Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Crit List 6: MonsterQuest, Part One -- Why I Love MonsterQuest

Okay, this sucks. I know it, you know it, let's get over it and move on.

See, when I was working on that Psittacosaurus piece it was pretty clear to me that if my drawing skills were in better shape I would have done a better piece of work. I need to set pen and pencil together on a regular basis instead of just hauling them out when I don't have any other choice.

I also draw too slowly, especially if I'm going to be doing any cartooning. So I'm going to try and do a page of sketching or drawing each day. I'm posting it not for your delight and not to prove what a great artist I am but rather as part of a ritual. I need to make a habit of drawing the way I've made a habit of writing. Discipline, he said. Iron discipline.

I haven't been watching a lot of TV lately -- just cooking shows while I eat and the stuff like Lost that I watch in order to spend time with the missus. (She's one of those who regards watching the tube together as 'us time,' and I try to accommodate her to a degree. We are, as I've said, a mixed marriage.)

But there is a show that I adore. It's called MonsterQuest and it's on the History Channel. Forteanna is one of the cultures with which I affiliate myself. I've been fascinated by aberrant phenomena since childhood.

I started off assuming that scientific examination would eventually confirm things like psychic powers and interplanetary presences on Earth; I grew to believe that as unlikely as any one event might be all it would take would be one crack in conventional reality to change everything.

Now I think that while there are a few openings for surprises in the world they will all fit comfortably into a materialistic worldview. The more I study science, history, and so on, the more I believe that there is an understandable and consistent reality.

But I still love this stuff. As a fantasist, it's great fodder for my imagination. And one of the legitimate openings for real surprises is the natural world -- there are a lot of animals out there that haven't been found or recognized by the mainstream of European-derived culture.

That's where MonsterQuest comes in. The basic idea behind the show is that they find some report of a spooky critter and then fund an investigation. They bring in a mix of regular guys and gals, cryptozoologists, and skeptical scientists and animal experts, and let them have at it.

This, to my mind, is totally sweet. I am so a member of the target audience.

The most exciting thing about the show is that here and there they come up with something genuinely interesting that seems solid. For instance, footage of a giant squid in the Sea of Cortez. (Since that episode I've felt that any human endeavor that does not involve dropping cameras into the Sea of Cortez is a waste.) Or the giant pike that was reconstructed from a jawbone found in a stream. Or the chupacabra corpse which suggested that there might be a sort of super-mange responsible for a lot of so-called chupacabra activity.

I also love the way they allow the skeptics and nay-sayers to state their case without real argument. "No, it's not giant bear. It isn't even a big bear." "That's a housecat, dude." "It's just a dog." "Uh, huh, looks like a monster but see? Just a couple of otters."

A particularly fine example of this was when they investigated strange flying creatures that were showing up on film and in videos and demonstrated that they were being generated by the cameras themselves. They covered a wide range of speculation, then zoomed in and debunked.

To see evidence gathered and analyzed by people whose expertise seems entirely legitimate is wonderful. To see people who think they have an idea of how to investigate these reports given the funding they need to make a reasonable attempt is great.

The investigations are almost always of interest. By showing the methodologies used in some detail they add a nice dose of education and rational thought to the mix, something we could use a little more of in this country.

And the mix of personalities they get up on the screen is always entertaining. You can't always tell the skeptics from the believers on sight -- eccentrics do not project predictably.

(I use eccentric in a respectful and affectionate sense here -- any really bright and capable person is likely to be eccentric because normal people are inferior. We can talk about this later, if we must.)

And the need for new material puts the producer in the position of accepting some pretty fucking ludicrous claims as the basis for individual episodes. For instance, at one point they had some old fisherman come in with a claim that he'd seen a fourteen-foot brown trout. The show's response was not to laugh openly at his obvious lie; it was to talk about what a fierce predator the brown trout was and then make a fucking two-foot trout lure with a camera in it.

Brilliant. Jut brilliant. This is a mixed blessing, admittedly, and I'll be complaining about this as well as praising it, but it adds to the entertainment value.

They also have a knack for pulling some surprising concepts into the mix. Just when I start groaning, "Jesus, not another fucking bigfoot story," they'll throw in references to Stalin's half-ape army to spice things up. Honestly, the researchers and writers for the show deserve some real credit for this.

And the actual scripting is nowhere near as idiotic as that in most nature shows. It's not thrilling prose but most of the time it fails to offend, which is all I ask for.

There's a particular spooky feeling I enjoy. If I read a whole series of reports of strange events, while my rational mind is busy debunking and explaining, my primitive superstitious mind is building up a sort of static charge -- "Some of this must be true!" The resulting cognitive dissonance causes me delight; MonsterQuest is crack for that, kinda like freebasing Fort.

Like I said, this is my idea of good casual entertainment. But do I have complaints? Of course I have complaints. It is the way of my people. Tune in next time for the pissing and moaning...

No comments: