The Monsters

Sena and I got our annual flu shots last week, and I also got a pneumonia vaccine. We’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 since earlier in the year. Now we’re waiting for the word on whether we’ll need COVID-19 vaccine boosters. We’ll probably know more about that by the end of the week after the FDA Advisory Committee meeting on the matter.

We’re part of the vaccinated, which is increasingly distinguished from the unvaccinated in various ways. The controversy about the unvaccinated almost amounts to them being discriminated against, according to some news headlines. The COVID-19 pandemic is now being called a pandemic of the unvaccinated, although some are able to resist the trend by seeing through it and realize we’re all in this together.

It reminds me of an old Cold War era episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” which originally aired in 1960. The gist is that aliens seeking to conquer earthlings create paranoia and violent conflict amongst neighbors on a quiet cul-de-sac simply by manipulating the electrical power to cars and other devices. At first, the electrical malfunctions are only puzzling until a boy named Tommy tells everyone that the trouble is being perpetrated by aliens who are indistinguishable from humans, a notion he got from a comic book.

And after that, everyone on the street begins accusing each other of being malevolent aliens disguised as humans, often on the basis of interpreting benign behaviors like insomnia or tinkering with a ham radio as evidence for dangerous plots. One character even shoots his neighbor dead, believing he’s a dangerous alien.

There was a 2003 remake of this in which the government, instead of aliens, is doing the manipulating. No doubt both of these will be re-broadcast as part of Twilight Zone marathons next month as part of the usual October Halloween TV program lineup.

Sena thought of another Twilight Zone show, “The Shelter,” first broadcast in 1961, which also might fit the current pandemic context. A doctor builds a bomb shelter to protect just him and his family in case of a disaster. The unthinkable happens with UFOs being sighted and the friends and neighbors who threw a party for him all want to beg, bargain, or threaten their way into the doctor’s bomb shelter because they didn’t build their own. He refuses to allow them in. The neighbors turn on each other, showing the worst selfishness, hatred, and racism. They finally break into the doctor’s shelter with a battering ram (which, of course, negates the safety it might have provided)—only to find out in that moment that the UFOs were just satellites. They had become monsters and could not see how it happened.

Depending on what news media outlet you prefer to read, the vaccinated or the unvaccinated will be cast as bad guys or good guys. As the rhetoric heats up based on divisions between political parties, religious groups, scientists, races, and nations, the antipathy has fostered escalating tensions over whether vaccine and mask mandates should or should not prevail. The unvaccinated have their own battering ram—fake vaccination passports, which negate the safety assurance. The unvaccinated can’t get in to see their doctors in person, poison themselves with unproven medicines, or accuse the government of trying to poison them with vaccines. The wealthy vaccinated buy their booster shots at the expense of those who can’t afford them and before the medical experts can approve their safety and necessity. People are resorting to violence.

I always had a little trouble with the title of the Twilight Zone episode, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” The monsters are not just due—we have arrived. Why is it so hard for me to recall an episode showing exactly how to recover our humanity?

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