Sunday, December 5, 2004

Case Closed

Never trust a book with "Case Closed" in the title. At the beginning of this semester for my History 291 class we read Patricia Cornwell's Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper Case Closed. Cornwell made a convincing argument in regard to the forensics. It played out a lot like an episode of CSI--- but in the end there were still questions about Walter Sickert's guilt. The case obviously was not "closed."

This morning I was watching Conspiracy? on the History Channel. Okay, so a waste of time, but an escape from the real world for a while. I was watching a segment about the assassination of Martin Luther King. Surprisingly, I know very little about Dr. King's death. I knew the where, the when, and the how---or so I thought. The show was going along well, I was starting to be convinced that there was something underneath it all, but then BOOM! I hit a brick wall---Gerald Posner.

Posner is the reason I have this little theory about books titled "Case Closed." Posner is a historical/analytical author who had written a book, Killing the Dream, that shot down the theories and work of James Earl Ray's attorney, Barry Pepper. Fine. Whatever. But the hang up is this...prior to Killing the Dream, Posner wrote Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK. If the "case closed" part didn't send up an automatic red flag it was the fact that I've read this book several times and every time I come away mad that this man could be so naive into thinking something so catestophic and complicated could possibly be so simple.

Don't even get me started on why Posner bothers me so much--I'd be here for hours, but here is the problem: authors who include "case closed" in the titles of their books have an extreme personal bias. Both Posner and Cornwell went into the research for their books with an already determined outcome, setting out to prove a certain conclusion. Rather egotistically, they're certain the conclusion they've drawn is the only conclusion---hence the case is closed.

Not so fast...History, contrary to popular belief, is not cut and dry. There are numerous variables. Going into any historical research you must have an open mind. Closed mindedness leads to distortion. Whether Cornwell and Posner have personal vendettas, I don't know. Maybe Cornwell hates artists which allows her to believe Walter Sickert, an artist, was in all actuality Jack the Ripper. Maybe Posner, with good reason, is sick of conspiracy theories and wants nothing more than to put an end to it all. Fine. But you can't claim to have the only answer to a very complex question that may have many answers.

An extreme personal bias-- the kind I believe both of these authors have and the kind that allows them to include "Case Closed" in the titles of their books, is not to be trusted if you want want accurate history. In Cornwell's book she ignores the idea that art imitates life--she seems to forget that art is creativity, emotional and mental, at its extreme. Posner subscribes to the "Magic-Bullet" theory. Come on, magic?

1 comment:

Serena said...

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