In movies, if someone tells you something unbelievable, it’s best to believe it. Because the mind-controlling robot alien from the future who wants to steal your soul and use it for a healthy lifegiving snack is usually going to be real. And you don’t want to be the sceptic in that scenario. The sceptics get humiliated, at best, or eaten by giant tentacly telepathic monsters, at worst.
However, this is one of those tropes that doesn’t seem to have crept into real life (unlike, say, the movie notion that romance is best expressed through compulsive stalking of the beloved, which unfortunately has). Mostly people would still rather be Scully than Mulder, because of course, in real life the mind-controlling soul-stealing time-travelling robot is probably – probably - not going to turn out to be real. Real life is in this case the opposite of the movies: the David Ickes* of this world are fantasists and people who tell you aliens are out to get you are people who you would not want to take seriously.
The problem with this is the news. Like most people, I am not a scientist, unless having a GCSE in Physics counts, and I suspect it doesn’t. (I got an A! Surely that counts? No?) I have a basic idea how things work – I do not think electricity is magic, for example – but that’s about it.
Also like most people, I get my information about the world from the media: often via the medium of news stories I’m skimming on my phone while standing on a train in rush hour on the way to work. This is not conducive to in-depth understanding. So I have found myself very nervous about the recent slew of stories that appear to be basically science fiction. For example:
- A new plant that “bends down” to deposit its seeds has been discovered in a forest in Brazil. (As an aside, if plants are going to turn out to be this clever, vegetarianism is going to start looking almost as cruel as meat-eating. Let’s hope that, against all the odds, breatharianism turns out to be true.)
OK, I sort of understand how all of these things can happen. Except the faster-than-light thing, but that’s all right: it’s accepted that top-level physics is Really Quite Hard.
The thing is though, part of me feels so gullible for believing these news stories. As though any minute now, someone is going to turn round and say “Wait, you didn’t really think all that was true, did you?” And then they’d laugh and laugh and I’d stand there muttering “well, the BBC said it was real,” like some kind of media-manipulated idiot.
Is this an argument for “everything is a bit true, really” and “well, you can’t really prove anything, can you?” Oh God no. There are many many genuinely true things and many many genuinely false things. It’s just that I don’t have time to sort out which is which. So I get the Guardian and the BBC and my Twitter feed to do it for me. It’s not ideal. But it’s all I have time for. So I’m just going to have to live with the fact that my dictionary still has the word “gullible” in it.
*An aside: Thanks to a web-editing customer service job I had ten years ago, my name was briefly featured on David Icke’s website. Thanks to the archiving powers of Google, I can still get a hit if I search for “david icke kate harrad“. As someone who makes a hobby out of internet weirdness, and then wrote a novel based on it, this makes me very happy.