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Abel Raises Cain

Abel Raises Cain

Director:Jenny Abel
Release Date:2008

By Steve Schneider | Posted 4/16/2008

Alan Abel has been a TV fixture for close to half a century. He's been seen and heard espousing a host of unlikely causes-enforced clothing of "indecent" naked animals and the censure of women who breast-feed in public-but he rarely if ever operates under his own name. He's one of America's greatest hoaxers, who gained infamy staging a succession of stunts that left the media with egg on their faces and hoodwinked citizens calling for his head. Some of those pranks, like the clothe-the-animals campaign, went on for years before they were exposed as mischievous frauds. But what great TV. Abel's daughter, Jenny, positions this filmed biography as a tribute to her dad, whom she considers a borderline public servant. Every time he mounts another con, she explains, he's reminding us all to question the veracity of everything we see and hear. She's technically correct, but what really earns our allegiance is a common interest in witnessing the humiliation of journos who rush to get a sensational story on the air without doing the most rudimentary homework. Our delight in seeing Abel get away with his schemes time after time carries us through the movie's wonkier moment--like the spurious claim that he found it harder to grab the media's attention as news reporting became "more serious" later in the 20th century. Yeah, turn on any local newscast and breathe deep the seriousness.

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