Now this is a cool job, a psychology professor who specialises in conspiracy theories! Patrick Lehman who claims such a title has teamed up with The Event to unveil the top ten conspiracy theories of all time to celebrate The Event on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Patrick Lehman from the Royal Holloway University of London, kindly took the time to share with me the ultimate conspiracy theories to help launch the DVD and Blu-Ray release of conspiracy thriller and sci fi cult hit The Event, Patrick explains the psychology behind ten top conspiracy theories.
1. JFK’s assassination
The conspiracy behind the assassination of US President JFK is the archetypal conspiracy theory. In fact, it is now so widespread that most people believe a conspiracy explanation is more likely than the official, lone gunman explanation outlined in the Warren Report. Many people might believe the conspiracy account simply because they now see it as a received truth.
2. Princess Diana’s death
The death of Princess Diana sparked one of the first conspiracy theories of the 24/7 media age – within two hours of her death a website had sprung up detailing the alleged conspiracy that killed her. Diana’s death was a major event in the UK which caused great emotional outpouring in public and, research has shown, when such events happen people tend to cast around for a “big” explanation that matches the event. This need to find an explanation that we feel is “big” enough to explain a death such as Diana’s can draw people away from the more mundane explanation that her death was a result of drunk driving.
3. Bin Laden’s existence/death
The US handled potential conspiracies about Bin Laden’s death well. There will always be those who question whether he lives, died, or even ever existed at all. After his death the decision to bury Bin Laden at sea without photographic or video evidence was made quickly and probably helped to avoid a proliferation of new theories as people poured over pictures of his body or videos of the assassination. It is telling that we saw images of the President and staff at the White House watching the operation – but these images haven’t been released publicly. The US government realises that no photographic or other evidence will ever convince the dyed-in-the-wool conspiracy theorist. In fact, it will fuel more theorising…
4. Existence of aliens
The Event is centred around the idea that a group of aliens have been imprisoned and blended into human society – proving that entertaining theories about creatures from outer space are still fertile ground for conspiracists. Aliens offer an ideal “outgroup” (set of people who differ from us) which means we have an almost automatic suspicion of their motives and intentions. Alien abductions merely fuel this anxiety. The prospect that these abductions are building up to a big event of some sort adds to a sense of anxiety. Good conspiracy theories are like great detective stories or thrillers – they hook you and reel you in because you want to find more and want to uncover a truth. That truth – a big event or denouement – is what keeps you reading!
5. Climate Change
Climate change conspiracy theorists argue that climate change is a conspiracy dreamt up by scientists. Its not always clear what the motivation of these scientists is… maybe to generate more research funds, maybe to damage the interests of the oil industry. Either way, such theories serve a clear purpose for certain sections of business. From a psychological perspective, what is important is how people appropriate evidence for their own argument and do not consider balanced arguments in a rational way. This can be true both for theorists and for non-theorists… in the case of climate change conspiracies, one wonders if so many scientists can be part of a conspiracy at the same time…
6. Hollow Earth
Hollow earth conspiracies are another form of conspiracy theory: like many conspiracy theories, there seems to be a great deal of evidence against their existence… how, for instance, have people managed to suppress images of the hollow earth emerging? These theories are in fact grounded in earlier religious beliefs and stem from these. Thus there are many such theories, many versions of what is down (in) there, and many different potential conspirators.
7. The Government using Facebook and Twitter to spy on us
Many conspiracy theories are a little implausible, rather fanciful, or even just clear downright nonsense. However, some others are grounded in what we know to be an element of truth. For instance, governments certainly have collaborated with internet and media organisations to censor internet usage or present a particular view of events. In fact, very few people would doubt that elements in government would have access to our mobile or internet conversations.
New media are, again, fertile grounds for conspiracy theories because they are novel and widespread, and few of us know all the details of how they work. It is also no coincidence that we suspect the government of spying on us: conspiracy theories have grown as people feel more and more disconnected from social institutions such as the government and feel that their voice is heard less and less. This sense of disconnection breed mistrust and that, in turn, fuels conspiracy theories.
8. Michael Jackson’s death as a distraction from Iran revolution
Many conspiracy theories link together two concurrent, but seemingly disparate events, to create a connection. This can be appealing (convincing), psychologically, because it gives the illusion of meaning and this draws people in. Again, the idea here is that there is truth or new knowledge underlying what can be, actually, a quite random world.
9. Barack Obama not actually an American
Conspiracy theories can also serve a political purpose too. The idea that Barack Obama is not an American has been circulating widely in America for some time, since he came to prominence as a politician, in fact. Clearly, it’s not something that would have helped to secure Obama political support. Again, it’s demonstrably untrue, but was possibly seeded into public consciousness with the potential damage it could cause in mind. A warning that conspiracy theories are not just harmless fun – they can be used by the good and the bad guys to their own ends!
10. Project Serpo – Revealing the Alien Exchange Programme
Alien’s, as we have seen, are the ideal conspirators and a key ingredient of many successful and enduring conspiracy theories. The idea of an exchange programme draws in another often-cited conspirator, government. Conspiracy theorists and non-theorists will debate the status of the evidence endlessly. But we should remember that although it is easy to dismiss many theories, some do turn out to be true.
In fact, some elements of conspiracy theorising – doggedly pursuing the truth, refusing to accept the status quo or official position – are also qualities in many instances of good journalism and good scientific investigations. A critical attitude is healthy and serves a useful social function by keeping those in authority to account. However, when someone holds on to a belief in spite of a wealth of evidence against that belief, it is irrational and maybe even a little dangerous.
The Event is out on DVD and Blu-ray now.
Image sources: facts are facts/biography online/osama bin laden death/top news/revolution/burlington news/facebook/inquisitr/trend/io9