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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
A Red Herring
© Memory Map
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.