Para-Debunking on Debunking Day

Today, in honor of Debunking Day, which is held on March 11 annually (starting in 2005) I thought I’d introduce a new word. It’s Para-Debunking and you won’t find it in the dictionary, at least not in our brand-new hardcover Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. It was just delivered yesterday. We needed at least one physical dictionary for when we play Scrabble. We’re also waiting for an official Scrabble Dictionary, also on order. The heft of a real dictionary feels really good, by the way.

Anyway, the definition of “debunk” is “to expose the sham or falseness of” something.

Before I give you my definition of para-debunking, I should say that it’s a spinoff of the word “paranormal.” I know it doesn’t really make sense, but hang on, I’m getting to that.

You’ll never guess how I even found out it was Debunking Day today. Sena found out yesterday that a radio DJ was planning to observe the holiday by looking up something on MythBusters, another TV show we used to watch a lot.

That led to Sena finding a couple of X-Files episodes (a big-time paranormal TV show in the not-so-distant past): Sunshine Days and The Rain King.

If you can pick any topic to find debunkers always ranting about, the paranormal would be one of them. I’m not out to actually debunk it, so you can put your guns down. But the two X-Files episodes made me think of maybe something more important than just garden variety debunking.

Sunshine Days, an episode in the 9th season, originally aired in 2002, with Agents Doggett, Reyes, and Scully investigating two murders at a house that is off and on tricked out as the Brady Bunch house. This is the accidental result of the staggering psychokinetic powers of the homeowner, Anthony, whose psychic talents were studied when he was a child by a parapsychologist, Dr. Rietz. Anthony developed an attachment to Dr. Rietz and created doubles of the Brady Bunch (gaaahhhh!) because his family life was bad.

The agents take Anthony to FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. and convince Assistant Director Skinner and a scientist that Anthony’s powers could change the world. But as Anthony demonstrates his powers by levitating things, including Skinner, the strain of it makes him deathly sick. Skinner is no lightweight.

As he lay dying in the hospital, Dr. Rietz realizes that Anthony loves him like a father and that relationship is more important than using him for his paranormal powers to change the world since it would kill him. Paranormal power is not debunked, but the real power is the power of love. That’s para-debunking, which doesn’t have a holiday but should.

The other X-Files episode is The Rain King, which aired in the 6th season in 1999 and features Agents Mulder and Scully investigating a guy named Daryl in Kansas, who claims he can make it rain whenever he wants, thereby controlling the awful drought that has plagued the area for months. I think it’s important that this is set in Kansas. As usual, Mulder believes that somebody is making it rain, but maybe not Daryl. Scully is skeptical as usual and tries to debunk the whole thing.

It turns out that the local weatherman, Holman, is responsible for the crazy weather because he’s been in love for decades with Sheila (who had been engaged to Daryl but he was not down with the plan). But Holman just can’t work up the nerve to tell her. He even creates a tornado that tosses a cow through Mulder’s hotel room ceiling. Holman finally convinces Sheila that he really loves her, which brings back the sunshine. The moral of the story is that we should be nice to each other because you never know when somebody will direct their paranormal ability at the skies and clobber us with flying cattle.

Just kidding. The idea is the same as it was for the Sunshine Days episode. It’s more important to feel our feelings and share them with others as long as that doesn’t involve hurling livestock at each other.

Get the idea? The paranormal is not debunked, but para-debunked in favor of focusing on the important stuff humans can achieve on earth without paranormal involvement. Maybe we can treasure what we already are capable of doing.

OK, let’s vote. Who wants to add Para-Debunking Day to our long list of holidays?

Putting the Exley in X-Files

A couple of nights ago Sena was looking at some old X-Files episodes on the web. It was on the Dailymotion site. For some reason, we could see them without login registration. I think it’s usually required. We watched the full length, The Unnatural episode two nights in a row without ads. It was an inconsistent experience. We saw it in both HD and non-HD modes and got slammed by ads at times and other times couldn’t access the show at all unless you logged in.

