Almost 2 months ago, my Facebook feeds, probably yours also, were full of this mermaid video that somehow sparked that child fantasy in every hopeful but non-investigative individual. I must admit, I was one of those. Phew! Too much of Ariel and childhood stories magnetized me to this “mockumentary”.
Well, if you have seen a trailer such as this, one would get hooked.
So, kudos to Animal Planet who managed, once again to captivate viewers with its mermaid story. Actually, the one that was spreading recently was a sequel to a fictional documentary that was aired last 2012. It was called, “Mermaids: The Body Found”. It stimulated a presentation of real-life body of evidence that mermaids exist and despite warnings from NOAA or the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, it still successfully fooled millions and even sparked debates about mythical creatures on Twitter.
Mermaids: The Body Found last 2012 had the highest ratings for the year for cable channels. And then 2months ago, May of 2013, its sequel, “Mermaids: The New Evidence” was spreading like wildfire in social media newsfeeds, giving the channel its biggest audience ever—3.6 million viewers.
Again, NOAA warned and even mentioned about the absurdity of a half human-half fish creature. But still, the video became viral and attracted a very large audience of believers and of course, gave the cable channel a new ratings record in its 17-year-history.
However, video editors and those who are working in film can clearly see that it’s a not so carefully-crafted hoax. Lightings in the scene and even stated “facts” are unbelievable (like the sea depth that the submarine went through). So how do mockumentaries become successful despite these careless but not so obvious mistakes? Here’s our take.
1. Hire a credible scientist that would back up your story and moreso, create conflicts through other credible characters as well that would somehow arise suspicion.
In this mockumentary, they got Dr. Paul Robertson, a biologist who claimed to obtain new footage of the mythical creature shot near Greenland last spring.
2. Cite real but controversial theories and relate it to said phenomenon.
In this case, Dr. Robertson stated that they wanted the story to appeal to a sense of genuine possibility, and incorporating real science and evolutionary theory and real world scientific examples. They mentioned the evolution theory and the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis to really ground their case. This made it more appealing to a sense of intellectual possibility as well as emotional possibility.
3. The featured scientist would stake his professional reputation just to have this “theory” revealed
. In this case, Dr. Robertson even suggested that the NOAA statement was part of government cover-up.
4. Always, always put the disclaimer that this is not true.
But put it in super minute and “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” letters. The film did include a statement that it was “science fiction” based on “scientific theory (artfully crafted equivocation) but it was gone before you can even see it at the end of the program.
Animal Planet’s president and General Manager Marjorie Kaplan told the LA times that the mermaid phenomenon has become a watershed moment for Animal Planet. These extraordinary TV specials have electrified , challenged and entertained TV audiences and online fans alike.
NOAA told the Hufftington Post that “Mermaids: The New Evidence” is just entertainment and that no evidence of mermaids has ever been found. Ever.
It goes to show that a concept can really come a long way, as long as it is perfectly-conjured and it touches that emotional and intellectual feel. What we can do is of course, investigate first before believing everything and devour hoax information like a sponge.
As an end note, we'd like to say, Ariel, please stay in Disney and under the sea.
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