Back in the ’80s, my kid and I relished a Saturday afternoon TV show featuring creaky, creepy sci-fi horror movies. “Scientists and Monsters” we called it, based on the unfailing plot line: A dreadful inexplicable event (mucus suffocates town, vast foot crushes crowds, aliens assume bodies of regular people, etc.) is analyzed by a venerable male authority figure, clad in tweed or white. The scientist does not necessarily protect; instead, he explains. Occasionally his explanation gives resolute citizens the key to finishing off the monster, but not always.
Delicious stuff. So you can imagine my glee when, an hour into a three-hour video of a tiny Vermont town’s Select Board meeting, I realized I was being treated to a “Scientists and Monsters” experience. I quickly hit pause and made popcorn.
Grafton, Vermont: perfect setting for a horror flick, May 16, 2016. The “scientist” is attorney Richard Saudek, an experienced negotiator, speaking with quiet authority to a supposedly rattled town. The “monster?” Why, Iberdrola, of course, a harsh foreign mega-corporation of unimaginable power, menacing the town with gargantuan, noisy, flashing blades 50 stories in the air. The “scientist” reminds us: These might even catch fire! This monster doesn’t care about citizens! Montpelier’s flawed energy policy has opened our doors to the teeming onslaught of energy monsters, of which Iberdrola is but one! Importantly, it may not even be the worst! Eeeeeek!
The script requires the scientist to gravely exhort the terrified town and presumably its dull-witted and even worse-off neighbor, Windham, to “negotiate” with the monster. Why? The sage explains. If you don’t negotiate, the monster will – flip the package!
I hit pause. Flip the package? This is a bit of a letdown, plot-wise. The worst the monster has to offer is package-flipping? The “scientist” begins to seem suspect. Is he for the monster, or against? I wonder if perhaps life today is more complicated than in days of yore. Eat more popcorn, hit play. It eventuates that “flipping the package” means that if we don’t agree to a negotiated settlement with the monster, who, by the way is offering to pay a lawyer for us, the monster will hand us off to a brother (or sister) monster, who, we may assume, promises worse torments and won’t pay for our lawyer.
Now back in the day, scientists were not only righteous, but also right, which was helpful for a besieged and simple populace. Today, we doubt: Why is this scientist so sure about the monster’s future behavior? The monster didn’t flip the package in New Hampshire’s Wild Meadows wind turbine fiasco. In fact, irate citizens chased the monster away. Plus, our scientist contradicts himself: He tells us that the climate in Vermont has turned decidedly against wind monsters, that Windham and Grafton are a laughable site due to the proximity of turbines to so many people; that the Public Service Board, arbiter of our fate, has become more community-friendly due to the civilizing influence of female members; that the state agencies are no friends of the current administration and its “turbines for every ridgeline” mentality. That we can just say no to the monster if we want it to go away.
Drat. Admit it, I say to myself, the days of irreproachable scientist aiding spooked townsfolk are over. Our scientist, perhaps unwittingly, has only delivered dreary, nonsensical monster threats, amounting to simple blackmail: If you don’t negotiate a deal and let us put turbines in your town, we’ll sell you to somebody worse.
Still, we mustn’t despair. Our monster will be around for awhile, and perhaps future entertainments will be more stimulating.
Nancy Tips is a resident of Windham.