Remember the Alien Autopsy film of 1995? (wikipedia) Doesn't it bring back warm memories? It was a worldwide phenomenon at the time. The Fox television network made a boatload of money with that one, purporting to show the secret government autopsy of an alien body recovered from the Roswell UFO crash. Of course, the network never took a stand as to whether the film was real. Instead the prime time TV special was phrased as a question: "Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?"
It was fiction, of course, and any competent journalist could find that out pretty quickly. What was interesting to us is how the event illustrated how media really works. The media doesn't make any money by exposing the "truth." It makes money by generating drama. The drama takes time and fills programming space, which can then be used to sell advertising to commercial sponsors.
And drama is what the people want, too! They don't want the truth any more than the media does. They want the drama of seeing conflicts hashed out, and as long as it is offered to them, they are going to tune in. It's just like a football game: No fan just wants to hear the final score; they have to see the drama of the game played out -- as inane and useless as it may be.
The purported autopsy film fit the bill. It couldn't be definitively disproven, at least immediately, so it was ripe for the question: Is it real? Then the marketing wheels could be set in motion.
Three years later, Fox milked the autopsy yet again with "World's Greatest Hoaxes: Secrets Revealed," which devoted a program to exposing the Alien Autopsy (report). So Fox made money from the original hoax then made money again by exposing the hoax. We don't see anything particularly outrageous in this: It was just the network and its viewers doing what they are programmed to do. The Alien Autopsy was no more phony then the thousands of useless products advertised on TV everyday.
Two years ago, the promoter of the film and mastermind of the hoax, Ray Santilli, sought to garner more money and attention by finally admitting that he staged the hoax. This time, however, the whole phenomenon seems to have "jumped the shark" and it seems doubtful anyone made much profit.
Santilli's vehicle this time was the 2006 movie, "Alien Autopsy" (wikipedia, BBC review) which he produced. Supposedly "based on a true story," the movie tells the story of how Santilli and his crew faked the film. The release of this new film coincided with Santilli public admission that that MOST of the film was faked. But -- get this -- Santilli now claims that he faked the fake parts only because the original footage he purchased had disintegrated. Santilli says that he saw the film just before buying it but that the film stock decayed as soon as it was exposed to air. Then he had NO CHOICE but to "reconstruct" most of it based on the memory of what he saw. Although he continues to maintain that parts of his show were real, declines to specify them.
Hmmm, okay. Even when someone admits they lied, there's always a way to justify it. Good con men can always shift gears to adapt to any contingency; that's the nature of their trade. Alas, the whole thing fell flat this time. It seems nobody cares anymore! The film went straight to DVD and was sold only in Europe. (Europeans can buy a used copy on Amazon.co.uk for £0.01 ($0.02), but you won't find it on Amazon.com.)
An associate in the UK slipped us a copy, and we TRIED to watch it but didn't get far. It was a technically competent product but pathetic below the surface. The character of Santilli, even presented as Santilli himself must have wanted it, had no personal appeal and was ultimately unwatchable.
We suspect that it wasn't really money that motivated Santilli this time: He got plenty of it from the first hoax. This one seemed more an attempt to set the record straight -- to somehow show that he was a worthy human being in spite of manipulating the world. Unfortunately, he still hasn't come clean: He has just covered one lie with another. It is like a kid admitting he stole the cookies but continuing to blame someone else for his actions.
We have no problem with hoaxes or hoaxsters. There world is filled with them, and the ultimate responsibility lies with the consumer to sort them out. But you don't pull off a hoax without Karma to pay. Every fraud and phony finds this out eventually: Either you return to the truth or you lose your soul.
For some, like Santilli, it is already too late. Millions of dollars don't help much when your time on Earth draws to a close and you have no one left to confide in.
It is the fate of all con men to die alone.