When All Fails, Throw in the Joker! – A Study in Conspiracy Theories.

July 29, 2008

Long before the internet, man has shown an insatiable appetite for the bizarre and superfluous. In the middle ages, witches, elf’s and vampires were blamed for everything from unexplained pregnancies to flatulence, apart from boosting Sunday church attendance – these manias fueled a roaring trade in talisman, garlic necklaces and kept the system firmly in place.


In keeping with Machiavellian thought, it pays to keep the masses chasing their own tails; “…by such means one may win power.”


These days with the advent of the internet, conspiracy theory peddling has been elevated to a veritable political art form a science even – Obama shares the same helix as Osama Bin Laden; blood is thicker than Cranberry juice. The Iranians are secretly planning to nuke Israel; the bird flu pandemic is a bio weapons program carried out by the army of the 12 monkeys; automobile producers are secretly buying up all the patents for engines that can run on water that’s why the price of oil is at an all time high; like the ubiquitous Swiss knife, conspiracy theories are increasingly used to justify everything from the invasion of Iraq to the industrial scale slaughter of sperm whales.



Why is it at a time when the world has never been more emancipated and knowledge freer than ever before; do conspiracy theories continue to grip the public imagination? It would appear if we surveyed the social landscape, this shambolic art of studying pig entrails for patterns and rhythms are merely harmless consolations – very much like the folklore of the tooth fairy and Lephercauns – they’re merely manifestations of social emotional energy – the natural exuberance of any age.


The essential fault in the overtly optimistic account ignores the less desirable aspects of conspiracy theory especially when its couple directly to the political imperative; to get you  to buy into cheesy policies; or to vote for them; here the very serious business of wars are sanctioned in the fantasy realm of power point clips that try to past off mobile lavatories for mobile weapons research labs; whole chunks of individual rights are leeched clean in the name of panoptical pineapple eyed national security and instead of deep spirited discourse one has to make do with unconvincing mumblers.


You see conspiracy theories do one thing very well; they explain everything without explaining anything. Worst they bracket the deeper discussion; removing the cogent and filling it up with sugary distractions which are the equivalent of keeping the crowd in a stupor with cheap cigarettes and circuses.


Fortunately as far as conspiracy theories go, we Singaporean are still in the baby vomit stage, so far our manias have been confined to suspect bubble tea, bleached chopsticks and perverts hiding in air con ducts, we haven’t really gone overboard have we? No we are after all the level headed sort while the world flays around like a headless chicken (yes, I need a side table to put my tiger beer and chips during my football matches, so if you are female, pretty and level headed please do volunteer.).


However, as the perennial problems of our age takes on new meaning against the frenetic internet age. So will the allure of conspiracy theories grow as a means of compressing the idea of meaning or even value like an easy to swallow vitamin pill, The internet is full of lies; we don’t know who is publishing all these things; we know even less about their motivations etc. What I find particularly disturbing about conspiracy theories is how successfully they manage to reconcile two diametrically opposed ideas seamlessly into one compact ‘reality’; scaling the sum of all our fears whilst offering the promise of an anecdote, a cure. I suspect it takes, it’s cue from medicine, what it cannot heal, it will numb.


That’s fine for the most part when its used by housewife’s to cajole toddlers to finish up the last bite of cereal; or if we used to forewarn teenager about the perils of smoking; but where it really becomes dangerous and insidious is when are regularly substituted as the primary means to supply an explanation of why this or that should or should not be done. Or why they are wrong and we are right. Or why we should stay the course; while they sail off the edge.


What makes conspiracy theorizing the preferred tool of hucksters and charlatans is they prey on our natural tendency to question established knowledge, truth, and meaning by supplying simple connect the dots accounts – in short; the manage to bridge that deeper human yearning  how we wish to see the world and how the world really is.


If we believe big events like the sinking of Titanic can happen at the hands of a single unknown individual who was probably masturbating away somewhere high up in the crow nest to sepia prints of naked Victorians instead of beaconing out the murk for pesky icebergs. Or that the super structure of the world trade center could have been brought down by a Mr Nobody whose only claim to fame is a legend in his own mind who rides a donkey to office and lives in a cave in Torah Bora, instead of a super duper Islamic world power based in the lost city of Atlantis; or that if the truth be know; no one really believes in all the lies, disinformation and half truths out floating out there in cyberspace; and we are no more inexorably sliding down the chute of oblivion anymore than we have ten arms or are born with wings; that we always had the wisdom all along to winnow the wheat from the chaff; and it’s firmly in the grasp; how I wonder would all these truths really measure up against our sense and sensibilities? Does the truth really have the capacity to set us free? Does it edify us to new heights of understanding?


As much as I like to buy into this sobriquet comfort food; I must confess, I don’t have that much faith in mankind; conspiracy theories do fulfill a vitally important function whether we choose to believe it or not; what else can account for their precocious hold in the human psyche?


