I Believe(d) In You
Robert Boyd, Conspiracy Theory
Feldman Gallery, PNCA
Lying in bed today with some lingering sickness that has transmuted into a sinus infection, I was thinking about Robert Boyd’s video piece, Conspiracy Theory. My original angle was going to be about how the piece was almost a nostalgic look at conspiracy theories … I mean, really, who’s worrying about alien abductions, lizard people, and AIDS these days when there is the threat of electro-magnetic assassination, HAARP and governmental weather control (linked into FEMA and inevitable martial law), Swine Flu and the likes…? Then I realized well, with the help of Kylie Minogue, that the piece is also largely about who we believe in this world about what, and why.
I must admit I have a personal and artistic interest in conspiracy theories. I spent a very large portion of 2008 living in rural southeastern Iowa getting sucked into deep youtube black holes, watching videos of all sorts of theories, testimonies, documentaries and the like, ranging from footage of missing escaped girls from the FLDS compound, the MK ULTRA testimonies, Canadian television programs about HAARP and other “black” projects of the US military, the interment camps the government is setting up in old train stations, the secret history of the US/Nazi connections and the anti-Semite and new world order/ satanistic origins of Pentecostal Christianity and planned parenthood….
Mostly I was trying to make sense out of a world that doesn’t make sense any more, and became seduced by all the crazy possibilities. Some of the stories conspiracy theorists tell are not so far from things you might believe as a liberal/progressive/radical leftist, or as anyone who doesn’t trust the government or the democratic process (what it was or what it has become); as these same beliefs are not so far away from what a libertarian would believe (as I found out in my many encounters with them in Iowa). And the extra edge these conspiracy theories give to our world makes everything seem sort of mystical and magical, and can give you a sense of perhaps a noble warrior, maybe kind of in a metal (the music) way, when really maybe the culprits are just greedy bastards bent on controlling the world economy, kind of more common, boring, square. But, then again….
The footage Boyd compiled starts with scenes from Fassbinder’s movie Welt am Draht (World On a Wire), some 9/11 it-was-an-inside-job protests, interview with the director of Loose Change, footage of Alex Jones, who I don’t know how to classify… sort of a loose cannon libertarian, who’s pretty right wing, (he also believes the members of the Koresh compound were peaceful people murdered by the US government) but whose fears and criticisms often mirror those of radical leftists. Then it moves into theories on vaccinations and AIDS, with vintage video clips mostly from the 80s of how AIDS was manufactured and released on purposed, to alien abduction stories and UFO sightings (from the 80s but also from the alien craze of the 50s and 60s). It sort of culminates in footage from all these eras/subjects and has speeches from figures… Alex Jones, some of the Lizard people theorists, and a man from the 60s who I couldn’t identify, all increasing the pitch and of their speeches into a Hitler-esque fervor. All set to the memorizing and seductive chant of Kylie Minogue, who wants you to know that she believes in you.
The feel and look of the video, somehow, felt cheap to me, in the way that it was too nice in that way that’s not nice, like too new but also too old, like say, the late 90s or the year 2000. All the pictures of Conspiracy Theory and video of it look more beautiful than I found it to be live. Somehow once I see a UFO I immediately question the aesthetical worth of something. Like, UFOs are too easy, and immediately bring up all these sorts of responses that you can rely on them bringing up. I also felt like, okay, he compiled all this footage together, I’m sure it was a lot of work sourcing some of it ; there is a great, clip of Margaret Heckler announcing that the AIDS virus was a variant of a known human cancer virus called HTLV-3, and that the means to reproduce it were now developed, and taken out of context here in Boyd’s piece is quite chilling… but I felt the piece lacked a syncretic or synergistic element that I longed for out of a piece that was going to tackle these sorts of subjects. I felt like, its not enough to give us all this footage, which, for me at least, because it almost seemed nostalgic or campy, didn’t evoke mush emotional response in me (save for Margaret Heckler; maybe it was her hair). Learning that this video piece in fact is destined to be part of a larger work (Tomorrow People I believe), and is merely one element of a larger multi-media piece some how redeemed it a little.
Thinking deeper however, I do realize that one point, I think from hearing Kylie’s manufactured but earnest sweetness in my head the last week, is that the piece is more about who to believe these days. The internet has really opened up the floodgates of sources to turn to for answers (and also questions), with everyone getting to have their say, and that is both wonderful and sort of, um, confusing at the least and perhaps disastrous at the worst. People already started questioning their sources of information before the Internet, and also started mistrusting the government, but I am amazed at the governments (and mainstream corperate medias’) continual power at fooling us all over and over. I was watching a Bill Moyer special from the 80s about the Iran Contra affair and “The Corporation”, the funny little name that the group of govt. and military officials gave themselves for selling US arms to the contras and making a profit from it while also promoting their ideological causes around the world. Moyer is interviewing citizens, in front of the Viet Nam War Memorial in D.C. no less, and they all seemed so shocked by what was happening. Hmm, Really? Really you are shocked, after Watergate happened, after Viet Nam, a decade before? And people still, I think, are shocked sometimes. People I think, have a earnest desire, not just to believe the government is good and that they wouldn’t do horrible things to its own people, but also, to simply believe. Finding out that, oh, all those things the media and government officials said, were not true, its just …really hard. Especially while its all happening, I mean, life is hard enough. If the sources of information that shape every ones’ view of reality are wrong, lying …well, what’s left? For some people its really hard to find an alternative. And especially an alternative that’s hopeful, or nourishing.
At the same time, we liked to be scared, we like to think there is something larger out there, something that could potentially get us, that perhaps the world could explode at any moment from a Russian (or, Korean, or Iranian) nuclear bomb, from a flu or a flesh eating virus, and, hmm, ok, maybe lizard people or aliens. Maybe its an ancient left over from keeping watch from the tigers … some people like me, don’t fear aliens or the magnetic poles reversing but do transfer that genetic imprint to the government. Somehow having the potential source of annihilation be this “real” entity makes it a bit more fun. Call it a sort of magic realism, and a sense of superiority in that my fears are more real than yours.
Conspiracy theories are a way to try to make sense of the world, to try to make up your own reality when what you are fed daily doesn’t match your own experience of things and you want a better answer. You want to read between the lines, you know there are secrets being kept and you want your grab at them, it’s a chance to wrest power away from the powerful, and try to pin point why you end up feeling so helpless in this complex society. I was watching the video clips, wondering about the sources of the facts that some people were using to justify their beliefs: one example a woman talking about how could the 4 planes that crashed into the World Trade center have left all at once when only 14 planes an hour are allowed leave the eastern seaboard any given day? (Which is pretty ridiculous given the Newark , NJ airport can handle 48 arrivals an hour O’Hare being 35-40 an hour, and from some FAA statistics I’m calculating that 50 take offs an hour from a busy airport is a very low estimate) …. Facts are hard to research, it could really take one a lifetime to figure out all the factors in any sort of political situation… So what usually wins out is how convincing or charming or passionate someone is about what they are trying to believe in or get you to believe in too. Seductive and fantastical imagery often help matters.
So, this is the grander context of Boyd’s piece. Our constant desire to believe, and that belief is a sweet siren cry, a document of (some) human efforts to piece together grand narratives in the vacuum left by unconvincing grand narratives. I think Conspiracy Theory worth seeing and thinking about, and I’d be curious to see it within the context of the larger project he is working on. Perhaps at a TBA of the future….