Wednesday, April 13, 2011

TV Review: Is It Real (2005-2007)

If you’re looking for a great show that debunks a variety of supernatural, paranormal and just plain crazy theories, then Is It Real is for you. Produced by the National Geographic Channel, Is It Real is a 28 episode documentary series that examines everything from ghosts to alien abductions to Atlantis to exorcisms to human superpowers. It’s honest, it’s fair, it’s snarky and it’s well worth your time.

For some time now, claims of the paranormal have been gaining credibility because books like Erich von Däniken’s “Chariots of the Gods” and “Ancient Aliens” on the History Channel are ramming these ideas into the public consciousness. And since humans love to believe the inexplicable and are easily fooled by false logic, these ideas are catching fire within our culture. Unfortunately, the evidence presented to support these claims ranges from the paranoid or conspiratorial to the just plain stupid. But often it’s not clear just how fraudulent these claims are until someone does a critical analysis of the claim.

That’s where Is It Real comes in. Is It Real gives both proponents of these theories and skeptics a fair chance to present their arguments -- though, when I say “fair,” I mean precisely that: “fair” not “unchallenged.” Indeed, unlike so many of these shows (both pro/con) which typically just accept one side's presentation at face value, the Is It Real crew will interview witnesses, will stage experiments, and will consult actual scientists to examine claims. This makes the show a valuable resource for anyone who wishes to understand the issues being addresses. For example, they interview the man who claims to have worn the Big Foot costume in the famous Big Foot Photo. They show how insects will cause the precise conditions that cattle mutilation enthusiasts claim can only be made by alien surgeons. They explain the psychological reasons people would want to believe they are possessed. They show how the description of aliens varies by culture and explain the reason for this, and how alien abduction stories are the result of sleep paralysis. Etc.

Many believers object that the show favors the skeptics, but it’s hard to agree with their point. Certainly the show lands on the side of skepticism, but that is because the skeptics are making arguments that are logically sound, backed by evidence, and consistent with human experience; the believers have nothing similar to offer. Moreover, Is It Real always acknowledges the limits of the skeptic's case, and has at times found some credibility in the claims of paranormal activity, such as when they examine sleep-walking murders, where they note both that sleep walkers are capable of performing highly complex tests and that people awoken from such states are often intensely violent.

I highly recommend this series. Not only does it give you the basics upon which these beliefs arise, i.e. the history of their development and a discussion of the most famous cases, but it carefully dispels what can be dispelled and it exposes the charlatans who seek to profit from pushing these beliefs. And it does so with both a snarky sense of humor and a fair examination of the evidence. All of which makes for an enjoyable and educational experience.

It also just so happens that Is It Real can be watched instantly on Netflix at the moment. Check it out. . . do it for Nessie!

So, what’s your favorite paranormal phenomena/supernatural creature?

31 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

Sounds good, Andrew. I know Obama's speech wasn't real, but we probably don't even need to watch this show to know that :D

JG said...

Yay for instant watch! I'm adding this to the list. But you'll never talk me out of Chupacabra of Nessie. That stuff's legit. ;)

JG said...

*or

Tennessee Jed said...

sorry, I forgot to mention - leprechaun is my favorite. Pot 'o Gold and all that. Plus, there is the whole Mike Myers sketch with Wayne & Garth.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, LOL! Yeah, we can probably see through Obama's speech even without a program like this outlining it for us. I love how his budget works over 12 years now. It used to be 5 years, then it was 10. Now he's talking 12. I guess if he gets a second term is will be a 100 year budget!

I think you'll enjoy the show.

AndrewPrice said...

JG, Excellent! I think you'll like it.

The Chupacabra episode is actually very interesting! That's the one where they determined that insects could create what appear to be surgical incisions in animals that died.

I love Nessie! And I too like to think that Nessie is floating around out there somewhere. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Party on! ;-)

Leprechaun's are one thing they don't do, but it would be interesting to at least discover the origin of the Leprechaun?


