2010.11.24 Scarred for life by rats and bats

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

So, that’s why bats and rats give me the complete and utter creeps!

Through a mere newspaper article I have traced my irrational fear of bats and rats to unsupervised childhood TV watching.

Well, I was supervised—by my older sister Linda—but she carried a lot of weight when it came to what got watched when. And Linda was really hooked on “Dark Shadows,” the gothic soap opera that aired in the late 60s to early 70s.

I couldn’t stand to watch “Dark Shadows,” but with one TV, one tough sister, and “nothing else to do,” I saw more werewolves, ghosts, zombies, man-made monsters, witches, warlocks, vampires—and bats—than any child ought to.

And I barely even watched it. I hung out on the periphery of the room, ready to bolt when a bat flew out or Barnabas bared his teeth. Even now, just hearing the names “Barnabas” and “Quentin” makes me shiver.

I think my total lack of interest in Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” series has everything to do with the impact of Dark Shadows’ vampires on my psyche.

I just don’t like being scared. I jump out of my skin on a regular basis in daily life. Adding to it, self-imposed, through books and movies—it’s just way too much excitement for me. How much grayer can my hair get?

“Scared for life by movies: Primitive part of brain holds onto fear” is the story the Detroit Free Press ran just before Halloween. I think it’s more like scarred for life.

They cite a 1999 study by the universities of Michigan and Wisconsin that found one in four college students surveyed were haunted by something they’d seen on film or TV.

Two parts of the brain handle fear memories in different ways, the article says. “The conscious reasoning brain evaluates and remembers the fear and controls your thoughts about it,” and the amygdala is responsible for your physical reaction to those fears.

“Both levels of the brain are somewhat independent, which is why someone who is scared can try to think rationally about not being afraid while their body maintains a reaction to the fear,” says the article.

That explains why, even though I tell myself bats are wonderful creatures that help control the mosquito population, I run screaming out of the basement when I encounter one.

And the rats? Oy, that scene from “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” where crazy evil Bette Davis serves her crippled sister Joan Crawford dinner and it’s a rat in a covered dish? That just does me in.

We didn’t have a TV in the house for most of my kids growing-up years (Ben reminded me that he was 18 when we finally got one), but I emailed my kids and their spouses to see if they had a “media moment” that still sticks with them.

Maddie responded immediately:

“Beginning of “Urban Legend” at the gas station at night and then the guy chops her head off.”

She thinks she watched it in elementary school at a friend’s house, but probably left the room so she only saw that part.

Ben’s wife, Sarah, said, “When I was little we used to watch Unsolved Mysteries, and the ones about ghosts freaked me out.”

So now when she’s watching TV and sees commercials for paranormal activity or other ghost shows, she either changes the channel or covers her ears and closes her eyes. Wise move–I use that technique all the time for violent or scary parts of movies.

Rosie thinks she watched a scary movie in middle school at a sleep-over. “Someone who was killed was put on a shelf in a closet and fell out when they opened the door, so for awhile I hated opening that closet in my room and pulling the light cord.”

And, Ben, ever the sardonic Green, said  “how ironic that I can't help your column because you deprived me of watching TV.”

Scarred for life, but at least he’s not afraid of rats and bats.

  • Front.nok Hok
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    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

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