Conspiracy Theories

Americans seem to love conspiracy theories. Long discredited, and completely incredulous, stories get repeated or periodically revived. A friend who grew up in the Soviet Union shared a few over lunch last Saturday, leading me to believe that Russians love their conspiracy theories, too! One implicated Salvador Dali in the assassination of Trotsky.

Maybe it’s simply human nature?

Here goes —the moon landing was faked; the U.S. government is holding extraterrestrial remains and space ships in storage; Marilyn Monroe was murdered because of her romantic involvements with the Kennedys; Elvis Presley faked his death; the Holocaust didn’t really happen; Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.; the HIV virus was invented in a lab… The list goes on and on.

I enjoy a good wacky theory as much as the next writer, but enjoying a ridiculous story is one thing. Believing it is another. Crazy theories — like the Protocols of Zion and the insane belief that President Obama’s birth certificate was faked — develop a life of their own and cloud the truth. Facts, often dull, can’t compete with wild stories.

The lightning fast speed of electronic communications means that news spreads very quickly — and so do crackpot stories and lies. Twitter broke the news about Michael Jackson’s death before the conventional media. Of course later that day rumors spread about the deaths of other celebrities — including the very much alive Britney Spears and George Clooney. It doesn’t take much to morph a misleading rumor into a falsehood with a long life.

The news media has an obligation to parse out the truth, to verify sources, to double check facts and to go back and make corrections. Reports made during a breaking news story often turn out to be false. The national, local and Internet-based news media garbled much of the Newtown shooting story. The brother of the shooter was taken in for questioning and his name was reported as the killer. All sorts of flat out wrong statements were made. It was terrible — not as terrible as the massacre, of course.

But what about fiction writers, do we have an ethical obligation when we create wild and crazy stories? That’s a good question. Maybe our obligation is to be clear about our creations. Inspired by a true story is not the same as a historical record. So I’ll keep writing wacky tales — and reading them, too. But I won’t mislead anyone with cheeky conspiracy theories that muddle the truth. When it’s fiction — it’s fiction and there will be no doubt about it.

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  1. Your post started me thinking about the power of fiction, not as a vehicle for facts, but as a weapon of persuasion. We use that weapon without even being aware of it because our fundamental beliefs leak into the stories we write.

    One example that springs to mind is the Twilight series. I haven’t seen the show or read any of the books but the Daughter has and she is incensed by what she sees as the awful role-model of the female lead. Given how popular that series has become, I can’t help wondering how many young girls are now subliminally convinced that this is how ‘good’ relationships should be. Bit of a worry.

    • Candy

      Fiction has often been used to create platforms for persuasion. The muckraking writers of the 19th & early 20th century addressed many issues and provided role models. Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” was standard reading when I was a kid. It helped lead to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 — pretty much the first time Americans recognized that there were dangers in putting profit over quality.

      Images of ideal, or less-than-ideal, women are all over fiction and sometimes they do promote agendas or aspirations that are not all that good. Usually it’s less of an agenda and more of a storytelling tic. But sometimes….

  2. I can’t remember who said, Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.That seems to be the motto inscribed across the forehead of the conspiracy theorists.. They can make for good entertainment and great ideas for fictional stories but how annoying they are when you find what you believed ten minutes ago is complete rubbish.But of course maybe I’m expected to laugh off that a Soviet mole runs the US from the White House while 6 billionaires are trying for world domination by financial means and are working for the Priory of Zion.

    • Candy

      I’m all for ’em when they stay in the “story” zone but when they invade politics and society, those completely incredible theories can be dangerous and scary. The Protocols of Zion, an old fraud, surfaces periodically as FACT. It’s crazy, but people inclined to believe will quote it as fact. The rumors about HIV have been dangerous and scary. Think about the crazy theory in Pakistan that links polio vaccines to a conspiracy to cause sterility in children. That’s really dangerous. Polio had been all but eradicated in parts of the world where people understand the need to vaccinate, but…

      I love to laugh at the ELVIS LIVES people. That’s fun. Some of the others are scary in a real — and dangerous — way. Still in storytelling, not letting the truth get in the way is fun.

  3. Wasn’t there something recently about George W.Bush? being a member of some elitist masonic type association? I’m damned if I can remember the details but I think it was something similar to the Illuminati conspiracy?

    • Candy

      Skull & Bones — it’s a “secret” fraternity at Yale University. It exists, but the conspiracy theories around its members — men of influence — make it a great starting point for conspiracy theories (and for fiction).

    • Candy

      Thanks for re-posting on Google!
      Working hard to get the word out about my MONSTERS and my Monster Blog. Any help is most appreciated.