God bless Linda Belcher. She always stands by her family as co-operator of the titular restaurant in the animated comedy Bob’s Burger’s, buoying her husband with her irrepressible energy.
Does that include psychic energy?
Linda accidentally smacks her head on the counter to start the season 4 episode of Bob’s Burgers titled “I Get Psy-Chic Out of You,” after which frequent patron Mort complains that he’s lost his wallet. Linda says maybe it’s behind the toilet, and sure enough — there it is! Then, when the phone rings, she laments that it’s probably a telemarketer. BANG! Two for two!
“Super freaky, right?” asks the restaurant’s regular, Teddy. “I’ve heard of this before — someone gets hit on the head, or gets struck by lightning, and it unleashes psychic ability.”
“It’s just two small coincidences,” Bob says. His son Gene feels the need to add, “That’s what I call my testicles.”
Linda’s “abilities” start to falter the next day at the breakfast table. She makes noises to herself when trying to guess a number her daughter Tina is thinking of, deciding it’s 4. Or maybe 9. Characteristically, Tina gets nervous, and says she can’t actually remember. But it was probably 4 or 9! Bob gets frustrated and devises a test by putting something under a bowl and asking Linda what it was. Then he gets SUPER frustrated when she holds his hand and correctly guesses it was an orange.
But how impressive is that, really? It clearly had to be SOMETHING breakfast-related, and it had to be small enough to fit under a bowl. It gets worse back at the restaurant, where Linda asks Mort, “Do you have someone in your life whose name begins with a ‘J’?” Most people do, but still, Mort can’t think of anyone. Oh, his accountant Jeffrey. No, wait; he spells it with a “G.” But he’s Jewish!
“You nailed it!” Mort tells Linda.
This is a great example of a technique “real” psychics use, called cold reading. Start with a broad question, than narrow it down with the help of input from the person being “read.” It’s even better with a crowd, where just about anything you say will land with someone. And you don’t have to be devious to do it. If both parties want the “psychic” to succeed, it’s easy to overlook all the fishing. Linda next tries to guess Teddy’s favorite color, calling out red, blue, and green, before finally getting it right with yellow.
“Wow, on the 17th try,” Bob says.
It gets worse. Linda gives her friend Gretchen a reading, saying she sees something bell-shaped. Gretchen thinks she must mean the Liberty Bell, because her ex-boyfriend lives in Philadelphia. “Go to him,” Linda tells her. After, she gets involved in a police investigation, and identifies the wrong location as a target of the thief dubbed the “Little Boy Bandit.”
So-called “psychic detectives” do damage in the real world, too. They can divert precious police resources, or waste valuable time during an investigation. Apparent successful predictions usually don’t include information that wasn’t already publicly known or easy to find, or are vague enough to not really be of use (most murder victims, for example, are found near water or in vegetated areas, so saying that isn’t very helpful).
The Little Boy Bandit mess — and Gretchen finding out her ex is “married and faithful,” among a host of other subjects descending on the restaurant to gripe about her inaccuracies — finally forces Linda to reconsider what’s been happening. Maybe she saw Mort’s wallet fall out. Telemarketers usually call around that time of day. And Bob’s hands did smell like oranges when she held them for the bowl test.
Plus, Bob never fell down the stairs, like Linda predicted earlier! But thinking about it sure did make him nervous the last time he went into the basement. Almost caused some vertigo. So, of course, Bob falls down the stairs to close the episode. A self-fulfilling prophecy???
Every February, to help celebrate Darwin Day, the Science section of AIPT cranks up the critical thinking for SKEPTICISM MONTH! Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. All month we’ll be highlighting skepticism in pop culture, and skepticism *OF* pop culture.
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