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Tracing conspiracy theories in film | DW | 19.05.2020

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Tracing conspiracy theories in film | DW | 19.05.2020

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Presumably, no one has ever postulated the following theory: that the coronavirus was brought into the world by the powerful lobby surrounding streaming giants Netflix, Amazon and others as a way to bring their competitors the movie theaters to their knees.

This is, of course, absolute nonsense. And yet, nobody can rule out that there’s someone in the world would actually make such an absurd claim. No conspiracy theory seems to be crazy enough that it would not be written down on paper or spread indiscriminately on the internet.

Read more: Opinion: Conspiracy theories on the rise

Conspiracy theories are not theories at all – but irrational mind games

In these times, when conspiracy theories are running rampant in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, it is worth taking a look back at film history. But before we do that, we have to take note that the term “conspiracy theory” in itself is nonsensical. After all, we are not talking about actual theories, but instead about “myths,” “narratives,” and even “fairy tales.” Those terms seem more appropriate because conspiracy theories usually have less to do with “theory” than with what they’re actually directed at.

Film still of Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway (picture-alliance/dpa/United Archives)

The Vietnam trauma encouraged conspiracy theories in the US: Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway in the paranoia thriller “The Three Days of Condor”

The assassination of US President John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963 led to a whole flood of conspiracy theories. At times, people claimed it was the CIA who had conducted the assassination; sometimes it was the Soviet Union, sometimes the Cubans or Cuban exiles. Then there is the theory that members of the mafia perpetrated the assassination; another theory is the later Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson or George Bush Senior were behind it.

And these are just some of the more “serious” theories if you can use that adjective in this context at all. Some of the more bizarre “theories” claim that homosexuals or UFOs played a major role in the murder.

Popular films revolving around political-economic conspiracies: JFK

At some point, of course, the film industry began tapping into such notions. Since the murder of Kennedy still doesn’t seem to be completely solved, authors, producers and directors have had plenty of freedom in concocting their own stories.

Where facts remain hidden, it’s easy to speculate. Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK (see article image) is still the most popular film about the Kennedy murder today. Kevin Costner, who starred in the film, was at the height of his career at the time, as was US director Oliver Stone.

For all its cinematic brilliance, Stone’s film fueled further speculations about the masterminds behind the assassination. Director Stone’s focus was mainly on the arms industry. The idea was that arms producers were allegedly behind the assassination, as Kennedy aimed to end the Cold War.

The logic was that, with no threat of war and no arms race, fewer weapons would be purchased, resulting in declining revenue for the industry. According to the thesis expressed in the film, the person responsible for this development President Kennedy had to be eliminated.

Cinema and conspiracy theories populist, entertaining, critical

Cinema has always enjoyed taking up conspiracy theories; as popular subjects they either reveal true conspiracies or only deal in speculation.

Some films have fueled conspiracy theories, with the anti-Semitic propaganda movies of Nazi Germany being a particularly grave example. Films that critically question conspiracy theories also exist.

Read more: Conspiracies are always ‘theories of power’

Many films on the subject have been created in Hollywood, perhaps due to the powerful film industry there with all its creative possibilities and imaginative minds. But there are probably other reasons as well: In the current heated atmosphere in the US, where the president in particular deals in fringe theories, the climate for conspiracy theories appears to be flourishing.

Perhaps it also has to do with the size of the US, the relative independence of the states, the citizens’ love of freedom and the physical distance to the capital, Washington DC, from most parts of the country. A lack of education always fosters conspiracy theories an issue which may also apply to parts of the US.

Two men in a black and white film still, one clearly frightened of the other (picture-alliance/dpa/Everett Collection)

A German silent movie with a conspiracy theme: Fritz Lang’s “The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse”

But German cinema has also contributed a great deal to the subject. Even during the heyday of Weimar cinema, when people acted in silent movies, the topic of conspiracies was repeatedly addressed, such as in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Fritz Lang’s Mabuse films, as well as his masterpiece Metropolis, all of which look atconspiracies in one way or another.

It’s also easy to imagine that in just a few years, there will be a whole new wave of conspiracy film thrillers dealing with the subject of the coronavirus.



