About a year ago, I wrote about In Search Of's Amelia Earhart episode, and now I see Ms Earhart is back in the news. A couple of days ago, I heard a news broadcast claiming that a photo shows Earhart on the Marshal Islands after her plane crashed. for a minute, I was curious. Then I heard that the History Channel was involved, then deciding that I really didn't need to look into it right away.
Life being what it is, I only got a chance to see the photo yesterday. I'm no photographic expert but the figure who is supposed to be Earhart could be anyone. Seriously. Photo captions keep saying that the figure is a short haired woman. Look closely and it could just as easily be a slightly-built man or a teenager of any gender.
The photo shows another key figure -- a man supposed to be Earhart's navigator. His face is partly obscured and largely shadowed. Again, could be anyone.
There's now a huge number of articles up debunking the History Channel documentary that the photo comes from. The photo is said to back the theory that Earhart was captured and killed by the Japanese, so understandably history buffs from Japan are tearing the story apart. Read some here and here, if you're interested.
While I admire this sort of scholarship, I also don’t think it's necessary. Again: the picture doesn't look like Amelia Earhart, so what is the point of debunking it?
Let me tell you about a time that I was really disappointed. It was about ten years back, and there was a news story that some hunters had shot a sasquatch. I scoffed and clicked on the article. But, just for a second, my heart leapt in my chest because the photo accompanying the article really did look like a dead Bigfoot.
But the picture was also a little dark. I copied it into a photo editor and cranked up the gamma correct. Then, I could clearly see that the brightened picture showed a cheap ape suit with some intestines spilled over it.
I don't say this to boast about my detective skills or anything. I'm sure that a lot of people did what I did, long before it occurred to me. My point is firstly that: the first people to see these images on news sites would have been the news sites' photo editors. They know way more about electronic images than I ever will, and must have figured out that the picture was a scam before the story went live. Second, I was exited during the two minutes I thought maybe this is true and I was disappointed when I satisfied myself that it wasn't.
This new Amelia Earhart flap looks very much like the same thing. An image that, quite clearly proves nothing at all put forward of evidence of... something.
There's a very simple story here – news outlets keep pushing these stories because they get two bites of the cherry. First the excited 'maybe?' clicks and then, days to a week later, the second round of debunking articles. It's cheap and silly, but it works so it's not going anywhere anytime soon.
But there's a deeper story. Why? Why do I want a North American anthropoid ape to exist? What do I care if a woman born in 1897 died in July 1937 or a few months later? Hell, why do either of these quintessentially American mysteries make the news here in Australia?
There are probably good answers. I just don't think I have them, yet.