Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Conspiracy crackpots

Okay, y'all, can we agree to stop calling them conspiracy theories?  A theory is a scientific model backed up by experimentation and/or observation, which is consistent with everything we know about the topic in question.

These are not theories.  We need a new term.

Maybe conspiracy batshit lunacy.  I dunno, that's more accurate, but it's a little clunky.  I'll keep thinking on it.

The reason the topic comes up (again) is because of mega-pop-star Taylor Swift and her boyfriend Travis Kelce, tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs, who will be playing in the Superbowl on February 11.  Well, Swift and Kelce made two huge mistakes, at least if you're a MAGA type; Swift endorsed Joe Biden for president in the 2020 election and is expected to endorse him again in 2024, and Kelce has appeared in commercials promoting the idea that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective.

Well.  You'd think they... I dunno.  I was gonna say "stomped all over the Constitution," but Trump himself basically did that.  Then I was going to say "threatened to drown small children," but Texas Governor Greg Abbott did that.  Then I was going to say "wanted to restrict freedom of speech," but Florida Governor (and failed presidential candidate) Ron DeSantis did that.

So comparisons kind of fail me.  Let's just say "You'd think they were really really really bad" and leave it there.

[Image licensed under the Creative Commons va Rinaldi creator QS:P170,Q37885816, Taylor Swift 2012, CC BY-SA 2.0]

In any case, the ultra-right-wing types couldn't just shrug and say, "Taylor Swift is an American citizen and can vote for whom she likes, and Travis Kelce is free to promote the vaccine if he thinks it's the right thing to do."  Oh, no.  There has to be more to it than that.  The firestorm started almost as soon as Swift and Kelce announced they were dating, and Swift started showing up to Kelce's games.  Then Swift was named Time magazine's 2023 Person of the Year, and things really started rolling.

Here are a few quotes, to give you the idea of what sort of things are being batted about on far-right media:

  • "I 'wonder' who’s going to win the Super Bowl next month.  And I 'wonder' if there’s a major presidential endorsement coming from an artificially culturally propped-up couple this fall.  Just some wild speculation over here, let’s see how it ages over the next eight months." -- Vivek Ramaswamy
  • "The Democratic Party and other powers are gearing up for an operation to use Taylor Swift in the election against Donald Trump." -- Jack Posobiec
  • "Taylor Swift is an op.  It’s all fake.  You’re being played." -- Benny Johnson
  • "The Democrats’ Taylor Swift election interference psyop is happening in the open.  It’s not a coincidence that current and former Biden admin officials are propping up Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce.  They are going to use Taylor Swift as the poster child for their pro-abortion GOTV Campaign." -- Laura Loomer
  • "All the Swifties want is a swift abortion." -- Charlie Kirk
  • The NFL is totally RIGGED for the Kansas City Chiefs, Taylor Swift, Mr. Pfizer (Travis Kelce).  All to spread DEMOCRAT PROPAGANDA.  Calling it now: KC wins, goes to Super Bowl, Swift comes out at the halftime show and ‘endorses’ Joe Biden with Kelce at midfield.  It’s all been an op since day one."  -- Mike Crispi
  • We're declaring a Holy War on Taylor Swift if she publicly backs the Democrats." -- an "unnamed source" quoting Donald Trump
  • "Who thinks this country needs a lot more women like Alina Habba, and a lot less like Taylor Swift?" -- unsurprisingly, Alina Habba
  • "Taylor Swift is a Pentagon psyop and a front for a covert political agenda." -- Jesse Watters
I could go on, but I probably don't need to.

What is astonishing to me is that very few folks listen to this and then say, "Okay, have you people been doing sit-ups underneath parked cars?  Or what?"  Evidently a significant fraction of Americans hear this stuff -- and think that it makes perfect sense.

Look, it's not that I don't know politics can get nasty, and that people -- certainly on both sides -- can do some really underhanded stuff to get elected.  But when a celebrity endorses Your Guy, and that's all hunky-dory and an example of a True American Standing Tall, but when a celebrity endorses The Other Guy it's gotta be a covert Pentagon psyop worthy of launching a Holy War, you might just want to check your thought processes for bias.

At least some mainstream media outlets are branding this wingnuttery for what it is.  CNN, in its article on the issue (linked above), labeled this stuff "loony thinking bearing little resemblance to reality," and that's not bad considering that CNN doesn't exactly have a sterling track record of calling out lunacy when they see it.  In fact, there's a good case to be made that back in 2015 the mainstream media created Donald Trump as a viable candidate by treating him as if he were one, instead of labeling him what he is right from the get-go -- an incompetent compulsive liar, a serial philanderer, a sexual predator, and a "businessman" who has a list of failed businesses as long as my arm.  But because his incendiary theatrics got listeners and readers, they uncritically publicized everything he said and did in order to keep readers and viewers engaged -- and that's a large part of why we're in the situation we now are.

At least -- maybe -- some media sources have learned their lesson.

But to return to my original point, these are not theories.  They are one of two things:
  1. deliberately crazy-sounding ideas thrown out by cynical individuals who don't actually believe what they're saying, but say it anyhow because they know it'll keep the public tuned in; or
  2. wild ramblings from people who think this stuff actually makes sense, in which case -- to borrow a line from C. S. Lewis -- "they're on the level of a man who says he is a poached egg."
And in neither case should we give them the slightest bit of attention, short of laughing directly into their faces.  Which is, honestly, what I'm hoping to accomplish here.

How about the Conspiracy Comedy Channel?  That at least captures the spirit of it.


1 comment:

  1. Totally agree. Been wondering where all the venom was coming from. Thanks.