Date: Thu, 11 Sep 1997
From: SKEPTICMAG@aol.com


Last night I was reading George Carlin's new book, BRAIN DROPPINGS (very, very funny and well deserving to be on the best-seller list). He disparages PC terms like African Americans and Native Americans, as well as euphamisms like fat people being 'heavy.' Aircraft carriers are heavy, he says, fat people are fat. According to Carlin, not exactly a renowned anthropologist, the Native Americans should be called 'Indians' because when Columbus got here he declared they were the people of God, or the people 'in dios,' and that it had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Columbus thinking he was in India.

Anyone out there know anything about this? I'm skeptical.

A couple of you pointed out that the September issue of SMITHSONIAN has an excellent article on 'THE MAN WHO BELIEVED IN FAIRIES,' an even more in-depth analysis of the Houdini-Conan Doyle debate on the fairy photos, as well as on the soon-to-be-released film. Check it out. It is excellent.

Be forewarned before you shell out $7.50, the film, FAIRYTALE -- A TRUE STORY starring Harvey Keitel as Houdini and Peter O'Toole as Conan Doyle, is not exactly skeptical. In fact, it was a major let down for me because it is a beautifully produced film and Keitel as Houdini is brilliant. And they do a wonderful job of portraying the culture of the time (post World War I, grief and stress over so much death and destruction, the rise of the theosophical society and the interest in contacting the dead, especially those who died in the war, etc), and even the social/family setting for why the girls would have faked the photos (one of the fathers was missing in action in the war).

The film was perfectly poised to be a splendid cultural history to help us understand the CAUSE of such beliefs, and even be a bit sympathetic with those who lost loved ones and were grieving and thus prone to these beliefs.

But then, at that very moment, the scene cuts to the babbling brook where the girls had taken the photographs, and what we are shown? Fairies! Lots and lots of fairies. And, of course, with modern special effects they look damn real. So the viewer is suppose to conclude that Houdini was wrong and Conan Doyle was right. Ugh! This despite the fact that one of them later confessed it was all a fake.

They even had this great scene where a journalist breaks into the girls home and rumages through their room and discovers the cut-out fairies they used for the photographs. But just then a tremendous storm swirls around the home and some mysterious force breaks through the window and slams him against the wall. Ridiculous. Oh, and in the closing scene the MIA father returns. It is Mel Gibson in a cameo.

Michael Shermer


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