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The Pseudo Mysteries of the Voodoo Histories

Examining the Media's Role in Propagating Conspiracy Theories

By Stella Maris     May 09, 2009

 

Okay, I have to admit that I haven't actually finished Voodoo Histories by David Aarononvitch (Jonathan Cape, 2009), having abandoned the book due to genuine Health and Safety concerns after metaphorically hitting the roof as a result of reading just one chapter.
 
So, this isn't really a bona fide book review, but more of a commentary on just how exposés by respected media gurus who don't independently verify their facts, or even the provenance of their information, become inadvertently embroidered into the fabrications of the very conspiracies that they are trying to confute.
 
Subtitled The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History, the chapter that caused irreparable damage to my living room ceiling is entitled Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Holy Shit... which you may have guessed is about the renown performance art saga known as the Priory of Sion.
 
In his account, Aaronovitch engagingly traces the surreal elements of this world-famous prank from the inception of Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln through the bandwagon-jumping media hype surrounding Da Vinci Code Fever, leading up to the inevitable legal proceedings by Baigent and Leigh against Dan Brown's publishers. As most of this story is old hat to our genre, I won't torture you by going through it all again.
 
But what plunged me into the depths of despair, as someone who was personally involved in this process, was that yet again here was an experienced media personality recycling secondhand, out of context Frankenquotes and internet "debunking" fabrications apparently without going through the effort of verifying whether they were actually accurate or not. I say "apparently" because I'm sure that, if Aaronovitch had done this, his findings would have certainly influenced the information related in this chapter accordingly.
 
Yes, we all know that the Priory of Sion was invented by a band of Merry Pranksters, that the bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene was an original hypothesis crafted by BLL and not a historical fact (which was the whole point of the lawsuit), and that the The Da Vinci Code was fiction… which emerged in court to have, ironically, been “researched” mostly on the internet by Brown's wife.
 
But what most people don't realise is that even the subsequent accepted "debunking" factoids are nothing more than further embellishments invented by internet cartoon characters and regurgitated by media personalities in good faith without verifying their provenance. Which, in turn, only serves to propagate the fabrications as the cartoon characters thrive on the oxygen of publicity.
 
In other words, we are now at the point where separating the wheat from the chaff is almost impossible.
 
I have personally met Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln and heard their varying sides of the story and examined their documentation. I have personally met most of the debunkers and examined their documentation. I sat in Court 61 for all but one day of the Brown trial and I even sat in court again through the Appeal process.
 
I personally begged British TV “historian” Tony Robinson's (whose documentary Aaronovitch cites as an example) production team to investigate the real background of the shenanigans when they contacted me, even offering to coach them on the fine art of teasing out the genuine fabrications on camera--which would probably have made far better theater than the rather lack-luster pre-rehearsed performances that were cleverly spliced together.
 
I have deconstructed the internet cartoon characters, uncovering swathes of background which was examined in two recent court hearings that would almost certainly have shocked Aaronovitch as much as it did me, to the point where I'm sure that he would probably regret some of the examples that he provides in this chapter of his book.
 
So, where do we go from here?
 
I’m not sure yet, but I genuinely believe that somehow we need to begin to put an end to the damage and distress caused by this endless recycling of misinformation by the mainstream media… if, for no other reason, than all it does is to perpetuate the very conspiracy theories that they claim to debunk.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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ProfessorW 5/9/2009 1:21:52 AM

 Great review, Stella.  I enjoyed the Aaronovitch book, but I agree that it would have been better if he'd checked with a real expert before writing the Holy Blood Holy Grail Holy Shit chapter.  Could it be that the Illuminati told him not to?

RogerXXII 5/9/2009 8:05:06 AM

You need to understand "established media" and its shift from "info-tainment" to "pure entertainment".

People like Aaronovitch simply follow an established process through which the latest person to have written about something (even if just for Reader's Digest) is the immediate "expert" interview on the topic.

You can assign someone to cover a story about which they know nothing at all, and a week after publication of their cobbled-together and largely plagiarized piece, find - to your great astonishment - that they are being intereviewed on television as "the expert"...

This is modern life, get used to it, or find an island somewhere...

(I wish I could interview Mr. Aaronovitch, I'm no sadist, but I do believe I'd enjoy watching him squirm)

ProfessorW 5/9/2009 9:12:37 AM

 To be fair, David Aaronovitch is one of the UK's leading political journalists (currently a regular writer for The Times) and a familiar figure on the UK media.  He wrote this book, he explains, because he was tired of having to refute every latest conspiracy theory and wanted to provide some evidence for a counter-attack.

Stella is better qualified than I to comment on how successfully he achieves this in respect of HBHG and all the nutters who treat the BLL hypothesis as gospel.  However, Aaronovitch is particularly good in his explanation of the tactics that conspiracists use to ward off attackers employing common sense and historical perspective and the damaged psychology of those who fall for every similar hypothesis.

There's a lot about Aaronovitch's political writings that I have disagreed with over the years (he supported the war in Iraq), but the book is selling well here on his reputation (it's had great reviews in the serious press) rather than any particular position he may have adopted.

 

RogerXXII 5/9/2009 11:05:37 AM

Well I'm sure that, within his world, Mr. Aaronovitch is entirely deserving of his high reputation.  But "his world" is that which I described above, and that bar is set very low.  You illustrate it yourself in mentioning his support for the war against Iraq, which was opposed by anyone and everyone capable of even light research.

