Drinking from the poisoned well

There was once a wise king who ruled over a vast city. He was feared for his might and loved for his wisdom. Now in the heart of the city, there was a well whose waters were pure and crystalline from which the king and all the inhabitants drank. When all were asleep, an enemy entered the city and poured seven drops of a strange liquid into the well. And he said that henceforth all who drink this water shall become mad.

All the people drank of the water, but not the king. And the people began to say, “The king is mad and has lost his reason. Look how strangely he behaves. We cannot be ruled by a madman, so he must be dethroned.”

The king grew very fearful, for his subjects were preparing to rise against him. So one evening, he ordered a golden goblet to be filled from the well, and he drank deeply. The next day, there was great rejoicing among the people, for their beloved king had finally regained his reason“.

–Author Unknown

This story is told in a scene from the film Serpico (directed by Sidney Lumet and released in 1973) between the title character (played by Al Pacino) and his girlfriend Laurie (Barbara Eda-Young).

Serpico covers twelve years (from 1960 until June 15th 1972) in the life of NYPD officer Frank Serpico. It is based on the non-fiction book of the same title by Peter Maas and is about an extremely diligent police officer who discovers a hidden world of illicit activities among his own colleagues – witnessing cops doing drugs, committing violence, taking paybacks and other forms of police corruption. He decides to blow the whistle on the rot within, but doing do so leads to him being harassed and threatened, suffering great personal hardship and even enduring life-threatening situations. After being shot in the face during a drug bust on February 3, 1971, Frank Serpico eventually testified before the Knapp Commission, a government inquiry into police corruption between 1970 and 1972.

The fact is that going against the grain is never the easiest choice.

And voicing the unpopular can often make us terribly unpopular as well.

But sometimes the very things people are least willing to see and hear are the very things they most need to be told and have their attention drawn to.

Remember that Galileo was thrown in prison about 500 years ago for trying to tell everyone that the world wasn’t flat.

And until relatively recent times some people had the legal right to keep other human beings as slaves.

And doctors once used to advertise cigarettes.

“More Doctors Smoke Camels than any other Cigarette”

So even if you can’t beat ’em, don’t ever be tempted to join ’em.

Be strong and be brave, and refuse your drink from the poison well.

The lonely voices of reason and sanity can take a while to make themselves heard, but without them the world would stay unhealthy, unfair and incorrect.


Fantastic Conspiracy Theories

No doubt you knew that the moon landing was faked.

And that the Roswell alien landing was covered up.

And that the CIA killed JFK.

And that the lottery is rigged

But did you also know that a race of beings called “Agarthians” live deep below us in the centre of the Earth? Apparently, they were first discovered in 1947 after an expedition to the North Pole by Admiral Byrd. (Sounds like 1947 was a big year between this and Roswell!). Byrd was in the U.S. Navy when he made two flights into the hollow earth, which has only two openings – one at the North pole and one at the South pole. The U.S. Navy, of course, are keeping all this information Top Secret.

And you know what else? Shapeshifting reptilian aliens are really running the planet and controlling everything. – the government, the media you name it. David Icke should know – he used to be a reporter for the BBC! Okay, he was a sports reporter, but who cares…He knows the truth about the “Reptilians” (or “Reptoids”, or “Reptiloids” or “Draconians”…guess they’re still struggling the naming process), an alien race which colonised Earth long ago which includes everyone from George W. Bush to the British Royal family. (And you thought “V” was just a television series!)

“The scariest and most powerful thing about conspiracy theories is they can’t be disproven, because any evidence that contradicts a conspiracy theory can be immediately dismissed as a plant of the conspiracy itself, created and disseminated specifically to disprove it. That’s what’s so clever about Fantastic Fest selection “The Conspiracy“. writes Matt Singer of Criticwrire (in a piece called “Fantastic Fest Review” 26th September, 2012).

The Conspiracy is a faux documentary which uses found footage and was written and directed by Christopher MacBride.

The film follows two doc filmmakers who decide their subject will be a man who’s made a name for himself by yelling protests in the streets of Toronto. This man explains that we’re all sheep (think real life Matrix), and slaves to a government attempting to become one powerful entity. The tales that are spun come directly out of conspiracy forums and are essential in integrating a level of believability to this intriguing mockumentary. When the old man goes missing, the filmmakers piece together his office full of newspaper clippings – which leads them down the rabbit hole of “truth.”

