When a joke about the moon hoax is taken too seriously

There’s an old joke about the Moon landing hoax conspiracy. You know: “Sure it was a hoax, but they got Stanley Kubrick to direct and he insisted that they had to be on location.” I thought everybody knew that one. It’s an oldie but a goodie that suitably lampoons the lunatic fringe who imagine the moon landings were faked.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, 20 July 1969. How did both get in the frame when they were the only two on the Moon? Ask me in the comments. NASA, public domain.

Yet, when I made that joke in comment on a social media group last week – complete with the laughing emoticon – it turned out nobody had a sense of humour. Or irony. Or hyperbole. Or metaphor. No, they took it seriously; word by word. I was labelled part of the ‘tin hat brigade’. Commenters informed me I was wrong, the moon landings weren’t faked. I got informed that Kubrick only ever worked in England. And so on. Nobody got the joke. Nobody. Not one person. Nada. Zip. Zero.


I suppose in a way I should have expected it. These days everything has to be taken dead seriously, word by word and literally. There is no such thing as metaphor, abstraction, or the way humour works by ironic overstatement. To an extent I think there’s also fake-news weariness. A lot of what flows past me on Facebook, for instance, involves flat assertions about current events that are obviously falsehoods. I guess other users have the same issue, and it’ll be getting a bit tiresome.

Most of the conspiracy rubbish these days is wish-fulfilment fantasy associated with Covid-19 – people asserting what they want to believe about the virus because it makes them feel safer, or validated, or whatever. This includes alleging sinister links between the one-percenters, government, mind-control and Covid-19 vaccines. Why? Humans seem to be hard-wired to find patterns, even where none exist, and I guess an alleged ‘deep state’ conspiracy that links everything into a single vast plan is easier to understand than our chaotic and unplanned reality.

Such assertions fall, every time, into a pattern of logical flaws. The usual one I see is the false dilemma fallacy (in which two positions are asserted as the only possible positions). There’s the fallacy of composition (what is true of the part must be true of the whole). And more – false attribution fallacies, burden-of-proof shifting and so forth. So I suppose when I made a joke, nobody noticed.

Again, sigh.

As for the moon hoax allegation? Much of it pivots, in the specific, off identifying supposed give-away ‘goofs’ in photos that NASA’s highly qualified experts were evidently too stupid to notice, but which the conspiracy loons spot at once. For my debunking, jump across to this post: https://mjwrightnz.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/the-truth-behind-the-moon-landing-conspiracy/

Any thoughts on this whole ‘humourless response’ problem?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2020

18 thoughts on “When a joke about the moon hoax is taken too seriously

  1. I don’t know or know if I care if it was a hoax or not. I have heard both arguments and when you read each argument you get reassured that that side is right. Anyhow, a few weeks ago a guy was complaining about wearing masks because of COVID. I replied, yes I know it was snarky, but I said, “You sound angry” or something like that. Well I got a response that I was lucky him and his buddy didn’t know where I live because it isn’t a joke that people are being treated unfairly, yada, yada, yada. Whoa!!!! I reported him but WordPress said he did nothing wrong. Thanks, for the support. The guy has been blogging for a long time and has a lot of followers but, and I don’t mean to be mean or condescending, his spelling sucked as did his grammar. Oh well, just one of these people that have to have it their way!
    BTW, maybe the camera was inside the spaceship taking pictures through the window automatically?


    1. It’s not good that ‘keyboard warriors’ feel they can behave badly online. Would they behave the same way in person? I doubt it.

      The photo is indeed from an automatic camera: a still from movie footage taken by a Maurer 16mm camera with an 18mm wide-angle lens mounted in the Lunar Module window, using one of the nine 130-foot film magazines exposed during the mission. This particular camera was retrieved by Armstrong as a souvenir and found after his death in 2012; it’s now in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

      The LM also had a TV camera which was used to take the famous pictures of Armstrong descending the ladder – one of the first things Armstrong did when standing on the ‘porch’ at the top of the descent stage was to reach out and lower the drop-down platform carrying it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Matt and I agree that a lot of us, especially in the connected world, seem to have lost our humour and sense of perspective. I tend not to read the conspiracy stuff as I liken it to radical religion of any sort, lots of indisputable “facts” but nothing to back them up and provide proof. I tend to believe in Science even though it too is fallible but at least it will admit, most of the time, when new evidence shows it to be incorrect that it was incorrect and move on.

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    1. With one or two exceptions (such as the ‘Apollo hoax’ idea) I usually let the conspiracy stuff flow past me – it’s impossible to debate it with believers because it is, as you suggest, held with much the same emotional conviction as a religious belief. As I understand it, the same psychological mechanisms seem to be involved. Often the ‘facts’ the conspiracy theorists come up with are taken out of context and, thus, meaningless – all the ‘goofs’ in the Apollo moon photos fall into this category.

      For me the thing about science – also as you say – is that it has built-in ‘checking processes’: it’s a constant learning curve in which new data, ideally, should cause a revision of the theory. I say ‘ideally’ because that does get hijacked every so often by scientific ego or other interests – even commercial profit, when the science is used by corporates.

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  3. -grin- I hadn’t heard that joke before and I was wondering what the punchline would be when I read ‘on location’. Ahem. Location=moon. Therefore the whole production team must have been there as well. Therefore…-rolls eyes-

    I suspect that what’s lacking is not a sense of humour so much as an inability to understand the written word. Or to think logically. Back when I was in primary school, we had classes in what was called ‘Reading Comprehension’. Essentially, they were kid-sized exercises in vocabulary acquisition, grammar and /logic/.

