“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.

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