Conspiracy and narrative, pt 1


Conspiracy theories carry within them a poison pill. Justifiably so, they contend that official narratives of controversial historical events, in all of their tidiness and coherence, select out intense ambiguities, obfuscating the host of weirdnesses that tend to accompany such events. In trying to weave a counter-narrative, conspiracy theories vie for legitimacy through conventional narrative structures, repeating the same faulty steps (though, importantly, for different reasons) that official narratives take. Their desire for narrative coherence forces authors and believers alike to overinterpret, torquing over what’s unknown to tell a conclusive story. But historical events, such as the JFK assassination, elude conclusiveness entirely. Loose ends and disinformation go hand in hand, and I’d argue this is intentional, consummated in the justifications for the deletion and erasure of vital evidence, and the witness murders and suicides that tend to accompany the messy ambiguity of it all.

Conspiracy theories, then, can amplify their own outlandishness in a horseshoeish way. As they try to seize the authorial reigns of a contentious event, they undo their own legitimacy by becoming just as implausible as the official narrative, band-aiding over missing information and chronology gaps in order to achieve narrative coherence. The overemphasis of a given fact or suspicion—justified by impassioned appeals to the information deficit—leave the whole field reeking of interpretive bias and disassociation. And, most importantly, their authors and believers always come out looking like creatively malnourished, overzealous readers of ambiguity.

The public, when given the choice between two narratives—one implausible for all of the suspicions it dismisses as pure coincidence, another fighting its incompleteness by virtue of the information state–will usually opt for the former. Not merely because its safer’, but also because the psycho-social fracture that can result from the never-ending questions birthed from the deep historical chasm of conspiratorial events can be a lot to hold. (Charles de Gaulle put it succinctly in talking about the American people’s perspective on Kennedy’s murder: They don’t want to know. They don’t to find out. They won’t allow themselves to find out”).

It’s important to note that above- and below-ground state sponsored organizations have, in the past, utilized undercover agents to spread disinformation, sometimes even gaining the confidence of group leaders and planting with them bogus insights. These messiahs, feeling the holy spirit of true knowledge flow through them, take to the pulpit and ultimately hurt the cause by spewing what they’re fed. Sometimes, these vocal leaders are even flipped into informants themselves, spreading agency lies for cash and protection. This situation has been well documented in UFO communities, specifically in the New Mexico, Arizona, and western New York areas, where defense contractors and aerospace firms were looking to cover-up the covert testing of innovative surveillance and military technology.

Such examples of targeted disinformation grant us a peak into the mechanics of the post-WWII media ecosystem–a highly discursive space that is at its most politically purchasable when there is an overflow of information from all directions. By intentionally pushing conspiracies farther to the fringes, a false dialectic of believability is created between the official narrative and the counter-narratives, one where the excluded middle drops out; or, at the very least, the middle starts trending more towards the former, as the coincidences are chalked up to human error and incompetency. Fuck-ups become a hell of a lot more plausible when the basic gesture towards other explanations is spoiled on contact by rampant disinformation.

With the discursive space flooded, most will opt for shallower waters, away from the overflow and on what appears to be solid ground, the impression of which is based on larger structures of authority and conventional plausibility. Often times, then, conspiracy theories, with their teological bent towards Truth, can’t help but fall short given that they’ll never be able to tell the full story.

Sometimes I’m of the mind that fiction is better suited to exploring deep history, or at least a better entry point into the field that doesn’t force you at the outset to take a stand. But I believe delving into conspiracies and conspiracy literature is valuable if you can separate the counter-narratives from the all-encompassing dialect of one truth / many fictions. Conspiracies, when collated not just from a single event but across similarly inconclusive events, may never square away the truth, but they can help you recognize patterns and strategies commonly deployed as methods of obfuscation, diversion, and media manipulation.