Every October, my wife and I throw a theme party at our home known as “Halloween Horror Movie Fest.” On that night, we drop our children off with their grandparents for a sleepover, and then we play hosts to a large group of our adult friends. The socializing goes on upstairs, and loud, scary movies play on a wide-screen projector in our basement. Guests can pick their poison.
The first screening of the night always comes in the form of an unintentionally funny, cornball film from a few decades ago. Last year’s selection was Squirm, a 1976 low-budget flick about a small Georgia town that becomes overrun with lightning-enraged, flesh-eating worms. Previous years’ picks have included Bats (starring the often intense Lou Diamond Phillips), and Shakma, the story of a drug-enraged baboon that wreaks havoc on a building full of medical students (gallantly led by 1980s heartthrob Christopher Adkins).
As you can imagine, the conversations carried on by guests during the early movie tends to sound something like that of the peanut gallery from Mystery Science Theater 3000.
We try to end the night with a well-done, legitimately frightening film — one that commands less cross-talk and some genuine tension. If we get five or six good jumps or ear-piercing screams out of the screening, we know we’ve succeeded.
Perhaps it’s my early preparation for this year’s party, or just the ghoulish nature of the 2016 election cycle in general, but as I listen to political spokespeople talk about America’s options for the next president, a specific question keeps popping into my head: Who would you rather babysit your child, a vampire or a werewolf?
Sure, it’s a silly image, but the metaphor strikes me as sound. We’re being told time after time that we have a “binary choice” to make between two absolutely horrid applicants, who are vying for a position that neither could reasonably be trusted in.
Not all Americans see this situation as nuanced, of course, but a strong majority do. This column is for them.
The child, in this case, is our country — the United States of America. We love it, we’re fiercely protective of it, and we want it to be healthy and strong. We hope for its success, therefore we don’t like the idea of handing its guardianship over to a dangerous, unfit individual — if even on a temporary basis.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are, of course, those dastardly, iconic creatures of the night. Society is familiar with them (and has been for quite some time). These two have, in different ways, ingrained themselves in our culture. We understand their strengths, weaknesses, instincts, and motivations. Obviously, they aren’t products of mythology or folklore (I’m about 90% sure of that anyway), despite the aura of fiction that continually surrounds them. Still, their brands do command a certain fascination from the public that is infused with a sense of entertainment.
Interestingly, most surrogates (both official and unofficial) for Team Vampire and Team Werewolf seem fully aware that they’re representing figurative monsters. The realize that they’re faced with the brutal, unenviable task of explaining why their monster is better equipped for the job than the other. Needless to say, it’s a tough sell. A sensible parent, after all, just doesn’t relish the idea of entrusting their child to an individual who is more likely than not to actually devour that child before the night is over.
Still, the surrogates have a job to do…and they’ve become pretty creative in how they go about it.
Team Werewolf likes to throw out the terms loudly and clearly: “Either a vampire or a werewolf is going to babysit your child. Which is it?”
When they receive the understandable response of “neither” from the parent, they immediately point a finger in the parent’s face and shout, “That you means you want the vampire to babysit your child!”
This retort naturally has little effect on someone who envisions a dreadful fate for their child either way.
Next, the surrogates go with the “wolf pack” argument — the notion that because the parent shares some common interest or affiliation with the werewolf (maybe they’re both dog people), it would be a betrayal not to choose him.
Again, that kind of guilt trip isn’t particularly compelling, especially being that the werewolf became the leader of his pack by chasing several members out of it, and humiliating many of those who stuck around.
The case from Team Vampire is a bit different. Their claim is that their boss is the only acceptable choice, because the werewolf has clear temperament issues. They point out that their canine competitor howls at the moon, foams at the mouth, and bites any man or beast that merely looks at him wrong (all of which are true).
What Team Vampire adamantly rejects, however, is the notion that their own leader’s behavior is in any way troublesome, concerning, or simply unusual.
“Sure, she has that whole villainous, thirst-for-blood thing going on,” you’re likely to hear one of them say, “but that’s going to be the case with any babysitter.”
Another might ask, “Why is it important for a babysitter to be awake, and above ground during the daytime? Few are, you know.”
The problem, of course, is that these statements are patently absurd. A vampire is not a normal person. A vampire’s well-documented nature is to suck the life out of living things. That’s simply an unacceptable trait for a babysitter. And remarkably, the parents who point that out are laughed off by both the vampire and its surrogates, and made to feel as if they are the mistaken ones.
Both teams work hard, each and every day, to try and explain why one monster is less scary than the other. What they haven’t been able to do is convince people that either one of them is something other than a monster.
That’s the insurmountable problem. That’s the no-win situation. Neither a vampire nor a werewolf can be entrusted to babysit a child.
I expect a lot of “parents” to resist the ultimatum, come November, and decide that it simply doesn’t matter which individual gets the job. They’ll either abstain from the selection process, or throw out the name of some contender who isn’t really in contention. They’ll do this because they’ll believe that if their child is as good as gone either way, they might as well maintain a bit of dignity by not conforming or contributing to the effort.
Could you blame them?
A thought for 2020: Let’s resist the urge to nominate a monster, no matter how fascinating we may find them.