Some friends and I spent part of our Memorial Day Weekend learning about Mermaids. Well, let me clarify. We didn’t dive into the Mariana Trench armed with sonar, harpoons, nets, and DNA-mapping equipment. (Although, that would have been insanely cool!) We watched a pair of sci-fi shows on Animal Planet: Mermaids: The Body Found and The New Evidence.
The shows were pitched as “real” and “true story” and all that. But shows like this, which detail proof of Atlantis, Bigfoot, or extraterrestrial life, are always more entertainment and conjecture than science. The Mermaids shows were no exceptions. The “evidence” and videos regarding mermaids were obviously fake. The ‘candid’ experts were obviously scripted. Underneath it all, three things still shone through as redeeming:
- Entertainment value – The CGI was top-notch. The mini-movie threaded throughout did an excellent job of bringing these Mermaids to life. In addition, there was actual story. Although these creatures never spoke, they were cast as possessing human emotions. Two scenes stand out: one in which a mother gives live, underwater birth, and another where a merman slices his own chest—thus sacrificing himself—to save the rest of the pod from a vicious Megalodon. Very human actions.
- Novel information – By “novel”, I mean “new to me”, not fodder for a manuscript. (Although, I’m not one to rule out the possibility…) I am a huge, geeky fan of both science and learning ALL THE NEW THINGS. I had never heard of the “Aquatic Ape Theory, so that part of the programs was intriguing. The Aquatic Ape Theory is the idea that during the transition from the last common ancestor we shared with apes to hominid, humans went through an aquatic stage. This stage is believed to have resulted in “aquatic ape-like” creatures (i.e. mermaids), which may possibly still exist. Check out more on this theory here: http://press.discovery.com/ekits/monster-week-mermaids/aquatic-ape.html
- Eco-Propaganda – In my opinion, the beauty of these two shows is that they are genius pieces of eco-propaganda. The real point is not mermaids at all, but a protest against the Navy’s use/testing of sonar-as-weapons. Mass-beachings of whales and other sea creatures, supposedly caused by government activities, is the underlying point. The mermaids angle was a tool—the hook used to grab viewers’ attention. The true intention was to raise awareness about man-caused damage being done to marine mammals. What better way to garner a mass-audience than to wrap that issue within a story which sparks the collective imagination? Genius, if you ask me. Apparently the bait-and-switch angle worked, because millions of viewers watched 3 hours’ worth…
Throughout the shows, a lot of “Bullshit! That’s so fake!” and “Really? Look at that! So.stupid.” echoed through the loft. Still, I found the programs both interesting and entertaining. Also, I drew parallels the whole time of how one part truth—braided with two parts imagination—can create an engaging, appealing story. If handled properly, one kernel of plausible truth can spark the suspension of disbelief, and allow us bi-pedal humans to dream of other worlds and other creatures, which are very much like ourselves. No matter the setting or characters, all great stories show humans either as we are, or as we could be.
There is an Encore Presentation Wednesday May 29th at 8:00 PM Eastern. My friends might disagree with me, but I highly recommend it. Simply watch the shows with the understanding that they are 1 part Science, and 2 parts Science Fiction.
For the record, I want to believe in Mermaids.