I like documentaries, perhaps because learning something makes me feel less guilty about watching television. When I was a kid, my favorite show was Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins, though in retrospect, I may have had a crush on his assistant. I looked forward to a new National Geographic special as much as any situation comedy or drama. Jacques Cousteau rocked my world.
My taste for documentaries is rather eclectic, including historical, geographical, scientific, and biographical. Long before I thought about writing a novel, I watched all the documentaries about serial killers. I’ve seen bits and pieces of numerous documentary miniseries, but don’t think I’ve ever caught every episode.
Though I haven’t watched them for a while, I don’t even mind what I’ll call speculative documentaries. You know, the ones that explore the possibility of aliens, the Loch Ness monster, or Bigfoot. Except for the thought-provoking ancient aliens series, the early versions mostly debunked the myths.
A few months ago, I caught Mermaids: The Body Found, on Animal Planet. My first thought was that television suited Dr. Paul Robertson, the scientist behind the documentary, much better than academia. I Googled the professor as I was watching and discovered he’s really Andre Weiderman — an actor, not a professor. Damn I’m good!
So here’s my issue. Back in 1958, the folks at Walt Disney herded a bunch of lemmings over a cliff to document an alleged behavior. Turns out, while the occasional lemming might fall from a cliff, mass suicide is a myth. Thanks to Mr. Disney et al, the man on the street will swear lemmings fling themselves from cliffs, en mass, all the time.
The mermaids fake-umentary includes government whistle blowers who talk about super secret remains found amongst beached whales. They’re in profile with voices disguised for their own protection. Computer generated images of mermaids swimming with dolphins abound. The more I watched, the madder I got.
Yes, people should be smart enough to know better. Sorry. They’re not. Need proof? Check out this discussion on Yahoo.
If you ask me, these kinds of shows should be clearly labeled as works of fiction. I’ve read the mermaid show included such a statement, but I never saw it. Maybe they should add B.S. to the letters used to warn of adult content, violence, foul language, and nudity, or run a banner across the screen every so often indicating the show is fictional.
Or we could just let people believe mermaids are real.