Phenomena (May-June 2004)

Basically an American rip-off of the far superior British-made Fortean Times, Phenomena presents a slick, glitzy, and almost uniformly superficial look at the bizarre and unexplained.

Nearly everything is stolen from FT: the editorial slant, the upfront section of strange news clips, the reviews section, and even many of the writers and personalities interviewed.

Granted, this is a pretty niche market, so content would naturally overlap, but it's too much of a coincidence not to be a conspiracy!

I notice that the magazine is not only "presented by" Cinescape (an equally slick genre movie magazine), but its "founder" is listed as Jeff Sagansky, a TV and film executive. I really don't know how these two factoids are relevant, but they obviously connect in some bizarre, arcane fashion that will illuminate the mystery behind this exceptionally mediocre magazine.

Topics covered include the ubiquitous UFO sightings, more evidence of ghosts, an analysis of England's ley lines, Zodiac nonsense, remote viewing, the cover-up of deadly artificial sweeteners and, yes, the mysterious murder of Princess Diana.

The only things substantially different from the FT are the paper quality (FT has a meatier weight), and that Phenomena carries no ads, while FT includes adverts for DVDs of obscure British sci-fi shows produced in the 60s and 70s, like "The Brobbington Code Series 1" and "Galaxy Barrister 1999."

The cover of this issue says it all: "Atlantis Found." Finally, what "Stargate" fans and Alex Jones listeners everywhere have been waiting for. But then, the enigmatic headline within the issue: "Could Santorini Be Atlantis?" Hey, I bought this rag for definitive answers, not more questions. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to add Santorini to my whiteboard list of possible Atlantis locations.

A companion piece asks the question that's probably on any sane person's mind, "Why Can't We Forget Atlantis?" That's the real mystery. Unfortunately, the article offers only "mankind's boundless curiosity" as its hopeful answer.

It's telling that every story on Atlantis features a headline with a question mark at the end. "Could Ireland Be Atlantis?" Maybe! "Was Atlantis Destroyed By Aliens?" Quite possibly!

The only question not posed is, "Why am I wasting my life on this nonsense?" Though arguably that's no different from, "Does anyone read The Loud Bassoon?" Or, "Why am I not only wasting my time reading this, but also writing about it, for a site where it will almost certainly not be read?" Hm.

I think the reason people, including myself, are ultimately intrigued by the unexplained is because it's unexplained. Explain it, and it ain't no fun no more. It's folks like me, moderately well-educated but utterly confused and bored by hard science, who most enjoy this claptrap.

The only moderately interesting piece in the issue is an interview with a scientist named Randall Fitzgerald, whom they claim is respected, and who does rigorous scientific studies of things like ESP and "the remote detection of staring" (basically why you feel like someone's staring at you even if you can't actually see them staring at you). Though I find it kind of thrilling, you have to wonder why this "great scientist" isn't out trying to cure cancer. Ooooh … or maybe, he is … by surreptitiously staring at cancer patients! Think about it.

Even more telling than the lurid Atlantean cover, is that only after purchasing the issue and getting about halfway through did I realize I'd bought the exact same issue a month back. That's either:

A. A statement about the generic nature of the magazine, that it's instantly forgettable,
B. My memory's shot to hell from drinking moonshine, or
C. The great conspiracy of Phenomena is that it releases memory-fogging pheremones (a sort-of anagram to "phenomena") that compel the reader to buy the same issue over and over again.

Regardless, I'd advise letting me be the unwitting guinea pig for mind-control-via-magazine, and instead spend your wages on quality publications, like Stuff.

Review by Crimedog