When I started to think about it, I find the Da Vinci Code, to be quite extraordinary in how it has captured the world’s imagination. Part of the reason for this is because the central premise of the book is not new at all. The central premise is probably at least twenty years old if not older as is articulated in the nonfiction book Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln. Therefore maybe the Da Vinci Code’s popularity is not because of its premise.
Maybe it is because of its prose. Dan Brown certainly writes in a very engaging way to say the least. He gets you hooked with very short chapters where it seems that the main characters are always in a state of extreme peril. But other writers have written this way for many years as well, without the same degree of success. So maybe it is not the prose. Could there be another possibility for why the book is so popular?
Perhaps it has to do with historical reality when the book first appeared. Think about what was going on when the novel first came out. At the time this thrilling novel first appeared on bookshelves, we were being inundated by the media about the ever-growing abuse scandal within the Catholic Church.
It seemed as if every day new men and women were coming out of the wood work making statements and suing the church over abuses that had occurred over the past several decades. This in and of itself was quite disturbing. But what made the story all the more incredible were the assertions that the Church covered it up. People claimed that the Church knew about what was going on and instead of dealing with it, they would instead quietly move priests from community to community, never formally acknowledging that there was a problem.
And while this was going on, the Da Vinci Code came out, asserting that the Church was involved in the greatest historical cover-up of all time. No wonder why it captured the imagination of a world audience. The abuse scandal made it seem plausible that if the church could cover that up, what else could it be hiding? Now anything seems possible, even the divinity and bloodline of Christianity’s Lord and Savior.
But the Catholic Church is only one of many organizations targeted with conspiracy theories. Often times these theories come out of a belief that there is an insidious power seeking to undermine one’s best efforts. Or because of a lack of conclusive evidence or sometimes in spite of conclusive evidence, there are those who believe that there is a worldly cabal of some sort hiding secrets and arranging world events. We saw this with the assassination of JFK, with Area 51, and more recently with 9/11.
The problem with these theories, aside from their ability to grossly distort the historical truth, is that they often generate tremendous amounts of attention, and mask our ability to deal with actual substantive issues. This is in part because it is easier to focus on supposed cover-ups and conspiracies because they capture the imagination. This is what helps makes television shows like the X-Files and 24 so very popular.
Just ask yourself, which is more interesting, the notion that we need to become more aware of how much energy we consume, or the idea that the automotive industry in collusion with oil companies, is hiding a car that gets 100 miles to the gallon? What is more fascinating: the notion that the Airforce is constantly testing new aircraft designs, or that the pieces falling from the sky are actually UFO’s? Or what is more enticing, the notion that Germans systematically slaughtered 11 million people, or that only a few hundred thousand Jews died from typhus, but played it up to get world sympathy in order to justify their conquering of the land of Palestine?
Conspiracies abound - but the Truth is out There - just waiting to be uncovered rather than made up.