Occ: The Skeptical Caveman (2012 short film) review…

Occ: The Skeptical Caveman (2012 short film) review after the break…

Occ: The Skeptical Caveman (2012 short film) review…

There’s an old saying that cops only work as hard as they have to. The saying makes sense: Law enforcement is dangerous – The next call could be your last call. If you don’t have to question a witness, you don’t. If all the evidence indicates that the event was a suicide, why turn over every rock on the odd occasion that it is a sophisticated murder in the vein of the current slate of police forensic science dramas? Above all, to paraphrase Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain), “No good deed ever goes unpunished.”

The same holds true with reality – People think only as hard as they have to. Why does the sun move across the sky? Who knows. As long as the crops grow, who cares? Why does it rain? Who knows. As long as it rains enough for the animals to stay hydrated, who cares? Why do people grow older? Why does wood burn but rocks don’t? How come some birds have blue feathers and other birds have red feathers? And this goes on and on…

The truth is that, unless it affects some “bottom line,” be it moral, physical, financial, or otherwise, people don’t care. All civilizations are crisis-oriented societies – We only care when it becomes a crisis. In the meanwhile, any old story to explain away a trivial question is good enough. We are a species that loves the status quo unless something else comes along that is not just good, not just great, not just spectacular but supremely, awesomely, superbly better then what we already have. That’s a high standard to overcome and if human history is any indication, we haven’t been very receptive towards change when we want to be, only when we have to.

Skepticism is the practice of challenging those notions that can’t be measured empirically. You can measure how much rain falls, you can measure the temperature of a room, you can measure height and weight and mass… Can you see a ghost? Is Jesus real? Do you really receive 76 virgins in the Islamic afterlife? Do you really get your own planet if you’re especially good in the Mormon afterlife? Do people really have ESP? Can people extinguish candles with their mind? Do tarot cards actually work?

Now, before someone writes a particularly nasty response to me, I’ll write it write now – Don’t bother writing it. I won’t post it. I’ll delete it as soon as I see it. Belief is a powerful motivation and otherwise rational people become particularly unhinged when you doubt their beliefs. That nice co-worker who works next to you in the office will fight you to the death if you question her belief that the government and the pharmaceutical companies are suppressing evidence that vitamin B60 cures all forms of cancer. That gentle neighbor of yours will gouge your eyes out the moment you ask about all the inaccuracies in that religion that they adhere to. Thanksgiving dinner is a minefield of conflicting political viewpoints because their candidate or political party is the only sane and rational candidate or political party and everyone else deserves nothing less than a lobotomy if they think otherwise. And don’t even mention such “evergreens” like the faked Moon landings, Roswell and the fact that the government knew all about Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy Assassination and 9/11 and did nothing to stop any of them. Have I mentioned the phone company yet?

Yet, as the saying goes, reality is the only gig in town. With each passing generation, our global society is dragged (very much kicking and screaming, I assure you) closer and closer towards the conclusions that your religion is bogus, the supernatural is fake, governments only care when they have to be re-elected and businesses will lie to your face if it means a sale. Those are some pretty depressing realities so it’s no wonder why people are so willing to accept that The Invisible Pink Unicorn is real, ghosts really do exist, their political party is the only honest one with all the answers and that buying from [fill in company name here] is the only way to go if you want that particular good or service. Reality is messy, complicated, hard and also ever-changing. The best medical advice 20 years ago is now painfully obsolete. That swell financial theory no longer works because of such-and-such social factors. The company that revolutionized such-and-such industry has now gone bankrupt because they couldn’t adapt to more immediate market pressures. The political party in power 10 years ago is now out of power because they no longer reflect the changing electorate and their shifting views.

“The Skeptics’ Guide To The Universe” (SGU for short) is a weekly podcast (a radio show without the radio station) with a panel of science experts who distill science-oriented news items. The podcast has gained popularity because of it’s weekly consistency and overall quality. Some of the hosts and recurring segments has changed over the year but the overall format hasn’t – Talk about science-oriented topical items and analyze them from a skeptical perspective.

