing that monsters are real, it includes (as contrast?) what really scares kids: being mocked and excluded, parents fighting, living in a world where they have little control over their lives, in a world where adults are fallible, and assurances of being safe are false. The three year old may point to the TV news anchor and declare him “boring guy, boring guy, boring guy”, but the adults are equally dismissive of the things they don’t want to deal with, whether it’s marital issues, or whether witness testimony doesn’t make sense to them. It it shows that with all their weaknesses, when the kids accept the reality of the danger, they are able to deal with it better than the adults, who are still trying to process it while ‘reality’ is warping around them.

The kids may not be able to read Van Helsing’s diary (I love that it’s written in German not automatically in English for no discernible reason), but they quickly recognize that Frankenstein’s “monster” is not a threat. The assumptions they make about monsters are confirmed in practice (You can’t kill a werewolf by “accident with power tools, while falling out of a window, onto a bomb”, it must be silver bullets.). This gives them the advantage of knowing rules the adults don’t. Thus the movie monsters are far less frightening than the real world. “Fat Kid” can kill the Creature with a shotgun, but he can’t get the nasty kids at school to stop bullying him.

The point is that we cannot deal with bullying, marital problems, bigotry, or anti-Semitism,  until we acknowledge that the problem is real and worth solving. If we don’t we, like Del, will be still trying to process the change in reality, while the bad guy kills us.

There is a lot in this world we don’t understand. Sadly, many people throw everything they can dismiss into a ‘catch-all’ category of dismissability: psychic phenomena, UFOs, cryptids, magick…. We find some excuse to explain it away: shysters and frauds are posing as psychics, or making crop circles, or photo-shopping images.  Some examples may strike us as “tin foil hat” level craziness, pushing us to dismiss anyone who believes in any of it as “crystal sucking dolphin channelers”, otherwise we will join the ranks of the deluded. At the same time, people seem willing to include ANY conspiracy theory, new developments in medicine (usually at least 20 years behind what the AMA will accept), and just about anything that doesn’t fit into their own world view into the category of “unprovable”. Let’s face it, changing your world view can be hard and painful. (Also, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.)

I figure our best defense against blinding ourselves to what’s possible is to keep an open mind. When someone tries to present the world view that makes them comfortable as established fact, and insists that something you believe you’ve seen evidence for is not real, respond: “We don’t know that, sir.”



*My daughter says they intended it to be a cross between Abbot and Costello Meet the (monster) and Little Rascals.

Fate worse than Death

I’m not sure I’ve been hearing the term “Fate Worse than Death” recently. It was big during the Victorian period, referencing (for anyone who hadn’t encountered it before this) rape.

Given that in those days a woman raped was a woman shamed, who would probably never be accepted in “polite society” again, it did pretty much end her life as a member of the community, whether or not she was injured, impregnated, or got a disease from her rapist. Then, as now, the attitude expressed by the patriarchal society was “she wanted it” (must have). It seems odd that the men who are accused of rape don’t seem to have “wanted” the consequences of their activities becoming known, even though they instigated the activity, and generally got off without punishment (and sometimes with approval of some of their peers).

The attitude was so overwhelmingly male-dominated that (according to some scholars) Freud’s entire Oedipus Theory was based on the large numbers of women who reported that they had been raped by fathers, uncles and other family members; since this seemed “impossible” to Freud, he assumed that these reports were all fantasies, interpreted them as such, and built his theory based on this premise. Obviously, if the rapes could not have happened, the women dreamed that they did because they craved them, whether because they were masochistic, or because it was a twisted form of love. This foolishness dominated psychology for far too long, probably because the patriarchal foundation of it continues to flourish.

Recently Alabama legislated involuntary chemical castration for child molesters. While the chemicals do reduce recidivism in those who have requested it in the past, I am not sure whether it will have the same result with non-volunteers. I am pretty sure that the legislators are simply thinking that the “Threat of Castration” will reduce the occurrence of the crime, without looking at the science. “Make them afraid to” seems to be their answer to all social problems. I’m sure they’re terrified of the idea of not being able to “get it up”, but I feel they’d do better to reform the legal system to make it more fair for accused and their victims. At what point will the race and money of those involved no longer be deciding factors in the verdict?

Moreover, I feel we totally ignore the long term psychological effects of rape, much as we do most psychological Trauma. Clearly we do not care to provide medical support to rape victims, much less psychological support. Simply having a female officer take a statement, or sending a social worker to fill out some forms, does little to help the victim- not when rape kits languish untested in evidence lockers, and most women are too intimidated to come forward.  Our culture doesn’t totally ostracize victims of rape; we don’t behead them, as some say is done in Muslim countries. But we sure don’t support them. We don’t even seem to acknowledge the issues that go on for the rest of the victim’s life.

If the trust and faith in safety we have for our homes is lost (and it often is) when a house or apartment is broken into, it’s hardly surprising that having been raped, a woman is nervous around all men. Chances are good she was raped by someone she trusted, not a creepy stranger, so it’s the people she used to trust who are now sources of fear. Those who say “not all men” may feel offended that they are included in the group of potential attackers, but the rapist has proven to the victim that seeming and claiming to be a good guy is no proof against attack.

This is only made worse when rather than having the entire population rise up in indignation to sympathize and censure her attacker, a significant portion instead question her role, and defends him; she has lost any sense support within her community, of safe haven. I think it’s worse because the law, which should protect victims, seems far more focused on the “innocent until proven guilty” concept than that we should be trying to prevent repeat offenses. Yes, a false rape accusation would harm someone’s reputation; however, shall we follow the statistical probabilities rather than allowing the system to give greater benefit of the doubt to men and those they see as like themselves (especially if they know them)? A fair system can only benefit everyone involved. Reinforcing the trauma does our society no benefit.

I hope that there are enough rape support groups out there to help those who need it today, although I fear there are not. But as a first step, we should remember that like any trauma, the effects will continue for years, if not a whole lifetime, and stop suggesting that the victims just “get over it”. By not supporting victims we may be turning rape from a simple trauma to a “fate worse than death”.