This week, Big Brother Mzansi viewers were treated to a few theories about aliens and the like. It was less informative than simply way out there. We thought we’d throw together a list of some of the more enduring conspiracy theories and alien stories out there. This is just for fun. This is not a peer-reviewed scientific paper. Don’t quote this as fact. Please.
While preparing for one of the topics for this week’s Wager Task debate – “are aliens real?” – Gash1 wasted no time in telling the Housemates all the many things he “knows” about aliens and how the government is covering up their existence. He made the oft-repeated claim that aliens built the pyramids (they didn’t) and how there is photographic evidence of a pyramid on the surface of Mars (there isn’t).
We shouldn’t be too hard on him, though. He’s certainly not alone, and it’s easy to see why: when formerly respectable educational channels like The History Channel start filling up their programming with specious “documentaries” about alien civilizations being responsible for all the things that we – human beings – did, then it’s only a matter of time before that drivel makes its way into the public discourse. It’s a pity, really, because the truth is more than interesting enough without having to invent some narrative that comes straight from a poor science fiction author’s fever dream.
To show you exactly how unremarkable Gash1’s theories are, we’ve put together a shortlist of some of the more durable conspiracy theories out there.
Back in the 60s, some right-wingnut group tried to raise the alarm about a coming takeover by the United Nations, who were busy girding their loins to overthrow the government of the United States and place it under international control. This is a common theory amongst conspiracy theorists of a certain bent: some international order is coming to destroy the fabric of your country! Be aware.
There’s one glaring problem with this theory, though: we’re talking about the United Nations, here. Not exactly an organization that has proven itself to be an unstoppable force over the years, except when it comes to dithering. They can dither a lot, but overthrowing the largest military force in the history of the world on their home turf is more than just a bit of a stretch.
There’s also the small issue of funding. The United States – the very country that they are supposed to be trying to depose – is responsible for 22% of the UN’s annual funding. We suspect that funding would dry up once the UN started sending their blue-hatted squadrons into the American Midwest.
Anyway, once the theory was out, people started seeing unmarked, black helicopters flying around, looking suspicious. We’re not sure what a “suspicious” helicopter looks like, but we guess it’s one that wears a trench coat and tries to sell you a dodgy watch. These helicopters were supposed to be the tell-tale sign of the coming UN invasion. We’re not sure why. The theory rose to prominence again in the 90s and has since become shorthand to refer to any of these “world government takeover” theories that perennially crop up.
This is an old favorite: if you look up at a large aircraft, you will often see white “clouds” trailing behind the engines. These are condensation trails (or “contrails”) that result from the air being churned and spat out by the jet engines under varying pressures. This causes water to condense. It’s basic physics, really.
Except that basic physics just doesn’t seem to satisfy some people, who believe these trails of vapor are best described by the term “chemtrails”, ‘cos they’re mos full of chemicals, and stuff. According to this theory, jet engines are actually spewing out a dangerous mix of chemicals because of some government policy.
Okay, fine, but all jet engines can do this, which means that all governments would need to be in on the scheme, and that seems – unlikely. Governments can’t even settle on a common plug socket let alone a decades-long plan to spew toxins into the air for … reasons?
Many readers will be too young to remember the disastrous endeavor that was New Coke. In 1985, the Coca-Cola Company changed their formula for their popular soft drink, saying that they were bringing it in line with modern tastes. What they ended up with was something that tasted a lot more like Pepsi. “Modern tastes” did not appreciate the change, thank you very much, and promptly told the company how they felt.
The result was that the company reintroduced the original recipe within three months, and the public showed their appreciation by buying it by truckload. So – in a weird way – the whole debacle may have resulted in the company’s sales actually increased in the long term, and therein lies the conspiracy theory: that the company did this on purpose to produce a backlash and then capitalize on the renewed loyalty when the old recipe came back.
That would, of course, be a massive gamble. And an expensive one. Knowing how markets will react is a difficult business, and the idea that a company would risk tanking their flagship product on a ploy like that is a bit much. In the words of the company’s president, David Keough, “we’re not that dumb, and we’re not that smart.”
This one is hard to swallow. For those not in the know, Malala is a young woman and human rights activist who – at the ripe age of about 12 – wrote articles for the BBC detailing the horrors of being a girl in Taliban-controlled Pakistan, where education (among much else) was banned for women. In return for her astonishing bravery, she was shot in the head – luckily, she survived.
Being shot would be bad enough, except that there are a few crackpot theories that try to discredit the official story. One is that she is a western spy… she was shot at the age of 12, which would make her a bit young for the CIA. Another is that her attempted murder was orchestrated by the CIA to discredit the Taliban – who didn’t exactly need anybody to come up with plots to discredit them. They were already pretty discredited, by this point. They’re the Taliban.
Oh, this is the most amazing bit: the person who pulled the trigger in this crazy plot? Robert de Niro. Yeah. We know.
Everything in The Da Vinci Code
Look, it’s not like us to take wild swings at another writer’s work, but Dan Brown’s smash hit novel is something of an easy target, mainly because it was a smash hit. The book sold 80 million copies and has been translated into 44 languages. It also spawned a film that was so bad not even Tom Hanks could save it, which is really saying something.
The plot behind the novel is good enough – if you squint a bit and are willing to suspend your disbelief a lot. The idea is that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene and that the Holy Grail is about her, rather than it being the cup from which Jesus drank. Oh, and that secrets to this truth have been hidden in assorted works by Da Vinci, and in the architecture of old buildings across Europe. The novel brings in cryptography, symbology, intrigue – you know, all the things you want in a thriller.
Unfortunately, it also brings in the hyperbole of the most severe order. At times, it reads a lot like one of Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven novels. When reading it, we almost expected a dog to show up to start sniffing out clues for the protagonists. The author employs a few too many question marks if you catch our meaning.
This didn’t stop people from taking it seriously, possibly due to the inscription on the flyleaf that insisted that all the societies mentioned in the book are based in literal fact. They are not. One critic described the novel as “based on a notorious hoax”, “rank nonsense”, and “bogus” – and she was one of the kinder ones.
Because the book features so many staples of conspiracy theories – religious mysteries, secret societies, codes, and cover-ups – it really strikes a chord with people into that sort of thing, and we’re still – almost 20 years after its first publication – dealing with the odd dinner conversation that veers down this road, forgetting that the book is a work of fiction.
That’s our list of popular conspiracy theories. They’re a lot of fun if you don’t take them too seriously. The fact for good movies, after all, and sometimes it is a lot of fun just to walk into a cinema and leave your brain at the door.