Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Tampering with the Truth


An article in today’s Daily Mail describes how the film Argo alters the known facts of what happened in Iran in 1979. According to the film, British diplomats turned away American embassy staff when they needed help. According to the CIA officer who helped mount the rescue, “The British were kind hosts, offered them a house and fed them.”

The article prompted me to wonder: which is the worse sin? To create a story without carrying out the necessary research? Or to deliberately alter the known facts and thereby create an unnecessary political agenda?

I have read several novels in which it became clear the author had been lax in his or her research. The errors were significant, but they did not add up to any political agenda. Thinking back on the examples I have come across, no political or racist points were scored against anyone. I mentioned some of these errors in a previous post: such as Aldermaston and County Louth being shifted to Northern Ireland. No harm was done except to the credibility of the writer.

Contrast this with certain Hollywood films in which the facts of history are deliberately altered. Braveheart is an obvious example. Incidentally, contrary to what the narrator says at the opening of that film, history is written by the literate, be they winners or losers, whether they have hanged heroes or not. The film is almost entirely fiction but, sadly, many people have taken it to be an accurate depiction of the times. Anglophobic reactions have ensued. Not being a historian, it is not surprising that the average person in the street should believe the film's version of events. How sad that a deliberate fiction should be allowed to affect relations between England and Scotland, two nations each with reason to be proud of their history.

So, the question remains: which is the worst sin? To carry out insufficient research and thereby harm only the author’s reputation? Or to deliberately alter known facts and thereby add to racial disharmony?

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