… what makes The Conspiracy so compelling is that it’s based on real conspiracy theories. Everything that’s suggested in the film is something I’ve known or read about, which makes the mockumentary that much more believable and even more thrilling.
according to Mr Disgusting at the Bloody Disgusting.com (“Chilling ‘The Conspiracy’ Brings Found Footage Thrills!” 23rd September, 2012)

Some people simply do not like the discomfort that a conspiracy theory creates. But for others, conspiracy theories are intriguing. They like to explore all of the possibilities that a conspiracy theory presents, in the same way that they like to explore puzzles or mystery novels. Sometimes a conspiracy theory is ridiculous and learning about it is a form of entertainment. Or you may find that the theory is credible and it makes you think. It’s interesting to consider the theory, weigh the evidence and come up with a conclusion“. Marshall Brain, “How Conspiracy Theories Work“. (How Stuff Works.com)

Personally, I struggle to believe that the world is being run by shapeshifting reptiles… but maybe that’s because their minion helpers – the microscopic carnivorous slug aliens – have hijacked my brain and I can no longer even trust my very own thought processes! Because they control them…telling me what to write at this very moment!!

Whatever. They’ve managed to be a bit more productive at this whole blogging thing than I have recently. Maybe I should leave them to it.

Stranger than Fiction

I am dedicating my blog post this week to my cat Saski, who probably used up 8 of her 9 lives and half of mine last weekend.

Saski is an indoor cat, and has been one for all of her 10 year life. Last Saturday night she got out of the house. We still don’t really know how, we just suddenly noticed she was gone and couldn’t find her anywhere when we looked for her, inside or outside of the house.

We looked for her the following morning, too. For hours. And rang the RSPCA. And animal shelters. And so on.

We made flyers to put up around the neighbourhood. And to cover all houses in a 5km radius as advised by the RSPCA.

I had an appointment on Sunday that I couldn’t get out of, so I drove the 40 minutes away from home to get there. Thinking about what else we could do to try and find Saski the whole way.

Then I parked my car – in 27 degree (Celsius) heat for 4 hours – while I dealt with stuff I had to, in the back of my mind thinking the whole time about how soon I could get home and look for Saski again. (The RSPCA advised looking up trees, especially at dawn and dusk).

Finally, I made the 40 minute trip home again.

When I got out of the car I heard meowing – it was Saski! Somewhere!

I looked around everywhere. Until I realised – to my horror – that the sound was coming from inside the bonnet of my car. I opened it and felt nauseous when I saw her inside, trapped somehow at the very front end of my car engine.

My neighbour John got her out of the car bonnet, as she was trapped inside and I couldn’t manage to get her out. And I took her to the vet to have her checked out right away.

She was fine. No physical harm at all. Not even terribly dehydrated ( I mean, she had a big drink of water, but she didn’t need a drip or anything, often used when animals are really dehydrated).

We’ve surmised that she must have been stuck inside the car bonnet the whole time. Because if she was any closer to the radiator or moving engine parts this would be an entirely different story. (Doesn’t bear thinking about for me). And if she’d gotten out of the car – a 40 minute drive away from her home – I think it’s safe to say we’d have lost her for good that way, too.

It’s nothing short of miraculous that we still have her, unharmed.

The funny thing is, last week when I was looking up links for my post 5 of My Favourite Urban Legends I came across a number of “completely bizarre but true” stories that were very interesting.. As well at this article… And I was half planning to blog on that subject this week…

5 of My Favourite Urban Legends

I DO NOT believe that Jamie Lee Curtis was born a hermaphrodite. I think it is probably one of the more blatantly spurious assertions I’ve ever heard. My husband, on the other hand, insists he thinks that one is true. (Mostly to wind me up, I suspect).

Richard Gere and the gerbil? Didn’t happen either.

“Life is so much more interesting with monsters in it. It’s the same with these legends. They’re just good stories” says Mikel J. Koven, a folklorist at the University of Wales.

Heather Whipps interviewed him in an article for Live Science (27/8/06) called “Urban Legends: How They Start and Why They Persist

“Urban legends are also good indicators of what’s going on in current society, said Koven, who is part of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research (ISCLR) and is editor of its peer-reviewed journal, Contemporary Legend.

“By looking at what’s implied in a story, we get an insight into the fears of a group in society,” he told LiveScience. Urban legends “need to make cultural sense,” he said, noting that some stick around for decades while others fizzle out depending on their relevance to the modern social order.

