The Monster of Mondoñedo April 23, 2011Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite , trackback
Summer madness approaches in Little Snoring – just the exams and marking to go and term is over. By way of celebration Beachcombing thought that today he would leave conventional (sic) history behind and partake in recipes for the madness of crowds. Think of what follows as a twenty-first-century entry for the Anarchist’s Cookbook inspired in part by evening readings in the brilliant Outbreak: The Enyclopedia of Extraordinary Social Behaviour by Evans and Bartholomew.
First the challenge: how can you create a mania in a community, convincing normally sensible people that something is there that is not?
History teaches and sociology/psychology suggest that you need a stimulus – for example, a radio dramatisation claiming that the Martians have landed.
But the really successful cases of ‘mass hysteria’ go beyond that. In these a mania becomes self-perpetuating and self-confirming. In other words, it is not enough that the radio programme gets people running out into the street with electric saws and rolling pins determined to kill the blobs from the red planet. To be an absolutely first class ‘outbreak’ the radio show would spawn sightings of Martians and perhaps reports of the odd punch up between locals and giant tripods.
Enter the Monster of Mondoñedo*… Mondoñedo is a town in the Galician province of Lugo, one of the wildest corners of Spain. And the MoM is a biped, Sasquatch-type creature teeming with body lice.
Now let us be quite clear. The Monster of Mondoñedo does not exist… yet. But Beachcombing has been asking himself – how could you convince the local population or parts of that population that it did. After all, any fool can dress up in a monkey’s suit and scare some campers – though be careful there is a lot of hunting in the province… But only a genius or Goebbels can create a conviction in the mind of a group so that the group starts to see and hear the non-existent Monster while out on their own walks.
Ideally, Beachcombing wants to spend a couple of months on this and no more, coming back to Mondoñedo in the 2050s (if by some miracle he is still around) to find that there are regular sightings, a couple of organisations dedicated to tracking ‘the beast’ and MoM tee-shirts for sale in the local shops.
So is monster creation possible? And, if so, how best to go about it? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
Beachcombing would limit all his activities to three conspirators including himself: the possibility of anyone squealing has to be high and, let’s face it, anyone foolish enough to get involved will not be a particularly reliable human being… He would then break activities down into four steps.
I. May and June, Beachcombing turns up in the Mondoñedo area and leaves a series of large ‘big foot’ style prints on the outskirts of woods and on the heights. Beachcombing also uses a massive mike to regale the sleeping valleys with characteristic MoM roars – a cross between a lemur in heat and a wolf on its last hunt… Beachcombing will, finally, take a couple of dated Polaroid shots of the prints and a recording of the howl. This is for later consumption – see below III.
Likely effect: no news stories – unless the MoM teams gets lucky – but these incidents will be remembered by locals when the first breathless report comes in.
II. Conspirator two, a German ‘tourist’, turns up for a holiday in Mondoñedo in July in the ‘silly season’ when news stories in Europe are at an absolute low. One evening – the MoM is nocturnal and hence rarely seen – said tourist has a terrifying encounter with the MoM (Beachcombing without any clothes) in the woods at dusk. German tourist only brings back some blurred images on his mobile phone: but when uploaded to youtube there are glimpses of fur and that strange roaring sound.
Likely effect: all will depend now on the media. But if handled properly – Wikipedia entries, earnest wordpress blog… – the story will race through the web, particularly if the video is blurred enough to create discussion, and from there on to the national news agencies desperate for stories in a dry season. Do you really think that Yahoo, say, would hold back?
III. Conspirator three, a freelance journalist from Dublin, fluent in Spanish and with just enough Galician/Portuguese to attempt conversations with locals (but preferably not enough to guarantee the accuracy of reported conversations) arrives in August. He interviews the German tourist (conspirator number two) but also the locals who heard the howls and perhaps saw the prints back in May and June. Crucially, he makes sure that he interviews ‘reliable’ witnesses – ex military types, forest rangers, policemen, retired court judge, priests… And when he publishes his feature, in a Madrid and London daily (simultaneously), he is careful that much is made of these witnesses’ reliability and the fact that they personally saw the prints or heard the MoM racket. He has also been given the dated photographs and recordings alluded to above by ‘an influential member of the local community who does not wish to be named’.
Likely effect: heightened local and international interest as the sightings and ‘hearings’ are affirmed. The first MoM tourists begin to arrive and the local restaurants whip up a MoM tortilla. We are a year away from MoM road signs and campaigns to get the MoM declared an endangered species by the EU…
IV. By this time Spanish zoologists are getting understandably irritated as they field constant calls from the press and a zoo in Andalusia has admitted that it has lost a baboon. Credibility is being stretched to breaking point. Yet it is too risky for Beachcombing to go out with the fake footprints. Conspirator number three – the freelancer – has been then busy doing research in Galician folklore. ‘Apparently’ there is a monster in Galician legend that has hair and eats people (or some variance on this): could this be the proof that the MoM has always been out there in Galician badlands? Damn right! Then, as the freelancer ‘discovers’, the province of Lugo is the most traditional in northern Spain and there are still locals who believe in witches and talk of fairies – with some juggling these could be read as memories of early modern encounters with the MoM.
Likely effect: the greatest weakness in the MoM project is the lack of a back-story. Stage four is about giving the man in the gorilla suit a coat of arms.
