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What Really Happened



Dietrologia is the Italian word for the science of what is behind. Italians never believe things at face value. There is always something hidden behind it which provides the real explanation. The science of finding these hidden explanations is dietrologia (from dietro = behind )", an expression coined in the 1980s. "Usually this concerns the background of sinister events: bribery; corruption; the misuse of power for private benefit; crooked politicians."

"Living in Italy, one quickly realises that suspicion and paranoia are the standard emotional twinges of "imaginative Italians": suspicion about amorous betrayal, paranoia that the goodies in government might actually be the baddies, suspicion about whether organised crime is quite as organised in reality as it appears in books and films. Rampant suspicion is the reason Italians love the dinner-party game of dietrologia ( X-Files-style conspiracy-theorising), in which participants try to out-trump each other with paranoid ideas about the country's terrorism, its fascism and the links between the two. The reason for that Italianate suspicion is that there is so much food for thought. The country seems to have an unlimited supply of real-life thrillers, called gialli or "yellows" because thrillers are published with yellow bindings." (http://books.guardian.co.uk/reviews/crime/0,6121,631284,00.html)

"One such element involves the Italian concept of dietrologia, which translated literally into English means "behindology." Dietrologia is a belief that for every public action, some sort of conspiracy exists behind it. The Italian public believes it never knows the whole story, but is nevertheless obsessed with speculating about what the whole story could be." (http://pubweb.northwestern.edu/~nak421/thesis.html)

The charming habit of never believing the obvious is, however, not limited to Italy. All countries and societies have their share of dietrologia. In certain African societies nobody supposedly dies of natural causes; there is always some suspected secret, usually sorcery or poison.

Normally, societies deprived of information and freedom of expression because of underdevelopment, lack of democracy or government control of the media are more likely to engage in speculating what is ‘behind'. China, Iraq, Iran and Zimbabwe are examples of countries with tight fisted media control. Italy ranks not far behind, given the fact that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi either privately (as the country's top media tycoon) or officially (as head of government) controls almost all television and radio, plus some print media.

However, there are also countries blessed with freedom of expression and a multitude of independent media in which dietrologia is flourishing, counter-intuitively. How come?

Let us look at the case of the United States. Freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Constitution, and the variety, size and number of media is probably the world's largest. And yet, dietrologia is thriving, especially on Internet in sites such as 'whatreallyhappened.com', 'thepowerhour.com' 'friendsofliberty.com', 'nerdicities.com/guardian', 'freedomforums.com', etc. These sites are undoubtedly very popular, especially among the academic youth, and possibly among all those who harbor a grudge against the political establishment, the media, or the country in general.

Apparently there is a strong demand for ‘unconventional' information that cannot be satisfied by the established media. In a country as large as the U.S. it is obvious that most media are associated with or affiliated to other media, and draw on meta-media that feed them with content, such as news agencies, syndicates, etc.

"When you have seen one American newspaper (TV station, news magazine) you have seen them all" would, of course, be a ridiculous exaggeration but not without a grain of truth in it. Not only the syndicated news, op-eds, comic strips and "Dear Abby" letters tend to standardize newspapers; there is an informal esprit de corps prevailing among American journalists which tends to filter out some ‘unpleasant' news, as any foreign correspondent will confirm.

Whereas most European media tend to ignore sex stories about their politicians, American media love sex scandals of politicians but tend to pay little attention to stories that might conflict with American patriotism — an attitude alien to most European journalists. The fact that most American journalists have graduated from journalists' schools might partly explain a somewhat standardized code of ethics and editorial policy. A foreign correspondent's job in the U.S. means therefore to some extent finding news and stories that are not to the liking of the national media.

Anyone who wants to be informed on what is happening in America does therefore well to read or watch a few foreign media, in addition to American ones, because their correspondents cast a different light on events and sometimes dig up stories that are not covered by national media.

Although dietrologia is certainly not a popular sport in America as it is in Italy, many a student or young professional might be shocked when discovering, by coincidence perhaps, that there is an entire world of counter-information out there that puts question marks behind all truths the country is built upon, from Abe Lincoln and the Civil War to Pearl Harbor, the manned space flight to the moon and, of course, the events of September 11.

According to dietrologists, Franklin D. Roosevelt knew days before Pearl Harbor that the Japanese would attack; the pictures of the astronauts on the moon were fakes; as were the pictures of the destruction of the Pentagon and the video tapes of Bin Laden. The usual suspects accused of having misled and manipulated the public are said to be the CIA, the FBI, Mossad, the Pentagon... There is, of course, the inescapable Gore Vidal, living in self-imposed exile in Italy, who has all the answers (Observer, Oct.22, 2002) to questions that have not (yet) troubled the public. (http://pub8.bravenet.com/forum/fetch.php?id=10055295&usernum=611742271)

Shocking indeed. In the movie ‘The Recruit' a CIA instructor tells the recruit "Nothing is what it seems to be." Unconventional media are thriving. How come so many expensive dietrologia sites can be found on the Internet, with a sizable editorial staff permitting daily updating? One site pretends to be linked to the Free Masons, but is it really? Some sites even feature advertisements and pop-ups, an indicator of their popularity and commercial aspirations.

In a country with strong mainstream media there is apparently a market niche for dietrologia media whose job it is to try and undo the impact of mainstream media, giving their audiences the pleasant feeling of being better informed. They probably exist in all major countries, and the Internet is their venue of choice. Noteworthy is, for example, the case of the French site 'asile.org/citoyens/numéro 13' which first showed and interpreted photos which supposedly reveal that the airplane which crashed into the Pentagon on September 11 could not have been a Boeing 757-200; a story that was eagerly picked up by similar media in the U.S.

These media are a far cry from the traditional Italian dinner table conversation happily engaging in some speculative dietrologia between antipasto and amaro. Although some of the stories offered by these media might be true, or partly true, their editorial policy seems not too different from that of supermarket magazines and tabloids striving at catching the shopper's casual glance with sensations and scoops.

What in the end, however, frustrates much of the efforts of the dietrologists is the Internet itself. Websites which show no masthead and contact are not likely to convey much credibility to experienced surfers. To establish credibility, existing Internet rules should be fully respected. In sum: there is a niche and a need for dietrologist media but they must redouble their efforts to become credible, balanced and respected. But by then, perhaps, they have become part of mainstream...

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—— Burkhart Fürst



"Dietrologia is the underside of technoscience. Like waste, its potential power is equal to or greater than that of its opposite force." (Jennifer Pincott: The Inner Workings: Technoscience, Self, and Society in DeLillo's Underworld)