Backchat: Conspiracy Theories

In response to the conspiracy theory about Taylor Swift’s relationship with Travis Kelce.

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Allow me to preface this article with a few personal clarifications. Firstly: I am an NFL fan. I watched, Sunday night after Sunday night (or, in truth, Monday morning after Monday morning) as the Chiefs, the hated, burgeoning dynasty and darling of the league, somehow pulled inexplicable win after inexplicable win out of their arse as every roster hole and chemistry problem they seemed to have during the regular season vanished in an instant. And I had to watch, week after week, at 3am, in between plays, summatives, and the like, as seemingly at every other blink, the camera panned to the perfect, bedazzled, attractively interested-but-not- too-interested Taylor Swift enjoying her newfound team’s rationally inexplicable yet somehow unsurprising success. I think my continuous use of the “x after x” construction is a sufficient indicator as to how I felt upon each predictable cut (which I presume corresponded with some smarmy, cynical broadcasting executive shouting “Nothing’s happening. Cut to Swift!”). Which leads me to the second clarification. Whilst I wouldn’t call myself a Taylor Swift hater, I am without a doubt a Taylor Swift sceptic. I’ve never “got” her. To me, she’s always sounded like Phoebe Bridgers if Phoebe Bridgers spent three years at a Sorority in Florida State studying Business and Economics. There are so many artists who do what she does, just better. And yet… here she is. The closest our modern discordant pop culture has come to a true- blooded superstar for ages.

I mention all this to say that there is a significant part of me that, when presented with the conspiracy theory that Taylor Swift’s relationship with Travis Kelce (insufferable jock and the Chiefs’ star player) is a political stunt imposed by a cabal of deep state neoliberals to manipulate us all, wants to believe it. However:

“Nearly one in five Americans believe Taylor Swift-Biden conspiracy, poll finds. Theory that singer is plotting to help Biden win election has flourished in rightwing media after she started dating Travis Kelce”.

ONE IN FIVE?

How in any capacity would it contribute to him being re-elected?

I’m aware that any possibility of feeling shock or surprise towards anything that religiously devoted sect of Republicans say, do or believe should have been crushed for good after 6th January, but something about this particular conspiracy has provoked in me the spluttering remnants of that naive past-self. Perhaps it’s because of my familiarity with the players at hand, but even by their lofty standards, this just seems insane. Not only can I see no point where Biden remotely comes into this besides the following syllogism: Premise 1: Biden enemy; Premise 2: I don’t like this thing. Conclusion: Biden involved.

But even if he was partaking in this irritating celebrity craze, how, in any capacity, would it contribute to getting him re-elected?

I think what’s so baffling about this case in particular is not so much the tenuous (at best) logic for how it relates to politics, or the bizarre choice of Travis Kelce as a Republican pariah, but that this is the sort of thing you saw on the couch after the camera pans to Swift for the 64th time in the last half-hour. It’s a joke. It’s just a joke, a way of expressing irritation; exaggerating reality to the absurd to try and turn annoying into humorous. And as such, it feels like we’ve disappeared into some sort of inter-galactic sketch show where the implication of our language gets lost in translation; or, for a simpler metaphor, how self-indulgent British Comedians feel when they go to the most German parts of America. Jokes taken literally, sarcasm and sardonicism lost to the void, now the relics of a pre-September 11th past where certain things were just ridiculous no matter which box you marked x in last year. Because of the neo-fascist poison that’s infected, with frightening potency, that old Bald Eagle’s nest, the things we say in jest, somehow, somewhere, are being believed by 20% of Americans to be true. Actually, genuinely true.

And it’s not even that good a joke!

In response to Will Holmes’ article ‘True Believers on the Hill’ in Palatinate

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It’s editor against editor for Backchat this week. Upon reading Will’s article, I realised three things. One: it’s a brilliant article, brilliantly surveying the recent legacy of UFOs and Extra-terrestrial life on Capitol Hill. Two: how – in the grand scheme of things – alien conspiracy theories are relatively harmless, can be fun, and thankfully stay away from the more grotesque conspiracy theorists who propagate Judeo- Masonic hate-speech for a few more crosses in the voting booth. There’s a reason why Roswell inspired movies and TV shows such as E.T and The X Files, and not a genocide. And three: why is it always America?

To quote another Will – Will McAvoy from Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom – America are top of the world in three things: “incarcerated citizens per captia, number of adults who think angels are real, and defence spending”. He forgot to add a forth, that being the highest number of UFO sightings – which stands at over 105,000 since the 1947. In comparison, Canada – coming in at number two on the list, scores a measly 15,000. This obsession with alien life is something uniquely American, and one thing I think Will may have overlooked is Washington’s motivation to feed the public this treat of neither confirming nor denying their existence.

Alien conspiracy theories are relatively harmless and can be fun

As Will says, Donald Trump, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have all suggested the real existence of UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena), keeping the spark alive that a real-life Independence Day may soon be on the horizon. Naturally, this satisfies the American need to be the hero; an identity engrained deep within their national psychology. For America have always needed a villain; someone to play the “Indian” so they can dress-up as cowboys. If aliens are real then they can dress- up as cowboys again, wielding telescopes instead of guns.

But perhaps a “conspiracy theory” of my own, of sorts: Washington are no doubt happy to fund these allusions so long as keeps the American mythos alive. The US Government are therefore more than happy to use these UFO conspiracies to keep the population distracted from what is most likely classified military activity. It makes for a much more romantic story, for example, if Area 51 is a secret haven for Extra- terrestrial research rather than a base testing the capabilities of new weapons. And it makes for a more harmonious diplomatic relationship if these UFOs/UAPs remain such and not, let’s say, a spy-balloon sent by China.

In response to John Harris’ article ‘Conspiracy theories are festering in Britain – and our politicians are making it worse’ in The Guardian

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It feels like they are all around us. On bus stops to sides of lamp posts to the people who come up to you in pubs to tell us that vaccines will kill us. Conspiracy theories are everywhere from sports, to aliens, to more dangerous theories which lead to people being killed. As John Harris suggests, these theories are becoming more prominent, in part due to politics.

Conspiracy in politics often feels like an export from America. It is hard not to view them like that, with one in five Americans believing in some form of QAnon theories and the narrative becoming more important with the upcoming election. In this it’s impossible to detangle the politicians from this rise; Donald Trump is certainly vocal in his support of theories ranging from former President Barack Obama not being American to the most dangerous one of all, the idea that the 2020 Presidential Election was stolen from him.

Following this logic, Harris is right – the language that politicians are using does encourage the sort of conspiracies that can rot politics and destroy it from its core. However, I would like to believe that the situation in the UK is not yet as dire as that of our friends across the pond. To compare Boris Johnson’s use of the word “witch hunt” to the language that caused an insurrection is a dangerous comparison and puts UK politics on a path it cannot escape.


Conspiracy theories are everywhere from sports, to aliens, to more dangerous theories which lead to people being killed

So do I believe that politicians need to be held to more account for their speech, especially in regards to creating conspiracy? Yes absolutely. Their freedom of speech within the House of Commons should be seen as a privilege and as elected representatives, politicians should be part of the solution, not the problem. More needs to be done to hold them to account.

However, is the situation as bad as Harris presents it? Probably not. We are certainly at a turning point and if history serves us right we likely will be following our American cousins. That does not have to be the case though. We need to hold the theorists to account and counter the theories being spread online. Conspiracy theories are a disease within politics and to treat a disease you need to start with a cure, and politicians need to be part of that not written off as one of the causes.

Image: P199 via Wikimedia Commons

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