Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mermaids, Megalodon and mockumentaries, oh my

Quite a few people have commented on the Animal Planet programs: “Mermaids: The Body Found,” and the follow up “Mermaids: The New Evidence.” These are a pair of fictional programs that present themselves like a documentary. Not to be outdone, the Discovery Channel jumped on the bandwagon with a shark week program entitled: “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives.” All three of these programs are depressing statement of the state of programming on basic cable television, particularly on channels that profess to have some informational value. If someone were inclined to defend such programming, they might point out that there were disclaimers at the end of the programs. Let's take a look at the disclaimers, first up Megalodon:

none of the institutions or agencies that appear in the film are affiliated with it in any way, nor have approved of its contents.
though certain events and characters in this film have been dramatized, sightings of “submarine” continue to this day.
megalodon was a real shark. legends of giant sharks persist all over the world. there is still debate about what they may be.

Next, the disclaimer that ran at the end of both mermaid programs:

none of the institutions or agencies that appear in the film are affiliated or associated with it in any way, nor have approved its contents. any similarities in the film to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
though certain events in this film are fictional, navy sonar tests have been directly implicated in whale beachings
the bloop is a real phenomenon. there is still debate about what it may be.

All of these were in white text in all caps, on the screen for a short period of time and right at the end of the program. It also looks like they get their legal boilerplate from the same source. The mermaid programs were even more tricky and placed their disclaimer at the end of the closing credits, megalodon at least put up it's disclaimer during the program's conclusion. The really frustrating thing is that neither just come out and says, “It's a joke, we pulled a fast one on you, there are no mermaids/megalodons.” To show how a disclaimer at the end of a trick broadcast is supposed to go, I take you to 1938 and the words of Orson Welles:

“This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure you that 'The War of The Worlds' has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be: the Mercury Theatre's own radio version of dressing up in a sheet an jumping out of a bush and saying 'Boo!' Starting now, we couldn't soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night. . . so we did the next best thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears, and utterly destroyed the Columbia Broadcasting System. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn't mean it, and that both institutions are still open for business. So goodbye everybody, and remember, please, the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody's there, that was no Martian. . . it's Hallowe'en.”

Sunday, August 4, 2013