Pop culture makes well-known conspiracy theories more plausible

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Jennifer Kattalia, a junior, is used to keeping quiet about some topics in her apartment. She and her roommate have a very specific rule in order to keep things from getting too heated — no talking about dinosaurs.

“In regards to mummies and dinosaurs, it’s really about what we see and don’t see,” Kattalia said. “One never sees the mummy in the tomb. Where are the mummies? Same goes for dinosaurs. Take Sue at the Field Museum, for example. She’s not real, why can’t I see the real Sue?”

Kattalia is an avid believer in conspiracy theories, especially those that involve the government. Kattalia follows the rule that “seeing is believing” and often finds herself defending those beliefs, especially when it comes to friends.  That means no dinosaurs and no mummies either.

It seems there are conspiracy theories for everything, whether it’s the idea that Elvis is secretly alive or that the Denver airport was built by the Illuminati. Even though most people dismiss conspiracy theories, a pair of University of Chicago professors, Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood, found almost 50 percent of Americans believe in at least one conspiracy theory.

Kattalia, though, strongly believes that there are many true government conspiracies.  However, Kattalia also said that there are certain guidelines to what a conspiracy theory is.

“You can’t just make up something and say it’s a conspiracy theory,” Kattalia said. “If that’s the case, then everything and its existence could be a conspiracy. You need facts and you need backings and you need proof. My thoughts on mummies and dinosaurs are a little out there, I’ll admit. But if you look at a lot of the theories on Hitler, J.F.K., masons or pyramids, there’s evidence, evidence that is researched by experts, historians and even some government officials.”

When asked why she thinks people feed into conspiracy theories, she said the media has a heavy hand in people’s unusual fascination.

“I think a lot of them stem from the popularity government conspiracies play in dramas seen in Hollywood or TV,” Kattalia said. “(People) eat that drama up and often believe there is some truth to them. While I don’t necessarily believe ‘Scandal’ or ‘National Treasure’ featuring Nicholas Cage show how government is, I do believe there are many events, discoveries, interactions or organizations that the government doesn’t want to release because it is too sensitive for the public to know.”

One reason some conspiracy theories are plausible is that they’re so integrated into popular culture, especially in movies and TV shows.

“They do tie into pop culture — I’m thinking particularly of the Beyoncé/Illuminati conspiracy theory — maybe even the ‘Lady Gaga has a penis’ conspiracy theory,” Daniel Bashara, a professor at DePaul, said. “My sense of those pop-culture conspiracy theories is that they’re mostly jokes, I think, though maybe I’m wrong about that. ‘The X-Files’ also speaks to a larger popular obsession with conspiracy theories, and its return this year is a testament to our persisting love of them. Our current political climate is of course another testament to this.”

In “The X-Files,” a popular television show, FBI agents attempt to explain unexplainable cases. Classified as a science fiction show, the two main characters, Fox Mulder (a conspiracy theorist) and Dana Scully, seek to find the truth about aliens on Earth. However, science fiction shows aren’t the only pop-culture TV series that heavily rely on conspiracy theories.

“I’m inclined to think that reality TV might have something to do with this kind of thinking in our contemporary moment, in the sense that it trains us to look for the seams of manipulation behind every show,” Bashara said. “We know they’re all staged, right? So the way to outsmart reality TV is to approach it as a conspiracy theorist, looking for the signs of somebody up above pulling the strings. We feel a sense of superiority and security in knowing that we can’t be easily lied to, which I think is at the core of belief in conspiracy theories in general.”

However, some conspiracy theories turn out to be true. The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was a medical study in 1932. Those running the experiment told the men involved that they were being treated for multiple blood ailments and would receive compensation in the form of free food. At the beginning of the experiment, which took place in Alabama, there were 399 men with syphilis and 201 without. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, “they did not receive the proper treatment needed to cure their illness.” Essentially, volunteers participating in the experiment were not disclosed with the correct information about how the experiment was going to be conducted, which led to the worsening of the men’s illness even though widely used treatment was available.

The experiment, instead of lasting a short six months, lasted nearly six years. In 1936, newspapers, the public and local physicians first questioned the experiment. Years later, after many suspicions and theories that the experiment had malicious affects and intentions, the conspiracy theory was found to be true.

Cases like these are not the only reason why some theories are so believable. There are hundreds of conspiracy theories, some of which are more believable than others. There are a few, like the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment, that have been proven to be true.

Whether it’s about dinosaurs not being real or Paul McCartney having a double, some theories will remain unexplained.

Faked moon landings

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(Photo courtesy of Mrpurpletie / WIKIPEDIA)

Apparently Stanley Kubrick may have played a role in one of the world’s greatest hoaxes. Some Americans believe that the U.S. wasn’t really the first country to land on the moon. Instead, some propose that the whole thing was a cinematic project, either being filmed in Area 51 or somewhere in Hollywood. Those who believe in the conspiracy argue that the physics of the video are not realistic; the shadows are out of place, there are not enough stars and the flag placed on the moon blows in the wind (there shouldn’t be wind on the moon). NASA has repeatedly come out with reasons explaining each part of the hoax, but according to TIME magazine, around 6 percent of the U.S. population still believes the moon landing was fake.

Paul is Dead

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(Photo courtesy of United Press International / WIKIPEDIA)

Every Beatlemaniac has heard the term “Paul is Dead”. Apparently, some fans strongly believe that McCartney died in a car accident in 1966 and was quickly replaced by a look-alike named Billy Shears. Despite its truthfulness, there does seem to be a plethora of uncanny evidence pointing in that direction. If some Beatles’ songs are played backwards, there seems to be several macabre phrases chanted by band members, such as “Paul is a dead man, miss him, miss him” on the track “I’m So Tired.” Fans claim that the Beatles have dropped several hints of McCartney’s death in their songs, interviews and album covers (like the yellow wreath on Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band). Additionally, many photos comparing McCartney and Shears reveal some pretty convincing similarities.

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(Photo courtesy of WIKIPEDIA)

Beyoncé and Jay-Z are in the Illuminati

This is one conspiracy theory that started out true. The Illuminati was a real group that started in 1776, designed to bring together the world’s most rich and powerful. The group was supposedly disassembled, but many believe it still exists. Beyoncé and Jay-Z, as well as many other celebrities, are rumored to be part of the Illuminati, especially because of Beyoncé’s use of the pyramid symbol during the Super Bowl. That year, the Super Bowl also had a power outage for the first time, suspending the game for nearly 30 minutes. Some wonder if this was a defying act of the Illuminati, mostly because Beyoncé performed at the halftime show.

Area 51

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(Photo courtesy of Dale Eckert / YOUTUBE)

There are always questions of whether or not the government has its secrets, but what one of the biggest debates is whether aliens are on the list of things that the government is hiding. Located roughly 80 miles away from Las Vegas, the Area 51 has always been kept under tight security. Conspiracy theorists have been trying to prove this theory to be true for years, especially after the CIA announced in 2013 that the government was working on special aircraft technology in Area 51. Theorists and believers suggest that this is where the government has hid the existence of aliens from the public, experimenting with extraterrestrial technology. Hundreds of cases of civilians claiming to see UFOs have popped up in the last few years, with more bound to happen. Recently, Area 51 has appeared in the news more often than usual, especially after a family who trespassed there was held at gunpoint last month.