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This episode rocks! (Spoiler: No, it doesn't)
This episode rocks! (Spoiler: No, it doesn't)

Now we get into the racism. Pity. I saw the title Strange Visitors and it made me think of aliens. You know, like the opening to the old Superman show that proclaimed him a 'strange visitor from another world.' But straight up, we get into some very unamusing nonsense.

We're dealing with a ruin on a hill in New Hampshire, known then as Mystery Hill, mysterious because it is said to predate European settlement. According to Wikipedia, the site is now called 'America's Stonehenge'. Make of that what you will. ...continue reading "In Search Of… Review: S1E2 Strange Visitors"

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"Have you noticed Ms Shan's hair?"

Axel looked up from the cans of grout he was stacking at Norman, who leaned wistfully against the mighty shelves.

"I have not noticed Ms Shan's hair, particularly," Axel said. "What is it about her hair that I ought to have noticed?"

"It's very black," Norman said.

"Well, she is Indian," Axel said. "Black hair rather comes with the territory."

"So black," Norman shighed. "Like a really black car. But not one of those matte black ones, though. Her hair is shiny."

"I quite like those matte black cars," Axel said. "I'm thinking of buying one, as soon as the International Court of Justice lifts my driving ban." ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 13: Axel’s Day"

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A fern, but not as we know it.
A fern, but not as we know it.

"How wide is the gulf between Man and Plant – if there is a gulf at all?"

Introduction

In this new series, I am going to go episode by episode through the 1970s TV show In Search Of. Why? Because I have time on my hands, and if this doesn't convince people to give me a full time job, I don’t know what will.

My cards on the table: I'm a skeptic. Note the small s. I don't go to skeptic meetings or even read a lot of skeptic literature. By skeptic, I mean I draw a pretty distinct line between 'real' and 'made up', and I try place ideas on one side of the line or the other based on how well supported they are by evidence.

By the same token, the older I get the less I care if people don't want to do things that way. Unless it's actively harmful nonsense like vaccine denial or some of the racist conspiracy stuff, I say believe what you want. A UFO kidnapped you? Cool story, bro. Think Bigfoot is out there? Off you go find him, and the best of luck to you.

So this isn't a debunking of In Search of… per se. What would be the point? The show's forty years old, and I doubt even true believers will be willing to back up many of the specific claims the show makes. I will probably argue against ideas the show presents if I think them dangerous or harmful, but I won't stoop to complaining about anything so gauche as mere factual inaccuracy.

I also don’t plan to endorse the show. It's basically drivel turned into something entertaining by the mystical alchemy which is Leonard Nimoy's voice. Occasionally, the show turns away from esoteric subjects and presents a short documentary on something more substantial. When that happens, I will judge it as I would a real documentary. Otherwise, I intend just to enjoy it as pleasant nonsense.*

The Other Voices

Let's start at the beginning. I don't have access to the original Rod Serling specials that preceded the regular show, so I'm going to begin with Season 1 Episode 1: Other Voices. These other voices turn out to be the voices of plants. It's a slightly odd and extremely tame intro to a series best remembered for creepy stuff about swamp monsters and space aliens, but here we are: psychic plants.

The show starts with a weird noise, supposedly gleaned from plants. Leonard Nimoy assures us that there are plants everywhere. Good point, Leonard. He wonders whether plants can communicate, and goes on to wonder how they communicate and who they communicate with. Will these questions be answered? Let's find out.

We are then shown a research chemist teaching his grandchildren (? I guess) how to feel the energy of plants. We are assured that children find it easier to understand things like this, but are not given a clear idea of what 'this' is.

We skip past 'this', and return to Nimoy in the studio. He explains that there are green thumbed people and brown thumbed people. This doesn't come up again for a while, so it's weird to put it here. Nimoy questions whether the phenomenon of houseplants is a passing fad. From our position here in 2016, I think we can safely say that the fad hasn't passed yet. There are stock pictures of seed packets. I had forgotten how badly some these episodes are padded.

