Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Wanna Dance?

Buzz Aldrin who was the second man to walk on the moon is now on the TV reality show Dancing With The Stars.

Aldrin told reporters that he agreed to participate on the show as a way to bring attention to space travel and to encourage science education. planets

Unfortunately, the only actual quotes I could find from Buzz from the show were, “I hope when people think about voting they think about not just the most talented, energetic people with the sexiest uniforms and outfits, but who they want to see develop the next week’s dance.” And when asked about his dance partner he said, “This is a really cute babe…”

Ah, yes! Never have more inspirational science quotes been uttered. Come along children, we must go study the moons of Saturn now! I too want to be an astronaut!

Sadly, Buzz received the lowest score on the show’s premiere and one of the judges said of his dance skills, “It looked like you still had your moon boots on.”

More after the click!

Of course in Mr. Aldrin’s defense he is 80 years old, still kicks total ass and has done plenty in his lifetime to encourage interest in space travel and in science education. If at this point in his life he wants to do the cha-cha-cha on TV with a cute babe, well then I say good for him. It is also not his fault that Dancing With The Stars is far more interested in sexy dance moves than any intellectual endeavors. They could give a rat’s ass about science. They will edit and stage the show in order to express their views. They have no intention of inspiring anything other than tight sparkly-dresses and getting you to tune in next week to see what happens!

This story brings to mind a topic that is often tossed around behind the scenes here at Skepchick and among other skeptical groups that I participate in. The question is should we put ourselves out there in a more aggressive fashion? Should we search out the limelight? Should we go after media opportunities simply to get our names and maybe our messages out there?

Approximately once a month a call for “skeptics” gets passed around the skeptical community. I put skeptics in quotes because while the casting companies and various pilot TV shows approach us claiming that they want a skeptic what they usually really want is someone they can edit to look like a naysayer, a contrarian or a grumpy cynic. Occasionally they also want a PHD or specialist to lend credibility to their production. Most of the time all the stereotypes that the skeptical skepchick tvcommunity wishes to avoid are what casting directors want. In fact many of these types of shows have in fact cultivated the stereotypes we wish to shake.

Most of the time skeptics ignore these requests but I sometimes wonder if it would help the skeptical movement if we tried to jump in the ring with the ghost hunters and psychics now and then. My guess is that if they decided to ever use any of us on a paranormal show the stage choreography and editing would be designed to make us look like jerks. Our message would be diminished and whatever the point of the show is would be promoted. Any words of skeptical wisdom would end up on the cutting room floor. As many of us realize, reality TV is not reality at all. And I fear it could do more harm than good, as our collective reputations would be at stake.

What do you think? Should we try to get the skeptical message out there even if we may be edited to look like the fool? Is all publicity good publicity or should we stick with writing and podcasting where we have creative control over the messages we send?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics. She is the fearless leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+. Tip Jar is here.

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25 Comments

  1. It all depends on how good your communication skills are and what kind of product you’re able to produce. Much of the more ‘in your face’ agenda pushing is only successful because it’s also entertaining or at least as compelling as a car crash. I’d hate to see skeptical car wrecks strewn about but if someone thinks they can pull off some compelling and entertaining stuff then by all means go for it! As for being edited to look like a fool, well that’s what you seem to get in reality TV. I have trouble watching people being publicly embarrassed and will switch the channel pretty quick if that’s going on.

  2. I think it’s more important for creative people to be skeptical or skeptical people to be creative. In the position you describe, the creators are in charge of the content regardless of our contribution. If we create good art/entertainment we can inject however much rational/skeptical thought in it that we want. As entertainment production becomes decentralized, this becomes more of a possibility. We need to not limit ourselves to “Skeptical Art” though. Only when people are coming for the other content (humor, art, music) and getting the skeptical side too will we be successful at reaching a new audience.

    I sometimes fantasize about being able to reach a large audience through music and encouraging people to think rationally, but it’s pretty much a pipe dream.

  3. I think when Rebecca was shopping the Skepchick TV show, the responses were that we needed to be hotter, thinner, less know-it-all-y, and believe in ghosts and herbs a little more. Otherwise they don’t want us.

    Right now, skepticism on TV requires a whole lot of blowing shit up. That’s why Mythbusters is still the only game in town.

  4. I think it is all good. No amount of editing can make a skeptic look like a fool because skeptics are not fools.

    I had a thought, if a skeptic does get a gig on some in-your-face “reality” show, blogging about it before time could get said skeptic a boat-load of one-line zingers to use.

    If Buzz Aldrin had done something like that he would have had better lines than “this is a really cute babe”. Why he really got the nickname “Buzz”, why he should get royalties from Tang for Buzzed Aldrins, etc.

  5. I think we all need to continue to get the skeptical message(s) out there. Being made to look a fool while dancing, or trying some art form not closely related to the skeptical content is fine and may serve to get the message out that critical thinkers are “real” people–but some degree of creative control is essential when the content is scientific or can be turned to the advantage of the dark side–e.g. creationism, anti-vaccinationism, etc. This isn’t easy, I’m sure, and does present a challenge to those skeptics who are likely to be put in such a position.
    Oh . . . and Elyse, I don’t recall ever having met a Skepchick who isn’t hot, so that can’t be the reason we don’t have Skepchick TV available now.

