The second episode of Chasing UFOs on the National Geographic Channel, "Dirty Secrets," was one of the most paranoid and absurd pieces of supposedly non-fiction TV that I have ever seen. Apparently the military has constructed an underground base just outside Fresno, CA (not recently, but about 60 years ago), and uses it to conduct secret research on alien technology, and perhaps the aliens themselves. And you thought that all secret UFO activity was in New Mexico or Nevada! The rich agricultural areas surrounding Fresno are probably home to more cows than people, and the generally flat terrain of the San Joaquin Valley is poorly-suited for hiding secret government stuff. But that hasn't stopped the area from becoming a local UFO Hotspot.
One woman identified only as "Sarah" and photographed only in shadows, says she has been followed and harassed since she began investigating local UFO activity. Justin and Eva Moncrief claim to have seen a UFO crash near their house, and saw a caravan of trucks go to the crash site. Justin says he has been "followed," too. We are repeatedly shown a white van apparently slinking away when observed, it supposedly is the harassing vehicle. Later they photograph it so clearly that the license plate has to be blocked out while it is on screen. It would be trivially easy for any law enforcement agency to identify this vehicle and its owner, should any of those who claimed to be harassed actually file a complaint. I suspect that if that were done, we would find the van to be rented to Chasing UFOs' production crew, and its driver to be one of its employees, since he seems to always appear on cue. Ryder later says that she looked up the license plate, "but couldn't find anything conclusive here." What is that supposed to mean? Here is a clear example of how the UFO Chasers don't want to investigate and reach a conclusion. Instead, they leave the evidence they gather on the table, and walk away.
|the FLIR mobile training unit|
|pre-flood control photo, downtown Fresno in 1925.|
So they decide it's Blair Witch time once again; they start out in daylight, but soon Ben and Ryder are rappelling down a canyon, in the dark with their "prosthetic" protrusions, to set up a camera on top the ridge on the other side. We never learn if the camera recorded anything. They later rendezvous on a bridge over the canyon, which I assume could have been crossed earlier to eliminate the need for rock climbing in the dark.
|map of hydroelectric tunnels near Fresno|
Next is a visit with Manuel Amparano, who claimed to have a Close Encounter with a UFO on May 13, 1978 when he was a police officer. Tim Printy points out that there is a discussion of the Amparano sighting in his SUNlite Webzine (Vol. 2, No. 4, p. 9). It occurred within two minutes of a known rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, a launch visible for hundreds of miles. I'm practically certain that's what Amparano saw; he said the object was "rising." He claims to have been "sunburned" by it, but of course it's perfectly possible he was sunburned in the normal manner the previous day, and attributed it to the "UFO." The UFO Chasers borrow for investigation the flashlight and jacket Amparano had on that night. They tested them, and found nothing unusual. James Fox proclaims Amparano's testimony to be "bulletproof." Nobody's testimony rises to that level.
The program reaches the utter heights of absurdity when, because one couple got a blurry photo of a "UFO" near the airport, the UFO Chasers decide that their next episode of stumbling in the dark should take place in the vicinity of the Fresno Airport. (One anonymous commenter identified this location as 3770 North Pierce Avenue, Fresno, CA; put that address into Street View of Google Maps, and you'll see that's probably correct.) Ryder walks right up to the airport perimeter fence wearing her ungainly prosthetics, and at one point actually begins to climb the fence! Here is the clearest proof that we are seeing staged incidents, and not actual investigations. Can you imagine the call from an airport security guard to headquarters? "Boss, there's a woman wearing these strange protrusions with cameras and lights, and she's trying to climb the perimeter fence!" In the real world, she would have immediately been arrested for trespassing, then interrogated for days to uncover any links to terrorist organizations. But in the TV Fantasy world of UFO Chasers, the guard shines a flashlight in her direction, a military helicopter takes off and circles her position, then she rejoins the others who hide under a tree, and the authorities lose all interest in finding out who was trying to penetrate their perimeter.
I don't know whether I'll be reviewing future episodes of Chasing UFOs. We have seen enough in these first two episodes to know exactly what kind of show this is. There is a lot of "data gathering" (more precisely, getting observers to tell their stories), but no serious effort to follow up, investigate, and come to a definite conclusion. It's all Wow, Gee Whiz, What an Amazing Story!. But don't actually look for answers - that isn't fun! Plus, the "investigations" we are shown are obviously staged for dramatic purposes, and are not actual efforts to gather information and solve mysteries. The National Geographic Channel may think it has plausible deniability for the contents of this show, since it was produced by Ping Pong Productions for NGC. But it's being sold under the National Geographic's brand, and it's dragging that once-proud brand through the mud.