The weird thing was that all the subtitles and captions, and even the scenes were shown in mirror image. It turns out this mirror issue is not uncommon. I googled it and others have noticed it on YouTube as well as Dailymotion. You can flip the video out of mirror mode—often for the price of software being peddled for that purpose. The most common reason I saw given for the videos being mirrored was to avoid copyright strikes.

OK, so other than that, a lot of the old X-Files shows were available and Sena watched a little of the brutal episode “Home.” Sena can do a hilarious mimic of part of Mrs. Peacock snarling “I can tell you don’t have no children. Maybe one day you’ll learn… the pride… the love… when you know your boy will do anything for his mother.” Sena always ad libbed “the joy” to the “the pride, the love” phrase.

We used to watch the X-Files regularly, making popcorn downstairs in the kitchen and getting upstairs to watch it in bed just in time.

Anyway, we could watch the mirror version of “The Unnatural,” comfortably despite the backwards captions. This is one of our favorite episodes. There are many obvious references to racism and identity. I looked all over for a simplified plot summary, but found a lot of them have glaring mistakes, are too long, and wouldn’t fit with my simple-minded geezer interpretation. So, I’m going to cobble together something from reading a number of them. I’m not saying it’ll be straightforward.

I have to call it a Monster-of-The-Week (MOTW) episode because that’s what a lot of writers do.  It refers to X-Files episodes that usually feature some paranormal creature or a criminal with a supernatural ability.

Here’s a tangent I can’t resist because we just watched Mountain Monsters Sunday night for the first time, and I think it was the first episode of the new season of this show which has been on for 8 seasons. It is surely a parody of several shows of the Bigfoot adventure type. It’s basically an ongoing MOTW series featuring a cast of characters who survive on sasquatch snacks and cryptid colas and stage uproarious, slapstick comedy searches for legendary creatures (some of which are apparently part of genuine local folklore) like Spear Finger, the Smoke Wolf, the Cherokee Death Cat, and a dozen others, some of which are unfortunately prone to violent attacks of diarrhea, which Wild Bill (arguably one of the funnies members of the cast) did a side-splitting impression of by hanging on to a couple of trees and sticking his butt way too far out in a stunningly hysterical pantomime of projectile Hershey squirts, all the while getting more and more bug-eyed, cursing a blue streak and brandishing a gun which looked like a kid’s toy you could find at Walmart. The camera angles are all too perfect. We laughed until we cried.

Anyway, getting back to The Unnatural, the show is basically the reminiscence of an ex-cop named Arthur Dales who was assigned to protect a black baseball player named Josh Exley from being killed by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Actually, Josh is an alien who shape-shifted into a black man because he loves the game of baseball. He can also sing the old Negro Spiritual “Come and Go with Me to That Land” on the team bus so well that it was recorded on YouTube and one commenter said he’d pay $100 for a full version of it.

The episode starts with Fox Mulder finding an old newspaper clipping about a baseball game in 1947 in Roswell, New Mexico, the site of so many UFO crashes that the local landfill could not keep up with all the debris local ranchers were trucking in from the fields. He finds a story which shows a picture of an Alien Bounty Hunter in it. This is an executioner who also shape shifts and knocks off other aliens who misbehave by threatening to expose the alien colonization project going on at the time.

The KKK is threatening the team of black players and the head of the gang is the Alien Bounty Hunter. He’s after Exley because he threatens to expose the project simply because he loves to smack home runs and, even though Exley thinks the game of baseball is meaningless, it’s perfect because you can chew tobacco and get knocked out by wild pitches—which leads to him getting beaned and bleeding green blood on the catcher’s mitt. He wakes up speaking alien but because he remembers he’s from Macon, Georgia, everybody thinks he’s OK. The catcher’s mitt is sent to the lab guy for analysis.

