11/10/2010 06:41 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Chaplin's time traveler and the Tea Party

I've been meaning to write about the supposed phenomenon of the woman with the cell phone in the extras for the DVD of the Charlie Chaplin film The Circus for a couple weeks, since I first heard about it and then watched it on a website.

But then I've also been meaning to write about the fact that someone is about to teach a college course on the subject of Lady Gaga. (Suggested title: "Understanding Madonna.")

Ain't it funny how time slips away.

And what I wanted to say about the whole Chaplin thing was this: Lord, what fools these mortals be. OK, so someone else said that first. Or perhaps this: There's a sucker born every minute. Again, not mine, but apt.

I don't know whether the Irishman who posted the original video was indeed serious. In his post, he blabbed on and on about how he was convinced that this was, in fact, footage of a woman talking on a cell phone, captured on film in 1928. He shows it over and over, in slow motion and close-up, among other things. I'd like to think it was an elaborate prank, just to see how many gullible people he could suck in to his little mind-game. The answer is: a lot. And they couldn't all be Michelle Bachmann voters.

The point is, I guess, that a lot of people were, at a minimum, convinced that they were seeing a woman talking on a cell phone in 1928 footage. Once you swallow that part, then the next step is simple: How did it get there? Only one possible answer, right? Yes, I'm talking about time travel. Gotta be.

Sure - and you can start a war, cut taxes and suffer absolutely no ill effects on the national economy. Tell me another.

I watched his little display once and came to the conclusion that, while the woman was holding something up to her face, it obviously wasn't a cell phone. Why obviously? Because cell phones didn't exist then. Neither did walkie-talkies or any of the other science-fiction communication devices that have become commonplace in our modern world.

More likely, the woman was suffering from a toothache and holding her hand to her face, in the same posture that we now assume when we're using a cell phone. Perhaps there was a palliative device - an ice-pack or some such - that she was holding to said tooth. Maybe she saw the camera and held her hand up to keep from being photographed. Perhaps she was simply warm and was holding a handkerchief, to catch a drop of feminine perspiration. Or, as someone on Cinematical suggested, she was holding an ear trumpet, a forerunner of the hearing aid.

Really, I can't believe that I'm devoting space to this. I can't believe that people even consider believing something like this. This kind of credulity borders on the feeble-minded. On the other hand, Tea Party candidates won by telling the kind of whoppers that would have gotten them laughed out of any literate room. But then again, it was the Tea Party. I guess you believe what you want to, no matter what the evidence.

It reminds me of something that happened when I was still working for a newspaper, about 15 years ago, in the pre-Internet era. (Pre-Internet in the sense that society had not yet decided to believe everything it read online.)

A rumor started that, if you watched closely, in one scene of The Wizard of Oz, you could see a midget - one of the Munchkins, supposedly - committing suicide in the background of a specific scene.

Keep in mind that this was more than 50 years after the film's release. Yet this rumor gained credence, gained momentum, gained gravity - to the point that my sheep-like editor at the time heard it and said, "You have to check this out." Never mind that the notion of a secret of this sort actually lasting undiscovered for all this time was patently absurd.

Click here: This commentary concludes on my website.