Saturday, May 4, 2013

Conspiracy Theories, Media Control and Reality TV

I’m not ashamed of the fact that I love conspiracy theories. To me, a reality that is tidy and closed-ended is intolerably boring. So what I like about conspiracy theories, in fact, is not the theories in and of themselves, but the uncertainty and mystery that they entail. (A good conspiracy theory must at least be plausible, but still deniable.) This is all well and good when it comes to decades-old assassinations and CIA experiments and celebrity deaths. However, uncertainty can be outright frustrating when it comes to figuring out what ruling elites are or aren’t doing right now. How do we access accurate information?

Conspiracy theories grow as quickly and easily as internet memes. We barely had time to turn on our computers after Sandy Hook and the Boston Bombings, before gun advocates (and others) were flooding the internet with Youtube videos and suspicious photo evidence. The abundance of eyewitness testimonies to 9/11 and Boston were discarded without batting an eye. The problem, though, isn’t simply that people are too credulous; it’s that no one really knows who to trust anymore. We all know, for example, that government officials create fictional versions of reality to generate public support for/acquiescence to inhumane projects (John Brennan, I’m looking at you), that intelligence officials leak false information, and that the corporate-owned media suppresses information on the direct orders of the state, or affiliated agencies, or corporations. (Saudi Arabian drone base... what?) For that matter, most media outlets are used to promote particular political agendas and shape public consciousness through strategic use of images, talking points, and topical foci.

So, when we are told, for example, that the Boston Bombings were undertaken by two Muslim immigrants, working alone, motivated by Islamic radicalism and opposition to wars in the Middle East... essentially that two fairly normal American immigrant kids just suddenly became “radicalized”... do we believe it? It at least seems plausible, and the assertions that the whole thing was staged (actors, fake blood, etc.) are outrageously insane. On the other hand, how many times has the initial official interpretation of events subsequently proven false, or even evidence of some sort of cover-up? The initial explanation of the Benghazi attack, after all, did fit very well with the “irrational, angry Muslim” narrative, but it just turned out that our existing narratives are useful in selling us erroneous interpretations of events. We are told that Assad used chemical weapons against the opposition – and he may have – but a similar argument was used to remove Saddam, and it was totally fabricated then. Why wouldn’t we believe it was fabricated this time, too?

Actually, the way I feel about evaluating the claims of mainstream media and state officials is very similar to how I feel about judging the “reality” of reality tv. Everyone (or most everyone, I hope) knows that reality tv is far from what it claims to be. Writers come up with storylines, producers manipulate situations, and editors distort what actually happens on camera. In some cases everything is very obviously fake. Other times it is harder to tell what is contrived and what is real. Is everything fake? Was that person hired to play the role of a villain? Do those people really have feelings for each other? Were the outcomes determined in advance? We know that participants (/actors?) in reality programs are bound by stringent contracts. Is that all that prevents contestants from revealing the true nature of these shows? Yes, some people have come forward and “pulled back the curtain” to a certain extent. But so many other people insist it is mostly real. If the contract were the only force cowing them into secrecy... wouldn’t more people be coming forward (or at least spilling things to close friends, thus initiating the spread of information into the public domain)? Breaches of contract and aren’t all that uncommon.

The only remedy for the reality tv dilemma is to tell yourself that it’s all entertainment anyway. Who cares if it’s real, as long as it’s interesting? But that doesn’t work for terrorist plots and military interventions. Nothing is more important than determining what is real. Unfortunately, if even second-rate writers and producers (the type who will settle for working on reality tv shows) are able to effectively create so much secrecy and confusion... what hope do we have figuring out current events?

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