Rev., Jul 15, 2019. Written to mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon, July 20, 1929-2019.
Having explored the symbolism of the Mall, in 50s sci fi, both in an essay on Bobby’s World in The day the Earth Stood Still, and in an essay on the depiction of the mall in The deadly Mantis (1957), I would like to suggest a simpler idea of why the Apollo 11 moon landing hoax conspiracy theory still persists after 50 years. And I think the answer is related to the fact that the original broadcast of the event was at odds with media conventions of the time, which cast a spell of artifice over it, for all time. Then, too, after the era of the landing, elements of the launch were displayed, as was other early spacecraft, in the Air and Space museum in Washington, on the Mall, and that setting had a strong influence on how things were imagined in retrospect. But, before we get to that, there were a number of intermedial issues that set up the potential of a fraud, acting as, as it were, alibi formations, to cover for the event’s oddness.
It is usually argued, rationally, that in the age of Watergate, in the aftermath of the era of the moon landing, trust in government faltered, so it was easy to think, if the president is a crook, so is NASA, it was all a fake. Then the argument links up with a scene of a fake landing on Mars in the movie Capricorn One (1976)
and then 007 played with it in diamonds are Forever (1971), in which at one point 007 escapes through a fake moon set in the desert
at a place like Area 51,
and so that’s that, that was used, so it was thought, it was all shot on a film stage, and then who better than Kubrick to do it, since his moon shots and outer space sets in 2001 (1968) were so perfect.
then even Kubrick folded space travel back into an artificial environment, to, at the end, question the very reality of outer space that mankind, in fact, will never be able to bodily reach
It is a purely movie-based theory, and while degh, a folklorist, is right that by ostension stories can turn into realities, and vice versa, I do not think that in either case, both of them being parodies of a popular culture idea floating about, this sort of effect is created.
My idea is that, in fact, the moon landing got to be thought of as fake, because, just like a scare in a horror movie, the landing and its coverage spooked some people. It played, in fact, in reality, like a rare film-within-a-film shown in a horror movie. Here it is, on the screen at NASA (these shots from the mockumentary, darkside of the Moon (2002, France)
And, then, of course, the obscure picturing of the event, very much in the mode of a cheap, bad movie, which people reacted to, unconsciously, negatively to, to think it did not meet the standards of reality (though this can also reverse, so that, for example, found video looks “more real” in a movie shot on film)
But the role of these sequence in horror movies were to horrify the audience by seeing something of the potential of the monster than the normal rational mind could not. The greatest of these strange film-within-a-films came in Quatermass and the Pit (1967), which showed martian locusts invading earth five million years ago!
But there was also a terrific one, which I analyzed in depth, in The Green Slime (1966, Japan).
In the latter, in particular, all on board were already scared of this monster that they had picked up care of a meteor in outer space, which grew to that form out of some green slime. But, now, on the video camera, seeing into a space beyond where human beings could see things, they see not only that the slime has extraordinary powers of self-propulsion, a life of its own, which is terrifying
But that it is agile, this in reverse on the film
Then too, most horrifically, it grows very fast
As a result of this video, of seeing far into a space beyond their normal cognition, they are made four times more horrified than they were before, and this is the purpose of this sort of film.
As a result, then, whether they knew it or not, most Americans took in the footage of the landing and the work on the moon as a kind of horror movie, something about it scared them, mainly because it was so remote, and there was no ground upon which it could stand, vis a vis other scenes in media. Then, of course, since the human mind in its storying way hates a gap, it fills up that gap with comparable images, but all of them from fictional sci-fi sources, which in time overwhelms their sense that, amongst all of these, this one incident is real, and so by a sort of imagistic mobbing, the real thing becomes another fictional thing.
Adding to the problem of the broadcast of the landing and the work on the moon is the fact that the astronauts were not really that adventurous on the surface of the moon. Unlike explorers in any number of sci fi movies of landing on other plants (none of which I will explore here), only to discover beautiful women in skirts way shorter than women on earth would ever wear, so thumbs up for outer space, then too the bewegigungsapparat and alibi formations combined that allowed them to have sex with them because they were earth men seeding a new race for a dying people. But, spatially, the astronauts stayed quite close. They played in a limited field. Since the scenery was monochrome, and the movements unreal, because gravity free, a sense of unreality pervaded. It was like a dream, and the part of the dream it was like were the fields behind or outside the Village of dreams, where by an effect of entopty upon it, one does not know quite what one is seeing.