Officer Dales finds out Exley is an alien after he breaks into his room and sees him in his alien form. After Dales wakes up from fainting a half dozen times, Exley tells him that he’s an alien; he’s forbidden from intermingling with humans, and he masquerades as a black baseball player because he loves the game and to escape notice. The way Exley puts it, “They don’t like for us to mingle with your people. The philosophy is we stick to ourselves; you stick to yourselves—everybody’s happy.”

Where have you heard this before? It sounds like Jim Crow to me.

The Bounty Hunter, masquerading as Exley, kills the lab guy and Exley is now fingered as the murderer.  Exley and Dales have a short talk while playing catch in the ball park in which Exley says it’s time for him to face the music and go back to his family. When Dales basically asks him why the human race can’t be his family, Exley takes either a surprisingly Green Supremacist attitude or just states the facts saying, “We may be able to look like y’all—but we ain’t y’all.”

In the end, the Alien Bounty Hunter executes Exley. But just before he kills Exley, he tells him to show his “true face” so he can die with dignity. Exley says simply, “This is my true face.”

 And while he dies in Dales’ arms, despite Exley telling him to get away because his green blood is poison to humans, Dales sees that it’s red and says “It’s just blood.”

I don’t know exactly what this means and some have called it ambiguous. I speculate that this might have been the culmination of a transformative process and it reminds me of Atticus Finch telling Scout (in To Kill a Mockingbird), “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Try to Keep Your Buns Warm

I was out shoveling snow this morning in the subzero temperatures.  It’s getting down to 20 and 30 degrees below zero with the wind chills today and tomorrow—and likely beyond. Try to keep your buns warm in weather like that. Sena helped by making hot cocoa when I came in for a break. Little things like that make a big difference. Like many other people in the country, we’re getting out despite the wind chill warnings. There are a couple of reasons for that. None of us want our neighbors falling on our sidewalks. The other reason is that you look for just about any kind of a break from the indoor routine caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, part of which is the TV show lineup.

On the other hand, I get a kick out of the Ancient Aliens program. Last night, William Shatner, the Star Trek star who has his own show about the weird and wonderful, UnXplained. He sat at the head of a table lined by a group of Ancient Aliens heavy hitters, along with video guest stars including physicist Michio Kaku. I think Shatner was playing the role of devil’s advocate, apparently trying to argue against the idea that aliens are driving their UFOs recklessly around our planet while intoxicated on oregano, crashing them on the Weather Channel’s Highway 401 in British Columbia, forcing the Heavy Rescue crews to pull them out of ditches using 65-ton rotators (which look like they’re from another planet, by the way) and occasionally kidnapping various humans for the odd anal probing.

Anyway, I suspect Shatner was playfully provocative and this got the Ancient Alien crew to talking loudly and rapidly all at once, interrupting each other and challenging Shatner to a knife fight and whatnot. Just kidding; they were all very polite and respectful.

Me at the Star Trek Museum in Riverside, Iowa in 2016

I think it’s possible to take the Ancient Aliens show too seriously. I really wondered why Shatner was invited as a guest on Ancient Aliens. Maybe they don’t take themselves as seriously as some people think. Well, OK, they probably do.

In fact, I don’t think Shatner takes his own show, The UnXplained, seriously. I wonder if the title of the show is a sort of jab at the X-Files? Remember the 1999 episode, “The Unnatural”? Josh Exley (played by Jesse Martin) was an alien who took the form of an alien and was an excellent baseball player. He hid among an all-African American baseball team in Roswell in the 1940s but was executed by an alien bounty hunter who didn’t want him mixing with the human race. Think about that irony. The episode was warmly comical and at times, even poked fun at the preoccupation with alien invasions. I actually liked Jesse Martin’s version of the gospel song “Come and Go with Me to That Land.” There is no full version of it, but I also liked Sam Cooke’s rendition. Sena and I both really enjoyed watching the X-Files while eating popcorn. I treasure the memory.

Well, the sun is shining and it has finally almost stopped snowing. I have to go back out and finish shoveling.

Have a great Valentine’s Day tomorrow.

Me and my valentine in New York
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