Thursday, April 9, 2009

Almost But Not Quite Reality TV

It was Mythbusters night at our house last night.

The season premiere was on – TWO WHOLE HOURS of Mythbusters! – and as a special treat, since it is also Spring Break over at Not Bad President Elementary School, we let the girls stay up late to watch. Part of this was pure selfishness on our part, since that way we could watch the whole thing uninterrupted as well. And part of it was the fact that out of all the shows that are on television these days, we’re glad that the girls like this one.

If you’ve never seen Mythbusters, well, what is wrong with you? How can you not love a show that starts with the basic premise that when you are confronted with a story that sounds too good to be true, the proper response is neither slack-jawed acceptance nor reflexive dismissal, but instead to say, “Well, let’s see if that really works”? You should always be testing the things that people tell you, since most of those things are either pure unadulterated horse byproducts or tautologically obvious. You have to do the math, literally and figuratively, in this world, otherwise you find yourself believing just the oddest things – that guns don’t kill, that transferring wealth to the already rich helps the rest of us, that combining religion and politics is good for either of those things, or any number of other currently popular ideas that testify to the stunted critical thinking capabilities of our nation. Something that tells you to run a reality check once in a while can only help.

Plus, on the show, things blow up with pleasing regularity.

Tabitha remains fascinated by The Creamer Cannon Of Death, for example, an experiment that in essence amounted to a kiloton-yield dust explosion. I’m not entirely sure what urban myth that one was trying to resolve, but it was fun to watch. Sometimes the larger point doesn’t matter so much as the fact that you see people having fun while testing the things that they hear.

Lauren has decided that this is what she wants to do when she grows up. We tell her this would be just fine.

Last night was the automotive myths episode – or, rather, the “Let’s test some things that will involve cars being destroyed in creative and interesting ways” episode. Can a car crash through a fruit stand and still drive, the way they do in those old cop shows? Well, no – spectacularly no – it turns out. Can a car slide under a semi, get converted into a convertible without killing anyone inside and then drive away? Actually, yes, surprisingly enough.

My favorite bit was when they tested the old story of a compact car being crushed between two semis in a head-on collision and getting fused inside to the point where nobody knew it was there for days. They tested this one with actual semis and couldn’t get it to work, and then decided to go further: what would it take to get this to work?

Answer: rockets. Lots of rockets, plus a straight rail to put a rocket sled on, some inch-thick steel plates, and an earthen berm. And a desert to put it all in.

So it does work, but not under highway conditions. At least I hope not.

Science can be fun.

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