The Monsters Are Due on Beacon Street

If these two men are actually convicted of anything (aside from, say, littering, perhaps), it will undoubtedly set an extremely troubling precedent: Two men will be convicted based on how other people behaved in reaction to the equivalent of a Lite Brite – a child’s toy – placed in public, of charges that were created solely by an overblown reaction to their actions and not by the actions of the two men themselves.

Based on this precedent, you could face serious legal punishment for accidentally leaving a cardboard box in a public place and inadvertently stirring people into a panic. Based on this precedent, you could face jail time if you flip someone off for cutting you off in traffic, and that other person then becomes so enraged and distracted that he smashes his car into an old lady. Based on this precedent, you could be convicted of manslaughter if you post a scary-looking advertisement that frightens a child and that child runs away into traffic and is killed. Based on this precedent, it won’t matter so much what your actions are, but whether other people react to them in overblown and inappropriate ways.

Let’s play a game: How many myriad other things can we name that have a circuit board and wires? A GameBoy? A computer monitor? A laptop? An iPod? A stereo? A car? Further, what kind of moron terrorist is going to put large glowing lights on a bomb and leave it in a very easily-accessible public space for over two weeks before detonating it? Either they’re masters of hiding in plain sight, or they’re spectacularly inept at terrorism.

In a Twilight Zone episode titled “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”, all it takes are a few flashing lights and playing with some circuit boards with wires in them to get everyone on the block to turn against each other on account of nothing more than their own overblown paranoia. Should Boston Police have arrested Les Goodman when his car didn’t start, inciting fear and suspicion in the others? Should Steve have been convicted of hoax-related charges for building a radio (with, of course, a circuit board and wires), the existence of which increases some of his neighbors’ fears to the point where one of them eventually shoots an innocent man? Should Tommy be put in prison for telling the others about a comic book in which there are alien invaders who look like humans, thus initiating everyone’s suspiciousness and paranoia?

Like the residents of Maple Street, we’ve become so terrified of each other that all it takes is something as simple as a magnetic Lite Brite knockoff to throw everyone into a panic. We pursue our collective fears, jumping – diving – as rapidly as we can to their most dreadful conclusions, eager to put whatever face on it and gain whatever control we can over it to dominate it into a place where it doesn’t scare us anymore. It really doesn’t take much to be a terrorist nowadays, it seems. All Al Qaeda would need to do is build a few copies of Master Shake out of Legos and place them somewhere public and we’ll all destroy each other with our fear and our witch hunts.

Perhaps instead of cutting the limbs from the trees whenever they cast scary shadows through the bedroom window, we ought to consider trying to overcome our fear of the dark.

I believe the most appropriate way to end this piece would be with the very fitting words of Err, one of the characters depicted on the signs in question: “Say goodbye, cavemen! Go beat rocks together, you sissies!”

2 thoughts on “The Monsters Are Due on Beacon Street”

  1. I completely agree. You can stuff a “bomb” into just about anything these days – or encrust it with plenty of decorative lights and other electronics. We’ll be doing nothing but crying wolf unless our culture of suspicion and media-inspired paranoia gives way to something more intelligent.

  2. True, but by any reasonable yardstick since September 2001 (which was an easy target considering the lax aircraft security) the American and European branches of AL Qaeda have conformed to the second theory.

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