Conspiracy theories used to be fun. In the ‘90s they felt like weird, harmless nonsense, something you could read about and make fun of with your friends without any shame or regret. Back then, before Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, you had to actively go out of your way to find conspiracy theories, digging into obscure USENET groups or finding books that were usually resigned to some dusty shelf in the back of a bookstore. Some conspiracy theories did break through on a wide level in the ‘90s—Kennedy assassination theories have been mainstream for decades, and talk radio and early email forwards helped spread all manner of lies about the Clintons throughout the country—but for the most part conspiracies didn’t feel like a real problem back then.
Obviously things have changed. As new ways to communicate developed on the internet, so did new ways to spread conspiratorial bullshit, and they were gladly seized by both legitimate conspiracists and disingenuous partisan activists willing to manipulate people into voting for their candidates through conspiracy theories. The conspiracists have completely won at this point, with public trust in legitimate news thoroughly destroyed, and one of our two political parties endorsing an almost completely fact-free set of beliefs. As this video points out, our own damn president is the biggest spreader of conspiracy theories around; his election was conclusive proof that the truth had been thoroughly routed.
On this week’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver digs into the ubiquity of conspiracy theories, and especially how widely spread lies about the coronavirus are actively getting people killed. Plandemic, mask madness, the hospital hoax, and truly unhinged nonsense about 5G: he sums up all the prevailing theories about the virus, and how they’ve helped drive the COVID surge throughout America this summer. It’s sad and revealing and, yes, also hilarious. You might feel a strong jolt of guilt if you ever used to jokingly warn about the Bilderbergers or the Illuminati in the ‘90s, but it’s okay: we were all young and foolish back then.