The Apollo 11 astronauts did very little wide ranging exploring of the surface of the moon. They stayed close to home, they puttered about the spacecraft, and never really ventured forth away from it. As a result, they created the illusion of a “playground moon,” not an explored other-planet moon, like you see in so many movies (the extent to which this ‘small planet’ vision recoiled back to earth to add to the development of a concept of “playground earth” for tourists, whose bigfootprint living contributes to global warming, I leave open for now).
This field is in the entoptic, but heaing out toward the ambient; and, in fact, seems to parallel in hypnagogic placement, de chirico’s Mysterious Fountains series.
In any case, this is where the moonwalk, hypnagogically, happened, a light entoptic dream event, spreading out into the ambient
this field, aka the wild space, is a well-known place in movies. In A Hard days Night (1964) it is the field where the boys, breaking out of rigors of rehearsal, let off some steam, as if on another planet
In horror movies, it is an entoptic-symbolic visually compromised zone or array of objects where a gown prowl or search is undertaken and you do not know exactly what you are going to find. Thus in The Nun (2018), resurrecting the field of bedsheets drying on the line, she has to pass through it
Just like in Halloween (1978), the best example of the trope, a few years later
And there are many other fields of this sort in the genre. What this does to the viewing of any scene played out in a field beyond is that you are jumpy, you don’t know what is coming, something might jump out at you from off frame, it is an entoptic-symbolic, uncertain zone, it makes one nervous. This parallel between the reality of the walk and the condition of hypnagogy as it then is worked out as a trope in horror movies, is yet another reason why the moon landing was “consumed’ by many viewers as unreal.
The failure of this event to fill itself out in a way that met the demands of the audience as a “real life” adventure, resulted in a lot of people thinking, this all looks like it is filmed in a studio, the same way one might say of a bit of old film where “this is in rear projection” or that is “stop motion technology” or that’s some “pretty good model building for Godzilla,” but, then, for that, all the opposites too, rear projection that looks really phoney, stop motion that struggles, model building that only stages what is obviously an actor running around in a rubber suit. By not leaving frame, as it were, by not doing on the moon what was expected of them, from the lore of movies, in space, the astronauts left behind a viewer frustration which recoiled into the idea, it’s a bad show, it’s a technically poor movie, it is a movie. Here a shot where a light is caught in shot, exposing it as a production (this still pervades rationalized consumption of movies, where one special class of easter eggs, for people to search for when they are not actually watching the movie, is mistakes made in revealing it is just a movie, this happened in the final season of Game of Thrones a few times, I suppose to comfort viewers at the ending of their fantasy world)
In conspiracy theory on this point, there are two points of view. One, the entire thing, beginning to end was a fraud, entirely a movie production, all of it. But that seems far fetched, so in Capricorn One (1976) they posited that yes, indeed, the rocket went up, there was a launch, but, then, from then on, the program failed to create safety, so they pretended it was still up there, or maybe were hoodwinked by intelligence to think it still up there, and the astronauts went through with their mission but as actors on earth and not astronauts on Mars or in the spacecraft. It is, of course, precisely, the disconnect between the filmed event, and any scenario in which it could be verified as real, that Capricorn One (1976) exploited. This would work because no one could check up on the reality of what was being filmed, it could well be fake, no one would know.
And I will mention only in passing that as time moved on in popular culure, ten years later, the moonwalk also converted into an even more “unbelievable” thing, Michael Jackson’s moon walk dance step, which made things even more otherworldly, moving back on earth without gravity (and having about it an element of dreams of flying).
But in that regard, the earlier fact that it was a film-within-a-film in a horror movie, now translated out to the way in which so many people saw it, standing at a bank of tv sets in a store window, outside. A trope which signifies both the momentous, emergency nature of the occasion; its saturation of the moment with a sense of emergency, often fear; then a weird sort of disbanded campfire sense of random belonging to a populous that, in fact, one does not belong to.
