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The Not-So-Magnetic Jack Black
Posted Feb 26,2008

In the new film Be Kind Rewind, two ne’er-do-well New Jerseyans reshoot popular movies on a shoestring budget, put the results on VHS tapes, then foist them on Passaic’s unsuspecting video renters—who unexpectedly love the low-tech versions and rally 'round, DIY–style.

Why the initial reshoot? To cover their tracks after one of the pals (played by Jack Black) erased all the tapes with his “magnetized” brain, the aftermath of a failed attempt to sabotage the local power plant.

Paid to ask the tough questions, we at Pop Omnivore wondered: Could a person’s brain really become magnetic—assuming that person isn’t named Uri Geller?

No way, says Jerzy Bodurka, a Polish physicist who works at the National Institute of Mental Health. “Overall,” he told us via e-mail, “soft brain tissue has weak diamagnetic properties and cannot be magnetized to [that] level. If it could, then the kitchen, the mechanical shop, the hardware store, and many other places would be very dangerous environments for all human beings. So the answer to that question is NO.”

“However,” he adds, helpfully, the human-magnet concept isn’t so far-fetched. “In a few dozen years, or perhaps sooner, when nanotechnology, robotics, and power-generation technologies advance into something like a human-machine hybrid … such a hybrid [could] have a part of its body—say, an arm—equipped not with a deadly gun or flamethrower (like that cute-but-dangerous lady aka Terminator 3) but with a magnetic conduit.”

OK, got it. But what about a magnet erasing a videotape?

No again, says Linwood Lothrop, resident magnetician at Lothrop Technologies in Oklahoma and son-in-law of noted biomagnetic expert William Philpott. “It would take a pretty good size [magnetic] field to erase a tape. Magnets certainly damage tapes, but erasing them entirely would take something really, really big.”

Meaning something bigger than Jack Black?

Or the Earth. According to Bodurka, “Our home planet’s magnetic field is not strong enough to erase a VHS tape. To erase [one] you could use something like this handy device."

Surely there’s a better way for Black (or anyone else) to use his head and get the job done, right?

Bodurka again: “1) Wrap the VHS tape around the subject’s head, 2) Place the subject in an MRI scanner, 3) Do some MRI/fMRI scans, 4) Get the subject out. Congratulations! Your VHS tape has been erased.”

We’re sold. But will Hollywood buy it?

-Jeremy Berlin

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