We then go on to something more interesting: the famous experiment about whether plants like classical music or rock music. My understanding is that similar experiments have been done many times, but I can't seem to find any sort of definite consensus on whether it's true that plants grow better to classical music. In Search of… concludes that they do.

Okay. Why not? But having made that conclusion, they take a completely unnecessary jump: that the reason plants grow differently in different musical environments is an aesthetic choice on the part of plants. Be that as it may, if my plants don't learn to like Cold Chisel, maybe they deserve to die.

Next up is a photographer, who takes Kirilian photos of plants. Now, I'm not a physicist so take this with a grain of salt, but my understanding is Kirilian photography basically involves running an electric charge through an object sitting on a photographic plate. The object gives off a gas discharge, which is usually invisible to the naked eye, but which exposes the plate, creating a picture.

It's interesting, if you're into that sort of thing, and makes for some extremely pretty photos. In the seventies, though, the idea got around that the image on the paper somehow corresponded with the mystical aura of the object being photographed. The photographer in this episode talks enthusiastically about energy patterns, then talks about his experiment in taking Kirilian photos of mutilated leaves, and then having people with a reputation as a 'green thumb' hold their hand over said leaf. Supposedly, the photo becomes brighter. If a 'brown thumb' holds their hand over the leaf, it is supposed to get darker.

Nimoy assures us that this has 'profound implications', which is certainly a nice sentiment.

Next we see a polygraph expert who runs tests on plants. Polygraphs, or lie detectors are… well, look just Google it. Basically, they don't really work, but are still used extensively in law enforcement. Interesting piece of trivia: the guy who invented the polygraph also created Wonder Woman, and he did a much better job with her.

The polygraph guy's experiment is to prove that plants feel sympathetic pain when a human is harmed. His experiment fails, but when he tries again, this time jabbing one of the production team rather than himself, he gets a reaction.

It's a good thing that this sympathetic pain doesn't go both ways, or cutting wheat would be a very painful occupation.

Next up is my favorite part of the episode. Not content with showing that plants feel our pain, the experimenter wants to proves that bacteria have 'primary perception'. If anyone ever doubts that Leonard Nimoy is a great actor, watch just how serious he gets as he explains a plan to attach a beaker of yogurt to a lie detector. The experimenter then puts antibiotics in the yogurt to kill the bacteria in another container of yogurt. Perhaps surprisingly--perhaps not--the first yogurt does not react. There's another experiment involving feeding milk to yogurt that seems to work better, but its way less cool.

Nimoy then wraps up by suggesting that psychic messages are carried by plants. For now, he says, we can only communicate with plants using machines. One day, those machines may not be necessary. It's hard to argue this point: it's 2016 now, and plant communication devices certainly seem to have become obsolete.

Best line:

Though there are many interesting lines from the plant-music woman and the Kirilian photographer (who I can't tell if he's high, or just really happy), the episode's best line comes from Nimoy:

'Certainly, there's nothing in the plant world like the human ear and mind. But perhaps there's something else. A way of hearing that doesn't involve receiving and interpreting sound waves. What we call a sound wave is merely one form of energy, but scientists know that energy takes many forms.'

'A way of listening that doesn’t involve receiving and interpreting soundwaves,' is about as meaningless a statement you can make. The line exists simply to paper over the crack between the segment suggesting that plants can literally hear and the segment that suggests that plants communate with weird auras. And yet, when Nimoy says it, it sounds like the entire friggin' Federation might collapse if you don't listen.

Wrapping up:

In Search Of… S1E1: The Other Voices.

Spookiness: 2/10, Tendentiousness: 7/10, Eccentric Interviewees: 7/10, Intrusive Electronic Music: 6/10, Nimoyness: 9/10.

Total: 32/50. Pass.

* Edit - This was my intention when I began this series. I did not hold to it long. The egregious errors of fact and logic in this series were just too much for me, and I lack the strength to ignore them.

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Marlon had never liked Jasu Shan, but now he was happy beyond words to see her. Ms Shan was abrasive and talked over him and would change the topic of conversation right in the middle of one of his sentences, and there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it because she was the General Manager and he was just the Duty Manager.

