Mooning the US

One small step for man, one giant leap of faith for mankind

 Everyone knows Paul died the same year NASA shot the space landing in New Mexico, five years after the government covered up JFK’s assassination and around the same time all the real fans started listening to their records backwards for secret messages from their idols. At least, that’s what measurable criteria like magazine sales suggest—whether or not people actually believe is irrelevant, since they hand credibility over to radical ideas in ways more tangible than ideology with the five dollars a tabloid rag costs, or switch it on when they switch their turntables around. Curiosity legitimizes more than gullibility—finding something untrue after considerable thought endows it with a validity mindless acceptance does not.

But why do we take the time to read however many pages its article is before we dismiss (or, even better, accept) something as ludicrous as psy-ops in the CIA? Because we love the idea of a conspiracy almost as much as we do conspiracy theories—the latter gives us an insider’s view of a group that is, in actuality or perception, exclusive, elitist and successful (e.g. Freemasons, Illuminati, Jews, Scientologists, Skull and Bones, etc.), and the former gives us the Schaudenfreudian satisfaction of demonizing them. And if we read through a particularly tenuous theory that we dismiss with a scoff, then we seem even more on the inside—not only do we know what really goes on in a secret society, but we know more about it than someone paid to find out and inform does. But what it all comes down to is that none of us—from the gullible spoonfed to the cynical naysayers to the employed reporters—really knows anything about these insular, successful groups (or else we’d be a part of them, and not explicating spectators), so we’re all essentially in a giant game of B.S. with 52 less cards. The winner seems like one of the esoteric “informed,” and feels like a bestselling author.

But nowadays, there’s an obvious lack of legitimacy to conspiracy theories… they only sell magazines like People, and don’t even do that very well… they’re dismissed, but forgettably, not scathingly, since no one really believes in them anymore, so no one expects to be taken in when they find a new one. Generation Cynicism’s bastard child with Wikipedia may be the excuse for a conspiratorial zeitgeist’s absence—but only in the lame way a sick note excuses a day of playing hooky. A real gripping theory hasn’t come around recently that we can believe in—they’ve been relegated from folk lore to the reclusive neighbor of gossip columns or, even worse, gossip girl. But, in their pure form, they retain all the qualities of oral traditions that every tribe has had until the turn of the millennium—a sort of myth-as-fact story informally passed down from the elders to the coming-of-age children, a fiction that represents the sentiments and circumstances of major events better than any facts could hope to. Nobody wants to hear about the Warren Report—it’s one of the most boring murder mysteries I’ve ever read: the murderer is revealed in the prologue; it’s exactly what it seemed to be in the five minute news segments, one page articles, and grainy Zapruder film; there are no red herrings or twists, no dynamism or development of characters or plot, no greater significance than an isolated, random incident by an isolated, random man acting alone, whose only motive is haphazard madness; and the title sucks. There’s nothing more to talk about; there isn’t even enough to fill the book, which is partly why it drags so much (I’ll never understand why their editor didn’t pare down the 888 page manuscript). But I’ve had many a long-winded conversation about alternate versions of it, versions that could be written up and sold in the historical fiction section: the famous two-bullet theory (that there was a second shooter on the grassy knoll); the not so famous no-bullet theory (that his head just did that); the Big Bang theory (that, since it expanded outwards faster than the speed of light, it travelled forward in time [by Newton’s theory of relativity] to 1964, and since America’s the center of the universe, it exploded in the space occupied by what was formerly known as JFK’s head); the Cthulhu theory (that an inter-dimensional being tried to reveal itself to him to begin diplomacy with humans, but since its geometries could not be transposed to three dimensions, his head exploded); and the Abraham Lincoln theory (that JFK was never assassinated, and became so popular he was elected President for life, guided by the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, until he slowly eroded all our freedoms in the wake of his wave of popularity from obliterating the Soviet Union, warping the US into an Orwellian dystopia, only to be visited by the real spirit of Abraham Lincoln [who exposed the old one as the ghost of Benedict Arnold in disguise], who taught him the values of freedom and democracy, then took him back to 1964, when his reign of terror began, where he took aim on his past self from the grassy knoll and became the elusive second shooter, who was never found because he ceased to exist Back-to-the-Future style as soon as he pulled the trigger), to name a few. The last one may be a bit of a stretch, but there are numerous facts that tie the two presidents (and especially their assassinations) together: they were each elected to congress and presidency (and then killed) exactly one century apart, each lost a kid in office, both have legacies of civil rights activism (despite each missing a basis for said reputation), both were warned by their secretaries (named Kennedy and Lincoln) not to go to the site of their impending assassination, where both were shot in the back of the head in front of their wives by a man with three names totaling fifteen letters (who was suspected to be part of a wider conspiracy, but not convicted due to a pre-trial death) on a Friday in a Ford (in the case of Lincoln, a theater, and in the case of Kennedy, a car—a Lincoln, to be more exact), only to be succeeded by the only two President Johnsons in our nation’s history. And these facts in and of themselves take on a level of paralleling coincidence poignant enough to be outside the realm of history and fatalistic enough to be reminiscent of Vonnegut. But without a conspiracy theory to tie them together, they get explained away and fade into a blur of insignificance; by endowing them with meaning in an exciting and moralistic story they take on another life that gives our history a much more American twist.