It’s a lack of information coupled with these fears that tends to give rise to new legends, Koven said. “When demand exceeds supply, people will fill in the gaps with their own information…they’ll just make it up.”

About.com has a list of the (current) Top 25 Urban Legends and the two I mentioned at the start of this post are amongst them.

Here are some other personal favourites

The Old Lady who dried her pet poodle in the microwave

An elderly lady apparently washed her miniature poodle and decided it would be quicker and better to dry him in the microwave. So she put her beloved little dog inside, set for “defrost” and turned it on.

A few moments later as she getting his lead to take him for a walk, she heard a muffled explosion from the kitchen…

Alligators in the New York sewers

Versions of this story have apparently been around since the 1920’s and 30’s. The story goes that families would illegally bring baby alligators home with them from vacation in Florida for their children to keep as pets, but flush them down the toilet when they grew too large for comfort. According to the legend, the alligators survived and bred within the sewers, feeding on rats and rubbish, growing to terrifying sizes.

Souvenir cactus full of poisonous spiders

The version I first heard of this story was that a family bought a strange and beautiful looking cactus on an overseas holiday and didn’t bother declaring it at airport customs so that they could keep it. They put it inside the house, in a prominent spot in the living room.

A few days later the cactus appeared to be “breathing” – the sides of the plant seemed to be moving in and out slightly. At first they thought nothing of it, but soon the “breathing” became more pronounced, so the father decided to call the local plant nursery and ask about it.

When he described the “breathing” phenomenon he had observed in the plant, The nursery owner was horrified, and told the him to told to “Get the cactus outside, out of the house! Immediately!!”. The father complied, dropping the phone and racing to get the plant out into the back yard.

He had just made it back to the house when the cactus erupted and thousands of baby spiders leapt out from inside it.

Organised organ thieves

In 1997, the following email began circulating

Subject: Fwd: Travelers BEWARE!!!!!!

Neighbors, beware!

Dear Friends,

I wish to warn you about a new crime ring that is targeting business travelers. This ring is well organized, well funded, has very skilled personnel, and is currently in most major cities and recently very active in New Orleans.

The crime begins when a business traveler goes to a lounge for a drink at the end of the work day.

A person in the bar walks up as they sit alone and offers to buy them a drink. The last thing the traveler remembers until they wake up in a hotel room bath tub, their body submerged to their neck in ice, is sipping that drink. There is a note taped to the wall instructing them not to move and to call 911. A phone is on a small table next to the bathtub for them to call.

The business traveler calls 911 who have become quite familiar with this crime.

The business traveler is instructed by the 911 operator to very slowly and carefully reach behind them and feel if there is a tube protruding from their lower back. The business traveler finds the tube and answers, “Yes.” The 911 operator tells them to remain still, having already sent paramedics to help. The operator knows that both of the business traveler’s kidneys have been harvested.

This is not a scam or out of a science fiction novel, it is real.

It is documented and confirmable. If you travel or someone close to you travels, please be careful.

Actually, it’s not documented anywhere and not one single case of this happening to a person has ever been confirmed.

“There is absolutely no evidence of such activity ever occurring in the U.S. or any other industrialized country,” says the United Network for Organ Sharing. “While the tale sounds credible enough to some listeners, it has no basis in the reality of organ transplantation.”

The Princess of Amen-Ra

My all time favourite urban legend had to be this incredible story…

The Princess of Amen-Ra lived some 1,500 yrs before Christ. When she died, she was laid in an ornate wooden coffin and buried deep in a vault at Luxor, on the banks of the Nile.

In the late 1890s, 4 rich young Englishmen visiting the excavations at Luxor were invited to buy an exquisitely fashioned mummy case containing the remains of Princess of Amen-Ra. They drew lots. The man who won paid several thousand pounds and had the coffin taken to his hotel. A few hours later, he was seen walking out towards the desert.

He never returned. The next day, one of the remaining 3 men was shot by an Egyptian servant accidentally. His arm was so severely wounded it had to be amputated. The 3rd man in the foursome found on his return home that the bank holding his entire savings had failed. The 4th guy suffered a severe illness, lost his job and was reduced to selling matches in the street.

Nevertheless, the coffin reached England (causing other misfortunes along the way), where it was bought by a London businessman. After 3 of his family members had been injured in a road accident and his house damaged by fire, the businessman donated it to the British Museum. As the coffin was being unloaded from a truck in the museum courtyard, the truck suddenly went into reverse and trapped a passer-by. Then as the casket was being lifted up the stairs by 2 workmen, 1 fell and broke his leg. The other, apparently in perfect health, died unaccountably two days later.

