Tag Archives: documentary

1.21 Gigawatts: “Mermaids, New Evidence” – When Faux-cumentaries Attack…Again.

-Sarah Keartes

Described as the “rotting carcass of science TV,” Mermaids: the Body Found was the most appalling piece of docu-fiction I had ever seen—until last week.

Up from the depths of the Animal Planet sludgy abyss swam a new “documentary:” a follow up to The Body Found which originally aired as part of “Monster Week” (telling).

Mermaids: The New Evidence, which set an all-time ratings record for the network (3.6 million viewers), has the internet abuzz once again as scientists around the world desperately try to expose the film for what it is—not real.

The sister films combine documentary filmmaking techniques such as narrated reenactments, interviews, and vlogs, with debunked “evidence” and “theories” to drive home the main point: mermaids are real, and they are being concealed by marine biologists and the government.

“After watching this I said to myself ‘if the videos are real then it’s not a matter of it being a theory, it’s actual fact – ‘mermaids’ DO EXIST’. But that was the big ‘if,’” one viewer said.

“Ninety percent of the ocean is unexplored and you’re telling me #mermaids don’t exist,” said another, a statement which has been retweeted more than 800 times.

Firstly, there is no debate to whether or not either faux-cumentary is fake; the disclaimer at the beginning of both films clearly states:

“None of the individuals or entities depicted in the film are affiliated or associated with it in any way, nor have approved its contents. Any similarities to actual persons living or dead are entirely coincidental.”

Most (if not all) of the scientists, government officials, and professors in both films are in fact, actors, including the returning “Dr. Paul Robertson” (played by Andre Weideman) flaunted as “a former researcher for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration” (NOAA).

After The Body Found aired in 2011, NOAA released an official statement to clear up their implied contribution to the film.

“The belief in mermaids may have arisen at the very dawn of our species…But are mermaids real? No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found. Why, then, do they occupy the collective unconscious of nearly all seafaring peoples? That’s a question best left to historians, philosophers, and anthropologists,” they said.

NOAA was not notified that the second documentary would be aired.

“They [NOAA] handled it beautifully—with aplomb,” Animal Planet GM Marjorie Kaplan said of NOAA’s response to the first mermaid special.

She added she was “pleased to note [that] you can’t be sued by the government” even for implying that they are spending billions concealing the entire cast of The Little Mermaid.

With so much previous evidence, why then are people still being dooped?

“The fact that the mermaid shows are fiction was easy enough to miss. Animal Planet certainly played up how authentic the illusory evidence was, including faked vlogs that didn’t bother to say that they were scripted,” science writer Brian Switek said in his National Geographic blog post.

“The channel’s page about Monster Week—of which the mermaids sludge was a part—likewise touts ‘physical evidence linked to the existence of mermaids’ without saying the show is a fantasy,” he said.

Like many people who have “Mocked the Doc,” I have taken some flak for my involvement in the “#mermaids” twitter conversation.

“Just because you have no imagination, doesn’t mean you have to bring us down with you, scientists and science people have no appreciation of fantasy—it’s sad really,” one person, let’s call her “Ursula” said in an email.

Anyone who knows me well  knows that I am more into fantasy than the average Joe—hell I’m still waiting for Robb Stark to come back from the dead and swoop me up riding Falkor so that we may run off into the double Tatooine sunset together.

I do not take issue with mermaids. I do not take issue with mermaids on television. But masquerading fiction as fact using debunked information—and on a network with a reputation (or at least a former one)—is fundamentally wrong.

“It’s not satire. It’s not parody. It’s a giant middle finger to the public,” Marine biologist Andrew David Thaler said.

Follow Sarah on Twitter!

Image by Pets Advisor.

Of Time and Toys

Produced by Ella Gummer

Music, time, taxes, and death. These are the four absolutes in life, according to J. D. Olson, and they are all represented in his mystical land of antiques. Olson founded The Creative Clock and the Conger Street Clock Museum in Eugene, OR in 1981. It is a family run clock store and repair shop that doubles as a museum; an experience that Olson says is “like walking back through time.” Home to twenty large window displays, walls blanketed in cuckoo clocks, and grandfather clocks twice the size of an average child, the museum boasts pieces that date back as far as the 16th century. Olson, famously punctual, has turned his lifelong interest in small-scale mechanics and a knack for collecting into an exploration of what he calls the “philosophy of clocks.”