Conspiracy theories supply the necessary lie which makes an unbearable life possible; the truth only heightens our sense of mortality and sharpens our awareness to the randomness of life. Its unsettling, when we have to reconcile our fragile minds to the unfathomable, that lousy roads regularly cause road deaths; badly laid bathroom tiles can do us in, just as well as a terrorist cell fashioning home made bombs in the basement or that most the problems we face is due to how we regularly choose to interpret events and weave hidden meaning into how we choose to lead our life and interact with others. But maybe that’s the way it really is; there is nothing more to it; an accident is just an accident, a fuck up is just a fuck up; there is no conspiracy; an act of a lone mad man is just a solitary stab at sanity. No one is trying to drive me crazy by dropping marbles in the middle of the night; the kid upstairs just has carrot fingers and he just likes to count them before he turns in. And when people call a spade a spade, its only because they see a spade and not a toaster, there’s no conspiracy. No one is trying to fuck me up – and even less of a theory except that which we confect no end in the windmills of our minds; there is no anti-bicycle terrorist group secretly sowing thumbtacks on my trail to cause perpetual tire punctures. I just need to get better threads. The car coupon auntie consortium aren’t working with Mossad agents to track my every movement with high powered binoculars (not even if I happen to spot a bumper sticker that reads; ‘no fat chicks; I just got new tires’); mystery is not furiously and secretly at work. Mrs Jesus is not buried somewhere in the Louvre; there are no invisible lines of fate where destiny and fate intercepts, Singapore is just a very small place; the pretty girl I keep chancing on isn’t meant for me. We just happen to share the same time slots and like the carriage at the tail. There’s no rogue gene accounting for why so many woman want to slap me for no apparent reason; that’s just the way the mind of a siaow char bor works; worthy man meets wide eyed psycho woman; vicissitudes ensue; a flower bath to stave off evil is badly needed; the latter duly occurs good wins over evil by the narrowest of margins. Life it seems; goes right on and on and on unfurling like the silk ribbon through a ring. 


There’s no conspiracy; there’s no conspiracy; there’s no conspiracy there’s no conspiracy theory…..no one is trying to do me in…..it’s all a figment of my and probably your imagination. Breathe….



[By Astroboy – Darkness  / Satire / Sociology / EP 9-30035373/ 2007 / The Brotherhood Press]


This relatively unknown piece was once posted in APICS as a satire piece that poked fun at the ineptitude of the Bush Administration to reveal WMD’s in Iraq.


To have one’s name become an adjective is a distinction. The Joker in folklore has always been the quintessential “upsetter.”

Monarchs and princes understood the usefulness of having such a phantom figure at their side to regularly finger their enemies, stir up suspicions and  proclaim spurious conspiracies theories which would otherwise have put their them in direct political jeapordy.

Since the Joker was socially immune to criticism, he has always been adept at walking the tight rope between what is right and wrong, acceptable and abhorrent; a twilight figure who has always been a set piece in politics and power – in this article, the joker and the notion of conspiracy theory is treated as one analogy. This is unusual to say the least.


Although the tone deployed by the authors is deliberately light and almost playful; what they posit is deadly serious: What the authors seem to be questioning is why do conspiracy theories work so well? : how did such a Byzantine lapse of consciousness occur in the watch dog system? Why did the traditional gate keepers, the press acquiescence whole sale to the political reality of the Bush Administration? How did so many Americans believe those power point slides that was bandied around the Security Council claiming that Iraq once possesed WMD? Why didn’t anyone speak out?

Prancing around these thorny questions; the authors roll out the figure of the diabolically smart but evil Joker – what I really like about this piece is here; the Joker is not depicted as an agent of the  lunatic fringe; instead the schemer is deliberately written as a respectable member of the oligarchies of power; juxtaposed against this business like backdrop; he no longer wears his caricature mask, he has the patina of respectability and authority; he is considered not only purveyor of reason, but also a wolf in the sheeps clothing protagonist and even takes the shape of the world statesman – the authors seem to be saying, yeah the Joker is everywhere these days because things are getting complicated and when answers don’t come readily or easily – out he comes!


In reading this article; one gradually becomes aware the authors may even be indulging in a spot of role reversal.  Darkness seems to be very good at this. And I found he uses it whenever he wants to take a dig olbiquely – in this case, he may be ridiculing, the PBK readers who are mainly of Republican stock.

This shift occurs somewhere in the middle, when the tone changes quite dramatically. As I read the article, I couldn’t help feeling both authors were even mimicking the antics of the Joker; they seem to be saying: “you politicians aren’t so white; you’re just another black kettle; even just as bad as the lunatic fringe; as you seem to be throwing out conspiracy theories just as thick; only this time you expect us all to believe it.”

I find this angle very interesting as it challenges many of our assumptions about power and politics in a humorous half light. And by placing the Joker right in the middle of the whole discussion it lends an air of tension to their message: there is always this lingering thought at the back of our mind; whether perhaps we are really the one’s who complete the mind games of the Joker? I went to see the movie Dark knight recently and in one scene where two ships were rigged to blow up in a twisted “social experiment”; the Joker failed; he didn’t factor in the human spirit. I  am not going to spoil it for those who have not seen the film, but the message of these two authors seems to be very similar to the script forwarded in the movie, “we don’t ever have to play his silly games…we can throw out it out of the window…he is just a buffoon!”


Juxtaposing this article on recent political events, such as this


Minister Mentor rebuts human rights groups’ criticism of Singapore
By Sue-ann Chia


I couldn’t help wondering whether a Joker had been thrown out to side skirt what would have been a very difficult and almost impossible question to answer convincingly before a skeptical crowd. And what about the whole idea of labeling human rights adherents as “fanatics” and equating them to faith fundamentalist – was the Joker thrown out there too?: click here.


Some people might regard the Joker as a harmless caricature, but here in this article once written both authors argue at some lengths; it’s an undesirable virtue to treat him lightly in our age; and if we remain bovine, it can even be ruinous.  Both seem to be advancing the idea; the Joker needs to be strapped down and given the 20 question treatment!

Though the message is couched in humor, there is enough cold bloodedness to ring out from time to time that we should always be vigilant of the schemer only because when all fails; you can all be assured, that’s the cue for the clowns to do their song and dance. Y2K – This article has been reconstituted by the FILB – The Brotherhood Press 2008

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