Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dark shadows

I find myself wondering, sometimes, how the fans of television shows like Monster Quest don't get frustrated and stop watching after a while.

I mean, you have these guys running around, week after week, shouting about footprints and eyewitness accounts and blurry photographs, and in the end they always catch exactly zero monsters.  But somehow, this lack of success never discourages the monster hunters, nor their fans, nor (apparently) the sponsors, because cryptozoological television series are multiplying like bunnies.

Which, unlike the cryptids, are actually real.

Take, for example, the latest trailer from Mountain Monsters, which you can watch over at Cryptomundo.  The trailer tells us about a "Shadow Creature," a "massive beast" who is actively hunting humans, which sounds terrifying.  But then, when you watch the video, it turns out to be a bunch of bearded guys wearing plaid running around at night, and making noises that sounded to me like "HURR A DURR HERPLE!  HURK A DURK DURK SNURFLE DURR!" as some unidentified snarling noises sound in the background.  I don't know about you, but I couldn't understand a single thing these people were saying.  I'm assuming it was English, since it was filmed in West Virginia, but it could equally well have been in Lithuanian or Swahili.  And I'm from the Deep South, so I'd think I'd be able to decipher an accent from that part of the world, however much of a twang it had.

But no such luck.

And of course, we never get to see the monster.  As far as hard evidence -- if I can call it that -- all you get is a single footprint in the snow, and some broken ice that the creature allegedly stepped in.  Other than that, all we see is a lot of growling, intermingled with excited cries of "DERP DERP FNURR" as they run about carrying flashlights.

But naturally, I had to find out more about what they were chasing, so I did a Google search for "shadow monster Braxton West Virginia," and found out that what they're after is most likely the "Flatwoods Monster."  The Flatwoods Monster has antecedents that go back at least fifty years, back to a sighting in Braxton County in 1952.

According to an article in The Skeptical Inquirer, here's what happened:
About 7:15 p.m. on that day, at Flatwoods, a little village in the hills of West Virginia, some youngsters were playing football on the school playground. Suddenly they saw a fiery UFO streak across the sky and, apparently, land on a hilltop of the nearby Bailey Fisher farm. The youths ran to the home of Mrs. Kathleen May, who provided a flashlight and accompanied them up the hill. In addition to Mrs. May, a local beautician, the group included her two sons, Eddie 13, and Freddie 14, Neil Nunley 14, Gene Lemon 17, and Tommy Hyer and Ronnie Shaver, both 10, along with Lemon’s dog. 
There are myriad, often contradictory versions of what happened next, but UFO writer Gray Barker was soon on the scene and wrote an account for Fate magazine based on tape-recorded interviews. He found that the least emotional account was provided by Neil Nunley, one of two youths who were in the lead as the group hastened to the crest of the hill. Some distance ahead was a pulsing red light. Then, suddenly, Gene Lemon saw a pair of shining, animal-like eyes, and aimed the flashlight in their direction. 
The light revealed a towering "man-like" figure with a round, red "face" surrounded by a "pointed, hood-like shape." The body was dark and seemingly colorless, but some would later say it was green, and Mrs. May reported drape-like folds. The monster was observed only momentarily, as suddenly it emitted a hissing sound and glided toward the group. Lemon responded by screaming and dropping his flashlight, whereupon everyone fled.
Most skeptics think that what the group saw was a Barn Owl, which has reflective eyes and makes weird hissing noises when disturbed, but of course, the True Believers doubt that.  Here's a depiction of the Monster, drawn by a professional artist from descriptions by the people who allegedly saw it:

Which is certainly pretty creepy.  But people's imaginations being what they are -- especially when those imaginations are being fueled by generous doses of adrenaline -- I'm a little doubtful.  And I'm still doubtful even after reading about the aftermath of the incident, in which several of the witnesses, especially Gene Lemon (pictured on the left above), had physical symptoms after the sighting, including throat soreness, nausea, and vomiting.

To me, Lemon's symptoms could easily be explained by a bout of stomach flu, and/or simple hysteria over a bad fright.  No monster necessary.

But that didn't stop the Mountain Monsters people from running about, shouting incomprehensibly, and pointing off into the darkness.  Whatever floats their boat, I suppose.

You know, I wonder what will happen if ever they do catch a monster?  What will they do?  Will they be so surprised that they finally succeeded that they'll end up getting eaten?  Will the show be over, in the fashion of a miniseries that reaches its conclusion and resolution?  "Yup!  We finally got the monster!  Now we can all go home to our families and regular jobs!"

Or I wonder if it'll be like the old television series The Incredible Hulk, you know?  The Bad Guys always got really close to capturing David Banner, or at least proving that he was the Hulk, but they never quite did.  He always got away at the last possible minute.  I think that's what they'd do here.  They'd stage it so that they nearly catch the monster, but then... improbably... it gets away.  "Dammit!" the Intrepid Monster Hunters will say.  "Maybe next week!"

And people will keep tuning in, week after week, in hope.  Me, I'll just watch Gilligan's Island.  At least there, you knew they'd never succeed.

1 comment:

  1. I have an idea for a less frustrating program. It's called Bunny Quest. It would be filmed in my back yard, and we'd use IR cameras and triplines and things to find evidence of rabbits. I can pretty much guarantee that we would find a rabbit every week. We could trap them and send them off for "study." And at the end of the show, over a shot of the rabbit in its little cage, we'd superimpose a big rubber-stamp SOLVED with a dramatic thump.