"Life is But a Dream"-Beyoncé the icon, the woman

-Rache’ll Brown

I have never wanted to be Beyoncé more than I did after I watched her autobiographical documentary Life is But a Dream on HBO—and that says a lot, considering that as a child, my number one documented wish was to be the icon herself. Among other things, the documentary shows a heart-wrenching account of her relationship with her father (and ex-manager) Matthew Knowles, and the stresses she faces being in the public eye. Viewers see a side of Beyoncé that has never been seen before. She is inspiring, articulate, hard working, and outrageously fabulous. Beyoncé runs the world.

Life is But a Dream was filmed over a number of years, featuring a mix of performance footage, home videos, interviews, vlogs, and documentary style footage of her day-to-day life. Viewers see the star in a raw, personal light, and things are revealed that fans never would have guessed, like a miscarriage she had prior to her pregnancy with daughter Blue Ivy.

Through all of the emotion, my favorite part of the documentary was a detailed behind-the-scenes look at Beyoncé’s 2011 award show performances. Her act at the Billboard Music Awards featured an insane and inspiring rendition of “Run the World (Girls).” Then I got emotional all over again watching the unforgettable performance of  “Love On Top” at the MTV VMAs where she announced her pregnancy. It was interesting to see her creative process, and what she went through to bring her visions to life. The decisions she made, the way she felt—all of it was awesome. Trust me, the end results were beyond amazing, and I have more respect for Beyoncé as a performer then I ever did before.

Since I can remember, I’ve admired Beyoncé, but when I was asked why, I never really had an answer. Life Is But A Dream has given me a billion and one reasons to love this artist. The documentary will make anyone a fan of Beyoncé, whether it is for her music, her work ethic, or her personality. She truly is a strong and inspiring woman, and the amount of work and emotion she puts into her career is over the top.

Follow Rache’ll on Twitter!

Image by martdiz.

Through the eyes of Dick Cheney

-Casey Klekas

What’s it like to wear Dick Cheney’s glasses? Well, they might be transition lenses because everything looks a little darker. In case you missed it, Showtime has released a new documentary called The World According to Dick Cheney, in which the former vice president opened his cold, transplanted heart for the Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker, R. J. Cutler. Cheney talked about his life in the political sphere, from his early days of drunk-driving in Casper, Wyoming, to twice failing out of Yale University, to eventually going to work for a young Donald Rumsfeld in the Nixon administration. Cheney has held a high-ranking position in nearly every republican administration since Tricky Dick, culminating in his nomination for vice president in 2000. It’s about time someone made a documentary about the “most powerful vice president in history.”

The movie begins with Cheney responding to a Proust Questionnaire—favorite virtue: integrity; favorite food: spaghetti. Cheney is asked to name his main fault: “Well, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my faults, I guess would be the answer.” There’s your thesis statement.

Surprisingly, for the majority of the film, Dick Cheney does not come off as a power-hungry crypto-fascist. Instead of Darth Vader, we get grandpa’s reflections of an extraordinary life from humble beginnings. Born in Nebraska to life-long democrats, Cheney’s formidable years were spent playing football and drinking Coors beer, a brand he loved so dearly that for a spell he was a Coors employee. Coors was instrumental in his failing out of Yale, after which he returned to Casper and dabbled in manual labor. Cheney then had the sobering experience of getting two DUIs in a matter of months. Threatened with separation from his high school sweetheart, Lynne Vincent, he went back to school to study politics. It was in reaction to the lively anti-Vietnam War protests at the University of Wisconsin that Cheney found himself moving more to the political right.

Cheney got his start in politics working for Donald Rumsfeld, who would act as a sort of mentor until Cheney was elected to serve Wyoming in the House of Representatives in 1978. He then served as Secretary of Defense under George H. W. Bush from 1989 until Bush lost the presidency to Bill Clinton in 1992. He left the political sphere for a quiet life as CEO of Halliburton, a multi-billion dollar oil corporation.

In 2000, George Bush Jr. asked Cheney to head his search for a vice-presidential candidate. Cheney set up a grueling vetting process, in which, after exhausting all possibilities, Bush eventually asked Cheney to join the ticket. Cheney agreed on the condition that he would have an influential position in the administration, not just to act as a slot filler. Also, he would not be subjected to the taxing vetting process of background checks and medical records demanded of earlier candidates.

Whilst the hands were busy sorting through dimpled chads in Florida, Cheney was already at work selecting Bush’s council of ministers, filling the cabinet with friends and like-minded individuals such as Rumsfeld.

