I should have been a brilliant sceptic, even now jostling for position as James ("the Amazing") Randi's anointed successor. With a psychological imbalance towards thinking (as opposed to feeling) that makes Spock look like Mother Theresa, two lawyer parents to instill the partiality of perspective and a healthy dose of Irish Catholicism to rebel against, I should have been on the fast track to Woo-woo Debunker General. Instead, I find myself unable to dismiss the ghosts that lurk just out of sight and am far more attracted to the position of the parapsychologist than the scientist. And the blame for this derailment from my predestined path I lay firmly at the paws of Scooby Doo.
As a child of the seventies, I watched most of the episodes from the Golden Age of Scooby Doo – before the introduction of the odious Scrappy. I enjoyed, even then, the quest to track down and trap the various monsters, ghosts and aliens. And although it became immediately clear that the point was all about the whodunit rather than the supernatural, I still felt cheated after every denouement. In the build-up you would see (for example) a wonderfully sinuous Loch Ness monster but by the time Velma had done her unmasking, you would be told that this was actually a steam engine with less points of articulation than the Sheriff Garrett action figure I got for Christmas around the same time. Immediately, my sense of outrage kicked in. I knew instinctively that I had been swindled. This was not about the suspension of disbelief – I can do that comfortably and instantaneously – this was about a contract with the viewer being broken. The "deal" in Scooby Doo was that rationality would win out over irrationality. What at first glance appeared to be supernatural, turned out to be the natural, if misguided, actions of villains. However, the disjoint between the early glimpses of the "monsters" and what they eventually were shown to be was so great that, at least in my case, it undermined the message it was supposed to be delivering and drove me towards conspiracy theories and the supernatural.
Crop circles are a crystal clear example of how I have been scarred. In the interest of transparency, I have to admit that I don't have a particular opinion or interest in crop circles one way or the other. My natural skeptical inclination is to strongly doubt that they are a form of extraterrestrial communication with us (surely there would be better ways). However, when the likes of the sexagenarians Dave Chorley and Doug Bower are unmasked as the creators of (at the time, all UK) crop circles my Scooby Doo reflex kicks straight in: "What? You expect me to believe that all the crop circles in the UK were the work of these two guys? You have to be joking."
But this suspicion of official, rational explanations is neither confined to me nor the realms of the supernatural. Take the tragic example of the suicide of the UN weapons inspector David Kelly. In a BBC poll 22.7% of people surveyed didn't believe that he had actually committed suicide. This is an extremely strong swing against a government-endorsed position. The death of Princess Diana is another example although here elements of grieving and a sustained campaign by Mohamed Al-Fayed may have skewed the spontaneous "suspicion factor". For our US cousins, the JFK assassination still exerts a pull with three polls carried out in 2003 showing a disbelief factor of between 68-83% in those surveyed
The suspicion of governments may be age-old but the widespread collapse of confidence in simple, clear answers seems to be a more recent phenomena that has been accelerated by, for example, the impact of postmodernism and quantum physics. Suspicion destabilizes society and, from my trickster perspective, this can only be a good thing as ambiguity is introduced to the system which in turn creates the conditions necessary for the truly strange to actualize. But if Scooby Doo had only given me an explanation I could believe in, it could have all been so different.