    A couple of years ago I spent two years tutoring a bright year 11/12 student, and much of what we did was to decode written texts. Reading comprehension.

    I’m sure all ex-teachers bemoan the drop in standards but…it’s real. :/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, there seems little attention paid of late to basic skills such as reading, comprehension and how to write clearly. Weirdly, it seems to be considered unimportant. A friend of mine who lectures at UNE decided to improve the literacy skills of his students by getting them to pass a test on them as part of the course he was teaching and was criticised by some of his colleagues for doing so. (My latest bug-bear, which I now keep seeing online, is the way pedal/peddle are being either conflated or their meanings reversed – they are totally different words, but apparently not by today’s standards).

      The ‘moon hoax’ idea remains hilarious to me. For those of us who were there at the time, Apollo was unmistakably happening and it’s only the generation that have come since who seem to doubt it. I think part of the problem was that humanity never went back; but of course that was a political decision, not technical.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Teaching is not immune to fads, and the one that’s been around now for over 30 years is that ‘creativity’ is the goal. Not reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Apparently, emphasising those core skills stiffles creativity so must be approached stealthily. I presume, so kids don’t know they’re learning boring stuff…-rolls eyes-
        Of course, no one thinks to ask what kids will do with all this ‘creativity’. Do we have millions of Picassos? A trillion Beethovens? Shakespeare on tap?
        No, all we seem to have are generations of young adults who can’t string a coherent sentence together. 😦

        Sorry. Still a pet peeve.

        I saw the moon landing as well, and I wish I could tell these conspiracy theorists how primitive our technology was back then. No CGI, no computer enhanced this, that and the other. Ah well. Apparently there are people who still believe the earth is flat…


        1. Yes, there was no way those moon landings could have been faked. One has but to look at the quality of special effects of the day – the stand-outs, for me, were 2001 and Gerry Anderson’s UFO and Space 1999 (which used much the same sfx team & techniques) – to realise that yeah, they were very good for the day… but studio filming simply could NOT have produced the NASA stuff at the time. I actually remember my Dad taking me to a film of the Apollo 15 or 16 lunar rover drive, taken by the camera on the rover as they traversed the moon. As a kid it seemed interminable, it was all one clear uncut take for about an hour, without driving in circles and on terrain that was literally alien. I can’t think of any film studio that is a dozen miles across, somehow.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. -grin- Can you imagine the cost of building a set that big? I think most younger people are so used to everything being CGI and photoshopped blah blah, that it simply never occurs to them that tech was not always like this. I mean the original Star Wars came out in 1977 and it was ground breaking then!

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  4. Oh dear! The thing that really upsets me is that the moon landings were the single greatest achievement of humanity in the 20th century, possible in the whole of the second millenia, and it gets ‘dissed’ through ignorance. It’s comparable to crossing the oceans for the first time. Yes, this is new religion with all the hallmarks, join a club, believe unprovable ideas and set yourself apart from the non-believers. So, Matthew, that’s a great joke and I laughed a lot. The problem with lack of humour is completely understandable I think. The sun is electric, there is no such thing as a black hole and Einstein was wrong, says my former friend. When the fundamental knowledge of humanity is thrown in the waste bin by morons it makes sane people very irritated. The paradigm that says ‘the moon landings were real’ shouldn’t be under question but has somehow shifted to being an opinion – hence the seriousness of the response. Just a shame people took you at your word, social media is not a great place for nuance. Kubric’s a genius.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. How could we go to the moon when Earth is flat? 😉 ⬅︎Please note winking emoji.

    I’ve always known they used an exterior camera on Apollo. You know, like the probes use (unless, of course, our space photos are outsourced to aliens ⬅︎yes, more humor, and yes, I utilized an American spelling).

    All of the above highlights the dangers of more and more communication taking place via the internet, texting, etc.. In a way, the internet is an educated place invaded by the ignorant. Imagine attending an upper level class at a college and having a large portion of the class invaded by people with little education, little desire to learn, and who wear their ignorance with pride.

    I also suspect that many people are forgetting (or never understood) that there’s a non-verbal component to communication that in interpersonal communication is more important than the words. Worse, are we reaching the point where people are now failing to understand the purpose of emojis? I’ve interacted with writers on Twitter, people with actual books floating around, who’ve completely abandoned capitalization, grammar, and punctuation. To me, the problem and the solution are education. It’s the only solution that doesn’t cause more problems (like social media segregated by class, for instance … and who decides that?).

    In this country, at least in many states, it’s now possible to cruise through high school with minimal background in civics, communication, sociology, and a host of other topics. Instead, classes are increasingly geared towards the person’s eventual or expected career. In other words, we’re producing supposedly educated people lacking the capacity to think critically or understand what it is to be a good citizen. They’re provided specialized knowledge with no idea how to wield even what they have.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No no, Earth is definitely flat. I intend to prove it by hiring a cruise ship to travel to the Antarctic ice wall. Of course, the ship will navigate using GPS that works only if Earth is spherical, but hey, details, details… 🙂

      Joking aside I agree – there is a lack of critical thinking today. I suspect it’s been true of every era, but we’re seeing it more clearly now because of social media.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. For such an historic shot of them planting the American flag on the moon, I figured they set up the camera before heading out. Or NASA could have installed a camera that filmed continuously while they were out. That was a moment that need to be save for posterity.

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    1. Yes, the still is from a movie shot with a 16mm Maurer camera that Armstrong set up for the purpose in the LM window, before they exited. Those Apollo missions were positively festooned with cameras.


  7. I hadn’t heard that joke before. That’s a good one. As someone who’s worked in television/film production, I can tell you shooting on location is often the right way to go!

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