I have a confession to make.
I have become addicted to controversial TV. No, not to ‘Jerry Springer’ re-run marathons. Not to fly-on-the-wall crack den raids on Current TV. Not even to the thinly-veiled hard-body pornography of ‘A Shot of Love’ with Tila Tequila (of ‘I Fucked the DJ (He Fucked Me Till I Bleed)’ fame).
Nope, I’ve become hopelessly addicted to the 16-hour daily stream of conspiracy theory that flies under the banner of ‘Controversial TV’.
Where else in the digital wasteland of broadcasting ghettos that passes for multi-channel television could you find UK childrens’ television stalwarts Johnny Ball and David Bellamy reinvented as Climate Change deniers? Where else can you find an overweight man in a headset microphone the size and shape of a large black banana delivering bad French (“quelle supriiize!”) and full disclosure about Rommel making “a beeline for a Skoda factory”? What other platform would dream of giving airtime to attempts to get to the bottom of the mystery of just who built the moon?
On what other channel could you listen to Jim Corr (yes, that Jim Corr) go from Hegelian dialetics to the anti-establishment credentials of Charlie Sheen in the space of one sentence?
Where else can you view a 90-minute film about a single Bigfoot sighting followed by a recording of a Geordie faery artist stopping in for a cup of tea in an underground nuclear bunker?
Would you want to? No? But then why is conspiracy theory such powerfully compelling viewing (beyond the frequent and very reliable belly laughs)?
At some time during the delirious 1990s, I became a fast fan of the ‘Apocalyspe Culture’ books, edited by Adam Parfrey and published by Feral House. They contain some of the Ur-texts of current pan-Atlantic conspiracy theory (as well as some of the most genuinely shocking writing I‘ve read anywhere – the race/gender hate of Jim Goad, anyone!?)
Within these pages, James Shelby Downard (pictured) provided the mould for the quintessential conspiracy theorist. With the virtuosity of a Pynchon or a Rabelais, Downard joyfully leaped yawning gulfs of cognitive dissonance in connecting the Mexican Revolution and the founding of the Rockefeller Foundation with the Clinton impeachment proceedings and the Osama bin Laden fatwa; tirelessly building a vast repository of crepuscular paranoia and esoteric midrash.
Icke fingering the network of freemasons, satanists and paedophiles who supposedly “control” the Isle of Wight – the tiny, bucolic seaside community off the south coast of England where he lives, is the equivalent of John Madden turning up on CNN raving about FARC cells on Belle Isle, but twice as funny.
I highly recommend the channel, Controversial TV itself, but easily the most credible (and least hilarious) viewing in the whole Byzantine conspiracy cannon is highly-respected journalist Jon Ronson’s documentary, ‘The Lizards & the Jews’.
This fascinating and poignant film tenaciously pursues a straight answer to whether or not, when David Icke says, “lizard men”, he means lizard men, not ‘Jews’, as the Canadian Anti-Defamation League and others allege.
Indeed, Icke (and most other prominent conspiracy theorists) are often accused of anti-semitism and far-right leanings. But the sole fact that Combat 18 attend his lectures makes David Icke as much of a fascist as the members of Joy Division, The Specials or The Ramones (oh, hang on a minute…)
There is the very real possibility that the conspiracy theorists are advancing an altogether more radical creed, cloaked in the bluster of all the ‘X-Files’ histrionics. There are a remarkable number of recurring preoccupations common to the radical UK luddite/big-‘C’ Conservative, eurosceptic agenda on Controversial TV, such as the idea that the EU is a precursor to a One-World Government; the fact that the progenitor of EU integration in the UK, Ted Heath is the personification of evil; the fact that Climate Change is a myth, and that technological progress is a ‘bad thing’ per se etc.
But the fact that these aspects of the world, or of human beings, may not in fact exist is never interrogated with nearly enough rigour to conclusively account for even one of the conspiracy theorists’ million unanswerable questions. And so they insulate themselves absolutely from anything approaching the truth – the very thing they preport to hold as the guiding light of their lives, and that which they reportedly spend so much of their time and energy searching for.
