Conspiracy Theory in Film, Television, and Politics

Conspiracy Theory in Film, Television, and Politics

Conspiracy Theory in Film, Television, and Politics

Conspiracy Theory in Film, Television, and Politics


Since the assassination of John F. Kennedy, motion pictures and television productions-some based on historical fact and conjecture, others clearly fanciful-have embraced the idea that conspiracies shape many events, hide others, and generally dictate much of the course of modern life, often to the disadvantage of the average person. As a result, conspiracy theories have developed into a potent undercurrent in American politics. By the 1990s, it was not unusual to find conspiracies used as explanations for a wide range of political events that would otherwise seem to have quite ordinary explanations. Thus, a vast right-wing conspiracy was suggested as the source of Bill Clinton's troubles, just as conspiracy-like machinations of the liberal media were used to explain why the picture of world events did not coincide with conservative views. And this is to say nothing of the bitter arguments that still erupt over varying explanations for the attacks of 9/11.

Regardless of a person's opinion about such claims, what these and many other examples clearly show is that conspiracy-theory explanations have penetrated mainstream American thought. Here, author Gordon Arnold examines the evolution of this cultural climate in the United States. "Conspiracy Theory in Film, Television, and Politics" examines the intersection of various film and television productions in the context of unfolding political developments. The chapters follow this story chronologically, showing how screen media have both reflected and shaped the cultural milieu in which traumatic events and political controversies have been interpreted with increasing cynicism. The work also reviews the original contexts in which film, television, and political manifestations of conspiracy ideas first appeared.


Since the middle of the last century, many movies and television productions with a conspiracy theory theme have appeared on screen. They constitute an important part of American popular culture history. The story of how and why this happened and what it means is the primary focus of this book.

The conspiracy theory, in many forms and guises, has been one of the most recognizable and durable themes in American culture since the middle of the twentieth century. It is a thoroughly familiar concept in modern life. Yet, the term “conspiracy theory” implies different things to different people. For some, conspiracy theory reveals the true causes of events. For these people it may, as one writer noted, even constitute their “normal way of thinking about who they are and how the world works.” Others see such ideas as little more than anxious or paranoid reactions to a troubled world. Still others see conspiracy theory as a little bit of both—a mixture of fact and fiction, of realism and paranoia.

Whatever a person thinks about specific conspiracy theories—whether one believes them or not—there is little doubt that they represent a significant current in American popular and political culture. Dealing with topics as farflung as the assassination of John F. Kennedy and captured extraterrestrial aliens, they have attracted much attention. They have inspired a host of fiction and nonfiction books, articles, movies, television productions, and other material for popular consumption.

Indeed, there is no doubt that conspiracy theory has emerged as a mass phenomenon, and there are many avenues that might be taken to uncover the . . .

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