When Ms Shan taken ill, Marlon had been quietly pleased. He'd expected corporate to put someone else in charge for a while, preferably some quiet little pen-pusher who would take care of the big picture stuff and leave Marlon to the rest. In fact, head office had made Marlon acting manager. He'd been doing double duty as General Manager and Duty Manager in exchange for a nominal--and temporary—raise in salary.

Even that he might have coped with, had sales not started tanking when the DIY Barn had opened. That had put him in the awkward position of being both the good-guy boss he liked to believe himself to be--champion of his staff against the penny-pinchers at head office--while simultaneously acting as a penny-pincher from head office. It was vexing. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 12: Tea and Scandal"

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The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to me, are among the earliest sensations I can remember. – Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

The human species is very weak, compared with the superior vertebrates. That's why I tried with a gorilla. Now see you the pathetic results! – Freda Frankenstein, El Santo vs Frankenstein's Daughter.

I don't even know where to begin.
I don't even know where to begin.

This one is a weird one, even by Frankenstein movie standards. ...continue reading "Santo vs Frankenstein’s Daughter – 1972"

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Seamus awoke to the full moon shining down on the Handy Pavilion garden centre. He yawned and stretched, though even at full extension his arms didn't go very far. He smacked his lips and put his pipe in between his teeth, though he did not, could not light it.

Standing, he began his inspection. All the neat rows of plants, all the trees and seedlings, all the ferns and that little corner full of bonsais. Walking slowly on his little legs, he began his methodical rounds, examining the leaves, testing the dampness of the soil, squinting in the moonlight for any sign of aphids or thrips.

He had one night to do it. He had to make it count. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 11: Silver Men in Moonlight"

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You were hereafter to be hailed as the benefactors of your species, your names adored as belonging to brave men who encountered death for honour and the benefit of mankind. – Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

He'll find no friends here. Nothing but locked doors and darkened windows. Locked hearts and bitter hatred. Let that too be part of the Frankenstein heritage – Village Councillor, Son of Frankenstein.

Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff, Son of Frankenstein
This could go badly.

I hadn't really wanted to do this one just yet. But my scheme of skipping around through has meant that I haven't gone into a lot of detail on two important issues of the Frankenstein mythology: the Frankenstein family and Ygor. Both of these elements are introduced in Son of Frankenstein, so I'd probably better get on with it. ...continue reading "Son of Frankenstein – 1939"

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Wellsey watched Fiona  with horrified interest. Here was a woman who not that long ago could barely tell one end of a plunger from another. Hell, a fortnight ago he'd seen her reduced to mumbling incoherence by a simple question about bath plugs. Now she was selling like Arthur Daley on steroids.

"Sure, this one's top of the line," she said. "But you've got to ask yourself, 'do I need top of the line', yeah? You're doing one of those dream home sort of projects, you've got money to burn, then yeah, get this one. But for a place the size you're talking about, I'd suggest this baby. Looks good, solidly built, nine year guarantee, half the price of the one you were looking at." ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 10: A Dilemma for Wellsey"

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Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs. - Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Don't fuck with the forces of Nature. You've got to respect her, because Nature doesn't forgive. – Carl, The Frankenstein Theory

Theory1
Obsession. That always ends well.

I'm saying that Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein, is a work of non-fiction. I'm saying it's a work of non-fiction disguised as fiction, or more accurately it's a fictionalisation of one of the most incredible true events in human history. - Jonathan Venkenheim, The Frankenstein Theory. ...continue reading "The Frankenstein Theory – 2013"

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A man was looking at melamine boards. He checked their lengths for defects, then raised them it to eye height and held it straight ahead to see if it was straight. He was doing a terrible job of it, taking too long about it and picking a bunch of boards that even from five metres away, Gwen could see were sub-par.

The customer had probably never had to check boards before. He'd probably learned the technique out of a book or a YouTube video. Men who were just starting in on woodwork tended to be like that. There seemed to be a weird belief amongst men that woodworking is in the blood, and so asking for help was admitting something was wrong with them.

They seemed perfectly okay with asking about paint, though. Colours. Women's stuff. A bloke could be forgiven for not knowing. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 9: The Phial"

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