Press your spaceface close to mine

Some years back I meant to purchase a book called The Men Who Stare At Goats, by Jon Ronson, because I was doing some research on the study of paranormal experimentation for a novel I was writing. Ronson’s book covered the history of paranormal experimentation in the US military since the 70′s, everything from spirituality-heavy martial arts trainings to the eponymous men who stared at goats (in an attempt to stop their hearts, not to make them uncomfortable). Somehow I forgot to buy the book and promptly forgot all about it.

Today the entire internet and myself found out that The Men Who Stare At Goats is set to be a dramatized movie starring George Clooney – all good news – and a little side tidbit that I had no idea existed: Jon Ronson had made a two-and-a-half-hour documentary of his book some years ago, titled, bafflingly, “Crazy Rulers of the World.”

I actually mean the ‘bafflingly’ part. “Crazy Rulers of the World” is the most sensational title since I was in New Zealand during the Boxing Day Tsunami and saw a newspaper headline that read “SATAN’S WAVE”. Then again, America has no sense of the dramatic.

I quickly researched the documentary to see who else had covered it (uh… everyone), and was unsurprised to find massive, pissy disgust with it. Unsurprised not because the documentary deserved it (it doesn’t – more on that in a moment), but because the tier of “intellectual” trolls are shot from cannons whenever something claims to research the “paranormal” and then comes to the conclusion that said things exist. Oh, how they frothed. It’s crap science! they screamed. Ronson’s voice bothers me! they crowed. I know, I know, I recently screamed about someone’s crap science, but it takes one to know one, right?

The documentary has a delightful kinetic flow to it. Ronson hears about experiments where the military has men trying to stop a goat’s heart with their mind, and off he goes on the most astounding chain-of-connections through the upper US military echelons from the Vietnam War until the present day. He’s a talkative fellow, Ronson, but nothing he says overtly interjects himself into the narrative flow. He engages his interviewees with palpable interest and charm, helping the subjects to relay their stories for what they are. It is a thoroughly fascinating combination of good film making skill (editing, sound, and interview technique are all great) and people (every person has a place in the story, a tale to tell, a part in it). And while some parts most certainly have crap science (a much-pooh-poohed ‘hamster scene’ admittedly just serves to undermine the character witness in the scene, something that Ronson seems reluctant to take part in), for the most part it isn’t about science. It is about credible doubt. Are all these people either lying or coo-coo? Are they all mistaken?

Parts are downright silly, some people have clearly been smoking the Mellow Yellow in the years since the Vietnam War, but none of this detracts from what good time I had watching it. The documentary was made for Channel 4 (a UK station), in three parts, so you have to endure some recapping. You’ll survive.

Google Video link to the three parts of “Crazy Rulers of the World.”

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May 17th, 2008 | TV, Weird Science

3 Responses to “Man Makes Interesting Documentary, Internet Unleashes Hate Tornado”

  1. quagmire Says:

    /// incoming transmission from the Atmo ///
    … HELLO the GalacticMu! … Anybody onboard?
    Atmo’s sensors show no life form readings … what the frak?
    Where the hell’s your Cap’n and crew?
    quag …… out
    /// end transmission ///

  2. Zombie Jesus Says:

    Mary Roach touched a bit on military experiments in the paranormal (specifically remote viewing, I think) in Stiff. If you haven’t read that book, you have to. It’s utterly delightful.

  3. Sunday Says:

    Oh, I’ve read Stiff. I looooved it. I haven’t gotten around to reading her new stuff, yet. I should pay more attention next time I’m at the book store.

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