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Archive for August 7th, 2014

The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs, and explosions, and fallout.  There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men.  For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy; and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own for the children, and the children yet unborn.  And the pity of it is, that these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.  –  Rod Serling

The Monsters are Due on Maple StreetIn the classic Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”, the residents of an ordinary suburban neighborhood – people who have lived alongside one another for years – quickly turn paranoid and hostile when weird phenomena convince them that they are witnessing the beginning of an invasion from outer space.  Every nonconformity, every idiosyncrasy, every unexplained incident, every behavior or characteristic even slightly outside the local norm, serves as the basis for accusations that certain individuals are either alien collaborators or even aliens in disguise; naturally, witch-hunting and violence soon ensue.  And though the pace of the hysteria’s development is obviously exaggerated so the drama can fit into a 26-minute television episode, the basic psychology is correct:  in a moral panic, humans will inevitably try to cast some of their own as members of the “enemy” (witches, communists, Satanists or whatever) and to lynch those so selected, with or without the formality of a kangaroo court to declare the victims members of the (largely or wholly) imaginary bogeyman hordes.

We are unfortunate enough to be living in a real-life version of “The Monsters Are Due”, but instead of aliens, the panicmongers claim we’re being invaded by “sex traffickers”; instead of the action unfolding over one night in a small neighborhood, it has unfolded over ten years on a rather provincial little planet.  And while there really are aliens about in the Twilight Zone, the villains on our real-life Maple Street are the self-proclaimed leaders and invasion “experts”.  One thing is the same in both stories, however:  once the panic reaches a high enough pitch, the hysterics start pointing fingers at each other for the flimsiest of reasons.  Submitted for your approval one Troy Martinez, who inhabits a twilight zone called Las Vegas:

A Las Vegas pastor’s idea to report to police suspicious businesses who decline to display a human trafficking hotline poster is being met with skepticism by business and civil liberties leaders.  The new human trafficking awareness effort is being suggested by Pastor Troy Martinez, of the East Vegas Christian Center as part of his involvement with…Mayor Carolyn Goodman’s Faith Initiative…on…human trafficking.  Martinez presented a hypothetical scenario of his plan, which is in its infancy, at a meeting Thursday.  Picture this:  A few…volunteers go to a…bar and ask the owner to put up a poster with the national human trafficking hotline.  The owner agrees and a volunteer notes it on a form before moving to another business, a nail salon, perhaps.  The salon owner doesn’t want to hang the poster, and someone makes note of it on a form.  Maybe volunteers observe a lot of single men hanging around the establishment and decide that is suspicious, so someone writes that down, too.  Then, those notes might get passed on to law enforcement.

j'accuse Maple StreetThe scenario drew suggestions from those attending…[a] working group meeting that the bar seemed forthright, but the nail salon was a different story.  “Well they’ve got something to hide.  They don’t want the poster.  They don’t want to cooperate,” one member said.  The idea of citizens informing on local businesses who rejected displaying a poster bewildered Tod Story, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada…[who] said it sounded like the [US government’s] “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign on steroids…Martinez’s idea is modeled after a Los Angeles law that requires establishments — including adult or sexually oriented businesses, massage or bodywork services, emergency rooms and bars — to post the national human trafficking hotline…volunteers filled out a questionnaire noting if the owner was in compliance, aware of the law and if the owner agreed to hang the poster.  According to Martinez, the community began to identify which businesses were legitimate and which businesses were being used as fronts for human trafficking or sex trafficking…Martinez [claimed] that…“a lot of people…were rescued because of the reporting system”…Martinez’s conclusions, however, don’t match what actually has happened in Los Angeles, according to a leader of the grassroots campaign…who…said while the potential is there for volunteers to stumble on a human trafficking front and report it, that has yet to happen.  Also, no one has been rescued as a result of the poster outreach survey…

Case in point one moral panic, a phenomenon in which people voluntarily relinquish their reason, their knowledge, and their consciences in pursuit of ghosts and shadows, and in doing so plunge themselves, their neighbors and those they believe they have cause to fear into a nightmarish, yet very real Twilight Zone.

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