Friday, June 11, 2010

Flim-Flam! was Fabulous!

Flim-Flam! by James Randi (“The Amazing Randi”) was a fantastic read! The text is very well-written, with an incredible sense of style (and humor.) I found myself chuckling aloud at references and remarks Randi makes throughout the text, whilst he discusses everything from fairies, the Bermuda Triangle myth, Mayan prophecies and alien interactions, pseudo-surgery, levitation, table tilting, and Randi’s own Put Up or Shut Up challenge. Randi’s knowledge and sarcasm combine to make for an educational and entertaining read.

There were so many parts I could consider my “favorite,” but I will save my absolute favorite part for last. For starters, I loved several of the opening quotes to the chapters. Chapter three opens with Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” from Alice in Wonderland, which is interesting because the chapter is about the Bermuda Triangle (a Wonderland, eh?) Chapter four opens with a quote from Chicken Little about the sky falling. I giggled. Silly Randi, relating the falling sky to astrology. Chapter five was another chapter with an interesting opening, this time containing a quote from the Muppet Show with Kermit talking to another Muppet about the power of believing.

One of the first funny lines in the book is in the introduction when Randi criticizes the New York judicial system for accepting supernatural powers as a way to determine guilt or innocence. In chapter three, Randi makes a crack saying that the Bermuda Triangle belongs in an exhibit between mermaids and the tooth fairy. In chapter four, Randi begs the hilarious questions, “Does he know? .. Does anyone care?” Chapter five has Randi make the suggestion the TM is our way of paying to be put to sleep. In chapter six, Randi wants to know, “What the hell von Daniken is talking about?”

Funny part aside, my favorite part of this book was chapter two, Fairies at the Foot of the Garden. Randi discusses the case of Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, two girls who apparently took pictures with fairies. These photos impressed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the author of Sherlock Holmes and a celebrity amongst spiritualists) who denied any and all falsities about the photographs. I did a research paper last semester on spiritualism, so I was very familiar with Doyle, his writings, and his popularity, as well as the ability of two little girls to trick an entire nation. I identified Griffiths and Wright with the Fox Sisters, who started the spiritualist movement in America by cracking their toes and convincing hundreds of people they were able to communicate with spirits.

Randi provides lot of factual information in this chapter, as well as the entire book. He delicately weaves the information in his prose and comedic phrases, easily allowing the reader to become enveloped in the information. In chapter two, Randi dispels the fairy photographs, showing how they are cutouts from a gift book, and “accidental” over-exposures. Many people have analyzed the photos, questioning everything from the girls’ bodily positions, to mysterious “strings”, and evident clips at the bottom of the photograph. The girls were asked if they could take more pictures, but there were a lot of circumstances to the photos being taken (including specially marked film, a specific camera, and the fact that Wright had experience in a camera shop.) These photos were the tip of the iceberg, showing a lack of skill and a desire to be left alone by the girls.

We all want something to believe in. Randi brings up a good point that it’s possible Doyle was so interested in the supernatural because he wanted to believe he could contact his dead son. Many people wanted to show that fairies were real, because they seem fun to believe in, and we are all searching for the unknown. In the end, what started as a small practical joke got blown into larger proportions than originally though possible.

I recommend Randi’s book to anyone who has had an interest in any of the paranormal events discussed in this book. Randi does a great job explaining the event, the back story, the tests conducted on the event, the people involved, news stories, and the possible outcomes, all with a sense of humor and wit. Oh, and if you like cracks at Uri Geller fairly often, you’ll definitely enjoy this book.

Please enjoy this video I found on YouTube of Randi discussing the Fairies further.

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