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Meditation 534
Urban Myths, Publicity, and Coincidence

A discussion has been opened on this Meditation. To contribute your own thoughts to this exchange, please use the Contact form.

The individual who sent in the question at Ask the Patriarch 140 was not happy with the response. Somehow I doubt anything will make him happy other than agreeing with the patent nonsense that spooky things happening during the making of a spooky film are necessarily directly related to the subject matter of that film. I am not going to agree until someone making such a claim proves there is a verifiable causal link.

However, I will pursue his follow-on question in a little more detail. Here's what Glenn sent as a response to my initial reply:

You didn't answer all of my question (Q&A 140) which was.. "the composer of the score told how when picture of Satan came up on the film the picture would freeze, music too and a howling, scream like from a wild animal could be heard come from the equipment. There were witnesses who heard and saw these things too. And like in the film "the Omen" the film reels had scratch makes on them, and no one had had access to them"

As for these incidents happening in a few movies, some people who were involved with the making of "the Omen"(1976) went on to work on "Superman" death and strange occurrences happened there too. Also the film "Rosemary’s Baby" had strange incidents happen. http://www.sundayherald.com/52395

Further how do we explain how people who have never met (near-death experiences) who don't believe in a afterlife, or who thought that when they died they would be ushered into a pleasant spirit world having terrible visions of demons, hell, lakes of fire. If near-death experiences are part of the dying brain, and people getting what they believed, how do we explain these experiences which were counter to what people believed? http://www.near-death.com/forum/nde/000/90.html

In my view, I did answer all of your question. I wrote that the stories may not be true:

"They may not be true, they may be exaggerations, misunderstandings, or outright falsehoods. In the case of a film, they may be pure invention for the purpose of publicity."

I also wrote:

"All you are giving me is a handful of coincidences"

That is all it really takes to debunk the type of examples you have given me. But it appears as if you want me to explain to you the hundreds of ways an electromechanical film editing machine can malfunction so as to freeze-frame or slow down sound playback, or one of the hundreds of ways a film reel to be scratched.

More to the point, are the stories even true?

I highly doubt it.

One possibility is that what you have repeated from whatever source is nothing more than an urban myth. Perhaps there was an incident (say, a technician talking about the strange sounds coming from a malfunctioning film editing machine) which has been built upon with exaggeration after exaggeration. Urban myths even get into the legitimate press as news as I pointed out in Meditation 284. That, in my opinion, is the most probable explanation for the tale you are telling.

Another possibility is that it is the work of the film's publicity department. Planting invented stories to add to the public interest for a film is not unheard of. And the Sunday Herald link you provided is typical. That is not news. It is entertainment reporting - a puff piece for a "documentary." However, if it was marketing publicity in this particular case, there would be more specific details to give the story verisimilitude. However, it is possible that an urban myth has been built on top of a promotional campaign.

Let's look further at the two specific incidents you mention; first, "the composer:"

The composer of the score of is strangely not named in this tall tale. Why not? Given there are three different individuals given credit for the scoring of this film, which one was it? Surely, if the story was true, the individual would be named. After all, that has to be where the story originated, if the story is true.

I consider it pure invention. As are the unnamed witnesses.

Even if the tale is true, but for another composer in another film, that the film playback appeared to stall and strange sounds came out of the speakers (consistent with a change in playback speed,) this sort of malfunction in an electromechanical playback device is not unheard of. If you have not worked with film projectors (and I have) you must have had experience with tape playback and be familiar with the malfunctions of tape players and VCRs.

Scratched film reels which no-one had access to? Give me a break! Who is the witness to this event? Give me a name!!! Tell me about the security arrangements which guaranteed that not one person had access to the film reels? Again, this is pure invention.

But suppose it is true. So what? Film reels are made of light metal. Of course they get scratched in normal handling. The surprise would be to find a used film reel without a scratch.

Let's be honest. I was not there. I don't have access to the equipment involved, nor to the unidentified witnesses. So, any explanations for the supposed occurrences (in the unlikely event they actually happened) would be pure speculation. But what I have proposed above as possible solutions to the questions posed are a thousand times more probable than some sort of unspecified supernatural reason. And if you, Glenn, want to believe there is a supernatural cause, that's your own choice. But, if you want others to accept such a belief, it is your responsibility to prove it, not demand that a skeptic disprove it.

Not an iota of evidence has been given to suggest that if there is any truth to the incidents related, they were anything but coincidences with entirely natural causes.

I'm not going to deal with your NDE question. Just do a web search on near death experience rebuttal, or near death experience debunking. You will find sufficient articles (such as this one for example) to explain what is going on - if you are prepared to accept facts rather than supernatural conjecture.