Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Frank Furedi in The First Post says, 'Conspiracy theories save us the trouble of facing the confusions and uncertainties of our ever changing world.' Furedi observes that 30 per cent of the British public think there was some conspiracy behind Diana's death and 36 per cent of Americans think the same about 9/11. Leaving aside the truth or otherwise of these convictions, I think Furedi is missing something here. Look at the Ipswich murders. A man, as I write, is being questioned. The day before he was arrested he gave a bizarre interview to the Sunday Mirror and he had his own site on MySpace, now deleted. He was also interviewed about a disappearance before any body was found. The whole case has been investigated by hundreds of police watched by hundreds of journalists in a relatively small city. Conspiracy theories, I guarantee, will soon emerge. But they will not be inspired by a refusal to face 'confusions and uncertainties', quite the opposite. They will happen because of a yearning to make sense of the world we are offered. The truth is that massive coverage of both this kind of marginal story and of hyper-manipulated yarns like the Blair-Brown confrontation generates too much information and too little sense. News management, see my previous post, requires an excess of information to disguise its workings. Any possibility of a pattern must be concealed. And news management has been at work in Ipswich as much as in Westminster. The police, in such a climate, have no choice. The poor punters, meanwhile, are left with the vague conviction that all this stuff must mean something, but they don't know what. No wonder, then, that they resort to conspiracy theories, coherent narratives that rise above the chaos of mediated events. Conspiracy theories, in short, are an inevitable result of media saturation. The punters are pursuing the surreal, the meaning that lies just beyond and is systematically concealed by conventional 'reality'. Andre Breton would have made 'sense' of Ipswich.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 8:07 am