As to a more purely haunted reading of the event, there are also elements of the Apollo 11 moonwalk that spooked because only relatable to horror movie tropes. One, one of the age old tropes of horror is that in order to find the root cause of the horror one can go back to the original place and there it will still rest. This has been true in the genre for a very long time. It entails an extreme degree of essentialism in so far as it insists that prototype space is cursed, and so everything in it is “just as it was when he left it,” and, lo and behold, a character goes looking for the original place, and he finds it, just as he hoped, entirely intact. So, in the Picture of dorian Gray (1945), the room at the top of the stairs is exactly as it was left, when he left it, his childhood nursery, years ago
This almost never happens in real life, but it happens a lot in horror movies. And the reason it happens a lot is that horror movies exist in cursed time, and always seek to go back to a source that predates the current haunting situation, to find the truth, and root it out. That is, everything retrenches to the prototype space, and, eventually, it is there, and perfect, and that’s that, It would appear that the moon is the same way, as it has been reported that these footprints are still on the moon, once made, always the same, it is an essentialist presence in a prototype space (thus, in the theory, this footprint’s depth is thought to belie the fact that if really on the moon the astronaut would weigh 30 pounds, unable to make this deep impression (see darkside of the Moon (2002)).
Finally, there is a truth shot photo, apparently, always a beloved trope in horror movies, In this shot, one can see Neil Armstrong in silhouette, holding a camera oddly (same source as above, my point being that this is evidence, a truth shot is available)
It is thought that Armstrong is not taking the picture, thus there was someone else, a film director, doing the filming. But it is explained by debunkers that Armstrong’s camera was attached to his suit, so that’s why it looks that way. But, of course, a photo which hides the ultimate truth, a smoking gun, a truth shot, at the bottom of a horror movie, it is a thing that must be there, and so it is by trope formation something that is very probably to form in the mind of someone considering the photographic evidence. This, to offer an example already covered in this blog, this is the truth shot of Hereditary (2018), which Collette only sees in passing as she is confusedly looking through an old notebook: this is a shot from a scene where she is showing the coven the family she is going to sacrifice to them, so that she can be boss witch, horrible, click, one shot, gone, but it is the truth, the smoking gun
The final point, which is more museumological, has to do with the strange way in which the event was memorialized in museums. When at last space vehicles began to be displayed in public, in government run museums, they are always done so in a very personalizing way.
One is allowed to walk up to them, touch them, step up a step ladder to look in, identify with the mannikin inside, think to oneself, it all looks so small and helpless, as a result, one comes away from a museum display thinking, it doesn’t quite look real. That is, the technology was so primitive, it doesn’t FEEL like technology should, which is complex and overwhelming as such. Then, too, the Mall, if that is where it starts, has an imaginary white picket fence around it, it is a propaganda space for America the homespun, America the Main Street, America, land of the kindly doctor and friendly bureaucrat. The Mall puts an aegis of authority over things, especially for kids, and this results in anything they see there becoming safely in their minds ensconced behind mental white picket fences, then, given the authority of a great thing, an essential thing, if supported by the feds. Thus one comes to believe in the reality of the personal Apollo 11, but this gets in the way of the real one (is this, one might ask, the real one?).
The same thing happened with me and seeing Salvator dali’s Last Supper, a gift to the US in 1964, in 1965, at the National Gallery on the Mall, and it was both the spacey nature of the picture, and the aegis of federal support approving it, then, both, sutured together into a personalized at-home form inside the white picket fence of the Mall, that made me think it the most important work of art in the world, at the time.
This argument then runs counter to the notion that Watergate caused people to lose faith in the government; in fact, presentation of space things on the Mall, with the support of the federal government, counteracts that; but nonetheless it backfired, by personalization, to make people think it more likely the landing happened in a movie studio than on the actual moon.
My basic thesis is that the hoax theory leaked out and lives on because of mismanagement of the intermedial relations as the truths about the program and the missions were developed for public consumption in the 70s. While trying to work out its reality, the effects of the coverage only recoiled to reinforce an idea that it was all just a movie of a haunting after all. Then, since the moon landing itself as filmed seemed to subscribe to certain tropes in horror movies, the limited reality of the event caused it to be folded into a fictional universe, to be taken as fake again. These complications have provided plenty of wiggle room for conspiracy theorists to hold onto their theories in the years since.