I entirely subscribe to the theory according to which, when tempted to consider a "conspiracy", one should first contemplate the probablility of disastrous imbecility, and the subsequent scramble to cover it up.

Sad that, when faced with an "actual criminal conspiracy", Mr. Aaronovitch sought to support it rather than debunk it, as he so piously volunteers to do with others.

ProfessorW 5/9/2009 11:23:38 AM

 Resorting to reasoned argument is the last refuge of a scoundrel!  You're right about the war, of course.

My take on the specific chapter is that Aaronovitch did debunk the whole spawn of HBHG (whether intended by BLL or not), but resorted to ne'er-do-wells for the debunking.  Everything was so much easier when the Church dictated thinking and loonies were kept where they belonged.

RogerXXII 5/9/2009 11:51:56 AM

"and loonies were kept where they belonged."

The paper holds their folded faces to the floor,

and every day, the paper boy brings more....

ProfessorW 5/9/2009 12:30:45 PM

 ... and from my self-inflicted exposure to certain loonies, I discovered there was no dark side, it's all dark, that without edukashun, thought-control becomes so much easier.  Jowett and all that...

RogerXXII 5/10/2009 7:18:38 AM

Loonies aside, I think young Stella's main objection to Aaronovitch's "debunking", is that it's sloppy, lazy, and relies on false evidence, and therefore becomes counter-productive.

If one's stated purpose is to "debunk" some fabrication, even one fully deserving of this attention, it actually prepetuates that fabrication's ability to survive when one uses spurious arguments/elements in one's debunking, because the followers-of-the-myth are quite astute at picking up on this, in their own perverse manner.

It's quite obvious that something was going on, beneath the surface, at RLC.  And it had nothing to do with the "selling of masses", as any real analysis of Sauniere's own accounts would clearly show.  By the same token, it also had naught to do with "a sainted diminutive redhead" or a "merovingian bloodline", much less the "hidden tomb of Christ", or even - as one ex-pharmacist author would have you believe - the tombS of "the two hidden Christs"!

Since all these myths are based on a tiny kernel of truth, it requires the proper effort to separate the wheat from the chaff, and show where the legend starts to wildly stray from the facts.  That is an effort that it seems that Mr. Aaronovitch deems below his dignity as a pundit, and from what I deduce from this one-chapter-review, he contended himself with easy quotes from non-credible sources.

Which, to my mind, is very much like supporting a criminally trumped up war, by relying on releases from Downing Street.  The M O. doesn't change much.

ProfessorW 5/10/2009 8:26:39 AM

 You may well be right.  What I believe is more interesting, however, is the basic psychological need that people have to believe in conspiracy - when a perfectly rational explanation would in the vast majority of cases explain away the conspiracy (Ockham).  Of the twelve examples of conspiracies cited by Aaronovitch, arguably the most trivial IMHO is the HBHG legend - and I say that, having been a BLL devotee for forty years.  As in the human inability to explain the tragedy of JFK's killing or MM's suicide (the peroxide blonde, not the rouquine/divine feminine), the psychological need to subscribe to a conspiracy in order to come to terms with the sheer randomness of these events is what is interesting.  That rogues/pranksters should want to propagate conspiracies is easily understandable: the pranksters are having fun, the rogues are trying to make money or gain power.   There is a fundamental sadness that sad/lonely people would want to believe in a "truth" which is not available to others masks a deeper craving.  I can respect a craving for a female spiritual role model, but it is tragic to think where that is currently based for what I suspect is no more than a few hundred (mostly) women.

This case belies Aaronovitch's conclusion that most conspiracists are men...

LittleNell1824 5/11/2009 6:46:12 AM

ProfessorW, I can understand your distate for conspiracy only up to a point. (I happen to enjoy them quite a bit - they're like crazy trivia games). But, relying on Ockham's Razor to explain EVERYTHING, well, it just doesn't work. If you believe JFK was shot by a lone gunman who was then promptly shot by another lone gunman, then you completely throw out known history. That's not Ockham, that's drawing a straight line through a mountain of evidence. Impossible without a huge drill, a bulldozer and lots of explosives.

Enough confessions have been recorded from aging members of the Mafia and the CIA to confirm that the Mafia and the CIA worked together to kill JFK. Before you close your eyes in a fit of pick, let me explain why: The CIA had recruited the Mafia to help them with the Cuba situation. They were already working together and both groups hated JFK over the Bay of Pigs fiasco. The CIA lost some good men and it's reputation,and the Mafia lost any hope of recovering the money that evaporated when Castro came into power. LBJ used their hatred to his advantage, because he desperately wanted to be president. So, the murder of JFK was conspired with the blessings of the VP "for the good of all involved". It was done by professionals - Outside men from the Mafia and Wetwork men from the CIA - who knew how to keep their murders an open secret. Since both groups also have Inside men, it was fairly easy to threaten and bribe witnesses and to suppress any evidence that would tell a different story. And where they couldn't suppress, they denied or ignored. It made for a spotty story, but most people wouldn't pursue it once they found out who was involved.

You may think that a secret like this could never be kept, and it wasn't. Not really. The evidence for the professional arrangement of JFK's death is there. You can ignore it, or you can accept it. Mafia involvement in other aspects of US history is an open secret. Most people don't want to know the truth, so they ignore it. If you want to know the truth, it's right there. In the US, we don't like to believe our government is corrupt, so we tend to ignore all evidence to the contrary.

And no, this doesn't mean that I believe that MM was murdered over UFO secrets. She was a known drug addict with emotional issues. That's completely different.

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