Forty years down the road, they don’t look quite so spectacular, but it’s still amazing that they could have been taken at all, and so precious are they that they’re stored for perpetuity in the international archive of American achievement.
The day of 21 July 1969 amounted to a visual and political master-stroke. When those awkward figures embarked on a lunar bouncy castle ride, they punched above the weight of human imagination, conveniently sweeping away any doubts over Kennedy-inspired idealism or ideological reservations about the superiority of man over the universe.
It didn’t convince the sceptics, of course, and with time, increasingly authoritative doubts have surfaced over the validity of that epic mission. For many, Neil Armstrong’s small step represented a credibility leap too far.
They cite posed, sharp-focused portraits uneasily juxtaposed with blurred video, oddly contradictory shadows and unexplainable air-currents conveniently fluttering the ‘Stars and Stripes’.
If it was merely space fiction, it has to have been the world’s most convincing well-kept secret. Indeed, it would always be too important ever to be allowed exposure. And who would dare embark on such a course?
But there was then, and there is now, a respected earth orbital space programme, so like for Jules Verne a hundred years before, expectation could easily be crafted into reality with the sophistication of video technology and mastery of information sources. Indeed, mankind’s ‘giant leap’ can never be independently verified.
So perhaps it wasn’t too surprising that, ten years later, Hollywood came up with its own ‘Not…the Moon landing’, producing a cannily believable debunking of the official version in the movie ‘Capricorn One’.
Nevertheless, we have just nostalgically reinforced the excitement of those crackly words and all it meant to those clustered around the predominantly black-and-white home TV screens. Forty years of digital enhancement have done little to blunt enthusiasm for yet further pioneering scientific and spiritual attempts to cross that elusive final frontier.
It is indeed timely, since after the Apollo programme was wound up, no further attempts were made to land human beings on earth’s only natural satellite. Nevertheless, a recent viewers’ poll still rated the moon landing as the ‘number one TV moment’.
You see, we all want to believe what we’re told, even before the doubts are allowed to intervene. Wasn’t the ‘Titanic’ confidently reported to have docked in New York hours after it had actually dived to the bottom of the Atlantic?
The Religious Party will likely refer to this as ‘faith’, the Humanists as ‘intuition’. I’m sure by nature we err towards the positive, even if this includes members of the ‘do nothing in the hope it’ll go away’ brigade.
Nevertheless, the conspiracy theorists are always on hand with plausible alternatives. The ‘grassy knoll’ may have offered a more likely ambush for Presidential assassins than the amazingly accurate sights of a lone gunman high in a Dallas book depository window, but until either version is verified beyond all absolute doubt, the historically approved version will stand as the record.
Sometimes, however, it all gets horribly blurred and the fiction becomes more appealing than the fact. The ‘dodgy’ pretext of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction is probably in a particular category where inaccuracies were deliberately manipulated to suit a pre-determined ‘causus belli’ and led to an inept Donald Rumsfeld’s famously blustered conundrum of ‘knowns’ and ‘unknowns’.
Self-delusion, particularly in war and politics, has never been a barrier to upward mobility. Even when presented with evidence against, many protagonists remain convinced of the legitimacy of their cause. They’re programmed to stick to a course of action, regardless, and the more challenged, the deeper the heels are dug into the lunar dust.
And, in a back-handed compliment to Confucius, once the choice is made, all else is discounted and single-mindedness becomes the acid leadership test.
But you don’t have to be a politician, or even an astronaut, to boldly go. In the pre-credit crunch days when TV amateur property make-overs were all the rage, how many enterprising ‘victims’ were offered profitable advice by such home-developing gurus as Sarah Beeney and others, only first to agree with, then immediately discount it?
Television thrives on such conflict and cliff-hanging, so many got away with it. In the words of a legendary pop group, which, forty years ago was also achieving astronomical popularity: ‘We can work it out.’
To paraphrase McCartney: ‘You can get it wrong, but think it’s all right, so try to see it my way.’
So, along with the Beatles, there are things we know, things we believe in, and things we just have to guess at. The immediacy of the visual media certainly allows us to see both domestic and international events pretty-well as they happen, without time for the ‘doctoring’ or ‘spin’ which has traditionally befallen the spoken or printed word.
There are those who believe that the ability to receive such raw information is meaningless without interpretation, and it is certainly true that, as the famous photograph of the fleeing man on the police recruitment advertisement illustrated, context is a vital ingredient for sound judgement.
To that, I would add, ‘confidence’. It’s the collective faith that stabilises financial systems; personal and institutional trust. It allows us to take on merit stories which beforehand might have seemed incredible.
Back then to the visionary Jules Verne who, apart from moon landing, also depicted men voyaging in submarines way before the fiction became fact. Reality, however portrayed, is a precious and elusive commodity – it’s what we make of it that matters.