As I sit here today, icebound and covered up in blankets while watching Senor Pantalones curl up and look pitifully at me because I won’t let him into the unheated back room, I’ve had ample opportunity to muse on a few things.
Chief among them: Crazy-ass conspiracy theories.
I often wonder why I can’t come up with my own theory to put forward with little to no evidence that could both harm the innocent people at the center of the theory and spread like wildfire to create a following to rival any of the rather prolific spouters of insanity. And then it hits me: I’m just not crazy enough.
The Internet is overflowing with these theories, especially relating to President Barack Obama. Google “Obama conspiracy” and marvel at the 130 million results (gosh, that seems a little low today; and “crazy-ass conspiracy theories” only returns 627,000). There’s even an entire site right here on WordPress (Obama Conspiracy Theories) dedicated to debunking the myriad maniacal hypotheses out there, from the various “birther” claims (which probably gives Orly Taitz fits) to the notion that Obama is the Anti-Christ. And yes, for every one site devoted to debunking these theories, it seems there are 100 more creating and spreading them.
Not that Obama is the only president followed by conspiracy theories (though his are perhaps the most prolific). George W. Bush has many attached to him (and he and his brother Jeb have contributed and/or passed along theories about a few things, such as the Vatican embassy closure), as does his father to a much lesser extent. There is quite likely at least one conspiracy theory for every president we’ve ever had.
But even Bill Clinton (and wife Hillary, though that could change in the run-up to the next election) can’t hold a candle to all the theories and sheer vitriol launched over Obama … who I’m pretty darned sure is not Muslim (and it wouldn’t matter if he were), foreign-born (as opposed to John McCain, born on a military installation in the Panama Canal zone), the Anti-Christ, a reptilian alien, a disbarred attorney, in charge of a massive operation to take your guns and/or take over the world, or that he eats babies (yep, that one’s out there too).
But what’s crazier to me is the misinterpretation of a study this year examining the content of Internet comments on news posts as proof that conspiracy theorists are saner than those of us who don’t see a plot behind every flagpole.
The study, “What about Building 7,” by Michael J. Wood and Karen M. Douglas, is a content analysis. For those who haven’t had the oh-so-fun experience of doing one, it basically involves setting coding definitions for the content you’re examining. I did one myself long ago on a month’s worth of Big Three network news coverage of the candidates in the 1992 presidential race, which demonstrates one of the problems with content analysis: I defined what was negative or positive news coverage, and my definitions might vary from someone else’s. It also quite often turns into a counting exercise, which, devoid of context, becomes almost meaningless.
At most, one could argue that the conspiracy theorists on the Web are spouting the new conventional wisdom based on sheer numbers. However, considering how many of the nonconspiracists choose, as I most often do, not to engage, even that is a problematic pronouncement.
Yet, the study, which I doubt few actually read, was like a full Christmas stocking to the kind of people who believe Alex Jones is one level-headed guy (though even he has come out against the theory that Obama killed Paul Walker with a drone strike).
There are indeed conspiracies in the world, and probably always will be, but I think most of us understand that most of the stuff circulating nowadays is pure bunk … sometimes entertaining bunk, but bunk nonetheless.
- “Might as well have been.” (metafilter.com)
- The 25 Most Popular Conspiracy Theories (heathmn.wordpress.com)
- The Conspiracy Theory That’s Too Crazy for Alex Jones (thedailybanter.com)
- Top 5 most annoying things about the Internet (worldwidewhatblog.wordpress.com)