Much of conspiracy theory seems to stem from maladjustment to finding oneself excluded from some grouping, event, set of rules or psychological state that seems to be available to others, whether these things are real or not. The vast majority of the lecturers, presenters and programme makers on Edge Media TV frequently let bathetic little details of their undoubted mid-life crises and their disgruntlement at their failed ideals and quests slip, and it’s as upsetting as it is rivetting.
As self-proclaimed ‘keepers of the secret knowledge’, conspiracy theorists claim to have all the answers, while spectacularly failing to see the world as it really is, i.e. heterotope, baffingly disorganised, and stubbornly inexplicable.
Pierre Klossowski is very good on these types of delusions of divinty and prophethood in Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle – describing individuals tragically and insolubly “other than [the individual] they believe themselves to be” due to “the violent [psychotic] oscillations that overwhelm an individual so long as he seeks only his own centre and is incapable of seeing the circle of which he himself is a part.”
Psychologically, those who tend to believe one conspiracy theory tend to believe all others without question, hence the exorbitant price of the DVD collections (not sold separately) and the conference tickets available exclusively through Edge Media:
If Jack the Ripper was a member of the Illuminati then there’s indubitably a one-world government out to intimidate and legislate the human race back to serfdom (and we definitely need a range of DVDs about it).
If there is no statutory basis for the collection of income tax in the United States then George Shultz is clearly a Satanist paedophile who sacrifices children infront of a 40ft owl for their blood (and we definitely need a range of DVDs about it).
In my blind fury at the stupefying dearth of pointed questions being asked of the contributors to the programmes broadcast by Edge Media TV, I foolishly sent away for the DVD of ‘David Icke: Live at the Oxford University Debating Society’ on the basis that someone might finally step up to the plate and subject some of the man’s apoplectic claims to the scrutiny of a genuine, considered and well thought out bit of questioning.
“So, Mr. Icke, when you say that the Queen of England, Kris Kristofferson and Box Car Willie are members of a shapeshifting reptilian bloodline that stretches back to ancient Mesopotamia, can you tell us exactly how you came to this conclusion, and what physical evidence the theory is based on?”
And here’s the crux of the thing – The Question – the basic unit of all of the keenest thinking mankind has ever aspired to.
The question is professional conspiracy theory’s currency: as long as enough questions are raised, and never answered in any conclusive sense, then we’ll keep watching (and buying). If there’s just enough of an element of plausibility, mixed with just enough of an air of mystery to keep us on the hook- “Oh, and the channel’s on the verge of going bust, so send money now, folks…”
“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”
As preposterous as all of it sounds, it’s rich and rare literary territory. No matter how purple the prose, it’s the stuff of Pynchon (and of Dan Brown); of William Burroughs and James Ellroy. Shadowy cabals of elites pulling the strings of the world reverberated behind the elevated foreheads of everyone from Nietzsche to Gilles Deleuze – projecting internal struggles out into the world and internalising psychic shocks back in again.
We’re all in search of some kind of narrative, in the original sense of the word – the sanskrit ‘gnu’ – to know; through Latin ‘gnarls’, knowing; ‘narro’ – to tell. We’re all desperate for some unified theory that might have some of the all-encompassing power we crave, to describe some sort of arc bigger than our own paltry circuit. Something, anything has got to be better than the received version of life we get from the mass media.
It’s a genuine religio-spiritual quest in the absence of a god, even if it is populated with the even more-than-usually bizarre icons and daemons Ian R Crane, George Bush, Walter Kronkite, Ted Heath and Danny Glover.
In the same way that film wouldn’t be the same without the dubious values and preoccupations of Russ Meyer—or pornography without Rocco Siffredi—would the world be the same without having had figures such as James Shelby Downard and Alex Jones in it? Hell, it might be better, but it certainly wouldn’t be as strange and interesting.
At worst, the active conspiracy theorist is a confidence trickster with a vendetta against the known (and unknown) universe; at best, they are you or me – a frustrated storyteller lost on their way to a plot.