Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Blank Theories

By Ben Winters

FEBRUARY 7, 2000: 

"Conspiranoia!: The Mother of All Conspiracy Theories" by Devon Jackson (Plume), $13.95, 354 pages

The cover of "Conspiranoia!" features four black-and-white photographs, laid out dossier-style against a Manila folder background: snapshots of The Teletubbies, a flying saucer, a cow and a mischievous Bill Gates. Already we have a book that is winking at us, jangling the skeleton key that will unlock nefarious secrets connecting it all.

A more illuminating peek under the bed of civilization can be found on the "X-Files" episode with the killer bees. "Conspiranoia!"—though it purports to reveal the inter-connectedness of everything from The Illuminati to Louis Farrakhan to Chairman Mao—is more an encyclopedia than an exposé, not a grand narrative at all but a simple glossary of fringe thought. Ironically, this would-be mother of conspiracy books takes what is often a fascinating topic and reduces it to a mere list: Lavender Mafia, League of Nations, Vladimir Lenin, Lincoln Assassination, each theory reduced from its individual wacked-out glory to a mere paragraph or two of generally uninspired prose, running down the barest of "facts."

And the facts of these theories must reside in quotation marks, no less so now than before the publication of "Conspiranoia!," which doesn't prove or disprove anything so much as itemize. This lack of judgment makes the book both dull and mildly troubling. For example, it would be reassuring if the entry for Jewish Media Conspiracy, which "posits that Jews control most, if not all, of the major media," concluded with a rebuttal to that claim, rather than with a list of Jew fat-cats followed by "and on and on."

The problem isn't one of anti-Semitism (Jackson gives the same evenhanded treatment to anti-Islamic theories, not to mention those connecting Anarchism and the Freemasons), it's of discernment. Jackson has either no gauge of what might be of genuine importance, or a foolhardy commitment to giving the same amount of space to all of history's paranoid delusions. Is it truly worth giving equal time to all the puzzling similarities between Lincoln and Kennedy and the Trilateral Commission—an actual organization whose members are actual heads of state and titans of commerce who make actual decisions that shape our actual lives?

It's just completely unclear what the point is. More interesting and in-depth studies are available of alien theory, cult theory and so on. Far more useful would be a book that attempts to untangle some of these webs rather than trying, with a remarkable lack of either success or good humor, to tie them all into one.


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