We have all heard of wild conspiracy theories: theories that are intended to rock both our world and our understanding of an event or topic. Many people see the pyramid with an eye at the top on the one dollar bill as evidence that the higher echelons of American government are connected with the “Illuminati”, that the baggage reclaim layout at Denver, Colorado airport has been shaped like a phallus in order to incite devil worship, and let us not get started on the inner mechanics of the global fluoride conspiracy.
Conspiracy theories are a fun way to pass time, by either mocking them for their far fetched assertions of deeper meaning or by digging the metaphorical hole deeper with a few friends and a couple of glasses of wine. They can be relatively harmless things as many theories fall apart with the application of the tiniest grain of salt. However in more recent times, conspiracy theories and theorists have gained significant popularity and I fear that there is a danger that their telling of events are being taken more seriously than ever before. Skepticism for the stories that the mainstream media produce is not being applied to the men and women that say that lizards are in the corridors of power and, one of the most widely known theories: “they are putting fluoride in the water to turn the freaking frogs gay”. So here now is my conspiracy theory of why conspiracy theories are so popular and now being taken so seriously.
Imagine you are standing at the scene of a fire which has just destroyed an office block. A few people have been severely injured and several are feared dead. Police and firefighters are none the wiser as to whether it was arson or an accident, maybe some faulty wiring or material of poor quality that plagues housing both in this country and abroad. The mainstream news claims that it was an accident and the true cause of the fire is unknown. The situation is too complex for any conclusions to be made, as John Green said “truth resists simplicity”. It is at this moment that conspiracy comes in. Conspiracy theorists are popular for one because they offer a clear-cut truth to what could be a highly complex situation. Making morality from ambiguity, amd making sense out of chaos. A conspiracy theorist could say that the office was deliberately set alight for the insurance money, and supply misleading or fake evidence so that it looks like he or she is telling the truth. In the era of instant gratification and almost constant news, phony evidence, either taken out of context or straight fakes could be generated to support the claim. Then there is nothing left to do but let it spread across the internet. Reddit and 4chan are recommended if there are any budding theorists reading.
Despite our best efforts at Nouse to balance the views of the people, there will always be a tendency to lean towards stories in the newspapers that best serve our political narrative. The same is true of conspiracies. Say that office block had an active ring of neo-nazis on the second floor (or indeed it is faked that there were) and the drama-elves in the Reddit factory find that the owner of the building is Jewish. With a few clicks to shore up the story, you have a recruitment tool for the alt-right. The truth has been warped to serve a narrative. It could well be true that there was a neo-Nazi cell in the building and the owner of the building was Jewish, but what conspiracy does is bind correlation and causation together so that a neat little propaganda package is delivered. What I find most disturbing in today’s world is that more and more people are believing them.
The past three years in the media have been tumultuous to say the least. In some ways I wish we could have a day assigned each week where the events of April 1930 at the BBC could be repeated in that there was no news. We have seen a worrying fusion of news, comment and entertainment that has led to outcries of fake news and the corrosion of the reliability of once great news sources. Our skepticism of mainstream news has led us to new news sources such as infowars.com where Alex Jones and his compatriots have somehow gone from gay frogs to hard-hitting journalism. The BBC, and ITV can now be as sensational in their telling of news as the wild theories that they are meant to protect us from. With their stories being proved as faked or misreported, why not put your trust in a conspiracy?
Conspiracy theories can be fun, I have spent many an evening sarcastically fretting about wild theories like how the plastic tips of shoelaces are called aglets and how their purpose could be considered sinister. They can be fun so long as they are not taken seriously. Unfortunately theories can also lead to the most despicable ends, such as Holocaust denial and belief in the worldwide Jewish conspiracy. My main fear is that in the era of distrust toward the mainstream media, fake news and increased prominence of alternate media, what was once the rantings of the oblivious could become the belief of the masses.