So would it work? Would Mondoñedans start seeing and hearing something that was not there? Beachcombing doesn’t know, but there is an outstanding documentary film to be made if the three conspirators have the gumption and the necessary lack of scruples.
Before signing off Beachcombing will mention that he has recently been reading and enjoying Derren Brown’s Tricks of the Mind. Here is an extract from said book (95-97) with application to the MoM:
Sat up late one night with my flatmate in Bristol, we thought it would be mature and responsible to start a local tarantula scare. I had long since graduated and had little do other than the occasional magic gig and pay in my housing benefit cheques, and Simon, a philosophy student, understandably didn’t have very much to do at all. So a couple of nights later we walked casually through the dark and deserted streets of Clifton Village, giggling and smirking, pinning our posters on trees and posts. Warning they screamed in large black print above a photocopied picture of an orange-kneed tarantula. The poster explained that several of these spiders had been lost in transit to the zoo and were believed to have settled in the Clifton area. They would be mainly active at night, and would seek warm places during the day. They ‘should not be dangerous to adult humans if left undisturbed’ but any found should be reported as many of them were ‘believed to be carrying eggs’. At the bottom of the poster was the Tarantalert’ (oh yes) number to call if you were to find one. The number had been picked from the Yellow Pages, and was in fact an insurance company in Cardiff. We posted a few through key newsagents’ doors with instructions for them to display the poster for customers. We covered the sleeping square mile of Clifton Village with our rather nicely made posters and snuck back to the flat, still giggling like schoolboys.
DB then wreaks havoc trying to convince local green grocers that they have to individually inspect each piece of fruit. After this he and Simon decide to up the game…
One morning the local paper ran the story Spider Scare – A Hoax along with a condemnation from the zoo authorities and bewildered statements from an insurance company in Cardiff, which was suspected of being behind the stunt. Teletext, it was reported, had been duped and had run a big warning about ‘giant spiders’. Determined to have the last word, we thought we’d fabricate a spider and place it somewhere visible but inaccessible in the village. We decided that it would have to be made out of pipe-cleaners, as a simple fake spider bought from a toy-shop wouldn’t be funny enough. So eventually we made Boris, and late at night we attached him using one of Simon’s guitar plectra to the inside of the archway next to the Clifton Arcade… then covered him in cobweb spray. The next morning we went to start a crowd. We waited for a group of people to walk under the arch, then we ourselves contrived to walk under the arch, then we ourselves contrived to walk past them beneath it; only as we did so, one of us looked up and noticed our dodgy arachnid. After a while and a few starts, we managed to get a crowd gathered in the archway, looking at our ridiculous pipe-cleaner assembly crouching in the corner. People stayed and moved on, which meant that after a few regenerations of the crowd we were no longer known to have started the interest. Some people knew that the story had been reported as a hoax, but others weren’t sure. Of course we helpfully interjected our own stories of having known people who had actually seen the spiders. It also took only a few suggestions from us for the crowd to create the story, and believe it, that Boris had actually crawled across the wall at some point during the morning’s events. That was particularly rewarding. Someone suggested calling the local news, and of course we encouraged them. A cameraman came, and he asked [the green-grocers] if they had one of the spider posters to include in the shot. They helpfully gave him one of them, and he filmed the tarantula cowering several feet above it. Sadly he didn’t interview any of us, but he was accompanied by a well-dressed but very tense lady who spoke to him all the time from behind a clipboard with which she covered her mouth. I heard later she was from the zoo, which I hope was the case, though I suspect she was a news reporter. After several hours of standing about and re-telling and exaggerating the story to each fresh crowd member, one guy suggested that the spider looked false. We reminded him that it had crawled across the wall earlier on, but he was having none of it. Unable to protest, we had to watch as he climbed up the same wall we had used and poked at it with a rolled-up magazine. Its predictable lack of response brought relief from the crowd, and eventually he removed it from the wall with his stupid hands.
*Why Mondoñedo? Well, first, because it is, by sorry European standards, a wild area covered by forest and impenetrable bush and mountains. Second, because the world is full of very nice cryptozoologists – several link this website – who would be understandably irritated if Beachcombing created a monster flap on their doorsteps. Beachcombing has chosen then an area where cryptozoology has no claims. And third, because this can’t be too easy. It is, for Beachcombing (even in his most romantic moods), a ‘stretch’ to believe that an unidentified primate has survived for millennia in North America or the Himalayas without being captured or killed: but it is an absolute no-brainer for northern Iberia! This is all about convincing people that the impossible is possible.
23 April 2011: Michael from Dortmund proves that he has the necessary gumption and lack of scruples. He says that there should be a fifth stage ‘where Beachcombing kills the German tourist and freelancer thus keeping the conspiracy air-tight and getting a MoM curse going’! Thanks Michael!!
23 June 2011: Invisible writes ‘I really enjoyed the post where you proposed creating a cryptozoological myth about a Bigfoot-type creature in, I believe, a remote area of Spain. (The reader’s follow-up, suggesting killing the German tourist and adding a curse element to the story was also brilliant.) Found this on the Fortean Times website this morning.’ Your work?’ Beachcombing can promise that he had nothing to do with this, though there is an outside chance (?) that he inspired it. Thanks Invisible!