I Want To Start a Controversy

Filed as Features, Guides on November 19, 2007 9:41 pm

Stirring the pot. Mixing it up. Making noise. Creating controversy. Attracting attention. Driving traffic stats up.

If you want to get a lot of attention, create a controversy. This has been true for thousand – maybe millions of years – of human history. It started the moment language developed into the art of storytelling. Along with stories came gossip, and rumors, and then conspiracies.

Having spent a long time living in the Middle East, I learned a lot about conspiracy theories, and the truths and lies that lie behind their creation. After all, a good conspiracy isn’t worth much unless it has a measure of truth, or at least believable fiction, within the lies and falsehoods. It helped that I’ve long been a fan of some of the best conspiracy theory fiction authors, especially authors who specialize in taking current events and exposing the dark bellies underneath the events. True or not, who cares! It makes for great reading late at night when the mind keeps asking “Why do these things happen?”, “Why me?”, or telling yourself, “They’re out to get me!”

This week, I’ll look at some of the famous conspiracy theories, on and off blogs, and how many bloggers are using conspiracy theories to attract attention and traffic, the economics of conspiracies, blog-specific conspiracies and hoaxes, and offer tips you need to know if you are going to start your own conspiracy theory on your blog.

A conspiracy theory can be anything, involving any one or any subject. There are conspiracies about war, drugs, politics, governments, health, medicine, science, history, religion, sex, economies and investments, space, animals, and even weather.

Conspiracies in History

Some of the best of Shakespeare’s work dealt with conspiracies. What was Romeo and Juliet all about if not for the underlying conspiracies. What about Hamlet? Othello? Oooh, those were conspiracy theories within conspiracy theories, who-done-its of the highest magnitude. Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, another historical classic, was a mine field of conspiracies in and out of court, still capturing our imagination after all this time.

As a storytelling (and in some cases “newsy”) communications tool, conspiracy theory is typically defined as the bringing together a wide variety of arguments, not necessarily related, and connecting them together as “evidence” to support a theory to justify, or excuse, an event, belief, or action.

In the CBC’s report on recent conspiracy theories, they cited a historical example of how a conspiracy theory was used by Philip IV of France in 1307 to bring about the downfall of the wealthy and popular warrior monk group, the Knights Templar. His accusation that the Knights were guilt of “heresy, ‘homosexual vices’ and idol worship” ensured they were blamed for the loss of Jerusalem in the sacking of the “holy land” in the Crusades, even though blame was spread all around. Hey, in war it’s always better to blame someone else other than the responsible ones, right? A good conspiracy scatters the truth with finger pointing in the wrong directions.

The article questions why conspiracy theories continue to be popular:

Some sociologists describe conspiracy theories as illegitimate and pathological, threats to political stability. Others dismiss them as entertaining narratives, as populist expressions of democratic culture.

Some have pieces of supporting evidence, some can be discredited with only a little digging, yet continue to endure.

While conspiracies are rarely true, they last because we love a good story. A well-told conspiracy makes for a great story. Add some mystery and mayhem and it’s even juicier. And gets better with the retelling.

JFK, Martin Luther King, Elvis, O.J., Princess Diana, 911, Katrina, Watergate, Irangate, Gitmogate, and something about a cigar and a president – we’ve all experienced great conspiracy dramas within our own recent history that fill the news for months and months as everyone tries to guess whose right, and whose wrong, and what’s the real truth behind the truth. These conspiracies are part of our culture.

In the newly released version of the movie Hairspray, dragged to the television to watch something “amazing”, the mother says to her daughter’s best friend, “I read all about it. It’s a big Hollywood set… you want me to actually believe he’s really up there…” referring to the popular conspiracy theory that in its rush to get into outer space and to the moon, NASA faked it. This conspiracy theory is a part of our recent collective memory, so it’s familiar, and funny.

Graphic copyrighted by Lorelle VanFossen - the truth is out thereTelevision shows like The X-Files entertain the world with conspiracy theories every week, even in rerun. What better story-telling device than an ongoing conspiracy which involves governments and aliens. A very popular conspiracy theory movie and book, The Da Vinci Code, continues to incite the imagination with “what if” mixed with “hey, it’s possible”.

Bloggers are not exempt from the need to take two or more disparate facts and bang the drums of conspiracy in order to attract attention to their blogs.

Tomorrow, I’ll cover some examples of some conspiracy theories and why we are so fascinated by them, then later, I’ll cover the economics of conspiracies, how blogs use conspiracies as part of their blogging purpose, and finish with tips on how to write your own conspiracy theory on your blog.

Article Series on Conspiracy Theories and Blogs

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  1. By Simon Owens posted on November 19, 2007 at 11:01 pm
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    “This has been true for thousand – maybe millions of years – of human history.”

    This is a joke, right?

    Reply

  2. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on November 20, 2007 at 12:35 am
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    @Simon Owens:

    See, there’s a conspiracy everywhere if you look closely enough. :D

    Reply

  3. By Ian posted on November 20, 2007 at 8:27 am
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    Great article, Lorelle.

    But you know, I hear that Blog Herald is trying to get rid of you for the part you played in faking the moon landings.

    My advice: Watch out!

    Reply

  4. There is Nothing Like a Good Conspiracy : The Blog HeraldNovember 20, 2007 at 10:52 am
  5. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on November 20, 2007 at 11:36 am
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    @Ian:

    Nah, not for the faked moon landings. Editor Tony Hung was really behind those. He’s the brilliant mind in the group. Me, I know who really killed Marilyn Monroe. :D

    Reply

  6. By Asa Bailey posted on November 21, 2007 at 6:32 am
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    I have been courting controversy for years, in fact it’s the entire basis of my career as a viral guy.

    BTW I was only just introduced to this blog, and what a well written, well put together bit of media. Well done.

    A.

    Reply

  7. The Economics of Conspiracies : The Blog HeraldNovember 22, 2007 at 10:58 am
  8. Finding Conspiracy Blogs… and The Truth : The Blog HeraldNovember 23, 2007 at 11:22 am
  9. Three Steps to Building Your Own Conspiracy Theory : The Blog HeraldNovember 27, 2007 at 1:07 am
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  11. Weekly Digest: Lorelle Back Home Finally, Conspiracy Theories Everywhere, Will You Go Naked, and More « Lorelle on WordPressDecember 2, 2007 at 6:39 pm
  12. Blog Challenge: Write a Political Post « Lorelle on WordPressDecember 6, 2007 at 7:58 am
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