It's no surprise that the world gets taken in by hoaxers and con men. They're really good at what they do and most of us are bored enough to believe anything as long as it takes our mind off the cubicle for a while.
And even when the hoaxers get accused of fakery, we may still take their side. After all, those negative doubting types try to shoot down everything! Who cares what they say! What is harder to explain, though, is the times when the perpetrators of a hoax come out themselves and confess to the fakery... and people still go right on believing.
This famous picture, which shows what looks like the head of a prehistoric creature emerging from the waves of Scotland's Loch Ness, was allegedly snapped by gynecologist Robert Wilson in 1934. It soon became known as the "surgeon's photograph," because searching for "gynecologist's photograph" on Google Images will absolutely not result in finding this picture.
Before Dr. Vagina's famous photo, the Loch Ness Monster had been limited to a few legends and scattered local sightings, which presumably accompanied spottings of highland prostitutes and grain alcohol. After the surgeon's photo, however, the creature gained worldwide attention, despite the fact that Wilson himself denied the Loch Ness Monster even existed and insisted he had just taken a picture of some animal he didn't recognize.
"Ooh, an animal I don't recognize! Good thing I don't believe in monsters or I would be shitting all over myself right now."
Monster sightings and photographs continued unabated in the area for the next 60 years until 1994, when a man named Christian Spurling finally confessed to the hoax. Spurling explained that his father-in-law Marmaduke Wetherall had staged the picture using a fake monster head attached to an 18-inch long toy submarine.
The whole ridiculous plan was an attempt to get back at his employer, a newspaper called the Daily Mail that had ridiculed him in a recent issue. Wetherall had Dr. Wilson submit the picture to give it more "respectability."
The original uncropped image, which is clearly a prehistoric beast and not a duck or a bathtub toy.
So that's the end of the Loch Ness Monster, right?
Not even close. Die-hard cryptozoologists immediately dismissed Spurling's hoax confession, insisting the resources that he described being used to make the fake monster didn't exist in 1934 (fake monster heads would apparently not be invented until much later).
To this day, the Loch Ness Monster industry is thriving, and every few years there's a new, expensive expedition setting out to find it. There was a 2003 BBC special that employed satellites and 600 separate sonar beams to try to track down the beast once and for all.
So Why Do They Still Believe?
The fact that there are "cryptozoologists" in the world (that is, people who specialize in tracking legendary creatures to prove they're real) should tell you. There are people who have staked their reputations on the creature being real and depend on the income from books asserting such. It's not so easy for somebody in that position to give in to the "wooden head glued to a toy submarine" theory.
Latest photograph of the monster.
If there were only some way to walk away from the theory and save face at the same time... oh, wait. Some Loch Ness Monster experts say the creature has probably now died. Due to global warming.
We should also point out that Loch Ness is located in an area where the other main attractions involve grim industrial sprawl and a dish made of ground sheep's heart, so they're going to promote the hell out of any mythical creature they can get their hands on. Scotland would probably be claiming Highlander as a true story if they thought they could get away with it.
In 1922, Howard Carter and his friends opened the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen in Egypt, unearthing rooms filled with magnificent treasures and igniting a surge of interest in Egyptology. Unfortunately, they also ignited a series of terrifying events that was almost immediately attributed to the "Pharaoh's Curse."
Reports said there was an inscription on the wall of the gravesite that read "They who enter this sacred tomb shall swift be visited by wings of death." Sure enough, Lord Carnarvon, a member of the party who was originally sent to Egypt's warm climate by his doctor because of his poor health, dropped dead days afterward from an infected mosquito bite.
"Ha ha, I'm a mosquito, and... fuck you.
That unfortunate incident likely cast a dubious shadow over any advice Lord Carnarvon's doctor would offer anyone in the future because what fucking doctor tells you to go to Egypt if you're under the weather.
At the moment of Carnarvon's death, a blackout reportedly swept through Cairo, solidifying the notion of an ancient curse that newspapers around the world quickly picked up on.
Only one problem: the "curse" allegedly inscribed on the wall, never existed. It was apparently invented by one of the newspapers that covered the find. Records of curses have been found in other tombs, but evidently King Tut figured being buried in the sands of Egypt inside a giant stone crypt was enough to deter most people from fucking with his dead body.
So, combined with the fact that the curse physically is not there, and that most of Carter's remaining party lived to a ripe old age, you'd suspect this one wouldn't get much traction.
When artifacts from the tomb were on tour in the U.S. and one of the guards suffered a stroke, you guessed it: they blamed it on the curse. This was in the 1970s, 50 freaking years later.
The idea became so utterly entrenched that the concept of cursed Egyptian tombs and mummies is almost as much a cultural icon as the haunted house (count how many mummies you see among the Halloween decorations this year).
The curse has also inspired dozens of movies over the decades and countless dumbass Brendan Fraser one-liners.
Clearly, evil is at work here.
So Why Do They Still Believe?
Let's face it, mummies are awesome. They are corpses left over from a culture that worshiped death and their internal organs are kept in jars carved with the heads of animals. That is metal as fuck, so it's fun to believe they had all sorts of connections to the occult that we can only dream about.
Combine that with the whole "the ancient Mayans predicted the end of the world" theory and you realize that there's something attractive about the idea that people way back when knew things we didn't. Maybe it's because we look around at a world full of inane Twitterings and TV shows about dating Flavor Flav, and find comfort in the idea that once up on a time, not only was the world less retarded, but they possessed wisdom so deep they could bend the rules of time and space.
Sure, it seems a little odd that mankind somehow forgot all this supernatural knowledge when it offers such a gigantic advantage to whoever has it. But that's probably just because we aren't believing hard enough.
The Priory of Sion, a secret society founded by crusaders at Jerusalem's Mt. Zion, was pretty damn cool. Existing since the 11th century, it boasted members such as Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo and Master Splinter. The organization's goals were to restore the ancient Merovingian dynasty to the throne in France, and also to be hardcore secretive and have members that were so famous people would still recognize them 900 years later.
Really, the only uncool thing about the Priory of Sion was that it didn't exist.
In court in 1993, Pierre Plantard, a convicted con artist and Frenchman, confessed that he had created the organization in 1965 and named it after Mt. Sion near Annemasse, France, presumably as part of a pitch to ABC for a new prime time action series.
He went to extreme lengths to perpetuate his lie, hiring people to create medieval-looking documents and plant them in France's national library. Why? Well, there was no Society of Creative Anachronism back then and Star Trek didn't go on the air until 1966, so people had to make their own fun.
Nobody paid attention to Plantard's confession. The forgeries had, by this time, been picked up and repeated in a 1982 book called The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, whose authors were fooled by the fake documents planted in the French library.
They insisted that the Merovingians were related to Jesus himself, an idea in turn picked up by Dan Brown for his novel The Da Vinci Code. One inexplicable Tom Hanks haircut later and there was no turning back.
So Why Do They Still Believe?
This sort of thing has the same attraction as any good conspiracy theory: the "I am special because I have secret knowledge the common sheeple never will!" principle.
How better to impress your dull traditional friends than revealing to them the suppressed truth that will totally blow their closed suburban minds? And you only had to spend six bucks in an airport bookstore to get it!
And, like any conspiracy theory, it's difficult or impossible to disprove. After all, if you were a secret organization of the Priory's caliber, couldn't you just fake the fact that the documents were faked?