This same band of experts have now branched out into both fiction and video at the same time with “Occ: The Skeptical Caveman.” SGU is hoping that this production turns into a regular web series with at least five other episodes. So, how is the pilot episode? It depends on many factors.

“Occ: The Skeptical Caveman” is a short film featuring Occ, a caveman who is considerably smarter than the rest of the tribe. Ostracized for his intelligence, the tribe reluctantly keeps Occ around because Occ is competent while others in the tribe are considerably less so. In the pilot episode, Occ must confront the fictional superstition that urinating into a fire causes those who urinated to temporarily be better hunters. Despite Occ’s otherwise rational case, the tribe’s leader is less than convinced with the typical humorous conclusions.

Despite my affection for rationality and a genuine interest in seeing my society scientifically advance, I can’t honestly claim that “Occ” is a great production or even a good one, for that matter. To be fair, all productions are laborious and people who endure the countless hours of pre-production, production, post-processing and editing to make anything watchable deserves our gratitude. The visual arts are difficult and people involved in that industry deserve our respect as much as other industries.

Unfortunately, there are many factors that weigh the production down.

First, fictional writing is subjective: What one person finds funny another person will find offensive and a third person would find inconsequential. The Flintstone-esque rendition of the stone age might appeal to some but, if that’s the direction that the production chooses to go then the production values should be increased. The overall visual quality of the presentation was no different than a typical YouTube video. Grab a bunch of college students, raid a charity store, grab Grandma’s fanciest digital camcorder and download some editing software and you’ve got a fairly close facsimile for what you see here. That kind of production might be great to impress your friends but I suspect that SGU wants this production to be better than that.

Although the subject material was good enough, some design choices were curious. The southern accent of the tribe leader could be viewed as very offensive, particularly to the audience that SGU wants to attract. If SGU wants to attract what could be described as “low-information viewers,” having your antagonist be portrayed like a southern may not be the wisest decision. Furthermore, both the costume design and mannerisms of Occ are curious, to say the least. Some of Occ’s conduct could be misinterpreted as metrosexual at best and homosexual at worst. I’m impartial enough to understand that such misinterpretations were probably unintentional but to those merely glancing at the production, those impressions would be understandable. It would have been better if the protagonist conducted themselves as neutral as possible.

Skepticism is rooted in the scientific method of conducting an experiment to reveal if a hypothesis is correct or not. In the pilot episode, no such experiment existed – It was just Occ telling the tribal leader that he was wrong that urinating on the fire doesn’t cause better hunting abilities. In fact, Occ could be countered that relieving themselves immediately before heading out to hunt would be beneficial – It makes someone feel lighter, relieves pressure from their bladder making them more mobile and avoiding having to relieve themselves during the hunt when even a single moment might be crucial (say, when chasing down game or throwing a spear). Perhaps a better example would be, say, kissing a rock before hunting. One tribe kisses a rock before hunting and another doesn’t. Occ observes both tribes and writes that information down in tabular form. He then shows the results to both tribes, explains the lesson of the day in fictional form, leading to a humorous conclusion that no one believes him despite the overwhelming evidence. Archeologists find the cave drawings in the present and wonder what it was all about.

I have no doubt that SGU has their heart set in the right place – They want people to become empowered with knowledge because, with knowledge, people will make better decisions with their lives. The scientific method has allowed society to progress and discover wondrous aspects of our lives. As a society, we should be encouraging our youth to be as smart and as capable as present educational techniques allow. Yet I don’t think that “Occ” in the current form is going to convert anyone who isn’t already an advocate of skepticism or critical thinking. “Occ,” in it’s present form, preaches to it’s own choir. Is that a good thing? Only SGU can answer that question. As of right now, I’m leaving “Occ: The Skeptical Caveman” in the past.


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