Cheney said, “Watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities.” September 11, 2001 was a turning point for Dick Cheney, one that set the tone for his duties. The general feeling in the Bush Administration was that the worst attacks were still on the way. Preventing further attacks took precedence over consulting with congress or the constitution. On the issue of “enhanced interrogation” of “enemy combatants,” including water-boarding and other forms of torture, Cheney defended himself by posing the question, “Are you going to trade the lives of a number of people because you want to preserve your honor?” Suddenly Cheney appears as a man of respectfully disagreeable ethical positions; Dick Cheney with a human face. He gives a similar apologia for provisions like the PATRIOT Act, which is criticized as a gross infringement on basic civil liberties. “It was a war time situation and it was more important to be successful than it was to be loved,” Cheney says (later adding, “If you want to be loved, go be a movie star”).

Up to this point, Cheney doesn’t fare all that badly. We may strongly disagree with him, but at least we have a better understanding of what besides his pacemaker makes him tick. For the rest of the film, Cheney appears in an increasingly unflattering light. His political skill turns to trickery and deception, such as sharing fabricated facts with congressional leaders about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capability in hopes of a “yay” vote for war. He offers no apologies, not even regrets. Still, that’s another thing that makes this documentary so fascinating. Bluntly, he says, “If I had to do it over again, I’d do it again in a minute.”

The World According to Dick Cheney is a must-see for anyone who remembers eight years of Bush/Cheney, no matter what your nostalgic campaign bumper sticker says. (For a more in-depth analysis of Cheney, check out Barton Gellman’s best-selling book, Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency.)

Image by Gage Skidmore.

Let Them Eat Money

A Glimpse Into The Lifestyle of The Crème de la Crème:
The Thin And Fragile Upper-Crust Society of The Siegel Family

-Emily Fraysse

A black, sleek stretch limo takes up three parking spaces outside of a hokey, off-white and sea foam green McDonald’s in Orlando, Florida. Nestled inside of the car resides Jackie Siegel, former Mrs. Florida and the wife of Westgate Resorts’ President, CEO, and owner David Siegel. Her long, straight blonde hair that flows over her expensive-looking leopard print, v-neck shirt is pulled back from her botoxed face by her black designer sunglasses. Her newly painted nails reach into a white paper bag filled with greasy French fries as she sits comfortably in the back of the limo on her way to her “cramped” 26,000-square-foot mansion where her, her husband, eight kids ranging from ages 2 to 16, nannies, dogs, and lizard reside.

The character-driven documentary, “The Queen of Versailles,” produced by Lauren Greenfield, is more than just a film; it is an insight into the intimate, fascinating, and sometimes perplexing perspective of the wealthy elite in today’s world. “We never sought out to build the biggest house in America. It just kind of happened,” Mrs. Siegel explained in the film trailer. This was, however, before the economy crashed in 2008.

Just as Marie Antoinette’s life seemed like a fantasy in her Palace that had everything she ever needed, the Siegel’s set out to build a house that had everything and more to accommodate their large family. Not too far away from their current mansion, they started to build “Versailles,” a 90,000-square-foot mansion that conveniently looked out upon Disney World so they can view the fireworks every night from their balcony. But, the house never got finished due to the lack of funds lost during the recession, and it was consequentially put on the market for $100 million.

While people may marvel or mock at the over-the-top, over-dramatize, extravagant, and sometimes downright nonsensical lifestyle, this is not just a portrayal of a wealthy family; it is a mirror of society. Living in a cyclical gilded age that glamorizes the wealthy as they seem to get richer because of being rich, while the poor get poorer, prompts different emotions. Most people who do not fit into the monetary status of the Siegel’s are not only curious, but can also be envious for the rest of the country that is reeling from the recession. But, when the interviewer asks Mr. Siegel if he gets strength from his relationship, he hesitates for a moment then responds with, “no.” I guess money doesn’t always buy happiness or support.

There is also a sort of hilarity in watching wealthy people struggle with their privileged life and who seem to be, at times, completely out of touch with reality. You can’t help but laugh when Mr. Siegel claims that he helped President George W. Bush win the election in 2004 in a way that “wasn’t exactly legal” with a large smile across his face or while watching Mrs. Siegel on vacation in New York asking the rental car company what her driver’s name is. Just as Marie Antoinette and her family had to vacate the real Palace of Versailles in France because of an angry mob, the bank is now circling the Siegel’s own version of Versailles “like vultures,” and who knows when the banks will strike? It isn’t until the very last scene of the film that Mrs. Siegel admits to living in a “fantasy world” while admiring the view of the water from her perfectly groomed front lawn, overlooking the waterfront of their mansion they call home.

Grade: A+

Image from http://butlerscinemascene.com/2012/08/24/the-queen-of-versailles-riches-to-rags/