Cumberland Times-News

Columns

August 17, 2013

Nobody ever found that sub or the gold

The old saying, “Never give a sucker an even break,” is attributed to W.C. Fields.

I interpret this to mean that some folks will believe just about anything, and they deserve whatever happens to them.

People apparently loved Discovery’s annual Shark Week until the airing of an episode that speculated the Megalodon shark may not be extinct. A Megalodon eats full-grown whales and appears in a photo to be almost as big as a World War II German submarine.

It was fascinating, but the longer it went on, the more I said to myself, “Self, this ain’t real.”

And it wasn’t (the sub photo was faked). The fine print in the closing credits said it was “dramatized,” but added that “legends of giant sharks persist all over the world.”

Some viewers were highly offended that they had been deceived. A spokesman for Discovery replied that it was the “ultimate Shark Week fantasy.”

My feeling is that if educational TV makes people think, it’s doing a good job. I was fine with “Megalodon” until it was rerun a few days later, with the addition of Tweets from viewers who must have thought it was real.

Come on. Is that the best thing you can find to do with your life? Send Tweets that will run across the bottom of the screen on a TV show? The Ghost Adventures crew did a live lockdown that featured on-air Tweets, some of them coming from viewers who said they were scared.

Some time back, Animal Planet network aired a program that suggested mermaids were real. It was so convincing that I wanted to believe it, but of course, it was no more factual than the Megalodon show.

How outraged people were at being fooled by the mermaid show, I don’t remember. However, Animal Planet later aired a sequel that was as dumb as the first show was good.

The Megalodon matter is covered by Goldy’s Rule 146: Few things should be taken seriously; and Rule 146a: Considerable amusement can be derived by observing the confusion or outrage of people who don’t know about Rule 146.

Americans once enjoyed being fooled. P.T. Barnum (who is credited with saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”) got rich doing it.

The newspaper used to run April Fool stories, and it was fun. Our late sports editor J. Suter Kegg concocted them, and Mike Sawyers wrote about a fisherman who caught a sea-going amberjack in Wills Creek.

Some folks actually swallowed this stuff, and most of them loved it when they found out they’d been punked.

I did a column about a Confederate submarine fabricated from wooden beer kegs that was used to hijack a C&O Canal boat and the gold shipment it carried. I said the sub sank somewhere in the canal and was still there, buried in the mud, its contents undisturbed.

A friend called me at home immediately after reading this.

“You (four-word Anglo-Saxonism),” he said, choking with laughter, “you had me going until I turned to the page where you continued the story and all it said was, ‘April Fool!’ ”

Our collective sense of humor appears to have worn off. When I read on the Internet how some folks react to things like the Megalodon and mermaid scams, I just shake my head.

I recently turned to the Discovery Channel and found my new favorite show. Unfortunately, it airs on another network I don’t get, and Discovery was using its reruns to fill time.

“Mountain Monsters” features West Virginians from Pleasants County who search for legendary creatures like Mothman, Devil Dog and Wampus Beast (an enormous cat) that kill pets and livestock and scare the hell out of human beings.

Being a proper West Virginian, I’ve heard of all these monsters and am not inclined to dismiss them as fantasy. Around here, we call it the Wampus Cat. How did it get its name? Probably because somebody said, “Boy, that thing gets a-hold of us, it’ll whomp us good!”

People show the mountain monster hunters cell-phone videos of these beasts, and they build huge traps and go hunting for them with shotguns.

They listened while the Wampus Beast killed a coyote that was screaming in pain, and they caught it in a net that was scratch-built from ropes nearly an inch thick — only it clawed its way out.

This, I said to myself, beats the folks who go hunting for Bigfoot. About the only thing that happens to those people is that they hear growls and something throws rocks at them.

Then they go chasing whatever it is, on foot and in the dark. The West Virginia monster hunters go after their prey through pitch-black woods at full-throttle in four-wheelers, which looks like great fun ... so long as you’re not the one thrown out of the vehicle.

Of course, there is an entertaining Internet debate about the authenticity of Mountain Monsters.

Some people swear it must be real, others swear that it must be made up, and both offer reasons why they’re right and the others are full of what’s left behind after Sasquatch goes to another part of the forest.

I DON’T CARE if it is or is not real, but it’s fun to think that it might be real. Nothing else matters. If you can’t suspend belief or disbelief and be thrilled by a question that has no easy answer, then I feel sorry for you.

I would rather watch Mountain Monsters or the Bigfoot guys than any of that nonsense about spoiled rich girls who have bad tempers, big egos and even bigger bumpers.

Consider also that these creatures (the monsters, not Kim, Khloe and Snooki) have been seen, heard and smelled — sometimes at very close range — by hunters, campers, police officers, loggers, forest rangers and others who are familiar with the woods and everything that is known to live there.

Although I have not seen the Wampus Cat, I once saw its smaller cousin — the black panther-like cat that officially does not reside in these parts. Folks I know who live in the country have seen it, too.

I was in my car at the time. From the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail, he stretched nearly across one lane of the road ... and his tail wasn’t even fully unfurled.

I’m a skeptical man. Never having been close enough to see, hear or smell Kim, Khloe or Snooki, I’m tempted to write them off as mythical creatures that were made up for TV.

But I do believe in the Wampus Cat.

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