JFK was shot and killed by the CIA. The Bush administration orchestrated the September 11 attacks. George Bush stole the 2000 presidential election. Dick Cheney wanted to invade Iraq for its oil reserves. The Jews control American politics. What do all of these ridiculous statements have in common? They are all conspiracy theories that resonate with some sectors of the American public.
I have to admit, I’m a bit ashamed that I have devoted some space on this blog to conspiracy theories. Personally, I cannot stand running into someone on the street (or in the classroom) who takes conspiracies to heart. It’s even harder for me not to laugh at these people when they spout off at the mouth about the 9/11 attacks being orchestrated by President Bush or the neoconservatives deliberately lying in order to launch a preemptive war in Iraq. And I’m assuming that most Americans out there would have a similar attitude (at least I would hope).
But on the other hand, conspiracy theories are a widespread phenomenon in the United States. Just last week, I was talking to a professor at my university about some of the new conspiracies that have surfaced and gained traction over the last few years. And to my surprise, instead of sharing a laugh, I discovered that this professor was forming a class next year dealing exclusively with the politics of conspiracy (a pretty cool topic if you ask me).
When a top academic wants to teach a class about conspiracy theories, you know that this school of thought is common in a society or culture.
I guarantee that if you took a sample on the street and asked them if JFK was shot by a lone-gunman, you would get a few who would vehemently disagree. Some may claim that the CIA covered up the entire affair, whereas others might argue that Vice President Lyndon Johnson ordered the assassination in order to assume the presidency himself.
I have some conflicting views towards conspiracy theories, because while most of them are absurd, they are still widely entertaining. Everyone loves a good conspiracy, no matter how illogical or irrational it is. Take a look at American pop culture today and you will see movies, books, and television programs using conspiracy in their formula. Just a few weeks ago, Matt Damon came out with a new film called “Green Zone” that basically lays out a distorted view of why the United States decided to invade Iraq (oil, business interests, dominance in the Persian Gulf, etc).
Everyone loves controversy, no matter how perverse it may be. So in the end, perhaps we should just look at the conspiracy camp as another form of entertainment, and leave it at that. This is what keeps me from arguing with some of these people.
-Daniel R. DePetris