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Saturday, October 23, 2004

Skepticism

Our other DVD from Netflix we watched today (figuring out why the lack of posting yet?) was episodes from the first season of Penn and Teller's show Bullshit. I loved it immediately, since "bullshit" is my second favorite curse word after the ubiquitious "fuck". This show, randy language and all, needs to be on prime time television because most people's bullshit detectors are running low on batteries.

The hands down most upsetting segment was the one about psychics who claim they talk to the dead. The sad thing about this particular art form is that it has been debunked pretty much since the whole seance culture began and still people believe it. Because they want to.

People like psychics get away with what they do because they are willing to cross lines their critics are not willing to cross. The psychics on this show were willing to exploit people's grief for money, but usually the critics don't have the heart to walk up to the victims and say, "Hey, that person just lied. Your mom is dead and she ain't coming back, talking to you, or whatever. Deal with it." This problem is evident on the show, which makes it all the more compelling as television.

The best part, though, was that they were able to put together convincing arguments against things like psychics in a half-hour format and still get across some complex information like what a "cold reading" is and how it works. And it was funny.

The segment I wish they could have blown up into three or four half-hour shows was the one on people who think they've been abducted by aliens. There are too many weird things going on there to cram into a half-hour show. Luckily, they touched on what seems to me to be the driving force behind a lot of the alien abduction stories. Yep, it's that old demon repressed sexuality and desire turning its head again.

Listening to people's abduction stories with a skeptical mind, a number of things become clear. The big one is that they are dreaming. Most abductees are taken from their beds when they asleep, meaning that they remember going to bed, having a bunch of fucked up experiences and waking up without a problem. Without powerful suggestions otherwise, they would understand that they experienced plain old dreams.

The other big thing that becomes clear is that theses alien dreams mostly express sexual desires that cannot be acknowledged. Penn and Teller make fun of this by showing an abductee a sex toy and watching her describe it as an alien probe. The point was made but not examined in depth--after all, it's a TV show, not an academic book.

But it was clear that the most of the alien abductees are finding things in their experiences with the aliens that they are not getting on earth. Lonely, unloved people are taken aboard ships and probed and prodded by aliens, getting not only attention they don't get in everyday life, but also sexual contact. Disturbingly, people talked about getting instruments shoved up their asses and vaginas and smiled the whole time they were talking. Penn addresses this issue somewhat by lamenting the lack of sociability in our society, but I thought to myself that's no way to address that sexual anxieties that fill these dreams. In order to cure that particular problem, our society will have to do more than become more social. We will have to find a way to address the base sexual anxieties that are causing this.

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