38

In recent years, networks such as The Discovery Channel have been airing so-called documentaries that have people believing that what they are seeing is not only educational, but that the events actually took place.

One example of this would be the controversial 2-hour "documentary" originally aired in 2013 during the Discovery Channel's popular Shark Week titled Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives:

"Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives," convinced 70% of viewers that the giant prehistoric shark still existed even as outraged scientists insisted that the show was ludicrous and almost entirely fictional. It didn't help that Discovery made coy comments about the documentary being a legitimate contribution to scientific debate.

Another example was originally aired by Animal Planet in 2012 titled Mermaids: The New Evidence:

Discovery-owned channel Animal Planet has aired two other fake documentaries in recent years — replete with actors, fabricated events, CGI, and faked footage — which explore the apparently scientific evidence for mermaids.

Although Animal Planet admitted in a subsequent press release that its "documentary" was science-fiction, the show presented itself as rigorously scientific.

Many viewers seem to take them at their word, with children being especially vulnerable to deception.

The Discovery Channel and Animal Planet claim that these are "dramatizations." Several news outlets call these "fake documentaries." Is there an actual accepted given name for these types of television specials? Some might call these television specials a Mockumentary. It has always been my understanding that a parody must be achieved to classify a Mockumentary. Are these "fake documentaries" considered to be Mockumentaries?

  • 2
    Err, 'documentaries'? Very few documentary films actually record real live events. Documentary fakery goes all the way back to Robert Flaherty at least. – user207421 Jun 23 '16 at 12:52
  • 1
    I've heard "Mermaids: The New Evidence" referred to as a "mockumentary", so maybe for some speakers of English the term is a bit more general. – Mark S. Jun 23 '16 at 13:37
  • Reminds me of Operation Repo on TrueTV. – k1308517 Jun 23 '16 at 13:47
  • Some of the religious themed "documentaries" I've seen on DC would actually be best described as propaganda or intellectual dishonesty. – Cloud Jun 23 '16 at 14:47
  • 1
    First History Channel's fascination with aliens and the Bermuda Triangle, now this. – jpmc26 Jun 24 '16 at 0:44
33

2 different terms cover it. Docufiction:

is the cinematographic combination of documentary and fiction, this term often meaning narrative film.

It is a film genre which attempts to capture reality such as it is (as direct cinema or cinéma vérité) and which simultaneously introduces unreal elements or fictional situations in narrative in order to strengthen the representation of reality using some kind of artistic expression.

And Docudrama:

a genre of radio and television programming, feature film, and staged theatre, which features dramatized re-enactments of actual events. On stage, it is sometimes known as documentary theatre.

In the core elements of its story a docudrama strives to adhere to known historical facts, while allowing a greater or lesser degree of dramatic license in peripheral details, and where there are gaps in the historical record. Dialogue may include the actual words of real-life persons, as recorded in historical documents. Docudrama producers sometimes choose to film their reconstructed events in the actual locations in which the historical events occurred.

A docudrama, in which historical fidelity is the keynote, is generally distinguished from a film merely "based on true events", a term which implies a greater degree of dramatic license; and from the concept of "historical drama", a broader category which may also encompass largely fictionalized action taking place in historical settings or against the backdrop of historical events.

The Shark Week documentaries would be more of the latter. They are not Mockumentaries as they do not attempt to make fun, satirize or otherwise parody real documentaries. It passes itself off as honestly real, or at least, as plausible what ifs.

While the shows contained brief on-screen warning about events depicted in the show being “dramatized,” they didn’t mention that the stories were completely fabricated. Many viewers, in fact, believed them to be real.

Last August 6, Fox News reported that Michael Sorensen, executive producer of Shark Week, defended Megladon and told FOX411 in a statement: “With a whole week of Shark Week programming ahead of us, we wanted to explore the possibilities of Megalodon. It’s one of the most debated shark discussions of all time, can Megalodon exist today? It’s Ultimate Shark Week fantasy. The stories have been out there for years and with 95% of the ocean unexplored, who really knows?”

Because some [discredited, outlier] scientists believe [against overwhelming evidence or lack of evidence or what they think is evidence] that the subjects may exist. Right up there with most Cryptozoology who believe the Chupacabra and Bigfoot exist. Not fake, just stupid honestly held beliefs.

But new Discovery President has promised to stop those fakes.

President Rich Ross, who joined the network on January 5, says he’ll expand the network’s slate of scripted programming, particularly history-based dramas. Notably, he said he would not continue the network’s trend of telecasting the fake stuff. Under criticism for some of Discovery Channel’s programming choices, Ross fielded questions about that ... in January.

Ross explained that he’d made a very strong statement at the network as to the direction in which he’s taking Discovery Channel ... “This was not just a signal, it was a message that it’s very important to us, and to me, that when people are telling stories and they’re delivering information that it is true and can be entertaining as well, which is mandatory.”

  • 3
    I would question whether the term mockumentary necessarily implies parody. It often does, but since it's a much more common term than Docufiction, it is often used in its place. This is of course somewhat undermining the literal meaning of the word mock, but I have seen it used too often referring 'serious' fake documentaries to be willing to draw a sharp line here. – ComicSansMS Jun 23 '16 at 9:11
  • @ComicSansMS: Agreed. I think to be more precise, "mockumentary" generally means some fiction that uses the documentary format as a knowing device. It may or may not be parodying documentaries. Spinal Tap is, but "found-footage" horror like Blair Witch Project is often grouped under mockumentary, but as far as I recall it's not parodying anything, let alone documentaries. The things in question are actually presented as documentaries but have extensive fiction plugged into them to fill the gaps between the truth and what the makers want to present, which isn't quite the same thing :-) – Steve Jessop Jun 23 '16 at 10:03
  • 1
    ... but I suppose that once they've reached the point of admitting that it's primarily fictional, then arguably it could be called a "mockumentary" or at least a "fictional documentary", anyway to the extent that Blair Witch can be. At any point where they're claiming it's true despite knowing it's not, even if only to drum up publicity and not with a genuine intent to deceive anybody long-term, I suppose technically it's a "hoax". – Steve Jessop Jun 23 '16 at 10:15
  • 3
    At no point do the producers say its fake, just unproven. They sincerely believe it could be real, hence not a mockumentary in their minds or actions. At worst, its sensationalism on their behalf. – cde Jun 23 '16 at 20:08
  • Very good point. I have never seen any type of disclaimer stating that these are fake. It doesn't seem like they are being mocked at all. – steelersquirrel Jun 23 '16 at 22:20
-1

Spoof?

Orson Wells started it with the news broadcast that the Martians had landed in USA.

Just think - telling lies to people is potentially acceptable entertainment for the majority, but had terrible effects on some individuals.

  • 5
    Wells never tried to pass it off as a news broadcast. The people who panicked missed the intro, of a regularly scheduled, year long radio program – cde Jun 23 '16 at 21:11
  • @cde: actually, the spoof made by Wells or the broadcast station was the claim that people panicked. There is no real evidence for a panic at that time. Actually, there weren’t even enough people listening to that specific program to make it significant, but that’s what it is all about, creating the false impression of relevance via the marketing trick of claiming there was a mass panic… – Holger Jun 24 '16 at 7:44
  • 1
    @holger your claiming Welles or the station intentionally wanted panic? The overstated news of panic was purely the news media, not Welles – cde Jun 24 '16 at 7:54
  • 1
    @cde: they did not want panic, they claimed after airing that there was a mass panic, which would imply that there were actually a lot of people listening (which is highly doubtful). Once the spoof was out there, the media repeated it without verification, just as they do today. – Holger Jun 24 '16 at 8:02

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .