Spike Lee & Conspiracy Theories

What is it with Americans or is it just Spike Lee? I heard an interview with him on BBC Radio 5 recently, in which he was discussing his forthcoming documentary. When the Levees Broke focuses on Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Gulf area, and New Orleans in particular. He reported that during their research they uncovered several residents of the city who claimed to have heard a large explosion on the night in question. He allowed an impression to develop that there is widespread belief that somebody, somewhere authorised the blowing of the levees in a particular place to preserve more wealthy communities in New Orleans.

Now, let’s be clear, he didn’t claim he believed this, only that he had heard it and that as a documentary maker he had a responsibility to record the views. But nor did he say that he DIDN’T believe it. He then went on to say that his wife is convinced that the destruction of the towers in New York was a government/corporate plot.

It seems that conspiracy theories are not the preserve of the lunatic right wing in the USA but that the proudly left wing, democrat-voting-hollywood-elites are not uncomfortable with what in other countries would be simply ludicrous. Back in the distant nineties I enjoyed a good dose of x-filesy intrigue myself….but I never believed it. Right and left wing in the US seem capable of the most extraordinary credulity.

A couple of weeks ago I found myself in some mixed company discussing the war. There were the usual mix of views, pro- and anti-. One of these characters reported that a friend of a friend (isn’t it always?) who worked in a printing company had said that the British government had ordered the printing of thousands and thousands of conscription forms in preparation for the invasion of Iran. But here’s the thing—nobody believed him. Whatever your position on the war, this was just too out-there to accept. But I bet he would have got a slot or two on talk shows in the US.

So why do people need conspiracies? Is it because it helps give some meaning, however bizarre, to situations which otherwise our outside their control. And God forbid that we should be unable to control our environment.

I have been close enough to the political developments here in Northern Ireland to subscribe to the cock-up theory. Fewer things than we imagine happen by grand design. Maybe Al Gore lost the election because his party were too shambolic to deliver his home state, and Florida makes the loss more explainable. Maybe John Kerry lost because he hadn’t got a single idea he could communicate to the electorate in a compelling way. Maybe New Orleans is a mess because of the stupidity of human beings thinking they can bend nature to their will.

Meanwhile, I’ll look forward to Spike’s movie.

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