Lou Ryan may have been the first superhero I've been impressed with, and the only one I've ever been engaged to, but he's not the first whose YouTube appearances I've applauded.
` Late last year, before our terrible troubles with crazy roommates, cops, and all that, I discovered the chrome-skinned internet crusader Captain Disillusion, an expert in digital special effects who has effectively debunked many fake YouTube videos.
` I began writing about him here, but forgot all about my post when things got too scary -- so let me start again: The first video he takes a look at is a penguin bitch-slapping another penguin into the ice. I instantly noticed the way the penguin's slapping wing looked that it was fake, but apparently not everyone caught this.
` In the words of CD, "The footage is posted dozens of times over on YouTube... and yet I have never, not once, seen a single comment propose that the video might be an artifical special effect, and that worries me...."
I hope he sets that girl straight with Santa Claus and all that! Now, that was a nice, pleasant little non-challenging episode, and I see that he did this one first because debunking it offends nobody, and watching it gives one a feel for his style.
` Very clever.
` Of course, the value of 'debunking' is actually showing people how they can be fooled. I've tried to do that here, but not in nearly such a cool way as an awesome video.
` And as for his second episode, he begins, "Tonight, I'd like to talk to you about how creepy you all are...." Yes, apparently we humans have an affinity for making somewhat clever fake ghost videos -- this one is the reflection of the Japanese girl who looks in the mirror and turns away... but her reflection doesn't!
` CD says, "Kids, I know that there are times when not believing something you see feels really, really wrong. But don't worry, that's just your brain adjusting to the nice cold bubble bath of healthy disillusion. It's better than staying in the hot, muggy gazebo of gullibility. Just relax, let the bubbles do their work."
` Mmmmm, bubbles! That, I like!
We will see our old friend Mr. Motion Tracking in future videos as well. I guess that was a simple one to figure out. But this next one... the next one is just too easy! So easy that Captain Disillusion is angry!
` "Alright, come on, I'm not really angry, come back. I'm more disappointed. Disappointed in you. That's right. Aw, don't cry. Sometimes, it doesn't seem to take any effort for someone to make you believe a hoax is real. No special effects, no testimony, no shaky cameras, just... context."
` Wow. This is incredibly dumb, but several YouTube commenters are freaked out as hell. It's just a dog looking out a window with some electric blinds that 'move by themselves'. Run for your life! And the YouTube poster wasn't even serious about it being supernatural, either!
Why did he 'debunk' a video that needs no debunking? This is CD's way of introducing his viewers to the concept of being expected to believe a video is paranormal because of context, not because of the actual content!
His next 'debunk' is quite the opposite -- a very convincing-looking video of an alien spacecraft! What surprised me the most about this one is that the creator of this video, Barzolff814, let it be known in the news media about how the entire video was computer-generated using View 6 Infinite, which comes with the palm tree clones seen in the video.
` It didn't matter, though -- some people were still convinced it was real and it really freaked them out.
` So then, Barzolff created another fake video that is meant to show the first one is fake -- some people who still believed the first video was real were tremendously offended by it, not realizing that the second video was fake!
` And then, of course, CD just had to do his own version....
This next video is quite different than the last two -- there's nothing supposedly paranormal about it, it's just two guys and a pair of sunglasses. One appears to throw sunglasses and the other seemingly catches them on his face, in all sorts of creative ways. But, how do they do it?
` After all, "Special effects are, above all, a source of entertainment, and when they're used for entertainment purposes, I love 'em. Enjoying cinematic puzzles and then trying to figure out how they were created is good for the brain."
It isn't until the 'Fire Angel' episode that we meet Captain Disillusion's semi-sidekick, Mr. Flare. And boy is he pissed off!
` "I'm simple and easy to get along with," says Mr. Flare, "but you know what? That doesn't mean I'm worthless and don't deserve recognition and respect!"
` Captain Disillusion tries to stop the refraction's rage; "And you really like to travel, right?"
` "I sure do! I've been all over the world and present at some of the most important events in history." We are shown photos of this same optical effect: "The 2006 night launch of the space shuttle discovery, the launch of any space thing, really, The Police reunion tour, the re-enactment of the world trade center reenactment of the Iwo Jima raising of the flag by the Lafatette High School cheerleading squad. Hell, I've met most of these kids watching, although you wouldn't know it from the way they act!"
` "All right now, Mist..."
` "I'm not finished! They don't want to give me my due credit! They'd rather believe I'm some paranormal orb or ghost or angel! Well, angel my big refracted a..."
` He's right; this 'Fire Angel' example really is silly, and I'd be pissed off, too if I were a lens flare!
You might remember a blog post I did a couple years ago about the 'Cuervo Chupacabra' news segments. The first one was so hyped-up that the news reporter didn't give much credence to the wildlife expert who identified it as a mangy canine. The second news segment was a solid ten minutes of sensationalism until they finally revealed the genetic analysis... coyote DNA!
