Thursday, April 26, 2012

One Muses About the State of the Public's Perceptions -- Oh, One Does

For at least a few years now, due to Dan Brown,very many people have been thinking about the Templarsin association with the Holy Grail.Whether Brown alone is responsible for the dimensions of this current fascination, or whether he has just been riding a wave of great popular interest before him, I don't know.

I do know that at least partly due to Brown, and to people like those at the History Channel riding Brown's wave, many people have gotten the idea that the Grail, or at least the idea of the Grail, goes way back in time into the early Dark Ages, if not actually into antiquity, if not actually all the way back to Jeebus Himself,when in fact the Grail originated in 12th-century fiction. Dingbats like Brown and the folks working for and consulted by and associated with the History Channel are spreading the notion that the Grail is nonfictional, whether it's a jeweled chalice as in the popular Arthurian stories, or some sort of magic stone, or Jesus' great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter. There's all this awful bullshit about the mysteries of the Grail,when there's no mystery, and therefore also no need for any self-descriobed genius to come along and solve the mystery.Any decent introductory course in Medieval French litersture solves the mystery by informing the student that Chrétien de Troyes invented the Grail in his epic poem Perceval.There ya go, folks, Grail mystery solved, yr welcome.

Lately it occurred to me to wonder how many people may have been mislead in the opposite direction: they already knew that the Grail was fictional, either because they had attended a competent class in Medieval literature or because they generally pay attention, and now, having never heard of the Templars before this aside from their mention in fiction, the widespread hoopla about the Grail and the Templars has led them to assume that the Templars are fictional, that they also never existed.

I get the impression that a large portion of the public, and of the reporters of the mainstream public, have first heard of mythicists via Bart Ehrman's recent book-length attempt to discredit them.If this is correct then it may mean that Ehrman's attempt has in fact been quite successful.

But it's so hard to really know what the general public thinks. Public-opinion polls, even when they're done well, and Lord knows they aren't always, have serious shortcomings. Presidential elections less so -- but wait, how do I know that? Well, of course, I don't. I'm just guessing and speculating and poking around in the dark all over the place here, as is anyone who tries to gauge public perceptions. At least some of us know we're just guessing. Above I assumed that mainstream-media reporters had been pretty ignorant of the historicist-mythicist debate until Bart Ehrman recently succeeded in leading them astray -- but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the publishers and editors of mainstream media deliberately keep the sharper reporters far away from any stories about religion. That would be both bad and good news: bad, of course, because it would mean that media bosses are deliberately misleading us more than we might imagine, and good because it could mean that their nefarious attempts to keep us in the dark are not as successful as they or anyone else thinks.

Sometimes public opinion is suddenly and surprisingly revealed, in a good and reassuring way. When I was in the 8th grade it was assumed that either a certain rich girl, daughter of a physician, my primary-care physician as it happened, although the term "primary-care physician," to my knowledge, was not yet in use, would be elected homecoming queen, or one of two other members of her clique. Because they were the popular girls. Or so everyone assumed. But no, the other girl surprisingly on the dais with them as a finalist, not a rich girl, dressed much more like the rest of us because she couldn't afford to dress like the rich cliques, none of us could, was announced the winner and the place went nuts. Conventional wisdom was proved wrong.

Don't accept conventional wisdom just because it's conventional. And don't assume that the assholes and idiots have quite as tight a hold on public perceptions as Time magazine and The New York Times may have you believe. I'm not denying that things are often awful, just suggesting that maybe, maybe, good sense is more widespread than it may appear. bubbling under the surface. For goodness' sake, vote to re-elect President Obama.

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