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Dracula Isn’t Real. And the Boogeyman Doesn’t Exist.

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear. Even when Halloween was months away, scary stuff was everywhere. And as the spooky holiday quickly approaches, it’s only getting worse. Of course, I’m talking about the nonstop tv and digital political ads portraying candidates as ghouls and evil villains who only want to do us harm.

I’m tired of it.

Tired of the scare tactics. Tired of being told over and over again what I should fear, with a lot of it based on outright lies. But mostly, I’m so very tired of the attempted manipulation of my emotions. That’s why I don’t like horror movies. I’ve never understood why it’s fun or feels good to sit in a dark room and watch Dracula or the Boogeymen doing horrible things on a big screen, and worse, doing them in a way that’s meant to shock me, take me by surprise and scare the snot out of me. It always felt manipulative, as if the director were saying, “If I have the actors do this, and then I have them do that, I’ll make the viewers pee their pants.”

I don’t want to pee my pants. It’s embarrassing. I also don’t enjoy the feeling of looking over my shoulder, of waiting for the next shoe to drop. There are plenty of very real things—climate change, gerrymandering, another insurrection, the end of democracy as we know it, and of course, clowns/Ted Cruz—to be afraid of. I don’t need to pile on, or worse, to have people I don’t even know trying to scare the crap/snot/pee out of me with utter nonsense.

Back to those ads. We all know that they work to get people to think or vote a certain way, or campaigns wouldn’t spend all that money on them. Ever wonder why they work? Science provides a clue, as it so often does. According to brain research, the amygdala, or what some call the “fear center” of our brains, is responsible for regulating our emotions and evaluating threats. Interestingly, the amygdala is larger, and potentially more active, in conservatives than it is in liberals. That’s why we see so many ads about crime and safety directed at conservatives. An article in Scientific American (hardly a political magazine) describes how brain research has long shown that “conservatives desire security, predictability and authority more than liberals do, and liberals are more comfortable with novelty, nuance and complexity.”

So are we doomed to be controlled by political fear mongers who are simply trying to manipulate us through our established neural wiring? According to the article, no. “The more strongly we identify with a party, the more likely we are to double down on our support for it. That tendency is exacerbated by rampant political misinformation and, too often, identity wins out over accuracy. (But) If we understand what is at work cognitively, we might be able to intervene and try to ease some of the negative effects of partisanship.”

In other words, know thy brain. And, get the facts.

When I see a scary political ad, I try not to let it hijack my emotions. Instead, I pull out my phone and research the facts of the ad, using several different sources. It takes a minute or two (about the same amount of time as watching the commercial). I get the information I need to either reject or embrace the ad, and I know more about the candidate. Even better, I feel as if I’m in control and no longer being manipulated into believing somebody else’s bullshit.

It’s never been easier to conduct our own research, to get the information we need to make informed political decisions—not through ads but by simply typing in the name of the candidate to check out various credible and nonpartisan sources of factual information on that candidate. Find out their past votes on issues, the current policies they support, or the opinions they’ve written or spoken about. Check out candidates on YouTube, or any other credible source that allows you to actually watch and hear what the candidate him or herself has said on an issue you care about—and not just a ten-second soundbite. Videos help illustrate one of Maya Angelou’s best and most famous quotes: ““When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Lecture alert: The following judgmental sentence comes with finger-waving, followed by a preachy opinion: 

If you spend six hours putting together your fantasy football team or shopping online for shoes, you can spend an hour doing research on the people who may control your future. All of our futures.

How about you? Are you going to let them continue to manipulate you through fear and lies? Or are you going to make up your own damn mind, regardless of the size of your amygdala?

Let’s save the shivers for Halloween.

Photograph by Karolina Grabowska at


  1. Well said Jill! Research first, then make your own decision.

  2. Great article!

  3. If a Zombie (let’s say, for instance, a hard core MAGA) were to start eating “liberal” brains, would that have any effect on their neural wiring? Granted, they will still want to consume brains, but if you are what you eat? Food for Thought?

    • You ask some good questions Mark. I’ll add another: Everyone knows that zombies can’t vote (the whole “dead” thing). And yet, why are other, clearly brain-dead zombies allowed to run for and hold office? Trump, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, Ron Johnson, and of course, Ted Cruz, are only a few recent examples. And they seem to be multiplying, as zombies do. I hope the upcoming election helps us rid ourselves of these miscreants and threats to democracy. Fingers crossed.

  4. So true Jill. I just watched interviews with non-voters who said they weren’t going to vote because they didn’t know anything about the candidates and the issues and were too busy to find out. Yet they all had cell phones where they could do the research easily. With all the technology at our fingertips, research has never been easier!

    • I have zero empathy for the folks who don’t vote when their only obstacle to do so is their own ignorance or apathy. There’s too much on the line to sit on the sidelines. Thanks, Lisa.

  5. A lot of fear in Facebook, not to mention rampant mis-information, with no basis in factual evidence from research and designed to ignite your emotions. I hope my solution is not a cop out but I’ve started to delete my offensive “friends”. Feels good.

    • Here’s to feeling good Mike! I think your solution makes sense. Because, in the end, are they really your friends if they’re spreading their nastiness all over Facebook? Nope. Hit delete!

  6. Scientists American rocks!
    So from you~
    THANKS, Jill-

    • Thank you, Christy, for reading and commenting!

  7. You nailed it! I have gone to watching things on the DVR so I can go past the ads. This is disgusting, especially knowing that there are so many who believe.

    • Love the DVR–such a handy tool, especially these days. I fast forward when I can. Or, change the channel. Thanks for commenting!

  8. Clever and on the mark!

  9. Good way to put this all into perspective. Spend as much time as one would on the sports page or reading movie reviews to find out what in TARNATION is really going on! Like you said- it’s already out there!

    • I’ve heard it said that this generation has never had more available information and been less informed. Not sure what to do to change that. I can’t stand the feeling of “not knowing” or being uninformed, and I know you feel the same way, since you’ve long been the friend I turn to when I need help figuring things out. Maybe you should run global communications for the entire world?

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