` When news reporters find a mundane event and then hype the mystery instead of actually getting to the bottom of it, or even reporting the most obvious explanation, it's called 'fluff', and local news programs have a lot of these segments because they compete with one another as well as with entertainment shows.
` Captain Disillusion did a fine example of such exposure of what is obviously a bug crawling around on a security camera, in the following way: "Using the latest video editing technology, I've altered the famous segment about the gas station ghost caught on security camera into the way it should have been produced had the journalist actually done her job."
This is the funniest one yet! Can Captain D outdo himself? I'm afraid he does. There are all kinds of crazy things in episodes, though I was most interested in the first widescreen HD episode, where where he went to The Amazing Meeting 6.
` The key speaker was physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and all his skeptical colleagues were there, including the hilarious co-hosts of my favorite podcast The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, and the eccentric masters of illusion Penn and Teller.
` Captain D also exposes how a TV show in Germany plagiarized his footage of the sunglasses-catching analysis. Mr. Flare says; "I sure hope nobody floods them with angry emails!"
` After TAM, CD moves onto a home movie with low FLV compression, and shows how such low quality can do some strange things the producers offered prize money for duplicating. That was so incredibly simple-- and I've seen the same things on other low-quality videos! "Can I have the $25,000 now?"
` And then, of course... HOW DID HE DO THAT? He's Captain Disillusion, Penn and Teller in the same shot!
And his next episode co-stars famous skeptic and illusionist The Amazing Randi, for which The Amazing Meeting is named. Randi comes to the rescue after CD blows a gasket! (Actually, not really, it's just the script.)
` I think it's supposed to be kinda like Contact, although I don't remember that movie. In any case, I'm duly impressed by how Amazingly high Randi's pants are!
It's Vegas! But... wait.. it turns out that Randi's video debunk of the 'pantry ghost girl' wasn't quite right, either! That's right, all that production, and it still wasn't quite on the mark.
` Well, Mr. Flare wasn't "one to glow idly by while someone might be wrong on the internet!... So now, here to present the real answers, the guy who screwed it up in the first place...."
The last time I had checked out Captain Disillusion's website -- that would be for the first draft of this post -- this video had been the final one on the cue. Months had gone by, and I figured CD had planned something special.
` I was not disappointed -- finally, seven months after Pantry Ghost Girl, they finally finished producing the videos for TAM7, and there are five of them!
` Conveniently, they are all linked together by a... well, a link, shown near the end of the video, which gives you the opportunity to watch the next one. Watch out, though, it takes you to YouTube, so you'll have to backtrack if you want to get back to my blog.
At last, we get more into what TAMs are all about, and it's a parody of Mystery Science Theater 3000 to boot! I dig CD's silver skin! Oh yeah, and the shape-shifting shirt is pretty cool, too.
And yes, Michael Shermer really does sound like a muppet, I've seen him in person, as I've posted somewhere before on this blog.
In the second video, a dowser FAILS! And even worse, for CD anyway, Rebecca Watson, sexiest voice of Skeptic's Guide, gets married! NOOOOOOO!
Number three reveals what happens when scientific-minded people attempt performance art. "...The tsunami-like onslaught of noise! And the horrible, horrible silence." And, then, a Skepchick party! I dig the digitally-added drug paraphernalia, like the bong in Steven Novella's hand -- that's just too funny!
In number four, they discuss skepticism and ethics in stage magic. Teller and the others are seen discussing the ethics of Darren Brown's offering fake explanations for his illusions.
So finally, in number five, we get to Brown's fake explanation of using a group of volunteers to guess lottery numbers. But if we could really do that, a lot of people would!
` So how did Brown really predict the lottery numbers? He didn't. Apparently, CD has found that this trick involves the 'magic' of a motion control system!
` And then... Captain D's parody of the Carl Sagan remix Glorious Dawn! Love it!
Just last week, the most recent episode of Captain Disillusion was posted, in both 2D and 3D. He explores the 'Fantasy Files.' They appear to be football players doing amazing stunts to get you to put them on your Fantasy Football team -- but in fact, they are advertisements, and the ones Captain Disillusion looks at have really neat special effects!
` I also noticed that this one is called an 'Explanation' and not a 'Debunk'. It's true that a skeptic's job is to explore, not debunk, but in the world of fake YouTube videos it's the only thing one can wind up doing, because they're... well, bunk!
` So, let's check out the bunk... and a few crazy special effects frills, such as 70's green-screen technology!
Wait... is he implying that he has an illegitimate daughter? I ought to recruit her....
In the meantime, I've got to go. I have a lot of work to do, including creating more original content for this website -- I know what I should have done in the first place, and clean up my own 'exploring' act.
I'll be back with my plan once you have had enough of CD. And if you haven't had enough of him here, you can go to CD's YouTube channel for more videos, and perhaps by the time you are reading this post, there will be even newer ones!