December 2, 2020

"The Babadook is coming, boyoh!": Notes from inside a real-life horror film

That morning I woke up with the sick feeling you have after waking up from a strange dream. The haze dissolves, and worse, that feeling you have when you wake up hoping that something was just a bad dream, but knowing it was not. When only sleep brought peace and you woke up living in the nightmare. 

Illustration by anonymous

I stayed up late. Not until the end, but to the point when it was clear that Trump would win. My sanity… What I thought was real was not. The barrier I thought existed between real life and a nightmare had been razed.  

It was raining, grey and cold. The temperature might not even have been that low, but it still felt cold…to your bones. 

I knew it was real. I had a bunch of texts from friends expressing the same dismay and disgust that I felt. My band mate Josh wrote it was time for punk rock and said “The Babadook is coming, boyoh,” referring to a video I made of myself on Halloween, dressed as the Babadook, performing a song protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

The Babadook is an Australian horror movie, in which a sinister figure, dressed in a dusty old jacket and top hat, terrorizes a woman and her young son. Spoiler alert…the sinister figure, Mister Babadook, is a metaphor for the mother’s struggle with mental illness. She gains control and learns to live with the Babadook. 

Disoriented, distracted, disheveled, attempting to go about my day in a dissimilar, frightening world, I dropped my phone. It landed as flatly as it possibly could have with a “PLLLAP!” that I understood to mean it was broken. Somehow the screen was not cracked. But the circuits were scrambled. The time was wrong. I could send texts, but the replies were sent to random points in the texts threads without notification. Except for one text, “The Babadook is coming, boyoh.” It kept showing up on my lockscreen as an unread message. If I opened it, closed my phone, again, “BZZT-BZZT-BZZT”…”The Babadook is coming, boyoh.” I deleted it. “BZZT-BZZT-BZZT… “The Babadook is coming, boyoh.”

What the hell? 

In the movie, the Babadook is a character in a creepy children’s book. The woman tries to get rid of the book, even tears it to shreds one night. The next morning, there it is on her kitchen table.

“You can’t get rid of the Babadook!” the book warns the mother and her son. 

“A rumbling sound then three sharp knocks…Ba-ba DOOK! DOOK! DOOK!”

“BZZT-BZZT-BZZT”

Look, I understand what happened. I dropped my phone, it broke and was doing weird things. Logic. Reality. Nevertheless, this was disconcerting. Sickening in a way. On an already sick, sick day. 

An omen.

I woke up in a world that was far worse than I thought it was the day before – and I wasn’t exactly an optimist then either. A nightmare was rolling in, in the form of a dark, heavy cloud.

Still, I underestimated the toxic precipitation that cloud could carry. The difference was, now, I was no longer unwilling to accept that maybe I didn’t really…have it all figured out.

“Clinton, Trump, two sides of the same coin,” I thought. How stupid.  How foolish I was. This was the thought of someone who didn’t actually follow politics, who didn’t actually know what he was talking about. 

In 2015, Bernie Sanders got me into politics, like a lot of disillusioned, disaffected, disenchanted people. Previously, punk rock and hip-hop shaped my perception and politicians were our enemies. Bernie Sanders spoke our language. Legalize marijuana, hold murderous police accountable, abolish private prisons. 

Hillary Clinton was a member of the corporate elite, a class I labeled enemies. Trump was also an enemy, but I never thought in a million years he could win. How stupid. How foolish I was. Trump was a buffoon, I thought, a crude, spray-tanned game show host with some shredded road kill rotting on top of his head. Trump, who, even as a kid, I thought was just a clown in on his own joke. I genuinely did not know that people took him seriously. I thought I understood reality. I did not. 

The fix was in, I thought. “Clinton is the chosen one.” How stupid.

In 2016, I voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, believing myself to be morally superior to everyone who understood what was on the line and made the only sensible choice at the polls. How foolish I was. 

Had I believed Trump could win, would I have voted for Clinton? Or would my feigned moral superiority have kept me on the sideline, a not-so-conscientious, thick-headed objector, leaving the dirty work to more responsible, informed, pragmatic citizens.

“BZZT-BZZT-BZZT”…”The Babadook is coming boyoh.”

“Two sides of the same coin.” I hear people say that now about Trump and Joe Biden. Now I know the true meaning of that phrase and I agree. In a coin toss, one side means you win, the other means you lose. 

With Trump we lose. We’ve lost so much.

We’ve lost regulations that protected the environment, protected students, protected workers.

We’ve lost a balanced Supreme Court. We’ve lost our trust in scientists, our trust in journalists. We’ve lost our dignity around the world. At times, I feel like I’m losing my mind.

We’ve lost more than 210,000 people to COVID-19, because Trump didn’t want to “cause a panic.” But we’ve all been in a panic since that dismal day he took office. Trump’s opponents have been in a panic over his administration’s heinous crimes against humanity; Trump’s supporters have been in a panic over imagined ghouls and phantom enemies. With Trump, we all live in dread, we all lose. I want this nightmare to end.

Watching a great horror film like “The Babadook,” I used to wonder how I would react to a horrific, supernatural phenomenon appearing my life; how it would feel to have everything I thought I understood about reality incinerated in an instant. 

“BZZT-BZZT-BZZT”

We all have our own Babadook to overcome. Mine was ignorance. Believing that I knew. Believing that I understood. I didn’t know a goddamn thing. Now I know and I can’t look away, like a gruesome horror-movie scene, “BZZT-BZZT-BZZT” It’s everywhere I look.

Can we control the Babadook? Or will it drag us into its twilight zone, where its poorly educated minions stomp over scientists to redefine reality, where it rains and hate reigns. Can we restore our sanity? 

On November 3rd, every one of us can play a role in subduing that Babadook, sooner if you’re voting early or by mail. 

The nightmare won’t be over – you can’t get rid of the Babadook – but we can wake up on November 4th in a world where those dark, heavy clouds have finally begun to roll past, dissipating back into the atmosphere; but still, even then, we must keep our claws sharp and our teeth bared, our wings and hooves in constant motion…

“BZZT-BZZT-BZZT”

Chris Devlin

Chris Devlin, editor of The Commuter, is a freshman at NCC.

View all posts by Chris Devlin →
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