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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories – KTVZ

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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories - KTVZ

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Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York are calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to create a new bipartisan committee focused on election integrity and schedule hearings to reassure Americans over a process President Donald Trump has repeatedly sought to undermine.

There is growing anxiety among Democrats, and some Republicans, that Trump will not only continue to sow doubt over the legitimacy of the coming election but throw the subsequent count into chaos by declaring victory before all the votes can be tallied, including the millions that will arrive by mail.

In a letter to McConnell, Sanders and Schumer quote back the Kentucky senator’s own words, in which he attested to the reliability of mail-in voting by citing its successes in Oregon, Washington and Colorado, which have been using the system for years.

Trump has repeatedly questioned the validity of mail-in voting, promoted conspiracy theories questioning election security, called on supporters to act as unsanctioned “poll watchers,” and suggested that the absence of a clear result by the evening of November 3 would in some way cast doubt on the eventual outcome. Key allies in powerful positions, like Attorney General Bill Barr, have followed suit. Barr has persisted in puffing up a debunked claim that ballots received by mail would somehow strip the sender of their privacy — ignoring well-established safeguards.

By escalating the matter now, Sanders and Schumer are responding to growing concern, in partisan and nonpartisan spaces, that Americans are not adequately prepared for the potential of a longer-than-usual wait for results or Trump’s willingness to short-circuit the democratic process if he smells defeat.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress must come together to ensure that we have a free and fair election where every vote is cast and counted without intimidation,” Sanders told CNN, “where no one has to put his or her health in danger to cast a ballot, and where we have full confidence in the results.”

The proposed hearings would invite a cross-section of election officials from across the country to testify to the security and reliability of mail-in, early- and in-person voting — subjects on which Sanders and Schumer, again, referenced McConnell’s own words.

“Despite the clear security of our vote-by-mail system, some have continued to undermine it with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud,” they wrote. “As you have correctly said, people ‘can vote early, you can vote on Election Day, or you can drop it in the mail,’ and that voters should ‘not worry about your vote not counting.’”

The minority leader and Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also want more detailed discussion about the fraught hours, or days, after the polls close and a real-time watch of the election horse race potentially swings from one candidate to another.

“We know a number of states may well be counting ballots for a period of time after Election Day, and that those votes may be determinative in this election,” the senators wrote to McConnell. “To avoid disinformation, conspiracy theories, and suspicion about results, we must understand the likely timeline for this process.”

The letter goes on to reference the recent war games-style preparations conducted by a group called the Transition Integrity Project, a bipartisan gathering of operatives and academics that made headlines when some of the outcomes of their exercises — including “both street-level violence and political impasse” — were reported on in late July.

“A bipartisan group of experts and officials have studied multiple scenarios where the outcome of the election was not immediately known. Some of these scenarios resulted in unrest and even violence,” Sanders and Schumer wrote, suggesting the Senate should elevate similar discussions and familiarize the public with the uncertainties ahead. “We would like to hear from the most knowledgeable people in the country as to how we can do everything possible to make sure that the election and the period afterward is secure and peaceful.”

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS supported Caputo, with a statement that called him a critical, integral part of the presidents coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was no immediate statement from the White House.

Attempts to reach Caputo were unsuccessful.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called on Azar to fire Caputo, accusing the spokesman of trying to interfere with CDC reports to the medical and scientific community, as well as the public at large. And Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Azar himself to resign, citing interference with the CDC as one example of what he termed the administration’s failures.

Officials at CDC have privately complained of recent efforts by political appointees at main HHS to try to edit or press for changes in the agency’s weekly MMWR publications, a go-to resource for public health professionals.

MMWR articles are technical, but they reveal telling details. One published earlier this year noted that while Trump’s travel restrictions dramatically reduced travel from China in February, nothing was being done at that time to restrict travel from Italy and Europe, where the coronavirus was spreading widely and rapidly. Analysis of virus samples from hard-hit New York in March suggested it was introduced there from Europe and other parts of the U.S., the CDC article reported.

Caputo is an unswerving Trump loyalist. His recent book, The Ukraine Hoax, claims the presidents phony impeachment was rooted in a vast conspiracy.

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS…

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS...

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My RSS Feedunwinona:

This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS and Polio narrative (among others), only we’re seeing it escalated to weeks and months instead of years or decades.

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