Once the Princess was installed in the Egyptian Room, trouble really started. Museum’s night watchmen frequently heard frantic hammering and sobbing from the coffin. Other exhibits in the room were also often hurled about at night. One watchman died on duty causing the other watchmen wanting to quit. Cleaners refused to go near the Princess too.

When a visitor derisively flicked a dustcloth at the face painted on the coffin, his child died of measles soon afterwards. Finally, the authorities had the mummy carried down to the basement. Figuring it could not do any harm down there. Within a week, one of the helpers was seriously ill, and the supervisor of the move was found dead on his desk.

By now, the papers had heard of it. A journalist photographer took a picture of the mummy case and when he developed it, the painting on the coffin was of a horrifying, human face. The photographer was said to have gone home then, locked his bedroom door and shot himself.

Soon afterwards, the museum sold the mummy to a private collector. After continual misfortune (and deaths), the owner banished it to the attic.

A well known authority on the occult, Madame Helena Blavatsky, visited the premises. Upon entry, she was seized with a shivering fit and searched the house for the source of “an evil influence of incredible intensity”. She finally came to the attic and found the mummy case.

“Can you exorcise this evil spirit?” asked the owner.

“There is no such thing as exorcism. Evil remains evil forever. Nothing can be done about it. I implore you to get rid of this evil as soon as possible.”

But no British museum would take the mummy; the fact that almost 20 people had met with misfortune, disaster or death from handling the casket, in barely 10 yrs, was now well known.

Eventually, a hard-headed American archaeologist (who dismissed the happenings as quirks of circumstance), paid a handsome price for the mummy and arranged for its removal to New York.

In April 1912, the new owner escorted his treasure aboard a sparkling, new White Star liner about to make its maiden voyage to New York.

On the night of April 14, amid scenes of unprecedented horror, the Princess of Amen-Ra accompanied 1,500 passengers to their deaths at the bottom of the Atlantic.

The name of the ship was “Titanic.”

So why wasn’t that in the movie??

Life’s Too Short (and unreality TV)

I’ve recently fallen in love with Warwick Davis. Well, in love with watching his fantastic television series “Life’s Too Short” anyway.

Life’s Too Short” is a BBC mockumentary series following the life of Warwick Davis, “a showbiz dwarf”, who is trying to revive his Hollywood career, while going through divorce and trying to make enough money to pay off a gargantuan tax bill (courtesy of his friend and chronically inept accountant Eric, who Warwick can’t bring himself to fire and actually appoints as his divorce solicitor because he can’t afford to hire anybody else).

The series was created and written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant from an idea by Warwick Davis, and Davis plays a fictionalised version of himself (described by writer Ricky Gervais as a “conniving, back-biting little Napoleon”. Think David Brent as a dwarf with slightly more charisma, played by an actor with a great gift for physical comedy).

The real life Warwick Davis has actually been married for over twenty years and has two children. (Wife Samantha and children Annabel and Harrison are also dwarves). He runs a talent agency for small people both onscreen and in real life (though I highly suspect that the real life Warwick Davis is far more successful at it than his onscreen doppelgänger).

When Davis was working with Gervais and Merchant on “Extras” (in an episode where he co-starred with Daniel Radcliffe) he told them a number stories about living as a man who is 3ft6″ tall (for example, having people touch him for luck as if he were a leprechaun). This was the catalyst for the show’s creation.

There are also a number of amusing appearances by other film stars and celebrities who play fictionalised versions of themselves which seem to poke fun at popular public perceptions of them.

Johnny Depp‘s (very amusing) attempt to retaliate against Ricky Gervais for his “mean spirited” jokes about Depp and other movie stars when Gervais was hosting the 2011 Golden Globes. (In reality, the Hollywood community were so completely offended that Ricky Gervais ended up hosting the Golden Globes the following year as well).

A very serious Liam Neeson wants to try his hand at comedy. (In reality Neeson said in the short film “The Making of Life’s Too Short” that he worried he would not be able to keep a straight face while doing this scene).

There is something fascinating about actors (supposedly) playing themselves.

Perhaps because it prompts the very natural question “How much of the real human being are we seeing in the character being portrayed?”

In truth, though, that’s probably a question we could ask about almost any performance.

