Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Jesse Ventura's Conspiracy Theory: Substance or Tin Foil Hats?

The number of Gen X-ers who have fond memories of the classic myth and conspiracy television show In Search Of are legion. Each episode, Leonard Nemoy would narrate an "investigation" into some popular myth, ancient legend, or conspiracy. Viewers would learn a lot about the myth as myth, but leave most episodes with little knowledge of the "truth" regarding any of the topics being studied.

The show presented the topic, but didn't engage with it critically -- only observationally. Episodes about UFOs would feature interviews with those who claimed to have seen UFOs, or who claimed to be abducted, but wouldn't usually present the skeptical view.

Years later, Gen X-ers were among the first to enjoy the mythbusting exploits of James Randi, the "Mythbusters," and Penn and Teller. These individual provided wonderful tonic for many of our modern superstitions and did society a service by promoting skeptical thinking. More than that, they also provided great entertainment.

Myths and conspiracies are topics which captivate the imagination, and like most people I love learning about new ones. While the mythbusters listed above spend a great deal of time testing and exposing myths, they don't spend a lot of time introducing us to new ones. That is work for other people.

Enter Jesse Ventura.

The Former Governor, Navy SEAL, and Professional Wrestler has a new show entitled CONSPIRACY THEORY debuting on truTV Wednesday, December 2nd at 10 p.m. (ET/PT). The show builds on Ventura's reputation as a rebel and combines his passion for conspiracy theories with his blunt and forceful personality.

Each episode, Ventura and his circle of intrepid investigators (images of Doc Savage and his crew are currently running through my mind) go out into the field to examine these claims and present their results to the viewing audience. truTV describes the show as follows, "They're on a mission to examine possible conspiracies surrounding secret societies, global warming, alleged 9/11 cover-ups, a research center in Alaska that could be a secret government weapon, and apocalyptic prophecies, to name a few."

The first episode, which airs tonight, investigates claims made about a remote joint Air Force and Naval research center in Alaska called HAARP (The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program). Throughout the episode various claims are made about HAARP. It is a secret weapon, it can control the weather and create earthquakes, it is a mind control device. Ventura and his team present each of these suppositions and interview individuals about the mystery of HAARP.

I think that this was an interesting, and odd, choice for a first episode. I had never heard of HAARP before the episode. This made me interested to learn more about it, but it also meant that it was curiosity with the new and not excitement that brought me to the episode.

Most of the investigation in this episode is less than engaging, that is until Ventura interviews Dr. Nick Begich. Dr. Begich is good television. He is the kind of guest that Penn and Teller's producers work hard to get on their show. The Begich section of the episode is so engaging, particularly after some of the earlier interviews, that I am having to hold myself back from writing more in order to avoid giving out spoilers.

CONSPIRACY THEORY's first episode introduced me to a conspiracy with which I was completely unfamiliar, and it did eventually manage to entertain, but it didn't do what I had most hoped for in a show of this type. Maybe it's because I live in a post-Randi world, but I expect shows like this to question the conspiracy. Ventura and crew didn't, they presented the conspiracy. Which is fun, but I want more.

In coming weeks, the show will feature episodes on the following topics:

  • 9/11
  • Global Warming
  • Big Brother
  • Secret Societies
  • Manchurian Candidates
  • Apocalypse 2012

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