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Tuesday 17 May 2011

Fortean Events that Shook the World

As a general rule, events of interest to Forteans have little impact on mainstream culture... with a few notable exceptions. For my contribution to Oll Lewis's "Fortean Fives" series on the CFZ blog, I chose five events which in one way or another "shook the establishment" (the "establishment" encompassing academia, the media, the government, the Church and the legal profession):

[1] The appearance of a young Uri Geller on the Dimbleby Talk-In (23 November 1973). The show was memorable not just for Geller's (at the time completely new) stage act, but for the fact that Professor John Taylor of King's College London, brought on as a skeptical scientist, was completely taken in by it all, and underwent a quasi-religious conversion in front of the TV cameras! A couple of years later I went to a lecture by Prof. Taylor on the paranormal, and he was still a complete believer in it.

[2] The premiere of Ray Santilli's Alien Autopsy film at the Museum of London (5 May 1995). To anyone with any experience of the field the footage was an obvious hoax, and yet it was lapped up by the public and the media because -- just at that moment -- it filled a desperate need created by a combination of The X-Files and pre-millennial tension. BUFORA staked its reputation on the film's authenticity... and, when it was shown to be a hoax, British ufology died its much-publicized death!

[3] The death of Princess Diana (31 August 1997). I was tempted to write "the assassination of Princess Diana", but she wasn't assassinated -- she died in a road traffic accident. This inconvenient fact doesn't stop the conspiracy theorists, however... and also a surprisingly large number of "ordinary people" who refuse to believe that a famous person is capable of dying an accidental death! It's this refusal to believe the obvious that transforms the event from something mundane into something Fortean.

[4] The revelation of the Third Secret of Fatima (26 June 2000). This was a mystery that had been speculated on for a long time (the original vision occurred in 1917, and the "secret" was written down and sealed in 1944)... and it's the kind of mystery that is only interesting as long as it remains a mystery! The fun was spoiled in the year 2000 when Pope John Paul II authorized publication of the secret. Conspiracy theorists refuse to believe that the published version is the "true" secret, of course -- although personally I'm sure it is.

[5] The "Da Vinci Code trial" -- Baigent and Leigh, claimants, versus the Random House Group, defendant (trial started on 27 Feb 2006). There was a time when The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail was a book known only to Forteans and New Agers, but its popularity was boosted first by Dan Brown's blockbuster The Da Vinci Code, and then by Baigent and Leigh's lawsuit accusing The Da Vinci Code of plagiarism. During the trial it became clear that the judge, Justice Peter Smith, knew a lot more about HBHG than Dan Brown did (he'd actually read it from cover to cover, for example) and his final judgment is a more entertaining read than The Da Vinci Code (it even contains its own coded message... probably a first in English Law)!

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