Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why I Don't Have Cable, Revisited

One of the things about being on the road is that you sometimes get to watch other peoples' televisions. Those "people" might be hotel chains, but the idea is the same - you get to see all the stuff you miss by not having cable. Other than being able to watch baseball games, I didn't see much advantage.

Apparently, that's not changing any time soon. As Skeptic magazine publisher Micheal Shermer noted in his blog this week, there's a show that seems to go around trying to punk skeptics and other smart people. So far, it doesn't seem to have been very successful:

Out in the parking lot Brian told me that he thought the entire day was a set up, including phony cameramen, phony directors, phony make-up artist, etc. He was right. I initially thought that it was just Ghostman punking the Showtime people, but it turns out there is no show called “Versus,” the psychic’s real name is Marc Wootton (a British comedian and wannabe Borat character), and that Showtime has a show under production called “Untitled Marc Wootton Project.” (See the IMDB page.)

Here is Wootton’s “Shirley Ghostman” website.

Here are some other Ghostman punkings.

And here are some British skeptics catching on to Wootton’s antics fairly quickly.

Weirdly, I found this guy in real estate who had a similar experience (punking real estate brokers? — only in a housing crisis I suppose): Beware: Little Duke Productions for Showtime. Duping Realtors on camera while actors cause havoc in LA area homes.

The funniest story of all, however, was the punking of the actress and environmental activist Daryl Hannah, who explained in a Guardian article how she was punked by the same people. I have to admit that the image of a miniskirted “research scientist” in a lab coat who told Daryl how she had been fed by condors in the wild is a hellova lot funnier than Lee Majors in a body bag! Here’s the Daryl Hannah punking article.

Punked! (But Who Was Punked, The Skeptics Or The Psychics?)

The basic method of these producers was to lie about what they were trying to do, then bringing on a comedian or actress who pretends to be something he (or in the case of the Daryl Hannah segment, she) is not, and see what happens. As the quote says, these people generally catch on, but selective editing could certainly change that or present the subjects negatively in any number of ways. This is dishonest on many levels, and as Shermer notes, probably won't make for entertaining or enlightening TV:

In my opinion, a hoax is only interesting if those who are hoaxed should have seen it coming, if they were blinded by their prejudices and presuppositions, and who were given clues but ignored them. In James Randi’s “Alpha Project” hoax he instructed his magician charges to fess up to using magic tricks (to simulate psychic power) if anyone ever asked them; but no one ever did, despite obvious clues they left behind. Alan Sokal’s “deconstruction” hoax of the lit-crit journal was beautiful because he submitted an article that was complete nonsense and was so chockablock full of the sort of jargon that lit-crit folks love to read that the editors of the journal who accepted it just assumed that it must mean something. But if you simply lie to someone and deceive them so well that they could not possibly have known you were setting them up, it only proves that you are a clever liar.

Punked! (But Who Was Punked, The Skeptics Or The Psychics?)

It would be nice if the sort of people who still find TV entertaining were exposed to a little science or critical thinking once in a while, but I doubt that you will be seeing such a thing on a show built on this premise.

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