The Mermaid Reality
Over the winter break, I was at a cabin with some friends I very much like, and, thankfully, the cabin had cable television, so we didn’t go insane and tear each other’s heads off. Unfortunately, with the cable television, came the advent of perhaps the most infuriating things I’ve ever seen: Animal Planet’s “Mermaids: The New Evidence.”
What made the thing mind-numbingly rage-inducing was not the speculation that mermaids may be real, or even the poorly employed CGI Mermaid (or merperson, if we’re being gender-neutral about computer-generated images of nonexistent aquatic cryptids); what made me so angry was that it all claimed to be science.
The host of the show was straight-faced as he paraded a group of bearded fellows with Scandanavian accents across the screen, all of which claimed to be former NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) scientists. All of these shysters used overblown scientific jargon, made absurd correlative claims (merperson sonar is killing whales, apparently, this just in, head for the hills), and, worst of all, convinced people to believe them. Half of my friends nodded their heads like those little wooden desk birds that drink water. It’s like they had zero scientific training whatsoever, like they’d never felt the slightest tingle of skeptical inquiry in their lives, and would let just anyone shovel this sort of bullshit into their heads. I figured I’d misjudged them, but then I did a little Googling.
It was the highest rated Animal Planet program of all time. The previous highest-rated program (also a hoax in the same vein), was “Mermaids: The Body Found.” (Spoiler alert: they don’t fucking find a body because merpeople probably don’t exist). Before that was the ingeniously titled (but equally bullshit) “Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real.” I’d just like to add really quickly that this is the goddamn Animal Planet – a television channel dedicated to bringing viewers knowledge about the animal kingdom.
But I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me. Some of Animal Planet’s highest-rated programs involve rednecks traipsing around the woods with flashlights looking for Bigfoot (Spoiler alert: they don’t fucking find him).
This is the dawn of pseudoscience rejoice. Religion may be facing a decline, but instead of a philosophical position of faith, we have, in my opinion, something almost worse. We have a newfound interest in astrology. A veritable horde of pop psychologists. Amateur ghost hunters. Neopagan and zen sages. We have an entire generation of individuals and entertainers that absorbed all the scientific diction and arrogance and gained none of the actual skepticism, folks determined to regurgitate utter bullshit and sell it to us as causative, peer-reviewed gospel.
This is the age where a network has the gall to title itself The Learning Channel and feature such intellectual delights as “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” and “Obese and Pregnant.” This is the time in history when the History Channel sees fit to honor military holidays with nonstop marathons of Pawn Stars, and the Discovery Channel’s most-watched program is “Island Nudity.”
But why should I be surprised? Hollywood gets away with selling every film as “Based on a True Story.” The alien-horror flick, “The Fourth Kind,” was nothing but bald-faced lies and half-truths, with “archived footage” from the film’s cutting room floor. Creationism gets treated as an actual scientific perspective, not a faith-based supposition. The Lightly Braised Turnip, a satire site struggling to clone the Onion, can release an obviously photoshopped image of a “giant squid” at the Santa Monica pier, and it FUCKING MAKES NATIONAL NEWS.
It doesn’t bother me that these things exist — science fiction and horror have their place, and I certainly love them — but it bothers me that such obvious falsehoods are being taken as fact, dressed up with nonsense statistics and intellectual diction and sold to a public that seems absurdly eager to believe. It’s distressing not only from a scientific perspective, but from a creative one, as well; did a whole generation of writers give up on fiction, and decide to become confidence men?
I’m not saying you can’t believe in mermaids. Hell, believe in whatever you want — but don’t pretend you can prove it.
Ryan Cady is a fourth-year English and cognitive science double major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.