BTW, Thriller is now on the instant watch too and I watched one (with Leslie Nielson). It was pretty good. It definitely had a Twilight Zone feel too it, though it wasn't supernatural.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: And since Obama hasn't read the Constitution and doesn't know he's term-limited, he probably thinks he'll still be President 100 years from now.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I wouldn't doubt it.

You know, someone should do a series like Is It Real and debunk all of liberalism. That would actually be a pretty instructive show. Hmmm.

rlaWTX said...

hey, Andrew, that liberal debuking show sounds like Commentarama!!!!

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, It does! We just need a film crew now! :-)

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: Why don't we do it? We could call it Andrew and Lawhawk's "Horse" Manure!" Or would Penn & Teller sue us?

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, If they ever hear about it, they might! LOL! Of course, that would be good for publicity, so I'd probably send them the video tape. ;-)

T_Rav said...

Andrew, I watched "Chariots of the Gods" some years ago, and it was just awful. I can't pick out any specific parts of the show, because it's been so long, but I remember that everything from ancient times (not just the Nazca lines and other truly puzzling stuff, but even some innocuous though unusual cave paintings and such) was used as evidence of human-alien interaction. Which is a terrible way to make an argument--per Sir Karl Popper, your hypothesis has to be falsifiable if it is to be considered scientific in any way. In fact, I think this video was shown to us as part of a college lesson on how NOT to make an argument.

T_Rav said...

"And since Obama hasn't read the Constitution and doesn't know he's term-limited, he probably thinks he'll still be President 100 years from now."

LawHawk, you did see Obama's speech today about the deficit, right?

LawHawkRFD said...

T_Rav: Yep. Since he can walk on the Potomac, I'm sure that he thinks that walking on a sea of red ink would be easy. If that was a serious budget proposal, I'm the King of Kenya. It will be the first episode of "Horse Manure."

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, The latest thing they're doing is taking a book like the Bible (or similar ancient text) then they substitute the word "alien" for "angel." Then they look into the camera and say the standard conspiratorial "I'm not saying it's true, I'm just saying it's interesting."

Is It Real debunks a lot of this. With the ancient artwork that supposedly shows spaceships, for example, they point out how the ones in Egypt that appear to be helicopters and spaceships are actually remnants (i.e. half images) that were left over from when images related to a disfavored god were removed from the walls. In other words, these "helicopters" are the junk that wasn't scraped off the walls, like the rest was.

It's a good show. I highly recommend it.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav and Lawhawk, I will not have you impugning the intelli... hono.... hmm... "audacity" of Obama and his magic plan to ruin America!

T_Rav said...

Andrew, add that to the list of reasons I don't watch the History Channel anymore. What's more plausible, I wonder: that we have had (and maybe still have) contact with supernatural beings, or that we were visited in our prehistoric days by aliens obviously sophisticated enough to take over the entire planet without serious resistance from us at any time? I don't think so.

T_Rav said...

LawHawk, red ink is denser than water, after all...

I was specifically referencing his statement that if Medicare doesn't follow his order and keep its costs down after 12 years, he will authorize the people in charge to propose more changes to the system or something. Apparently he thinks he'll still be President in 2023.

ScottDS said...

I have fond memories of watching Sightings and a similar show titled Encounters in the early- to mid-90s. They usually aired on Fox as hour-long time-fillers. UFOs, Roswell, Area 51, etc. I was hooked and I'm still into this stuff (not to any great extent, though). I think Jonathan Frakes even hosted a show like this for a season or so back in the late 90s.

I can see it now: Andrew and LawHawk's Balderdash!

On a slightly related note, NASA announced the final homes of the space shuttle fleet. The Enterprise is coming to the Intrepid Museum in NYC! (It was only a test shuttle; it never went into space.) Oddly, Texas isn't getting one.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, It's even worse than that, you should see these idiots talking about how the aliens came here to breed with our hairy ancestors to make us into humans. Ask yourself... you fly to another plant to harvest whatever, where you find a species of ape-like creatures. If your first thought going to be "hey, that one's kinda sexy." Give me a break.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Frakes did host something like that, but I can't think of the name of it.

