Wednesday, November 26, 2008

UFOS OVER EARTH: Mass Sightings in Mexico (2008)

Discovery Channel - Original Air Date: 11/24/08

The MUFON crew goes to Mexico City to investigate the huge number of sighting constantly coming from south of the US border.  Is it possible that one place can consistently have so many "genuine" UFO sightings?  Or is it more likely that the culture of Mexico -- which features a very popular UFO-sighting show -- is making people mistake more mundane objects for truly strange things?  After interviewing witnesses, the group decides to focus on three incidents: a videographer who works with Jaime Maussan (ultra-popular UFO show host) and consistently sells UFO footage, a witness who turned in very clear photographs of a daytime sighting, and an incident where a UFO landed atop a hill and made the local lights flicker in time with its pulsing.

The videographer has a lot of interesting-looking shots, most of them taken from the roof atop his studio.  The roof is a good viewing area, as it has a 360-degree view of Mexico City.  And as the group tours the roof, they spot something mysterious in the sky.  The videographer whips out his camera and captures what becomes known on YouTube as the "Morphing UFO" footage.  It all seems too convienient--and indeed, it is too convenient, as the MUFON group has set up this sighting to test the ability of the videographer (and Jaime) to differentiate mundane objects in the sky from truly unidentified ones.  This "UFO" is actually a group of mylar balloons released by another MUFON member in a nearby park.  The videographer fails the test, and Jaime insists that he trusts the man implicitly, even after the MUFON folks have revealed their hoax.  Ironically, a coda to the episode notes that the hoax video is now a very popular "real" video on YouTube.  Sorry, folks, it's just a bunch of balloons (and if you don't believe me, watch this show).

Jaime's tendency to trust too willngly shows up again in the next sighting, in which a young man claims to have photographed a hovering disc several times during one day, and then again several weeks later.  The photos are very sharp, and -- at first -- seem convincing.  The MUFON folks, though (rightly) distrust pictures that are too clear, and soon discrepancies crop up in the young man's story.  For one thing, the time stamps on the shots from his camera don't match the time frame he says they were taken in; the total time of the incident being about three minutes, though one of the photos was taken the better part of an hour after an ealier shot in the same series.  Also, the second sighting photos show signs of having been tampered with -- the UFO has apparently been pasted into the sky.  Confronted with these facts, the witness feigns ignorance, and Jaime claims to still believe him.  The MUFON folks (rightly, I think) conclude that the witness has faked the photos to get on Jaime's UFO-sighting show.  Jaime, unfortunately, is invested in his franchise and "wants to believe" more than he wants to know the truth.

Next, the group travels to the town where a UFO landed on a mountaintop and caused the local power grid to flicker on and off.  Using their CGI capability, the MUFON folks recreate what they think the sighting looked like -- based on the stories they've heard.  They then show the simulation to the community.  When they do , they discover a huge discrepancy between the stories and what the actual witnesses report: in reality, the "UFO" didn't fly over the town, but appeared glowing atop the local hills.  The crew tracks down the young man who took the (impressive) video of the incident.  The photographer shows them where he took the film, and states that he thought it was some kind of transformer short, rather than a UFO.  And it turns out that there is a series of power towers right where the "UFO" was sighted.  Taking the film to an expert in power line and grid problems, the group confirms that the report is entirely consistent with some kind of short circuit in the grid.  (The expert says that a thick tree limb fallen across the lines might cause shorts for days before finally burning away.)

So, on this episode, we have three cases that prove to be entirely mundane: one mistaken identity (by a too credulous vidographer and TV show host), one hoax, and one unusual but by no means unexplainable event.  This is like getting a "not haunted" conclusion on a ghost hunting show -- something far too rare on television.  Since this episode aired back-to-back with the series premier (at least I hope it will be a series), it allows folks like me to form an impression of what the continuing show may be like.  And I'm impressed.  Unlike the other UFO shows regularly on the air, this show seems more concerned with finding out the truth than with building UFO mythology (a mythology that fuels a multi-million dollar "believers" enterprise).  In fact, members of the investigation even state this as one of their goals: to find the truth, not build myth.  As someone who has complained long and loudly about other shows building myth, I'm very happy to see this development.  And I hope that when/if this show continues, it will continue to operate in this same way -- calling the incidents as they see them. (Like the drone hoax, also mentioned in this episode.)  It might be helpful, though, if MUFON would put up a page of UFO Hoaxes or Debunked Cases on their sight -- so that people would know what to look for and not believe so quickly. (Like the "ghost lights" that are showin being launched in one of the show's cut shots -- which are something that most believers have probably never heard about or seen.)  After all, as this episode proves with its "morphing UFO" footage, some people will believe a myth, even when the truth is right before their eyes.

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