In a scene from an episode of “Extras”, Kate Winslet casually reveals her cynical motive for acting in a film about the holocaust – she thinks she’ll get an Oscar out of it. (Ironically, a couple of years later Winslet actually won her first Oscar playing a former Nazi and Auschwitz guard in “The Reader“).

In a promo for the TV series “Episodes“, Matt Le Blanc is (understandably) bemused at having to audition to play the part of …himself.

In the film “Being John Malkovich“, puppeteer Craig Schwartz (Played by John Cusack) finds a portal that leads into John Malkovich‘s mind. In this scene John Malkovich has a torturous experience after going through his own portal… (Unfortunately, there is a stupid advertisement at the front to of this clip. Sorry.)

In the film JCVD, a 2008 Belgian crime comedy-drama Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a semi fictionalized version of himself – a down and out action star whose family and career are crumbling around him as he is caught in the middle of a post office heist in his hometown of Brussels, Belgium. In this moment from the film Van Damme, lifted above the set, performs a monologue directly to the audience (breaking the fourth wall). It is a surprisingly emotional (if somewhat cryptic) speech about his career, his multiple marriages, and his drug abuse. Is it a rare glimpse of the man behind the action star, lowering his guard and opening up? Or is Van Damme actually a far more gifted actor than his body of action films seem to reveal?

I’m Still Here” is a 2010 mockumentary film directed by Casey Affleck, and written by Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix, following the life of Phoenix, from the (purported) announcement of his retirement from acting, through his transition into a career as a hip hop artist. The fact that the events of the film had been deliberately staged was not revealed until after the film had been released (though it was suspected to be a mockumentary by some beforehand) and throughout the filming period Phoenix remained in character for public appearances, giving many the impression that he was genuinely pursuing a new career.

A promo for “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” one of the popular examples from the modern day myriad of reality TV shows. Mike Fleiss, the creator and executive producer of reality TV show “The Bachelor,” recently claimed that “70 to 80 percent” of reality TV shows are fake. “They’re loosely scripted. Things are planted. Things are salted into the environment so things seem more shocking.” he recently asserted at the Banff World Media festival. But Fleiss also claimed that viewers are “not requiring a pure delivery of non-fiction content…They know it’s somewhat fake, but they’re OK with it.” Does that mean we embrace the idea that “reality” TV stars are acting or playing themselves on some level, too?

Reality TV show “Survivor” has now been running for 25 seasons, and this is actually the intro for season 25 which features the return of many of the most popular and successful former Survivor contestants (or “Favourites”). It is also typical of the Survivor intro template – which seems to deliberately frame the contestants as (heroic, iconic) story characters.

What do we mean by “a true story”?

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” ― Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” – Pablo Picasso

It’s said that there’s really no such thing as a true story.

It’s probably impossible to tell any story without some degree of bias.

Even when the facts or events can be agreed upon, interpretation of their significance and impact on the story will vary according to the point of view of the person telling it.

image from Banksy’s Facebook Revolution

As no two people view the world in an identical way, it probably stands to reason that certain aspects and details of a story will have more importance – or maybe even a different meaning – in one storyteller’s version of events from another’s.

So why use the phrase “true story”?

What does that term actually mean to us?

Certain types of falsehoods in a story deemed to be “true” upset us more than others.

And there are probably few more meaningless phrases than “based on a true story“.

So where does the line between fiction and non-fiction actually lie?

And does it even matter as long as it’s a good story?

We Bought a Zoo is a 2011 comedy-drama film based on the 2008 memoir of the same name by Benjamin Mee about his experiences in purchasing the Dartmoor Wildlife Park in Devonshire, England in 2006. In the film the story has been relocated to the US and the zoo is called “Rosemoor”.

Finding Neverland is a 2004 semi-biographical film about playwright J. M. Barrie and his relationship with a family who inspired him to create Peter Pan. The biggest story invention in the film is the absence of the boys’ father, Arthur Davies, who was alive when Barrie befriended his wife and children. He died before his boys were grown, but not until ten years after his family met Barrie.

KONY 2012 is a short film created by Invisible Children, Inc. and released on March 5, 2012, with the the purpose of promoting the charity’s “Stop Kony” movement to make Ugandan indicted war criminal and International Criminal Court fugitive Joseph Kony globally known, in order to have him arrested by December 2012. The film was widely criticised for its oversimplification of events in the region, some argued it was to the point of misrepresentation.