If you were sad about Game of Thrones not being on this past Sunday, you may have been teased and coaxed over to Animal Planet for Mermaid- The Body Found. And, were you drunk, not paying attention, or a graduate of a bad school system, you would have been taken in by the format of the show. Shot in a fairly convincing documentary style, it presented a theory that- at first blush- sounded not crazy at all. Not knowing what I was getting into, my first assumption about this program was that there had been a discovery of sea life I had somehow missed on the web. Perhaps a whale with hand like flippers, or a manatee with long, luxurious locks. The discovery of Homo Floresiensis is still new- only a decade old! And heck, the seabed is still less explored than the surface of the moon. The possibility of a new marine animal is not that remote.
And there is my problem with the entire program. Evolution on Planet Earth is incredible, and amazing. There are organisms that have adapted to live in water that stays at a temperature near the boiling point, creatures live in temperatures that sound comically low. We have things that fly and things that swim, things that can live with no light, no air and even on highly poisonous material. Why present a creature of myth as a reality when the life we already have is mind blowing in it's own right?
The "science" used in this program was obviously thought about by people who know what they are thinking about. The whole docu-fiction was carried out with an air of plausibility, with believable looking "scientists" and dummied up MRI's of skull cavities, and a scientific theory of their evolution that passed at least as much muster as Jurassic Park. And, for a little girl who answered "mermaid" in a class full of presidents and astronauts on What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up day, the soul bursting hope that this was really, really real was almost too much to handle.
Alas, it was not to be. Actors and computer generated images ultimately made for a fun, and dangerous program. Dangerous? Yes- terribly so. In a country (The USA) where a higher percentage of adults believe in ghosts than evolution and where the Ancient Aliens theory is presented with the same weight as extinction theories for dinosaurs, a channel like Animal Planet should be ashamed to be part of the de-sciencing of Americans. The whole program was never presented as a thought experiment of evolutionary biologists (I have seen those with Astro-biologists and Evo-biologists spit-balling about what alien life may possibly look like. Amazingly interesting, and always presented as a scientific flight of fancy).
What is it about fantasy creatures that holds our minds so enraptured? Why would resources be thrown into convincing people- and, if my Facebook feed is indication, some people were absolutely convinced-that the Little Mermaid is in fact under the sea? Have we moved so far away from being spurred into intellectual action by the wonders around us that we must seek myths?
I say- Fight! Fight against this mental oppression! Go read a book. Because obviously, television had nothing left to offer beyond fantasy.