Monday, November 7, 2011

FACT OR FAKED: Sinister Spirals: Flying Saucers

SyFy - Original Air Date: 11/4/11

This week, the crew rejects Menger Hotel, which seems to show a shadowy figure walking across walls and down a hall (not enough info & possible CGI), Duende Gnome, a tiny figure chased by teens (probably a marionette), and UFO in the Clouds where a San Paolo (Brazil) photog supposedly catches a UFO hiding in a cloud and later mysteriously zooms away.  Close inspection by Bill shows the object missing from the sky as a truck passes: CGI  Galveston Ghost Face -- their commercial break debunk (which I remain glad they're doing) -- shows a "mysterious" face on the side of a building, but it's only a stain and pareidolia, the tendency of human beings to see patterns as familiar shapes -- like Jesus on a piece of toast.  Which leaves FOF with the two cases they will be investigating.

Heflin UFO Ecounter is a famous case that shows a hat-shaped silvery object floating above a road in 3 pictures and a mysterious smoke ring in a 4th.  Supposedly the photos were later confiscated by Men In Black and then mysteriously returned 28 years later.  Ben, Devin, and Lanisha go to California and talk to "researchers" who talked to the photographer, who is now dead.  Scientifically, such second-hand information means very little, and when a "doctor" (of what?) declares that Polaroid photos of this type would be very hard to fake, my spider sense goes off loudly.  I could fake you a great Polaroid UFO before I reached high school.

Nevertheless, the crew stages some experiments.  First, they re-create the photos using a remote-controlled helicopter UFO, testing whether the pics could have been taken in 20 seconds, as Heflin claimed.  Why they believe the 20 seconds is necessary, as this was before date/time stamps on photos, I don't know.  I certainly don't believe it.  But they do, and they do manage to replicate taking 3 photos that fast -- though none of the photos is as sharp and focused as the Heflin photos (which are very clear).  This, for me, would tend to indicate Heflin lied about the rapidity of his picture taking, but the crew continues.  They try some natural explanations for what he saw, using various types of wind-blown debris: paper plates, clay pigeons, and a hat.  But it's too hard to take pictures of things moving that fast.  (Hmm...  Wonder how fast that "UFO" was flying....)  Then they try a hat on a fishing line, which looks quite similar, though they then declare that there's no evidence that Helflin had an accomplice to pull of such a hoax.  This seems like flimsy reasoning  to me -- for reasons I'll explain in a bit.

Finally, they put up a saucer-shaped balloon to "prove" that what Heflin saw could have been a large object further from the camera, as he claimed.  Results look similar (though they don't match the size and distance he claimed to have seen the object at).  So they decide to explode the balloon, as if it had hit a power line, theorizing the hat-shape might have been an actual balloon, and its explosion could have created the smoke ring.  The explosion, though, just kills the balloon.  Devin, however, recreates the smoke ring with a metal tube, diesel fuel, and propane, essentially blowing a smoke ring into the sky -- with technology available from the time.  So that, at least, could be hoaxed.  Ben notes that El Torro Marine Corps is near the original sighting area, and might have been doing testing.  Devin adds that perhaps the MIB were really from the government, as they claimed, and protecting a then-secret project, only to return the pictures later.  Ben concludes that they were able to show that the craft could have been close to the vantage point, something hoaxed, or something far away -- so the case is still open.

I say, nice try, but you didn't try hard enough.  First, I would ask, if I wanted to fake this, how would I do it?  1) I'd simply toss a pie plate or vintage hub cap (both made of metal at the time) in front of the camera -- or have someone do it for me.  2) I'd take as many Polaroids as I needed to get a some good shots, and then I'd throw the rest away.  Remember, there are no negatives with this type of film (or, at least, the negatives elements are seldom kept).  Unless the photos were numbered in their canister (I don't remember if they were), there would be no way to tell how many photos I actually took to get 3 good ones.   3) And for a capper, I'd use Devin's set-up to get a mysterious smoke ring -- or just have someone blow a cigarette smoke ring for me and then photograph it back-lit against the sky so that it appeared black.  Because I'm clever, I might take all 3 pics against slightly different backgrounds, to make it hard to compare shadows to show the passage of time while I was experimenting.  4) Then, I'd claim to have taken the pictures faster than I actually did, just so people would think I couldn't have faked them in the supposed time frame.  (He wouldn't have time to throw a hat into the air 3 times in twenty seconds and take pictures!)

I don't buy that no one ever having come forward as an accomplice is proof of something not being hoaxed.  My brother hasn't come forward to talk about our hoaxed monster/UFO photos, has he?  And even if they were famous, would he?  It's a silly argument.  But, if I had no accomplice, I'm certainly capable of rigging up a pole with mono-filament to take the pictures myself.  Heck, I've even got a convenient van to attach it to.  All I need is a bit of time to move the rig around between shots -- and since I've already decided to lie about how long it took me to take the pictures....

Which is to say, I think that -- because of this case's iconic nature -- the team was way too easy on this one.  In my experience, anything that can be faked, likely has been faked.  People do hoaxes for a number of complex reasons, and sometimes, once done, they don't admit it ever.  Look how long the Loch Ness and Cottingley Fairy hoaxes took to be exposed.  It's reasonable to assume that some hoaxers carry their secrets to the grave rather than face embarrassment or public ridicule, especially in a famous case like this.  (And let's not even start in on the malleable nature of memory and how people can come to believe their own lies.)

Sorry, team, you blew this one.  I hope you'll be harder on iconic cases in the future -- as you were on the UFO in the Woods story a few seasons back (even if doing so may crush the feelings of your want-to-believe audience).

Spiraling Rods shows mysterious wave-like creatures flying through the sky.  (Those of us who saw the Monster Quest show know they're really just insects and slow-shutter digital cameras, but maybe that bears repeating here.)  Bill, Austin, and Jael go to Joplin, Missouri, to talk to the videographer.  He claims to have taken the pictures after setting off a bug bomb -- so it couldn't be bugs -- and to have taken similar photos in winter (though we never see any of those).  The team then bug bombs the area, sets up a net tent, and brings in various critters to try having them fly past the camera.  Bats don't look like it, nor does a slingshot, but the team wisely notice that the bug bomb has not cleared the area of insects -- not nearly.  (You'd have to be a dope to think it would.)  So they catch some bugs and try fly-bys with some of the bigger ones.  Close ... until they put on the slow-shutter night shot, and then ... Bingo!  Perfect match and a job well done.  Hopefully, this puts the "rods" case to rest for good.  Mistaken identity, bugs, and shoddy camera work (and knowledge) -- end of story.

So, one out of two this week ain't bad, though given last season, I'd come to expect more from Fact or Faked.

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