The original In Search Of was an interesting show that looked into the unexplained and tried to find answers to these unknowns. Bigfoot, UFO’s, the Loch Ness Monster, Jack the Ripper. You know, the best Halloween costumes.
I’ve watched 4 episodes so far, and I’m more disappointed with each one.
The issue is that in the original series, it was scientific. Nimoy took you through multiple options, and through the process of elimination and through hypothesis testing, you were left with some plausible options. It appealed to my scientific mind.
In stark contrast, the new series is very sensationalized. In the “Monsters of the Deep” episode, they kept asking just what is this beast (read that like Darth Vader’s voice) without ever offering a solid answer. The Australian kid who got bloody ankles standing in the ocean at night was definitively bitten by many amphipods (his dad even caught a lot of them the very next night). The show goes through a series of photos of half-decomposed animals that washed up on beaches around the world, but not once is the definitive identification provided. As an example, this “sea creature” found in Indonesia was identified as a baleen whale though it got a lot of screen time on the show without any identification.
Similarly, in the “Artificial Intelligence” episode, I think Zachary Quinto asked when will machines take over the world about 20 times. It felt like he asked it a hundred times, but I’m trying not to be too hyperbolic here.
What was the purpose of that kind of fear-mongering or sensationalism? It’s supposed to lure people in to keep watching, along the same lines as the “if it bleeds it leads” mentality behind many news headlines. And it may very well work for many people—or else it wouldn’t be so prevalent in news and entertainment media. But if you think this is a new phenomenon in the age of mass media, you’ll be surprised to know that sensationalism was used in Ancient Rome in their daily announcements. Too bad that didn’t end with the fall of the Roman Empire.
However, sensationalism doesn’t work for everyone. It certainly annoys me. One study by Paul Hendriks Vettehen and Mariska Kleemans show people watch sensational videos nearly twice as long as more neutral ones, so I guess it works. Interestingly, they found that though it worked for most of their participants, older women were less likely to watch and would switch off early. Maybe that means that I’m becoming an “older woman”. Now, where did I put my ear horn?
Update: since publishing this, and ending off with how I’m an “older woman” now, irony struck. I was reaching for a piece of paper and have tweaked my back so it’s threatening to seize up. Maybe I need to get a walker to go along with my ear horn.