Abel Raises Cain at the Dryden

I headed out to the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Abel Raises Cain, a documentary about Alan Abel by his daughter Jenny Abel.

Abel made a name for himself by being a professional hoaxer starting in 1959 when he founded "SINA": the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals — their "goal" was to clothe animals but the subversive edge was as a protest to media censorship. He waited for the media to catch on that it was a hoax but they didn't — as he points out, even the name of the group defies its own cause.

I was really inspired by his life and work. Although his overarching message is "don't believe everything you hear," I was transfixed by the manipulation of the news media. For if there's one secret the news media cannot bear to let the public know, it's that they are pretending to be expert authorities on everything they report on — journalism is supposedly this noble profession where hard-working reporters seek out the truth and report it for everyone to see.

The trouble with the truth is that you — yourself — need to do the work of fully understanding what it is you're trying to understand. For the most part, we take it on faith that cold water will freeze before hot water, the interstate highway system has straight sections that can be used as emergency airstrips, or that cell phones can cause a fire at a gas station. We take it on faith that the people reporting the news know what they're talking about — that they found experts and checked sources and did all that important stuff to ensure it's all true.

So I'm thrilled when someone like Abel can come around and show that the foundation for the faith in the news is false. Other people, though [also known as "people I tend to not get along with very well"] are deeply troubled by such exposure. They felt safe and assured that everything they were told was true. But when someone proves otherwise, it is they who make the world less safe by pointing it out.