Sunday, 28 March 2010

Upset? Me Stiles? UPSET?

MonsterQuest is a strange programme.

Until this week I’d never actually watched it before. To be honest I’m not even sure if it airs in the UK. The History channel over here is basically back to back War-vision (Gee Note: Ever wanted to know in painfully minute detail how the tanks for Word War II were constructed? No? Well tough. We’re going to air a six part documentary on that very subject regardless, entitled “How to make war very very boring”), punctuated by the occasional 30 minute show about how “UFOs are only seen by idiots and crazy people”.

Still thanks to power of the internetz, I managed to catch the very last MonsterQuest ever this weekend. I was thankful too, as the show was going to be dealing with one of my all-time favourite topics. That’s right folks, put the kids to bed and wake up Grandma, we’re going to have us a chat about Werewolves.

Now long time readers of the blog (Gee Note: You know who you are), will remember a while back I dedicated a trio of posts to Werewolf folklore. One of these dealt with what was known as “The Gable Film”, a “home video” shot on an 8mm camera depicting everyday family activities, until a weird creature turns up and supposedly turns the poor bastard filming it into nom noms.



So upon hearing that MQ would not only be analysing said video footage on their show, but also sending an expedition in to the surrounding forest to try and find a real life Todd Howard (Gee Note: For those who are curious, Todd Howard is the character played by Jason Bateman in Teen Wolf Too. I know this because three days ago I sat through the entire movie. And what’s worse, despite the fact that the film is unbelievably awful, I was so hypnotised by the parade of 80’s hairstyles I couldn’t turn it off. Screw you Bateman. That’s an hour and a half of my life I’ll never get back), I endeavoured to track it down.

In the end I was kind of torn as to whether or not this was a good idea. I mean the show itself basically revolved around two separate stories. Firstly, a trio of weirdoes eccentrics decided to go down to the woods one day in search of a big surprise. They consisted of a Native American who was obsessed with shape-shifters, a cryptozoologist who was open to the idea that Werewolves could be from another dimension, and a dude wearing a park ranger’s hat who had brought a jar Wolf urine along for the journey (Gee Note: I’d prefer a root beer myself. Actually the urine was from a female wolf in heat, and he was hoping that it would attract any wolf-like creatures in the surrounding area to him and his motley crew. Sadly, it was never explained how he managed to convince Ms. Lupus to wee in a jar in the first place, as I’m pretty sure that would have made a much more interesting programme than this one). Alas despite their best efforts, these three mighty adventurers only managed to hear a coyote’s howl way off in the distance and find something that may or may not be Wolf poo during their entire trip. Gripping television it was not.

The second tale centred on the Gable film, and the man who discovered it, Steve Cook. Now I listened to a pod cast about a year and a half ago where Steve Cook was one of the guests, and I remember thinking that he sounded like a pretty decent guy. He maintained during that interview that he’d found the footage in a yard sale and released it on his website, only for somebody to point out inconsistencies in the movie that would question it’s authenticity. So he took the film down and released an apology for the “unintentional hoax”. Then, according to Stevie, a bunch of other folks got in touch and told him that the first guy was talking a load of old bollocks and that he should reconsider. And so he started promoting the footage again, conveniently on a DVD you could buy from his website. A second film was then “unearthed” which threw in to question the legitimacy of the original, which is where MQ stepped in.

This time around however, Cook told a different story. Confronted by a historian named Linda Godfrey, Cook spilled the beans about the origin of the Gable film. Like a bad cop movie Cook crumbled under the interrogation and admitted that the whole thing was fiction. Seriously all you needed was Kiefer Sutherland standing in the background shouting “Who are you working for!” and the scene would’ve been complete.

This then led to Godfrey meeting up with a hippy called Mike who had a passion for collecting old junk. Explaining in great detail how he managed to pull off the stunt, he apparently made the movie as a homage to a song Cook wrote about the Michigan Dogman in 1987. Having tried and failed to market the footage himself he presented it to Cook, who edited it and promoted it as a bizarre and fascinating discovery of unknown origin.

As you can imagine, after the episode of MQ aired and revealed the truth, a lot of people were pissed. And so Cook went on the defensive. On his blog at Michigan-Dogman.com Cook posted an entry the content of which, well, make him look like a bit of an arrogant prick if we’re honest.




