Thursday, October 22, 2009

Skepticism on the big screen

Confronted by the never-ending stream of films about alien visits or the paranormal which claim to be "based on true events" - something that drives me nuts - I was pleased to discover that the new movie starring George Clooney, The Men Who Stare at Goats, is actually an adaptation of the same titled book by skeptical journalist Jon Ronson who has focused his work on the investigation of extremists, conspiracy theorists, and the targets of conspiratorial thought.

In 1979 a secret unit was established by the most gifted minds within the US Army. Defying all known accepted military practice - and indeed, the laws of physics - they believed that a soldier could adopt the cloak of invisibility, pass cleanly through walls and, perhaps most chillingly, kill goats just by staring at them. Entrusted with defending America from all known adversaries, they were the First Earth Battalion. And they really weren't joking. What's more, they're back and fighting the War on Terror. 'The men who stare at goats' reveals extraordinary - and very nutty - national secrets at the core of George W Bush's War on Terror.

With first-hand access to the leading players in the story, Ronson traces the evolution of these bizarre activities over the past three decades, and sees how it is alive today within US Homeland Security and post-war Iraq. Why are they blasting Iraqi prisoners-of-war with the theme tune to Barney the Purple Dinosaur? Why have 100 de-bleated goats been secretly placed inside the Special Forces command centre at Fort Bragg, North Carolina? How was the US Military associated with the mysterious mass-suicide of a strange cult from San Diego? 'The men who stare at goats' answers these, and many more, questions.
I'm ashamed to say that I had not heard of Ronson's work until I read Arthur Goldwag's Cult's Conspiracies and Secret Societies (a nifty resource for any skeptic's bookshelf), which makes mention of his having infiltrated the Bohemiam Grove; but having just yesterday listened to the Skepticality podcast #112 (also available at iTunes) which features a wide ranging and fascinating interview with Ronson about his skeptical adventures, including his time aboard a Sylvia Browne cruise in which he and the passengers discover just how fully in contempt Browne holds her fans, I'll be sure to read his work when I get a chance (I'll want to read the book before seeing the movie.)


Jim Lippard said...

I recommend both _Them_ and _The Men Who Stare at Goats_. Very entertaining and appropriately skeptical.

Hume's Ghost said...

Thanks for the recommendation.

It looks like I'll be reading The Men Who Stare at Goats first, as my library has a copy of that but not Them.