Posted by: Loren Coleman on October 26th, 2006
On October 26, 2006, "Sci-fi Investigates" broadcast their "Mothman" episode. While it had a few moments that are pure entertainment and certainly funny, it had little or nothing to do with "investigating" Mothman or unexplained phenomena. The program was a forensic failure.
Eyewitnesses were interviewed, sites were visited, group discussions were recorded, and more eyewitnesses were interviewed. The archival footage was interesting, but the repeating images of the collapsed bridge and created Mothman-in-flight scenes were visibly boring after their third time through. Come on, did they run out of b-roll so quickly?
Skepticism and Ridicule Are Not the Same Thing
The level of skepticism in this Mothman episode was neither scientific nor well-grounded. The "skeptic" point of view was represented mostly by Rob Mariano’s less-than-intellectual ridicule statements that were purely his personal opinions and feelings. They were baseless.
What may surprise people reading this is that I think the show was not skeptical enough. It was a failure because it portrayed the most egregious elements and mistakes of the Mothman melodrama as facts, as straw men, to then knock them down. By presenting sham arguments for the existence of Mothman, it was easy to see why the "investigators" as well as the audience would mow down Mothman.
The straw men appearing in this Mothman program were so obvious as to be outrageous. The program producers appear to have not done any homework, per se, on the "cases" they were examining. The usual eyewitnesses, of course, were rolled out, found, or volunteered to be interviewed. But as opposed to what was stated at the end of the program, no comparative analysis was apparently done of the first facts and accounts on the record from 1966. Details in stories did change, people have elaborated their sightings, and new specifics have drifted into the retellings. It was an easy matter to see how these stories have evolved, and this would have been a worthwhile exercise. The program claimed them did this. They did not.
Those eyes are featured on the cover of Mothman and Other Curious Encounters.
Eyes Did Not Glow Red
One of the most obvious mistakes made in this program and repeated over and over again, by eyewitnesses trying to play to the media and by television "investigators" like these, was the continuation of the myth about the "glowing red eyes" of Mothman.
As I mentioned routinely and often when I was on my publicity tour for Screen Gems in conjunction with the 2002 movie, the eyes did not "glow" but were reflected light. Of course, mentioning this detail makes the stories less exciting and more zoological, so people have not liked me to point this out. Needless to say, people haven’t enjoyed me noting that there is no "moth" involved in these big bird reports either, but that’s a story for another time. About those eyes…
For example, Mothman researcher and skeptic Robert Goerman has reinforced the non-glowing argument in his 2002 Anomalist essay, "Mothman’s Eyes." Goerman did what anyone looking into Mothman should do: he did what I did, he read the original reports. Here are some items he found that was said in 1966:
"…fiery-red eyes that glow when the lights hit it. There was no glowing about it until the lights hit it." —Linda Scarberry, 1966.
The young men said they saw the creature’s eyes, which glowed red, only when their lights shined on it. —Point Pleasant Register (Wednesday, November 16, 1966)
"The dog was sitting on the end of the porch, howling down toward the hay barn… I shined the (flash)light in that direction, and it picked up two red circles, or eyes, which looked like bicycle reflectors. I certainly know what animal eyes look like… these were much larger. It’s a good length of a football field to that hay barn… still those eyes showed up huge for that distance."—Newell Partridge
"It apparently is afraid of light." –Steve Mallette
Bioluminescence? Eyes glowing on their own? Obviously not, but would you know this from watching this 2006 Sci-Fi television program? No, because it was scarier to talk about "searching the TNT for glowing red eyes"! And boring to talk about the reality of animal eyeshine.
Some of the eyewitnesses have so changed their sighting reports over the years as to have disqualified themselves from being useful interview subjects any longer. Perhaps only a few in the Mothman research field and no producers in the reality television world want to hear this truth, but it is a fact. Since the 2002 movie screened and the resulting documentary film company visits to Point Pleasant, the newly retold old accounts have become so changed from the originals to be almost totally useless – except as fodder for nearly fictional sensational television programs.
More Skin, Less Sense
In "Scif-Fi Investigates" looking for evidence at the TNT area or diving into the murky Ohio River searching for evidence of the collapsed bridge were merely done for good documentary footage. What difference would it have meant if a piece of a car that fell from the bridge in 1967 had been found? Why was this even discussed as "physical evidence" of Mothman? This was insulting to the audience and disrespectful to the victims and families of the bridge collapse. There was no logic to showing an entire scene of Boston Rob taking off his shirt, putting on a rubber suit, and diving into the river, other than for sensational visuals, pure and simple. It was not good television, however, and was even less so a good choice in "investigating."
Finally, Boston Rob’s final skeptic "revelation" was that locals had been undertaking putting into place a subtle plot for they wanted the Mothman stories as reality to make money. Well, yes, cryptotourism is now important to try to revitalize Point Pleasant, but Mr. Mariano, once again, did not do any homework to come up with this remarkably stupid insight.
Point Pleasant is no Loch Ness. Between 1966 and 2002, no tourists journeyed to this dying Ohio River village to visit the scene of the Mothman sightings. Point Pleasant, in spite of the renewed interest in Mothman since the Richard Gere-Laura Linney-Alan Bates-Will Patten-Mark Pellington movie came out in 2002 has not become an overnight mecca. The movie The Mothman Prophecies were not even filmed in Point Pleasant.
It is a fine theory – that the Mothman has been kept alive to make money – but it absolutely does not hold water. People, money, and community life drained out of Point Pleasant for the 36 years before the movie opened, and the locals found no worth in Mothman. This, of course, was another easy fact for the producer to check, but by Boston Rob saying it outloud at the conclusion of the program, people believed his point – that Mothman was perhaps even reported in 1996 and certainly "kept alive&
quot; to make money for the people of Point Pleasant. The overall reality is something else entirely. More people in Los Angleles and New York have become fiscally enriched by Mothman than anyone in Point Pleasant.
No Keelian Insights
Finally, all kinds of phenomena – Men in Black, UFOs, Silver Bridge collapse, Lowe Hotel haunting – were thrown into the pot. The impact and influence of John A. Keel’s investigations and his demonological philosophy, via his on-site interviews in 1966-1967, his 1967-1975 magazine writings, his 1975 book, the effect of the 2002 movie that was based on the book, and how he threw in random weirdness into the vortex were not mentioned, discussed, or analyzed. Indeed, even an analysis between the dates of the Mothman encounters and those of the UFO sightings would have shown a diversity in data distribution that did not necessarily overlap in the mythic fashion that is often recalled. The Keelian variable was left out of this "Sci-Fi Investigates" show, but then, of course, this wasn’t really about investigating the Mothman as much as using it to showcase the team and sell ads. Yes, the irony is it will be the Sci-Fi Channel that will end up making money off of Mothman, not Point Pleasant.
Yes, it was awful. But not because it was too skeptical. While ridicule was there, the program was not skeptical enough for it paraded forth stories it did not backcheck, did not compare with their original tellings, and instead created straw (Moth)men it could easily knock down. The "real" Mothman was forgotten in creating this program. A detailed critique of this television episode shows what needs to be done for an authetic investigative Mothman documentary.
If the program wanted to really find Mothman, they did not do a good job finding the true historic Mothman, which is where you have to start your real research and thus your search.