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Conspiracy of One
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
I try to avoid talking about politics in just about any public forum, including this one, for I've discovered that the subject exhausts me and makes me almost insane with impatience. And I'm not very good at it. Inevitably some political notions will creep into my thoughts and whenever I express them in my writing I always regret it; I'm a terrible political arguer and my political writing is usually hectoring and boring and unintelligible. Much like the subject itself, I like to remind myself, when I feel like giving myself a break.
Hating political discourse has never been easier than in 2016, with this election, and I have no intention of breaking from my hard-earned lesson of remaining mute on the subject. So be relieved — I know you don't want to read another word about the Presidential race, I know you're ready for it to be November when this hideous carnival finally comes to a close. But I would like to talk around it a bit, because I'm curious at how this election has seemed to underscore America's wild and perverse fascination with the notion of conspiracy and conspiracy theory.
At work, during an off time, I once asked my co-workers what TV shows, movies, podcasts they like to access in their free time. I'm always interested in what entertainments people are interested in, and the responses were the usual suspects: Game of Thrones; Marvel; Serial; The Voice, etc. One of my co-workers mentioned that she doesn't really watch much, but that her husband was a huge fan of the podcast "Info Wars" by the notorious alt-right journalist Alex Jones. Almost involuntarily I responded, "Wow, really? That guy's nuts" without thinking how it might make her feel. But she just laughed, taking no offense, and said that her husband finds it incredibly entertaining and never misses an episode.
Now, I've met her husband — shared a beer with him, in fact — and I like him, he's pretty even-keeled and nothing like the stereotypical pop-eyed maniac that I always imagined constituted Jones' audience. And I don't mean to impugn him for any of the entertainments he chooses for himself (well, not too much, anyway) but Alex Jones? I've read some of Jones' more repellent theories — Sandy Hook, 9/11, and so on — and it took me all of six seconds to determine that the guy is a 100% nutball, the kind of guy who could find conspiracy in a little league baseball game. What's the appeal there?
Now, to be fair, I have to cop to a certain amount of fascination with conspiracy myself--some of my favorite movies from the 70s, for example, are terrific, paranoid thrillers about the dark forces that lurk in governments and institutions. (The Parallax View; Three Days of the Condor) And one of my favorite novels by Philip Roth is The Plot Against America, a bravura piece of speculative fiction that re-imagines the 1940 election, with FDR losing to Charles Lindbergh, and the subsequent fascist takeover of the United States. Entertainments one and all, thrillers that play deliciously on the notion that everything's a plot, an inside job, a hidden agenda. I can't deny that here is something engrossing about stories that employ the device of secretive, malevolent actors executing their diabolical and enslaving schemes before an unsuspecting public.
But they're stories. Fiction. Of course I'm not a fool and I recognize that there are things going on in the parlors of power that are scary and manipulative and probably criminal, and God knows there have been countless, unanswered questions about some deeply mysterious things in our history, but that doesn't mean that I'm ready to accept that GW Bush was behind 9/11 or that Hillary Clinton killed Vince Foster, JFK, Mickey Mantle, and Michael Jackson. Those pesky things — whaddaya call em? Facts? — keep getting in the way of the most implausible conspiracy theories. But if you try to argue facts with fervently conspiratorial, well, forget it. You're just a tool of the mainstream media. Or worse: You're One of Them.
Here's how to become a first-class conspiracist: Come up with a story about some insane bit of speculation, like, say, Scientists have created a race of super-intelligent dinosaurs in Greenland. Report it on your blog as a fact. Then, the next day (and this is very important), do your follow-up story, which is "WHY IS NOBODY REPORTING THIS? IS IT BECAUSE THE MEDIA IS IN LEAGUE WITH THE GOVERNMENTS ABOUT THE IMPENDING DINO-APOCALYPSE??" Your echo chamber of insanity will soon be teeming with countless supporters and breathless adherents who will verify that what you wrote is true. "You know, I just go back from Greenland, and at night I could hear the sounds of the super-dinosaurs communicating in a language that sounded like Greek or Esperanto and when I asked the authorities they told me, 'No, nothing to see here' . . ."
But hey, everybody has to make a buck, right? On Alex Jones' Wikipedia page — and yes, I know the conspiracies about that — he's called a radio show host, a documentary filmmaker, a writer, and a conspiracy theorist, as if that last one was a full-time job. At first that notion struck me as humorous, but upon further reflection, it's probably accurate: "Conspiracy Theorist" is probably a helluva career to pursue right now, with more job security than IT work or running a hedge fund. It'll probably make Entrepreneur magazine's list of "Top Ten" hot careers for 2017.
So yeah, I think Alex Jones is a nutball, but I don't begrudge him any of his success. To paraphrase that eminent British sociologist Samantha Fox, Nutballs Need Love, Too. Who am I to slam him? He's entertaining millions and feeding his family to boot. He's allowed that same right to life, liberty, and the Pursuit of Being Batshit Crazy as any American. That doesn't mean I'm gonna listen to him or any other conspiracy theorist ever again, of course, but what do I know: I'm one of those "Sheeple," a pitiable slave to the ruling Political-Military-Industrial Complex, a guy who remains pathetically unenlightened. But I'm content in my ignorance. So when I get the sniffles I'm just gonna assume it's a cold, and not a SuperVirus created by the government to reduce the number of middle-aged iconoclasts in black T-shirts. WAKE UP, AMERICA!