I enjoy these things too, but I recognize they are fantasy. They are nothing more than uninformed speculation. What I like about Is It Real is that they lay it all out for you rather than trying to push an agenda from the get go, and they're very well made.

"Balderdash" now that sounds like a great name for our show!


I saw that Texas (Houston in particular) is getting stiffed. That's kind of crappy and it sounds like typical Obama-Chicago-pathetic-payback politics. In fact, I'm surprised that one of them isn't going to Oprah's basement.

Ed said...

I've seen this because I'm a fan of documentaries of all types and I think it's a great show. Of course, I also like "Ancient Aliens." ;D

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I'm not thrilled with "Ancient Aliens" because it doesn't offer anything new. But I do enjoy these shows generally. I just don't take them seriously.

Tennessee Jed said...

The leprechaun dates back at least to medieval times. It was mentioned in a folk tale involving the King of Ulster-- Fergus, son of Leti. They generally are considered to be neither entirely good or evil. Earliest reference was in the 1604 play by Dekker titled "The honest whore part 2. (This from "Wiki")

Sounds like you saw the very first episode of "Thriller," Andrew. Others, beside Leslie, who participated before they became more well known include Shatner, Rip Torn, Robert "Man From Uncle" Vaughn, Richard Kiel, Tom Poston, Mary Tyler Moore and Cloris Leachman among others. The best episodes were on par with Twighlight Zone. My personal take is Twilight Zone was a bit more consistently great. Still, in two seasons, there is plenty of greatness to go round.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I think it was the first episode, but I'm not sure. I'll let you know how the rest go.

USArtguy said...

When I was a kid growing up I bought into the visiting aliens stories, partly because my mom used to buy a number of the old tabloid "newspapers" and partly because of my interest in Astronomy.

If you want to lose all respect for the UFO crowd, hang out with some serious amateur astronomers for a while. You'll learn things like the distances in space between even the nearest of galactic neighbors is so vast that, assuming there's someone even capable of the making the voyage on the other end, it would take them many generations traveling many times faster than the fastest man-made craft to get here. In which case, it would be a one-way trip for them and they're likely more than willing to conquer us to take our resources rather than sing kumbaya and be our pals. Further, whizzing along at that kind speed would require them to hit the brakes around Jupiter and slow down for two full years before arrival less they overshoot our humble marble and miss us completely. Of course, that gives the millions of said amateur astronomers plenty of time to find them regardless of what the government has to say about it.

Yeah, joining an Astronomical Society pretty well killed off all those old ideas of mine. Still, X-files is one of my all-time favorite shows! Scully, mmmm...

AndrewPrice said...

USArtguy, I love the idea of aliens coming for a visit, but it doesn't make any sense to me either. There are just so many reasons scientifically and logically for it not to be true that it just doesn't make any sense.

Speaking of astronomy, one of the worst conspiracy theories is that we never actually landed on the moon. This one was created by a high school drop out in New Mexico who has no scientific training whatsoever and no connection to NASA. Yet, people are falling for this one in large numbers -- especially in Europe.

What's funny about it is that astronomers all over the world can actually look at the moon and see the evidence that we've been there. But these people insist it didn't happen. Moreover, to pull this conspiracy off, around 400,000 people would need to be involved in the coverup. Can you imagine 400,000 remaining silent?

USArtguy said...

One of my favorite things to point out to the "moon trip deniers", to coin a phrase, is that the USSR beat us into space in the first place. There is no way they wouldn't expose us in the slightest if we hadn't gone to the moon.

AndrewPrice said...

USArtguy, Yep, absolutely right. If we hadn't made it to the moon, the Russians would have been all over that.

Another problem I have with it is the totally perfect/totally incompetent conspiracy aspect. On the one hand, we are to believe that the government is this massive thing that controls everyone and everything and keep everyone in line (including people like the Russians). Yet, at the same time, it's also so horribly inept that it makes all the mistakes the conspiracy people point to -- like not putting stars into the pictures, and it lets outsiders figure out what is "really" going on? That's ridiculous.

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