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Pop-Up Video

(November 14, 1997)
VH-1 is a music video channel on television here in the U.S. Besides the usual video fare, they have recently started up a new, pretty entertaining bit called "Pop Up Video". During this show, they play videos, but they also have little bubbles that pop up with small bits of info about the video and the group playing. Many times the bubbles are sarcastic puns about the lyrics or the band members. It's sort of a "Mystery Science Theater 3000" for yuppies, and can be extremely funny. However, it can also be prey to Bad Astronomy.

A couple of days ago they tackled Queen's classic "Bohemian Rhapsody". The lead singer of Queen was named Freddie Mercury, and (for those not familiar with the group) during the song there is a short opera-like section. The group sings in a mishmash of languages, and at one point they sing "Galileo, Galileo" over and over again. During this bit, the VH-1 writers put up a bubble that said "Galileo probed Jupiter, not Mercury," which is true. They then displayed "Mariner 10 probed Mercury in 1973," which is also correct.

They should have stopped there. After that, a bubble popped up that said "Uranus has never been probed." I have three problems with this:

  1. First and most obvious, they're wrong. Voyager 2 went through the Uranus system in 1986 and returned spectacular pictures and data.
  2. Second, most astronomers prefer to pronounce it "YOO rin us", or even "YOOR a nus", but not "yoo RAIN us". Some folks still pronounce it like the latter, but not as many. Oddly, if you think about it, the first pronunciation is still a bit scatological.
  3. Thirdly, and this my personal opinion, I'll be a real fuddy-duddy here: we've all heard Uranus jokes since the second grade. Usually the show is a bit more intelligent then to make such a childish joke. The movie "E.T." made this joke back in 1982 (and note that it was a 13 year old who said it)!
Incidentally, and I'll still be a fuddy-duddy, I'll mention that Freddie Mercury died of AIDS related causes. Many people may feel the joke was in bad taste. To be honest, I think it was at best borderline, but I am one of the few people left that thinks that Free Speech means just that. They have the right to make that joke, and I have the right to be offended or not.

Anyway, this was a weird case of Bad Astronomy. If they got Jupiter right, and they even got Mariner 10 right, why did they blow it with Voyager 2? I emailed the producers, and I'll post the response when I get one!

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