Monday, 3 November 2014

You believe what you want to believe

James Randi (Randall James Hamilton Zwinge), retired illusionist and vigorous debunker of fake psychics, spiritualists and other quacks who  use the techniques of conjurors to extort money from the public, was himself taken in. Last night's Storyville presentation on BBC-4 of Randi's career and campaigns, without laying on the irony, included his 25-year relationship with an artist who had felt compelled to adopt someone else's identity in order to escape his native homophobic Venezuela. Randi seemed remarkably philosophical when the deception was revealed and the programme ended with their civil marriage. The programme is worth watching for the life story alone, but I was most hooked on the snippets of Randi's performances and the consequent authority with which he revealed that the phonies were not gifted with supernatural powers but with finely-honed magicians' skills. I had known about Randi's campaigns for many years through the pages of New Scientist, but this was the first time I had visible evidence of his skills.

Even in his eighties, Randi via his Educational Foundation continues to fight the good fight. This recent posting relates to the reinvention of a notorious fraud who he spectacularly exposed towards the end of last century. By clever programming - or just good luck - Channel 4 the previous night showed, and will repeat next Friday, "Red Lights" a film following the work of a fictional academic team exposing psychic fraud. The major set-piece which dominates the first half of the film is a virtual recreation of the Popoff exposure.

No comments: