Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city.

In the natural order of things art should be an imitation of life. The artist, whatever their talent may be, takes an interest in something, forms an opinion and expresses it in a way that is unique to them. Whether it be in the form of a 16th Century water colour or a mid 1980's action movie starring Arnold Schwerz, Shwarz, Schawrz, er, Sylvester Stallone, all forms of art should share that one thing in common.

But every so often life finds itself all flippity backwards and, like a clown with a substance abuse problem, gets it very very wrong. Because once in a while, especially when it comes to the subject of monsters and the like, life has a horrible tendency to imitate art. (Gee note: On a completely unrelated note I went to a Clown Fair that was hosted near where I live a couple of months back. Really I did. Not for the clowns you understand. Oh, heavens no. That would be silly, a grown man travelling for an hour and a half just to watch some clowns. Imagine that. No, obviously I went for the balloons instead).

Allow me to explain. One of the world's most famous “I'm sorry, but run me through this once again. You're saying you saw, um, what??!?” animals, arguably just behind Bigfoot in the pecking order of money spinning mysteries, is the wonderfully elusive Loch Ness Monster. Or Nessie for short.

Now most people who claim to have seen this bonkers creature describe it, rather accurately in some cases, as a plesiosaur. Or for those reading this with no interest in pre-historic animals, one of those flippered wotsits with a long neck. You know, like that thing at the top of this page. And even though some modern cryptozoologists have speculated that any ancient creature living in the Loch is much more likely to be a Basilosaurus, which apparently is a kind of stretched whale that used to kick around the oceans about 40 million years ago, every year reports rack up of an animal exactly like a plesiosaur being spotted from the shore of the lake.

Thing is, the first reported sighting of said wee little beasty was in 1933. An often reported sighting by “D. McKenzie” in 1871 appears to have been made up, as no real evidence of a source from that time has been produced.

Which is a shame. Because otherwise the following theory wouldn't hold any water at all.

See 1933 was all kinds of monster crazy. In fact the world pretty much switched itself on to gigantic beasts on the 2nd March that year. But it didn't start in Scotland. And it's major player wasn't a tartan wearing water horse.

Instead it all started in New York, New York. And it's major player was an overgrown ape with a terrible temper and a fascination with Fay Wray. Because in 1933 King Kong was released for the first time. And in a pivotal scene a stop motion plesiosaur pops it's head above water, probably the first time one had ever been shown on a big screen for a mass audience. (Gee note: By the way, I actually sat down and watched King Kong this afternoon. Man, is that a racist film. I nearly coughed up a litre of tea when the natives of Skull Island try to barter 10 black women for 1 white one).

And so the theory goes that the sight of the long necked animal sparked the collective imagination of Scotland and her tourists, and that sightings of Nessie are simply a manifestation of the public's subconscious.

Now this, it should be pointed out, is still only a theory. There may very well be something lurking in the Loch that defies scientific understanding. (Gee note: Which also may be able lend a helping hand if called upon with a Thistle Whistle). But an oddly similar thing happened to a chap named Steve Cook, a Michigan resident who carves out a living as a musician

The story goes that in 1987 a local radio station disk jockey was looking for something to do as an April Fool's joke. He contacted our man Steve who, with a life long fascination in all things paranormal, set about writing a song called “The Legend of Michigan's Dogman”. Detailing the account of a fictional beast roaming around Michigan, it was seven verses of made up accounts of attacks and sightings involving a half man half dog monster. The radio host didn't like it, unsure that it really qualified as an “April Fool's” gag. Instead he thought it might be something they could use at Halloween instead. However Cook pleaded with the DJ, and having nothing else to use on April 1st they decided to give it a bash.

The song was first played at 07:40 am. It gained no response from the public, not a single phone call was made to the station regarding the tune. The host gave it another spin sometime after 9 o'clock. Again no response. And just as the recording was on it's way to waster paper bin, considered to be nothing more than a failed prank, something very odd happened.

The phone rang. And kept on ringing.

The public went nuts over it. People kept calling, asking the same questions. “What was that song?”, “Who sings it?”, “Where can I get a copy?”. And then at some point that afternoon, an elderly gentleman called the station to tell them that he had actually seen the Dogman years ago.

In the following month or so the song gained more airplay. And during that time reports kept on coming in from people who claimed to have encountered the Dogman.

Which until April 1st 1987, er, didn't really exist.

Now it may be easy to dismiss all this as simple delusions of a couple of gullible people who heard something over and over again until they convinced themselves it was true. (Gee Note: “Yeah you remember that blob in the distance we saw in 1974 that we all thought was a squirrel? Well, after thinking it over, I've decided that we definitely saw the Dogman.”). But by dismissing it as a bunch of crazy people saying crazy things, one would then have to ignore the Gable film. And the Gable film is fascinating.

Basically, somehow Steve Cook became the main man when it came to Dogman lore. People kept on contacting him with their Dogman stories, possibly hoping they would use them in a future version of the song. Actually, thinking about it, that might be a very good reason for people to fabricate tales of the Dogman in the first place.

Cook started receiving all sorts of stuff in the mail. Blurry photographs of household cats with letters asking “Is this the Dogman?!?!”, tape recordings of distant coyotes howling at the moonlight, and badly shot student films of teenagers heading out to the woods only to find, er, nothing. (Gee note: Nothing's happening. Nothing's happening. Something about a map, I don't know I wasn't listening. Nothing's happening.)

Then one morning Cook found another type of film in his mail. Having been contacted by the owners before he already knew its origin. It had been purchased as part of a box of random bits and bobs at an estate sale a few years earlier. It showed a series of regular family occurrences such as chopping wood and riding on snowmobiles, set sometime in the 70's judging by the clothing and the hairstyles. And then, in the last minute of this 8mm family feature, things go a bit nuts.

You can still find pirated copies of the last minute of the film on Youtube. I suggest if you've got this far through this post you might as well look it up. It's under the title “Gable film”. There's almost no point in me trying to describe it to you because, if I'm honest, I wouldn't know what to describe.

Steve posted the film on his website and then about a week later removed it with an apology. It turns out Cook had some experts look over the film and they determined that it was a fake. (Gee Note: Certainly the “Blair Witch” style ending seems contrived at best). But almost as soon as he apologised for the “unintentional hoax” he was deluged with emails from all sorts of folk, from amateur cryptozoologists to University lecturers, imploring him to take another look at it.

So he went back to the film to investigate it once again. And in doing so he put together a team of video analysts, physical movement experts, and wildlife buffs. The results of said investigation are frustratingly vague, the closest thing to a conclusion is that it's unlikely a human being could replicate the movement's of, well, whatever the hell that is.

But that's why the film is so fascinating. Is it a hoax? Quite possibly. Some aspects of it seem to be too “comfy”, if that's the right word. But there's enough in this sixty seconds of footage to raise some genuinely interesting questions.

It's a wonderful little mystery born from a deliberate joke. Only problem is, those questions that are raised are never likely to be answered.


Anonymous said...

dear blogger,
well ur whole post was interesting..
althu in the beginning i thought its nothing much but it came along v good with the start of the DJ story,... lol
i just saw the video at youtube... its weird but definitely unreal..
rather u cant say anything clearly as its only a few seconds i guess so...

Anonymous said...

hey can i add u in my blogroll...
n can u add me too? :p