A bike ride over the 59th Street Bridge from Manhattan into Queens a few years ago brought me past an interesting and strangely familiar sight:
It turns out that the Long Island City smokestacks are a setting in the Mel Gibson - Julia Roberts film “Conspiracy Theory.” Psychological engineering, exploding apartments and Julia Roberts make for a fine evening of entertainment, but I’ve long been interested in the notion of Conspiracy Theory itself, a major weapon in the Spectacle’s formidable arsenal. I’ve always thought it a tad more than convenient that such a pithy conversation-ending, reputation-killing device as the Conspiracy Theory Accusation seems so readily at hand, and so readily pressed into service when the government or a corporation says “trust us” and someone has the audacity to say “show me the evidence.”
In its classic formulation, a reasonable expression of skepticism or request for support for an official narrative triggers a tsunami of derision, culminating in one being branded a “Conspiracy Theorist”: a naïve babe in the woods who thinks the world is run by shadowy Mr. Burns-like figures, fingers ominously enmeshed, secretly arranging dastardly deeds in dimly-lit smoky backrooms.
These accusations are aided by the fact that there are, of course, a lot of loony people peddling loony theories, not to mention plenty of would-be dastardly deed-doers in backrooms and beyond. These people, their intentions, and their theories are mostly inconsequential. But in the nuance-free zone called “Most of America,” their existence is quite fortuitous for state propagandists with an incentive to convince us to conflate the legitimacy of Batshit Uncle Arnie, ranting that chickens were brought to Earth by aliens to enslave us, with that of someone questioning why the U.N. Inspectors were suddenly pulled out of Iraq before their 2002 fact-finding mission was complete. Conspiracy Theorists, one and all!!
Recently I was intrigued to discover that a distinguished scholar and victim of an honest to goodness conspiracy smear had responded by studying and reporting on the phenomenon. Mark Crispin Miller, Professor of Media Studies at NYU, discussed his findings with Ross Ashcroft on Renegade Inc.
Mark Crispin Miller on Conspiracy Theory 2.0
When Miller claims that the holier-than-thou New York Times uses Trump’s crazy little lies to portray itself as a bastion of honesty in comparison, he ain’t kidding:
The lies of the Times are far more dangerous than Trump's piddly prevarications, as The Times' lies are concocted to engender a new Cold War with Russia that serves up quite handsome corporate profits, with a side order of potential nuclear armageddon. Following the Spectacle's lead, we hyperventilate over Trump’s idiocies while giving the New York Times and Washington Post and Wall Street Journal a pass. In fact, they’re all lying, and have been doing so for quite a while. Miller’s analysis is rooted in a classic and crucial warning: that a society that’s lost the ability to tell truth from lies—and further, to tell which lies are significant—is in deep trouble.
But it’s all just “Conspiracy Theory,” right? Maybe not....
Not a Conspiracy Nut
The clip is taken from one of Hicks’ last performances, just a few months before his tragic death in 1994 at the age of 32. Twenty plus years later, his “22 companies who run and own 50% of the mainstream media” is down to six companies controlling 95% of mainstream media. In his inimitable way, Bill Hicks ended his life as he lived it, affirming the power of truth in the face of great forces aligned against it.
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