There are plenty of other suspicious circumstances in historical events that bred similarly enthralling alternate explanations, but all of them seem to be from the 1960’s and 70’s. Before that, all the conspiracies were essentially propaganda disseminated by those in power to those who gave them power when there was no basis to their beliefs, but they still wanted to implement them—conspiracies like the red scare, instituted by powerful senators against an already downtrodden group (remember, this was back when communism was rare and risky, before every other college sophomore had a copy of the manifesto on their bookshelf beside a Che poster, or in their hammer-and-sickled shoulder bags). Which is why they have no lasting power: the disenfranchised are already disenfranchised, so why push the issue? After the era of bestselling historical fictions, conspiracies reverted back to the politiks of the powerful—these conspiracy theories became so popular back then that anyone needing votes only needed to create one in their favor (such as W’s stool pigeon group “Swiftboat Veterans for Truth”—the namesake of the now popular swiftboating, or using an ‘alternate history’ as a smear campaign against your rival, or pedestal campaign for yourself). After that, no one could believe conspiracy theories, even ironically, whimsically, vicariously, or wishfully: they were tainted by obvious and public use for direct, tangible gain, and so they became tools instead of stories. Though the classics (from JFK to the moon) could be said to be tools for convincing others of their beliefs or ideologies, they do it as parables, made by the people for the people, not by leaders for votes—which endows them with a genuine and relatable sincerity now absent. They were about underdogs versus fatcats, instead of bigwigs versus each other; the NASA conspiracy turned the common people into the little guy and the leaders, the smart, the elite, and the entire media into the playground bully, trying to dupe the innocent sheep for no other purpose than elevating themselves; the Paul is dead conspiracy turned a less and less relatable icon back into the loveable small fry he once was by becoming the butt of a cruel joke at the hands of those even bigger and more powerful than him; the JFK conspiracy managed to make the leader of the free world an underdog again. But we don’t hold onto these stories because of an anti-centralized power political trend; we cling to them because all stories romanticize the underdog and demonize the fatcat, and even these are just stories. History may be written by the victors, but fiction is written by the storytellers.

So why have no praiseworthy conspiracy theories come out of the woodwork of late? There’s plenty to work with—increasingly pervasive technology, increasingly invasive government, increasingly persuasive mediums for the voices of unreason (like blogs). But even the tellers of the supposed 9/11 coverup, which had the makings of a JFK level story, flopped—they have as much evidence as the naysayers of the Warren Report, but no one is listening well enough to fully refute them, because no one can get attached to their story. 9/11 itself is a much more traumatizing and tragic event then JFK’s death, because of its proximity to us in time and relevance, because of its scale, and because of its relatability: the common man suffered, not the top dog. But the conspiracy theory is lackluster at best: it’s against the powerful, but it isn’t for anything except convenience—it says that those in control are evil enough to kill thousands of their own citizens as an excuse to kill thousands of another nation’s citizens as an excuse to appropriate said nation’s oil, but it makes no commentary as to the morality of the common man. There is no opposition to that fictitious government, except a bunch of apathetic people holding half-hearted anti-war protests to save our troops and, most prevalently, our tax dollars, not the lives of the victims on either side. History shows a good story has to be for something or someone that others are overwhelmingly against, not against someone or something that others are overwhelmingly for. In short, the 9/11 conspiracy, though still by the people and for the people, blogs and bogs itself down with politics instead of ideals. Parables have a purpose separate from and superior to the political—the political shackles itself to context, whereas the parabolic become myth if they’re still told after a long enough time. They have a universal relatability despite their specifics, and so they get adopted into the universal canon of a culture if they stand the test of time—like Romulus and Remus of Rome, or the Gods and Goddesses of Greece.

