When it comes to major happenings around the world, how do we know what is real, and what is made up to deceive society? We ask ourselves this question due to the work of conspiracy theorists. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a ‘conspiracy theory’ as “a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators.”
Take, for example, subliminal advertising and messages. The article Subliminal Advertising from Psychologist World explains that it has often been suggested that advertisers insert a signal to the unconscious mind beneath their basic advertisements—a sound too high, or an image too quick for the conscious brain to detect, but not for the deeper mind—just enough to make an impact on one’s decision. Sudden, unexplainable urges to buy new products are sometimes blamed on these subliminal messages, instead of the shopper’s own desires.
While some broad conspiracy theories like subliminal advertising are not too far-fetched, others are considered simply ridiculous. Take this one for example—birds aren’t real! What we believe to be feathered friends, are actually government surveillance cameras. Wait, then what’s all the white stuff on people’s cars? The Birds Aren’t Real website answers, “‘Bird Poop’ is actually a form of liquidated tracking apparatus. If you walk outside and notice some bird poop just ‘happened’ to fall on your car, be aware that you are now being tracked by the United States Government. It is recommended you clean your car exterior regularly to avoid this.” This particular conspiracy theory may sound absurd to most, but the Birds Aren’t Real movement is legitimate, and has a full staff and many followers.
The details of the Bird Aren’t Real initiative and purpose are not common knowledge. However, some other conspiracy theories are more well known and widely referenced in pop culture. Ever heard the term, “flat earther?” A flat earther refers to someone who believes that the Earth is flat, there
fore suggesting that scientists have been lying to us for thousands of years. The Flat Earth Society (yes, that’s a thing) says, “the earth is a flat disk centered at the North Pole and bounded along its ‘southern’ edge by a wall of ice, with the sun, moon, planets, and stars only a few hundred miles above the surface of the earth.” Staying with the topic of celestial bodies, one of the most famous and believed conspiracy theories is that the 1969 moon landing was fake; a setup by the U.S. government. The most enticing piece of evidence for this case is the waving American flag in a famous photo with astronaut Buzz Aldrin. A flag can not wave in the vacuum of space. However, Time says that NASA insists the flag was only moving because it had just been twisted into the ground. Some of the people that believe this conspiracy also believe that the government controls the weather!
Not surprisingly, considering the impact of the internet on conspiracy theories, celebrities have been a major target for conspiracy theories. Consider pop star Taylor Swift. A Vanity Fair article says that her fans (and haters) are convinced that she has no belly button, simply due to her love for high waisted pants and skirts. Supposedly, she also carries empty purses; the only proof being the effortless way that her bags seem to rest on her arm in photos. The most dumbfounding Swift theory has got to be her evil twin. After seeing a Japanese McDonald’s advertisement with an actress in a red wig resembling Taylor, the public was convinced that she has an evil twin living somewhere in Japan.
Dubious theories such as Taylor Swift’s can be thought provoking and a bit entertaining. But all jokes aside, conspiracy theories have significant downsides. There is a big difference between picking apart the oddities of celebrities and denying traumatic events in history. There are serious conspirators who deny that historical tragedies, such as the Holocaust or the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, ever occurred. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum states, “The denial or distortion of history is an assault on truth and understanding. Comprehension and memory of the past are crucial to how we understand ourselves, our society, and our goals for the future.” Such theories are offensive and insensitive to all affected by these events and, therefore, are offensive to the nation as a whole.
In the past few years, conspiracy theories have been on the rise with the birth of COVID-19. The theories are mostly regarding the question: How did COVID-19 start? While scientists from many different countries agree that the virus started in the wildlife, conspirators aren’t so sure. Some theorize that COVID-19 began in a laboratory in Wuhan, China. Online site, Science, says, “Speculations have included the possibility that the virus was bioengineered in the lab or that a lab worker was infected while handling a bat and then transmitted the disease to others outside the lab.” Suggesting that the infamous virus, responsible for the death of 6.85 million people and counting, was man-made is bold to say the least. However, according to Pew Research Center, 3 in 10 Americans believe COVID-19 was made in a lab.
Although all conspiracy theorists are different, there is one common thread between them; the mistrust of authority. Each of these individuals lack trust in their superiors, and therefore suspect that their government or leaders are secretly plotting against them. It is up to each individual person to decide their opinion on these conspiracies. So, are you a conspiracy theorist?