The Weekend’s Viewing: An alien or just a decomposing racoon? Take a guess...

Alien Investigation, Sun, Channel 4 // Solar Mamas, Sun, BBC4

Storytelling does have its ethics, but they’ve never been much concerned with full and transparent disclosure. If a writer wants to fool you into believing that Character A is sweet and benign, only revealing in the final chapter that he’s the fetishistic serial killer everyone’s been looking for, readers are unlikely to demand their money back on the grounds that they’ve been knowingly misled. Being misled, skilfully and teasingly, is what they paid for.

What about television documentaries though? Are they entitled, as part of a narrative striptease, to keep an audience in ignorance of hard facts simply because the truth is too dull to keep anyone watching? I’m inclined to think not, which brings us to Alien Investigation, a Channel 4 documentary (and I use the term very loosely) that displayed all the fastidious ethical nicety of a time-share salesman. 

To be fair, you only have yourself to blame if you were gulled for a moment. Everything about Alien Investigation, from the way the script was almost entirely composed of ominous- sounding questions to the wildly self-deluding experts who appeared in the early sections, should have told you that 90 per cent of the programme was going to be the equivalent of a freak show’s painted promises, while 10 per cent would be reserved for the disappointingly squalid reality. So the carney advert gave you the Montauk Monster, a mysterious washed-up corpse with “no match to any known species”. Could it be the product of secretive breeding experiments at the government institute on nearby Plum Island? Or the tragic remnants of an alien visitor? Well, no actually, it was a decomposing racoon.

The other “mysteries” were picked apart with similar ease, their mystery, at least as far as the film-makers were  concerned, consisting in little more than effortful equivocations  designed to delay the moment at which we realised we’d been sold  a pup. To pad the thing out even further, fanciful animations and computer graphics had been commissioned to illustrate explanations that everyone concerned – apart perhaps from the wildly gullible promoters of these finds – knew to be false. The Alien Mummy of Metepec, a strange homunculus allegedly caught on a Mexican ranch, turned  out to be a marmoset. But that revelation was illustrated not by a reconstruction of the confessed hoax involved, but with  a rerun of a Gollum-like extra-terrestrial swishing its tail.

The expert we really needed, in truth, was a psychologist, to dissect the odd compound of longing and self-deception that guarantees a steady supply of people willing to ignore the blindingly obvious in favour of the highly fanciful. Like the man who carefully interpreted an Inca mask, which, he claimed, depicted a helmeted alien, drawing down power from two “energy sources” as he sat in front of a flying saucer “control panel”. How ingenious of our other worldly visitors to make the control panel so mouthlike, the alien himself so nasal, and then place the circular “energy sources” exactly where a pair of human eyes would go. I don’t know about alien forms of intelligence out there in space, but there’s no shortage of it down here on earth.

Solar Mamas was a touching documentary about an Indian enterprise that teaches women from poor rural communities to become solar-power engineers. The idea is that they take the technology back home and teach it to more people, spreading light in the darkness. That it is also interested in other forms of enlightenment seems clear from the fact that only women are trained, a fact that caused problems for Rafea, a Jordanian Bedouin selected for the project. The tension here was genuine, not ersatz. Could she overcome her husband’s prejudice and wounded pride to complete the course and fulfil her own ambitions? I’m glad to say she could. If you wanted to get the taste of Alien Investigation out of your  mouth, it was close to perfect.

twitter.com/tds153

Arts and Entertainment
The crowd enjoy Latitude Festival 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
'I do think a woman's place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.'

Is this the end of the Dowager Countess?tv
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn