Archive for November 17th, 2013

by lizard

The last piece of legislation that John F. Kennedy signed into law was the Community Mental Health Act:

On Oct. 31, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed a bill meant to free many thousands of Americans with mental illnesses from life in institutions. It envisioned building 1,500 outpatient mental health centers to offer them community-based care instead. The bill would be the last piece of legislation Kennedy would ever sign; he was assassinated three weeks later.

Kennedy’s vision was never fully realized, and instead of community-based care, jails and prisons are now the default institutions that warehouse those suffering from mental illness.

It’s ironic that a bill trying to address mental illness would be the last bill JFK signed into law, ironic because the last 50 years has been steeped in a national paranoia due to a broad public disbelief of the government’s explanation of the events that transpired on November 22nd, 1963.

To counter the public’s disbelief in the conclusions of the Warren Commission, the CIA popularized the term “conspiracy theorist” as a pejorative term to smear those who didn’t accept the government’s preferred conspiracy theory. Here is Kevin Ryan describing the roots of the CIA’s conspiracy smear method:

This cultural phenomenon goes back to 1967. At that time, in response to questions about the Warren Commission Report (which President Ford helped create), the CIA issued a memorandum calling for mainstream media sources to begin countering “conspiracy theorists.”[13] In the 45 years before the CIA memo came out, the phrase “conspiracy theory” appeared in the Washington Post and New York Times only 50 times, or about once per year. In the 45 years after the CIA memo, the phrase appeared 2,630 times, or about once per week.

Before the CIA memo came out, the Washington Post and New York Times had never used the phrase “conspiracy theorist.” After the CIA memo came out, these two newspapers have used that phrase 1,118 times. Of course, in these uses the phrase is always delivered in a context in which “conspiracy theorists” were made to seem less intelligent and less rationale than people who uncritically accept official explanations for major events.

After a half-century of CIA inspired ridicule by devout believers of government lies and propaganda, it appears the tides are turning:

Recent studies by psychologists and social scientists in the US and UK suggest that contrary to mainstream media stereotypes, those labeled “conspiracy theorists” appear to be saner than those who accept the official versions of contested events.

The most recent study was published on July 8th by psychologists Michael J. Wood and Karen M. Douglas of the University of Kent (UK). Entitled “What about Building 7? A social psychological study of online discussion of 9/11 conspiracy theories,” the study compared “conspiracist” (pro-conspiracy theory) and “conventionalist” (anti-conspiracy) comments at news websites.

The authors were surprised to discover that it is now more conventional to (believe) so-called conspiracist comments than conventionalist ones: “Of the 2174 comments collected, 1459 were coded as conspiracist and 715 as conventionalist.” In other words, among people who comment on news articles, those who disbelieve government accounts of such events as 9/11 and the JFK assassination outnumber believers by more than two to one. That means it is the pro-conspiracy commenters who are expressing what is now the conventional wisdom, while the anti-conspiracy commenters are becoming a small, beleaguered minority.

Perhaps because their supposedly mainstream views no longer represent the majority, the anti-conspiracy commenters often displayed anger and hostility: “The research… showed that people who favoured the official account of 9/11 were generally more hostile when trying to persuade their rivals.”

Additionally, it turned out that the anti-conspiracy people were not only hostile, but fanatically attached to their own conspiracy theories as well. According to them, their own theory of 9/11 – a conspiracy theory holding that 19 Arabs, none of whom could fly planes with any proficiency, pulled off the crime of the century under the direction of a guy on dialysis in a cave in Afghanistan – was indisputably true. The so-called conspiracists, on the other hand, did not pretend to have a theory that completely explained the events of 9/11: “For people who think 9/11 was a government conspiracy, the focus is not on promoting a specific rival theory, but in trying to debunk the official account.”

I’m providing all this context because last night I watched a really fascinating documentary, Room 237; an in-depth examination of Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic interpretation of The Shining.

I think we can all agree that Stanley Kubrick was an extremely talented film maker, but for many people, it would be absurd to posit that those talents were employed by the government to help stage moon landing footage.

That, though, is one of the interpretations of Kubrick’s version of The Shining. Here’s the basic premise:

The U.S. government hired director Stanley Kubrick to film the fake moon landing and, to protect the lives of himself and his wife, he made 1980’s “The Shining” as a veiled confession of his part in the secret project. This would have seen Kubrick filming the landing conjointly with “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

That’s the argument Internet conspiracy theorist Jay Weidner makes on his webpage “Secrets of the Shining.” Yes, all the new age advertisements, Egyptian fonts and Alex Grey illustrations along the rail make this a very hard sell on the discerning reader. But the whole theory (like the best of them) is strangely fascinating. Weidnere grasps onto various bits of imagery in the film and deviations from Stephen King’s novel as Kubrick revealing his secrets to the unsuspecting audience.

The basic premise is that, in the film, the protagonist Jack Torrance and his son Danny both represent different aspects of Kubrick, the pragmatist and the artistic visionary. Jack (Kubrick’s practical side) makes a deal with the manager of the Overlook Hotel (America) to protect it through the coming winter (the Cold War). Weidner also points out that the Overlook, like America, is new, garish and built on the bones of Indians.

All of this builds on the notion that the moon landings were faked as a show of strength to the Soviet Union. But Weidner waves his crackpot flag a little more fervently by stating it was all necessary to “hide the advanced U.S. saucer technology from the Soviet Union.”

As the half-century smear campaign against conspiracy theorists loses its potency, people will latch on to all kinds of alternative explanations for historical events. Unfortunately that conspiratorial terrain is littered with misinformation, disinformation, and other bits of delusional flotsam.

That said, I still find conspiracy culture fascinating, and will continue writing about it because I think it’s important.




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