Sometimes I post about movies that I see that I think are interesting for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they’re older movies that have come up again for whatever reasons and I pass that info along. Today is such an occasion.
A bit of background — I’ve been thinking recently about conspiracy theories and how they can be fun, yes, but they can also prove immensely damaging to individual, community, and even national psyches. I’m not suggesting there aren’t sometimes forces at work behind the scenes, or that government is always on the up-and-up. Certainly, there are plenty of cases to be made that demonstrate otherwise, so conspiracy theories have been around throughout recorded history.
However, conspiracy theorizing can put you in an echo chamber of more and more conspiracies, until everything you see and hear is part of some kind of conspiracy, and you’re unable to discern what is correct information and what’s not. The interwebs have allowed, I think, a massive increase in the spread of conspiracy theories, which is one of the downsides of it. It becomes difficult to tell what sites are disseminating truly useful and fact-based information and what sites are drawing exclusively from conspiracy theories. And it allows anybody with a keyboard to set him- or herself up as expert of something, whether it’s the FEMA camps that will soon hold us all prisoner; the black helicopters; fluoride in the water; birth certificates; bin Laden’s not really dead; vaccinations are a form of mind control; national ID systems will allow the government to put a microchip in your head; they’re all out to get you; and on and on like that.
More? Keep readin’…
So let’s talk semantics. An expert in conspiracy theory is not someone who disseminates conspiracy theories. An expert in conspiracy theories generally does not call him- or herself a “conspiracy theorist” and is someone who examines the context in which those theories exist, assesses the sources of said theories, and then provides information to demonstrate that a theory is false. Popular Mechanics has debunked a lot of conspiracies, including the ones swirling around 9/11 and FEMA camps.
If you call yourself an expert on FEMA camps, chances are you’re a conspiracy theorist who believes wholeheartedly that the government is going to round Americans up and put them in FEMA camps. If, however, you say you’re an expert in conspiracy theory, chances are you’re someone who debunks them.
The problem with conspiracy theory is that it is pretty much impossible to change someone’s mind who is a hardcore conspiracy theorist/believer. Because the more you argue, and the more information you provide that disproves their conspiracies, the more that person will believe you are merely part of the conspiracy, working to discredit them and round them up and put them in FEMA camps or some such. Conspiracy theorizing is thus, to a certain extent, an inherently arrogant pursuit. It ensures that the believer is always right, regardless of the information presented that proves otherwise. It’s an echo chamber of like-minded believers, who both feed off each other and provide buttressing for each other’s arguments. There is no room in there for rational debate, and anyone who tries is viewed with suspicion and seen as part of the conspiracy out to get everybody. Someone who argues against conspiracy theory is seen as “brainwashed” and part of the conspiracy.
You cannot, thus, argue with a conspiracy theorist. So if you find yourself arguing with one, just politely excuse yourself from the conversation and tell them something like “I’m sorry, but you’re not going to believe anything I say, regardless of what evidence I produce. So I’m just going to agree to disagree with you.” And leave it at that.
Which means conspiracy theorizing — though sometimes kind of fun, especially for writers — can be pretty toxic in terms of building bridges between individuals and communities, though it can be right every once in a while (like a broken clock, which is, after all, correct twice a day). Conspiracy theory, however, is inherently fear-based and creates a lot of suspicion, and that’s generally not helpful to any kind of national debate with regard to things like policy (just think about some of the crazy stuff that was rolled out to discredit health care as an example).
Anyway, yes, governments do things behind closed doors that can also be harmful to democratic discussions and policies. Recognizing that and demanding greater transparency requires a lot of work and a lot of contact with your legislators. It’s a lot easier to go onto a conspiracy site and freak out about FEMA camps than to actually work to create an open, transparent system. Succumbing to a conspiracy theory takes a lot less effort than the hard and often mundane and grinding work that democratic institutions require. Conspiracy theory is escapist, and something that we all like to do now and again. Nothing wrong with that. Just be careful about letting it rule your life.
With that in mind, here are 2 of my fave flicks that deal with conspiracy theory. And yeah, Mel Gibson stars in one. As big an ass as he has proven himself to be in terms of his personal life, he is still a fine actor and director and this film pre-dates his assiness. Let’s hope Mel gets his personal life together, because he is a talented man.
I thus give you Conspiracy Theory, with Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts, released in 1997.
And here’s another of my faves, Will Smith in Enemy of the State, released in 1998. I’m a huge Will Smith fan anyway, but I just thought he and Gene Hackman had a great rapport in this film.
So, yes. Conspiracy theory can be fun, exciting, scary, and escapist. It can provide lots of fodder for writers. Just remain skeptical of it. Don’t get sucked into anything. Except maybe a good movie. 8)
Happy watching, happy reading, happy writing!