Through the Looking Glass: The Culture of Conspiracy in JFK (Part 3)

My fascination with conspiracy theories would be accelerated by that other paranoid milestone of the 90s: The X-Files. I can still recall with absolute clarity that fateful Friday night in September of ‘93; a slow creeping revelation that I wasn’t just watching some sci-fi show about UFOs but something far deeper. The X-Files, and the character of Fox Mulder, took on an almost totemic importance for me. My interest in what was behind the scenes now taking on an even more vital importance in the era of alien abductions, reverse engineering, and the men in black. Carter has often said that a major inspiration for The X-Files was Unsolved Mysteries so perhaps my fixation on the journey of Mulder and Scully isn’t surprising. But without JFK there would have been no X-Files. Oh, the Pilot might well have been filmed in the rain-soaked forests of Vancouver. But were it not for the crusade of Mr. Garrison and his secret meeting with Donald Sutherland’s X, I doubt the show would have become the cultural phenom that we know of today.

One of the tantalizing strengths of JFK is that it merely hints at the most far reaching—and some might say ridiculous—aspects of the conspiracy. We never see grey aliens or reptilian overlords, of course. But we are given a nefarious glimpse at a possible meeting between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Lyndon Johnson plotting to get him elected and ensure the Vietnam War. The words New World Order are never spoken but the truth of the phrase is evoked when Garrison ominously warns the jury of the assassination’s implications in a single word: “Fascism!”. JFK opened the door to the paranoid form and allowed for the nineties pop culture that followed to break it wide open. In television and film, conspiracies soon began populating every narrative with sinister forces controlling the world. Fictional protagonists became heroes simply for seeing the truth; conspiracy theory as an action and a noble one at that.

In my own creative life, the culture of surveillance and distrust of the government became hallmarks of the short stories that I read. Immersed in gaming and geek culture, I played in live action and table top role-playing games where myself and my friends imagined ourselves as ageless, paranoid vampires and wizards plotting to control the world. And in my own plays, I wrote of characters filled with fear and anxiety always on the run from a world that increasingly showed itself to be hostile and alien. As Blur crooned in their song Girls and Boys, “love in the nineties is paranoid”.

Stay tuned for the next instalment of my blog analysis of Oliver Stone’s JFK coming soon…

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