True or False: Mermaids have been proven to exist.
True, if you consider Discovery Channel’s Mermaids: The Body Found and Mermaids: The New Evidence.
False, if you read the post-script at the credits saying that it’s science fiction based on scientific possibilities and theories.
I remember watching Mermaids on TV because my mother loved animal documentaries, and it just so happened to be on, so I watched it. I remember it being a really big thing because all of a sudden, mermaids exist!! They aren’t just fantasy and they’re real! Oh my goodness!
Reading the articles assigned for this week reminded me of the mockumentary, and the fact that it generated Discovery Channel’s highest viewership ratings since it’s creation still astonishes me. The reputation of the Discovery Channel as a documentary channel (at least in my perception of it) caused the world to jump in on the hoax, believing in the existence of mermaids even when it was completely made up. The form of the story, in this case a documentary, had a huge impact on its reception and believability. With the production of Mermaids, Discovery Channel used the idea that documentaries are factual and grounded in reality to successfully draw an audience. The seemingly opposing form of the story and the content of the story caused an uproar in the online communities that have watched the film. The effects of this use (or misuse) of form and media generated discussions surrounding the question of viewer and filmmaker responsibility, a question we kind of touched upon in class. Is it the filmmaker’s responsibility to create content that is true, factual, accurate, and believable? Or is it the viewer’s responsibility to fact-check and make sure the content they are consuming stems and originates from credible sources? Where does the responsibility fall? The tensions between a formally represent “documentary” and the expectations of a documentary can be highlighted in a quotation found in our Winston reading Claiming the Real, where Discovery is essentially “grounding the documentary idea in reception rather than in representation” being “exactly the way to preserve its validity” (253).
The responsibility argument reminds me a lot of the “trigger warnings” that have been a prevalent in social media as of late. The idea of “trigger warnings” suggest that it is the creator’s responsibility signpost their content to protect others from viewing it. Is this the solution though? Is it not a kind of censorship? I ask a lot of questions in these blog posts that I don’t know the answer to. (: