Once a bogeyman got rather winded. Who wouldn’t be left gasping, the bogeyman complained, given all the running around he had to do? And over such a wide area. Without years of endurance training, how could he be expected to cover even half the distances demanded of him lately? Who did people think he was, some comic book hero who could race from coast to coast and to the other side of the planet if need be? What an insult to be so little understood! The bogeyman had long since graduated from scaring the young and awing the immature to more weighty responsibilities in the adult world. And not to be boastful about it, but who else was called upon these days to appear at a moment’s notice as regularly as the bogeyman was? Why, the jingle on his cell phone rarely had a chance to play out to the end, the thing was going off so persistently. When the bogeyman answered, however, it might just be another government appointee insisting the only hope for maintaining national security was to set the public quaking once again, this time over the possibility they might pick up the phone to find a terrorist had dialed the wrong number. But where was the scare value in that, since people already knew their government was tirelessly tracking every call, so wouldn’t that keep them safe? Or it might be another oil lobbyist calling to warn there’d be riots at the pump if the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge wasn’t opened up for drilling pronto, pollution laws weren’t repealed, company tax breaks weren’t added to the Constitution, and so and so on. Or it might be another fundamentalist preacher exhorting the bogeyman to address his flock next Sunday on the perils of those other guys’ gods. Or it might just be a disturbed kid yelling “Wolf!” at the top of his lungs. Didn’t any of them realize you’ve got to maintain some sense of proportion if you hope to frighten people senseless on a daily basis? It was all in the touch, this art of suggestion that separated a master from such rank amateurs. The same thing held true for any number of crises making the headlines, didn’t it? All the way from WMD and/or nuclear weapons alarms to leak investigation alarms, fate-of-democracy alarms, economic boom and bust alarms, immigration alarms, educational failure alarms, disease and drug alarms, disaster preparedness alarms, disaster relief alarms, cultural values alarms, right-to-life/right-to-die alarms, “not in my backyard” alarms down to neighbor-on-neighbor alarms—if you wanted to have people really trembling at all hours of the day and night, you had to show a lot more finesse and sophistication. This calling up the bogeyman and expecting immediate results only worked if you were trying to intimidate a nation of twelve-year-olds. For grown-ups it wouldn’t do, surely. For them, you needed talking points and colored graphs and anonymous sources and closed-door briefings and serial photo-ops, speechifying, and high-decibel punditry at the very least. You needed, let’s face it, bogeymen who really knew what they were doing.
Copyright © 2006 by Geoffrey Grosshans