  6. I’m thinking a reality show “survival” style would be awesome. On one team you could have the Skeptics and on the other team quacks/religious/creationist/etc.

    …then see who survives the longest! :D

  7. @daedalus2u:

    Not only CAN they edit, easily, to make us look like fools, but we can make it even easier for them by keeping a handy bag of canned zingers ready.

    Nothing says “I can’t think for myself and have no sense of humor” like scripting your unscripted humorous retorts.

  8. Don’t let yourself be forced into the mold of “grumpy cynic” for someone else’s amusement. Get your message out on your own terms, and do it proudly.

    –podcast
    –more face-to-face in public forums
    –create your own public forums
    –twitter, facebook, and other social networks

    A lot of this you’re doing already. Just be sure to keep it on your own terms.

  9. Personally I wouldn’t mind if there were more skeptics out in there in the mainstream media. Sure, they might get edited to sound like idiots, but so does everyone. I think a lot of people would be more accepting of skeptical atheist types if they see them in tv shows and movies. (this sounds weird, but I read somewhere that watching Will & Grace caused people to have less negative feelings towards homosexuals).

    I secretly hope that a famous celeb will come out as an atheist/skeptic and totally challenge the Jenny McCarthy types. Sure, argumentum ad celebritum is lame, but it would be nice to have an icon people not in the community have heard of.

    I often suspect certain celebrities are closet atheists, but they have to keep it quiet to avoid losing roles. I guess when you’re a really huge star like Angelina Jolie or Jodie Foster, you don’t have to worry about it so much. But you don’t see them on the talk show circuit telling Oprah she’s full of crap.

    I’d watch that.

  10. Ooh, the Risk/Benefit Analysis, how light and fluffy!

    Seriously, though, before I submit an answer, I’d need more information.

    Do the calls for skeptics go out in the community of skeptics, or is it thrown out there for any Tom, Dick, or Nancy to pick up? If its the latter, I’d say jump on it. It would be better for someone who really knows what they are talking about try to debunk this than some quack saying “Of course there aren’t any ghosts! The unicorns ate them all!”

    If its the former, an idea would be to consider boycotting the show that really make you look silly. Another idea is bring a friend, and have your second opinion on hand. A final idea is be the top of your game. Be prepared to get bards thrown, and just defend against in a sly, skepchicky-awesome way.

  11. @infinitemonkey: Yeah, sorry. I’m not feeling too light and fluffy today. Next week I will ask a question about boobs or cotton candy or something.

    To answer your question the calls get sent directly to the various groups. They say that they heard about us or read about us and would we be interested in auditioning. They make it sound like it is us they are specifically interested in but from experience we have found that the same calls go out to pretty much everyone.

  12. That last photo makes me think of a Skepchick cartoon show. Something with crossover appeal for both the younger set and their parents.

    PIXAR + Skepchick = WIN!!

    “And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling Skepchicks!”

  13. In order to reach a large audience, I think you really have to go to TV. The meat of skeptical outreach may always be where we have full creative control, but it doesn’t hurt to entice the masses with the boob tube. However, some creative control is going to be crucial for any tiny bit of the message to stick out at all. Being that “token skeptic” isn’t going to do it, so maybe the effort shouldn’t be just to be involved, but to get more writers and directors to realize that “hey this is cool” and it’s what people want to see. After all, who isn’t a skeptic about *something* in their life?

    Of course, that approach takes longer, so maybe any exposure while working that can help? Or not hurt at least? (This is a what’s the harm question, isn’t it?)

  14. @Brian:

    Oh . . . and Elyse, I don’t recall ever having met a Skepchick who isn’t hot, so that can’t be the reason we don’t have Skepchick TV available now.

    *sigh*

    Hot as we are, our heads aren’t disproportionately large for our stick bodies. We can’t do TV.

  15. @nicole: but it doesn’t hurt to entice the masses with the boob tube.

    In the UK, SA and Australia a Boob Tube is an item of clothing you know as a tube top. This gives your sentence a different meaning.

  16. @mikerattlesnake: “I look like a fool. skeptics are fools. I had some in-your-face load I got from Buzz Aldrin”

    Holy crap, that is funny! COTW.

    @Elyse: I thought I was the only one who had noticed that all the talking heads on TV are HUGE. Big head, big head, big head!

    That’s right. I’m talkin bout you, Giada.

  17. Sadly, Amy is dead right about editing. I work in TV as well and I can assure you that people are routinely edited to make their contribution fit the required narrative. TV shows are well planned in advance and the outcome is pre-determined.

    Token skeptics are effectively script devices – they are there to serve a particular purpose and help make the program unfold in a certain way. If you think you can insert a message that runs contrary to what the producer wants, you’re just being naive. It doesn’t matter what you say or how clever you are – it is always possible to edit the surrounding content to give your words a different slant. Editors are like magicians – they make the seemingly impossible possible.

    If you want to control your own message, you have to control the entire narrative. You’re better off fundraising to produce a web-based series than playing the sucker game of being on a TV show that has been rigged to make you fail.

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