First he compares himself to Mark Twain (Gee Note: Which is a severe case of delusions of grandeur if ever there was one) who had pulled a similar stunt by writing a bogus newspaper article in 1862. The major difference of course being that Mark Twain at the time was a 26 year old trying to make a name for himself, a genius, and didn’t do it to sell DVD’s. In fact Twain was convinced that not only was the story so off the wall but also so blatantly ill informed in regards to basic facts regarding the subject, that anyone with half a brain would be able to see right through it. When they didn’t he simply threw up his arms in despair and refused to apologise for what he saw as other people’s idiocy.

Cook on the other hand took a different approach when presenting the Gable film. Says he “The film was just fuzzy enough to be believable, and creepy enough to be one wheel of a large promotional vehicle for The Legend Legacy Edition CD/DVD set... I edited out several scenes, such as the faces of the people, and several short scenes that were dead giveaways that the film was faked.”. So rather than leave in enough obvious material to alert people that what they were watching wasn’t on the level, Stevie-boy intentionally tried to make it as “real” as possible.

Cook continues “A few weeks later an internationally renowned cryptozoologist contacted me. He hinted that with his endorsement the Gable Film could become “a permanent part of supposedly real werewolf lore.” I only needed to answer the hard question: Was this merely a “piece of creative narrative fiction performance art?” When he found my reply equivocal, he published his belief that the film was a fake and that I was a fraud. Across the internet, the chorus turned increasingly hostile, even threatening. It was time to end the charade.”

I assume that the “internationally renowned cryptozoologist” was Loren Coleman. After all Coleman himself posted the following email exchange on Cryptomundo in October 2007 after the movie’s debut.



LOREN COLEMAN

The Gable Film is a good story, and builds in many ways like The Blair Witch Horror and the discovered film canisters of the Jersey Devil film. As a work of cryptofiction cinema and art, it can stand on its own, without it being declared to be nonfiction. I’ve worked with Haxan Films folks, and understand [after the fact, why they went about] creating of such fakes, planted early, to promote such things.

I am not saying you are doing any of this, but the background of the April Fool’s prank, the Legend, the poetry of it all, the scenario, the unfolding have to be seen as obvious clues. You have to be asked the hard question – is this a piece of creative narrative fiction performance art – before this gets all blown out of proportion and it becomes a cornerstone of supposedly real werewolf lore?

STEVE COOK

First, let me re-state that I do not take a position on the authenticity of evidence presented on michigan-dogman.com. Of course I have a personal opinion, but to state it publicly would serve nothing more than to encourage the kind of charges your e-mail implies. The simple answer is, I don’t know what The Gable Film is or what it shows.

I understand fully the scripted nature of this. For that reason, we expended considerable effort having it analyzed by a range of people from a variety of backgrounds. Even though none of those people was able to find an obvious flaw indicating a forgery, I still was very hesitant to release it before we had more answers.

Then a few weeks ago, I offered a private preview of the film to Linda Godfrey’s Yahoo group, the Unknown Creature Spot. Linda and I are old friends, going back some 15 years. I placed the film on YouTube for two days and invited members of UCS view and evaluate it. In that time, the film was pirated by at least three and perhaps many more individuals. That forced my hand, leading to the release of the video now on my website.


Coleman continues his post, expressing his doubts about what he dubs the “Blair Dog Project” before concluding “Okay, I won’t beat around the wolfbane, any longer. I don’t buy it. My past experiences and eye for forgeries tell me there’s something here that smells like a fake, a copycatted forgery, with the telltale signs of a found-film, the shaky camera, and the blurry imagery. Steve Cook may be a film genius or he may have been hoaxed, but there’s something that is very off about all of this for me. I think this is cryptofiction, developed out of the traditional folkloric motif of found treasures.”

See this is why Loren Coleman is all kinds of awesome. Because, if it is him that Cook is talking about then A) At no point is there any form of an offer of an endorsement and B) Coleman point blank asks Cook the question “Is it fake?” and Cook sticks rigidly to his story that he does not know where the film came from.

