Misinformation Age

Recently, I was watching a History Channel documentary about the Dark Ages on TV. At first glance, it looked like a bullet-proof, extremely convincing historical account that told a very clearly mapped-out story of the collapse of the western Roman Empire and civilization and the onset of a millennium of chaos and turmoil in western Europe, known as the Dark Ages. Backed up by a series of historical re-enactments to corroborate the claims made by the academics, the case they made seemed to be irrefutable on the surface.

Still, thinking back on it, what strikes me now is how flimsy and full of holes the case really is and how biased, speculative and propagandist this History Channel documentary, as a whole, was. Genuine academic scholarship or a deliberate campaign at misinformation and propaganda? You be the judge as I systematically dismember . . . I mean analyze . . . the documentary and the claims it makes.

For one thing, the documentary presents us with a series of supposed scholars or academics making various claims—presenting us with their interpretation of historical events, their examination of the repercussions of these events, their assessments of key historical personalities, etc. The scholars—who may very easily be pseudo-academics, for all we know—all had such obscure credentials that their claims could not really be taken seriously. Who were these characters—really? What publications could they attach their names to? How legitimate are their claims, as such?

Even if their claims can be corroborated or attached to authentic academic publications with true scholarly merit, what they are not telling you is that their version of reality, as expressed by them in the documentary, is really only one version among several competing versions, each having equal, if not greater, academic merit. All they are doing is presenting their interpretation of the facts as the authoritative truth—backed up by historical re-enactments to create the false impression that the viewer is actually observing history “as it happens” so to speak.

And furthermore, even if the version of history they give you is conclusively established as the only acceptable version, academically speaking, what they are not revealing to you is how much of the story is purely speculative and how much is based on hard evidence. Typically, what they do is take tiny shreds of fragmentary evidence of very dubious authenticity and then construct an elaborate hypothesis out of it. It remains unclear how much of the hypothesis is inferential and how much is pure fabrication based upon invalid assumptions or extrapolations from personal experience or even deliberately contrived to promote a socio-political agenda or justify a private opinion. For example, I saw another documentary in which a scholar made a pretty far-fetched claim—that he had uncovered evidence that centuries pre-dating Christ, another Jewish Messiah had lived, died and been resurrected in Jerusalem, so that Jesus was merely an imitator. However, the evidence he presented to corroborate his claim was so flimsy—a partially eroded rock-cut slab with some of the key text wiped out—that it became pretty evident that he was distorting the evidence to fit his claims.

Furthermore, even if the version of history that these so-called historians present to you is undeniably the only possible inference that could logically be drawn from the available sources, they do not reveal just how authentic or believable the sources are in the first place. Are they fragmentary archaeological remains acquired from the black-market? Or are they long surviving historical accounts where the original text has long since been lost to history and all that survives is a fragmentary copy that has, itself, been copied and recopied by hand countless times and may include any number of editorial errors or distortions?

So, if you analyze it carefully, it becomes pretty self-evident that what appeared, at first, to be an irrefutable case is actually so fabricated, contrived and full of holes that it can only be classified as pseudo-scholarship. It is actually propaganda—not history at all—and the historical re-enactments only underscore that idea. It is propaganda designed either to reinforce existing societal prejudices or to promote a socio-political agenda or to justify the actions of present-day politicians by claiming a historical precedent (of dubious authenticity). The irony is that any serious academic would be aware of this and how history itself is full of such attempts at propaganda and myth-making—which is why many supposedly ironclad historical accounts are themselves suspect and of dubious authenticity.

And, so, one has to wonder what is the hidden agenda that such propagandists are attempting to promote. Is it anything like, for example, the racist, racially supremacist agenda of Nazi pseudo-scholars? Or the left-wing, naïvely pluralistic social agenda of more liberal academics? Or is it an attempt, by some, to justify certain modes of criminal behavior by presenting us with a dubious historical precedent—suggesting, for example, that because xenophobia, polygamy, genocide and sodomy were acceptable practices in ancient civilizations such as Greece, Rome and Judea, they should be excusable in the present day as well?

Horizon Cybermedia is about questioning such attempts at propaganda and eyewash by mainstream media sources. In this “Information Age,” in which social media are becoming increasingly prevalent and more and more people have access to revolutionary modern media technology, one has to wonder just how valid and accurate the information is . . . and how much of it are distortions or dishonest attempts at misinformation and propaganda.

The last thing we need is for universal access to media technology to create a “Misinformation Age” of widespread questionable information. However, it should also be noted that thanks to the universality of modern media technology, it is now easier to question universally-held assumptions and prejudices and the authenticity of so-called authoritative sources of information.

Please do check out our ongoing film series Exploration with Uday Gunjikar at our website http://www.explorationtheseries.com. The current film is a visual tour of some of the key sites in the city of Calcutta, India. Future episodes visit the ski resorts of Big Bear Lake, CA and the rock-cut Buddhist temples of the Kanheri Caves near Mumbai, India. We look forward to your continued support, entertainment and information.

Wishing you the very best,

Uday Gunjikar,
Founder and CEO,
Horizon Cybermedia, Inc.