And now that it’s been about 40 years since a good conspiracy zeitgeist swept over us, we’ve forgotten that normal people can take them seriously. From Obama birthers to Glenn Beck’s BP allegations of two days ago, it’s all become politicized, devoid of emotion—what does it matter, except in technicalities, if Obama was born in another country? There’s nothing to connect to. And even if they aren’t tied down to a one-time context, they’ve become marginalized with one percenters, popularized only through ridicule, not legitimacy: like the much memed David Icke theory that the world is secretly controlled by shape-shifting lizard aliens acting as people from President of the US to Queen of England to Czar of Russia (I’m serious—seriously). Their only purpose is as an object of absurd derision. And, if that isn’t enough, now the old conspiracies that have lasted, the ones that stayed with us over the eras, are being debased by the likes of Dan Brown (of The Da Vinci Code): he rehashes old ones and bastardizes them in a completely fictitious context filled with stereotyped action, clichéd romance, and flat writing that takes away any credibility they may have had—just like the 90’s series The X-Files illegitimizes UFOers, and the 90’s movie Conspiracy Theory fictionalizes all conspiracy theorists by placing them in a fantasy world of stilted scripts, airbrushed faces, and CGI.

Many have decried the slow and painful demise of each other decaying genre, from romance (though I see no difference between Jane Austen and Danielle Steele), to mystery (though I see no difference between Arthur Conan Doyle and John Grisham), to sci-fi (though I see no difference between H. G. Wells and video games), to fantasy (though I see no difference between the Bible and C. S. Lewis, or Tolkien and whoever wrote those terrible Eragon books everyone loved in 6th grade), but I do see a definite difference between the alternate histories of JFK , Paul McCartney, and Buzz Aldrin, and the bland smear campaign against John Kerry, or the ludicrous invasion of space lizards, or the politicization of a human tragedy on a date as symbolically significant as 911. Other forms of fiction stay bound up between pieces of paper; despite the profound thoughts or piercing emotions they may evoke, the greatest tangible real world effect they can have amounts to a cut on a careless finger. Conspiracy theories are an actualization of our cultural identity that we can realize through a shared illusion in ways that facts never can. If we lose that, we lose our culture: what ties us together, if not a distinctive point of view, or collective history that no one else experienced? The rest of the world may have seen a lone gunman assassinate a mediocre oligarch in 1964, but we saw the big bad government corrupt our smilingly innocent representative and kill a better looking embodiment of ourselves, and so we stayed united, and so we overcame. How can we hope to stay united if we have nothing but arbitrary facts uniting us? And even if we do, what’s the point without excitement? Live your literature, don’t just read it; make up as many conspiracy theories as you can and spread around whichever ones click with you; attach yourself to them, and spread them like they’re Hilary Clinton’s herpes (which she got in her bid for revenge on Bill). Here’s just a few more you can feel free to take credit for discovering (but give the real credit to the ‘facts’ that spawned them):

I hold these truths to be self-evident: that I hold these truths to be self-evident; that you would too if you knew what I do; that facts can be falsified to disprove the proven; that this was secretly censored after I wrote it and before you read it; that your eyeballs themselves are censored; that everyone is colorblind, but nobody knows it; that there are no different races, only one partly shaded relay; that conspiracy theories are invented by the government to distract us from the truth; that the poor put capitalism in practice to excuse hating the rich, and the rich thought up communism to scare the poor off equality; that paranoia’s just when you can’t figure out what’s actually after you; that pharmaceutical companies pump unknown placebos into our water mains and mainlines; what’s the difference between egg powder and cocaine? Protein; that our beds are laced with secret psychotropic drugs the government is testing to mimic dream states, and that they still bore us to sleep; that scent is a constitutionally ordained mode of expression stifled by sock and deodorant companies; that friendship bracelets are made using child labor exploited at no cost but youth to trade minors into shackled relationships; that electricity is witchcraft cast to put a spell on entranced masses and ruin feng shi setups, a kiddie show magic act tantamount to teleportive hypnosis; that almanacs and biographies, dictionaries and poems were once mistakenly filed under non-fiction by illiterate librarians, and their union’s been covering it up ever since; that Latin’s an unborn language made undead, a secret code bourgeois aristocrats invented to confuse everyone else; that peace is a word synonymous with war invented by spin doctors and popularized by miss universe our twenty-third first lady; that blind spots—in eyes and cars—don’t exist, except in denial; we use them to explain absences we’re too observant to miss and to explain away presences we’re too oblivious to notice; that clocks are a conspiracy perpetrated by the Swedish government in collusion with cable TV to enslave, brainwash, and rob us, so shatter your timekeepers and melt Dali’s and set any others you encounter to new hours to save daylight; that