Back to Cook. He carries on in similar fashion, detailing how the whole sorry mess was put together and talking about “stagecraft” as if it’s something we mere mortals wouldn’t be able to understand. See in Cook’s world presenting something that you know to be false and yet pretending that it might not be isn’t misleading the public. No way bro, that’s “entertaining” them. Steve himself sums it all up in an astonishing piece to close.

In conclusion, let me state for the record a simple fact: I am not a cryptozoologist, and have no desire to become one. Truth be told, there’s no definitive answer as to exactly what a cryptozoologist is. There is no accreditation required, no university degree, no license. All you really need to become a cryptozoologist is to say you are. It’s a profession created from thin air, very much like The Legend of Michigan’s Dogman.

I am an entertainer. The Legend was created as an April Fool’s Day prank in 1987 for the enjoyment of a limited radio audience in northern Michigan. Something about it stirred the imaginations of people, and suddenly strange things they had seen or heard in the woods seemed to have a possible explanation. They shared and continue to share their stories with me, and that aspect has captured the attention of the world. But at no time in the near quarter-century history of The Legend have I ever claimed it to be anything more than entertainment.

There is, however, one characteristic shared by entertainers and cryptozoologists: we both have an audience with a set of expectations. How we meet those expectations differs only slightly. Cryptozoologists want (but never seem to get) substantive proof. To me, if a story, photograph, or film is interesting, that’s good enough.

As a final word, a statement I think Mark Twain would approve of: If you are one of the people mortified by these revelations, and feel that the “science” of cryptozoology has forever been tarnished by charlatans and hoaxers, perhaps you should choose a hobby that wasn’t invented by them.

What? I mean… what? OK, for a start, ripping on cryptozoology isn’t probably the smartest thing you could do right now Jack. I mean a lot of people have listened to your made up story simply because they have an interest and passion in the study of undiscovered creatures. Hell some of them may have bought that Goddam DVD of yours for that very reason. So, you know, calling cryptozoology a crock is biting the hand that feeds you surely.

And the truth is, I’ve run this blog for a year and a half now, and I’ve posted numerous pieces on various woovy bezerk tales of weird beasties. Yet I would never ever dream of calling myself a cryptozoologist, much in the same way I would never dream of calling myself ufologist. Because real cryptozoologists and ufologists are better, smarter people than I’ll ever be. I could make a list of around thirty people in those fields who I couldn’t, and wouldn’t want to, hold an intellectual candle to . So to criticise cryptozoology for being “created out of thin air” disrespects those diligent men and women who work in a field that will never be respected, but do so with intelligence and integrity regardless.

Also Steve, I don’t know if you noticed, but the word “entertainer” is just the same. There is no accreditation required, no university degree, no license. All you really need to become an entertainer is to say you are. It’s a profession created from thin air, very much like The Legend of Michigan’s Dogman. Except I would say this. Promoting something that you know not to be true without labelling it obviously as fiction doesn’t make you an “entertainer”. It makes you a con artist, pure and simple. And even though claiming that all the profits from your DVD sales went to charity is to your credit if true, it doesn’t completely diminish the sour taste left in one’s mouth if they have bought a product off you in good faith.

Put it this way, I have a banana that I claim I got from a mysterious jungle in Borneo. All banana’s from this region are said to contain a genie that, once peeled, will grant you a thousand wishes. I then claim that I don’t know if it is true or not but show you a video of someone peeling a banana and genie popping out. You then buy said banana, only for me to go “You know that banana you bought off me? Well I got it from the local grocers. I mean I always claimed I didn’t know whether a genie would pop out or not. Don’t worry though because I gave all the money you gave me to someone else. And weren’t you happy when you thought you were going to get a genie, huh? Didn’t that make you glow a little bit?”. Now if I didn’t end up getting punched in the mouth after that I’d be very surprised. 

Thing is I can’t help but shake the feeling that for Cook it was never about the charities, or entertaining people, but rather about making him famous. And if that’s the case, he may have shot himself in the foot here. There is after all a big difference between fame and notoriety.

Which as sad as it’s demise is, may actually be a plus point regarding MonsterQuest’s shuffle off this mortal coil. After all, it’s one less platform for folks like Steve Cook to stand on.

No comments: