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Where did all the Science go?

About a week ago, I watched some stuff on the NatGeo channel with my mom, my dad, and my Parker. I'm surprised they didn't tie me down or use strong sedatives: I was foamingly angry/outraged/flabbergasted at how stupid the shows were. Now, not exactly movies, this is a review of sorts. So I'm gonna call this a Bad Movie Monday.



The first was Giant Crystal Caves. It followed a team of three scientists and three explorers into the Giant Crystal Caves of Mexico. It was actually somewhat neat in its own right, I just could have done without the corny stabs at drama and suspense. There was some legitimate danger, yes, but the attempts to turn that into something thrilling and suspenseful were not only unnecessary but pathetic.

Long story short, because the caves were so damn hot and humid (about 113 degrees Fahrenheit) , they could only go into them for 30 minutes at a time before waiting another 3 hours to go back in. That kinda heat is, yes, really serious, as was made abundantly clear to me. But these scientists needed answers, and weren't leaving without them! Sigh.

The narrator insisted--during every, single foray into the crystal cave--that "Every move is excruciating", "Even the simplest of actions is excruciating for them", and so on. Yet not once did I hear any of the explorers or scientists actually say it themselves. That it was left to disembodied narrator to fall back on it as a call for DRAMA! kinda killed any dramatic impact.

Perhaps sadder yet, a few times this little countdown timer would enigmatically just appear in the corner. Of course, it displayed the time the scientists/explorers had remaining in any given go at the caves. Once, I remember it read a minute thirty; I could swear, though, it showed 5 or 7 minutes remaining at least once--I can't be sure as the timer was never on screen for more than 10 or 20 seconds. The melodramatic narrator might as well have said "Time is running out for our team!" (which he might have, actually).

What made all this contrivance unnecessary was I was already drawn in--out of pure curiosity and intrigue. The crystals really are monstrous but also gorgeous. They're also mysterious, yes, in part because of the safety limits on studying them. Regardless I was instantly absorbed in learning more about these things, much like the scientists. If the show had focused more on the science and the method and the history and the significance than on all that corny shit, it could easily have been a brilliant endeavor.


But Giant Crystal Caves only made me sarcastic with frustration. What really got me was the damn The Truth Behind The Crystal Skulls. I was apoplectic at every hokey, fakey turn. Why?  Not only was it cornier but it badly bastardized any semblance of Science--and ultimately for no other reason than to con me into watching.

You should start to worry when they introduce the skulls--specifically The Skull of Doom--with vague claims about their powers; you should be suspicious as they use lots of swirling smoke and superimposed lightning and flashes and lasers to make these skulls and these claims "seem" extra spooky/awesome/paranormal.

When they substantiate these "claims" with the ravings of some new agey nutter as he recounts how he has spoken to and encountered wild visions with the crystal skulls, you should already assume that "science" is the least of the producers' concerns. Heck, the nutter even explains that the crystal skulls are actually advanced computers built by the Mayans. That sounds like Science!

But when the show proceeds to test each of the nutter's claims--scientifically--that is when you should abandon all hope of reason. Apparently, the show is a purposely spurious cabaret of fakey attempts to disprove each of the claims made by the new age nutter and also made, previously, the adventurer who originally claimed to have discovered it. Why? Because we need something to air on TV for an hour.


However, I--forever an optimist and thus lacking such cynicism--refused to give up.

But my faith in the inherent goodness of Science and Humankind was betrayed: the next hour was a nothing but a wasteful, roundabout experiment in stalling. It turns out ***SPOILERS!!*** we've known for a long while that the main skull in question, The Skull of Doom, is a fake. ***SPOILERS OVER!!!*** So they drummed together intentionally, obviously fake tests because they didn't have to worry about mythbusting this themselves. Experts had already determined this years ago--through real Science.

Little did I appreciate it at the time dear readers, but the first and last attempt at Science involved commissioning a Chinese crystal skull sculptor to replicate the original The Skull of Doom based off measurements and photographs. No, he couldn't model the real The Skull of Doom because we never actually see it. Awesome. But, backing up a bit: the guy who originally discovered The Skull of Doom and first described its spooky powers had also claimed that "no human hand" could replicate it. So now we're testing whether it can be replicated. That looks a bit like Science.

However, I was angry at how, to test whether "human hands" could reproduce the skull, the show machines a copy of it. Machine does not equal hands. Science, I insisted, does not work like that; it's an inductive error. But, as it turns out, it didn't matter whether human hands could have reproduced the The Skull of Doom or not as the original skull itself was clearly machined and its "discoverer" clearly a charlatan. But they don't tell us this until the end. SUSPENSE!


It gets worse. That replica (and the absense of the original) will haunt any attentive viewers sensitive to scientific methods. In every test of claims made about the real The Skull of Doom, they use their fake. So they hook up an EEG to and shine lasers through the fucking replica and declare the original to be devoid of any supernatural powers.

And, with that, they murdered science. Except I'm sure they knew it. They took the replica to a Mayan expert and archeologist to see if he thought it could be an artifact. It's a replica. We watched it get replicated. Of course it's not a goddamn artifact. But what they were really doing was showing what actual Mayan sculpture and actual Mayan skulls looked like; the replica is so far off that even the original would have to be wrong for the purported time period/culture.

But. The narrator/the show continues insisting this charade that maybe, just maybe, this mysterious The Skull of Doom is still mysterious. But since it's known to be fake, they knew they didn't need to test the original; it would be just as fake as the fake. But they continued to regard the faked fake as though it were a real stand-in, taking it around to various scientists to do bogus, completely unnecessary tests to "prove" something that was already known. This, to me, is deceitful. Or stupid. One of those.

Eventually they cave and wheel out an expert who concluded (years ago, actually, she when she studied the real skull) The Skull of Doom was and had always been a beautiful fake. After that, they spend the last ten minutes showing the conveniently unmentioned parts interviews with their other expcerts where, one by one, all of the experts confirmed that and further explained how The Skull of Doom was a fake, had been known to be a fake for a good couple years, and the people who discovered it were--along several different dimensions--total liars and charlatans.

So not only was the show cheesy, it was dishonest.


Much as I would have loved if Giant Crystal Caves had focused more on the science--the caves marvelousness, their significance, and the process of discovery--, I wish The Truth Behind Crystal Skulls had had the honesty to tell us this skull was fake and, for the sake of science, shown us how we know it can't be real and explained the science of knowing it wasn't real more at each turn.

For example. to test whether these a hunk of (allegedly)  hand-carved crystal could be mystical holographic repository of information, they shine lasers through it as they do to create real holograms. Instead, the light just refracts randomly through the impurities and could never render an image. But we know this based on the science of holograms. They could have approached that test like that. Instead they gussy it up in cheesy suspenseful music and show off some laaaasers to fake cause for excitement.

I understand that this is just how these shows are for the most part. The vain attempts at dramatic tension, the hokey, dishonest efforts at mystery. But that's exactly the problem. I see this on the History Channel, the Discovery Channel; I saw it lampooned on South Park in "A History Channel Thanksgiving". But I would have ascribed more credibility to National Geographic--to the worth of their reputation for and the merit of their famous camera work--to stoop this low.

See, the kicker is (despite feeling betrayed), those last 10 minutes of The Truth Behind Crystal Skulls were easily the most fascinating. The part where the experts elaborated how we know the skulls are fake and all that. They could have made a show about that kinda stuff--how we investigate claims like the ones about these skulls That is real; that is relevant; that is honest. And as far as I'm concerned, that's interesting.

Instead? They took the cheesy route--and made a shitty show of it.

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