Alex Jones has killed the Conspiracy Theory as an art form. And I am sad.
In less than six months, Jones has blamed the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Boston Marathon bombing and – no, seriously – the Oklahoma tornado disaster on Barack Obama. As Dave Barry used to say, “I am not making this up.”
Part of me wants to laugh about this, maybe even create a drinking game where you have to do shots of ABC-brand tequila every time Jones says “Weather Weapon.” But there are several reasons I can’t find a moment’s pleasure in this foolishness.
First, these are people’s lives we’re talking about. Children’s lives. If it’s possible to further dishonor their deaths, this does so. How dare anyone (least of all a bought-and-paid-for hack like Jones) wave their bloody shirts for profit.
Second, it dishonors and discredits constitutional institutions we cannot afford to lose. You see, people take this guy seriously. There are Americans who believe Alex Jones is the last American “Patriot.” And when he starts in with his latest ludicrous fiction, his most recent slander, it damages the social contract. It also gives cover to his moderately less-odious, but equally mendacious compatriots across the talk-radio dial and the YouTube universe. If Alex Jones tells you the President is manipulating the weather for his own benefit, Glenn Beck don’t sound as ridiculous by comparison
Third, it destroys the tried-and-true pop-culture genre of the conspiracy theory. From Area 51 to Dealey Plaza, from the faked moon-landing to the annual Bilderberg meeting, conspiracy theories are part of the fabric of American public life. Sometimes there’s even a kernel of truth in them. Conspiracies do happen. The US government does do some unbelievably ridiculous and/or horrible stuff. (Tuskegee, anyone?) Some of these theories actually add a healthy dose of skepticism to the public debate. There’s even a venerable branch of literature dedicated to the genre (Foucault’s Pendulum, Illuminatus! Trilogy).
The key to a good conspiracy theory – the key to the whole form, in fact – is maintaining that kernel of truth. That little “Damn, you know, that could be true!” experience. Jones kills that. His foolishness (and I keep using that word because this is a family blog) betrays the form. If the leading conspiracy theory is less-believable than a SyFy original movie, it reflects on them all and makes every black helicopter just a sleek mode of transportation and every chemtrail just jet exhaust.
I fear Jones is here to stay, and that for now at least, the conspiracy theory is dead to pop culture. Just in case you were wondering, however, no, the president did not order executions at Sandy Hook. He did not help pack the pressure-cooker on Boylston St. And he does not have a tornado machine.
But I’m still pretty sure we don’t know everything about Roswell.