Through the Looking Glass: The Culture of Conspiracy in JFK (Part 5)

By the end of the nineties, my obsession with conspiracies was being replaced by a greater sense of awareness in my own politics. I took an interest in current affairs, started watching The West Wing and followed with rapt disbelief the 2000 election victory of George W. Bush. Did I not see a conspiracy in the works during that fiasco? Perhaps. But my distance from the state of Florida, and my own ignorance of the U.S. political apparatus, extinguished my outrage. Closer to home, my belief in conspiracies as alternate histories engendered a deeper fascination with the notion of alternate realities. I devoured The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot, framed images of spiral galaxies for my one bedroom apartment, and toured the theatre circuit with a play about grief and theoretical physics. No longer fixated on grey aliens or Area 51, the rants of paranoia that had been so captivating were now replaced by equally alien yet hopefully plausible essays on parallel dimensions. The key word being hope. After a decade of the endless cynicism of conspiracy, I sought answers that might provide a ray of light from the dark paranoia of nineties.

I still believed in those answers on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

I had not experienced the Kennedy assassination, myself, but am told by those who did that 9/11 evoked a similar, gut response. A palpable knowing that something had changed and our society would never be the same again. Watching the devastation in New York and Washington in real time, it was as if all of the nightmares of the military industrial complex Stone had warned of in JFK had now so terribly come home to roost. The War on Terror began. Kabul was bombed. Iraq was invaded. And the world collectively began to march to the drumhead beat of an ideological conflict that is still being fought today.

Like so many others, 9/11 was the beginning of my unknown reality. Not long afterwards, as was expected, the conspiracy theories began. But not of the hidden plans of the hijackers or the long involvement of Bin Laden with Saudi oil interests. And not even the multiple warnings to U.S. intelligence agencies that went unheeded. The emerging conspiracy theories that took hold involved remote-piloted planes, controlled demolitions, and Bin Laden as an agent provocateur. Fuelled by Internet forums, and popularized by the Loose Change series of films, 9/11 conspiracies attempted and, in some circles, succeeded in establishing alternate narratives for the tragedy of the day. But I didn’t embrace them.

It seemed the more I was exposed to such theories the firmer I was in my rejections. Not long afterwards, I also dismissed the idea that alien spacecraft had been reverse engineered at Area 51. And just within the last decade, after reviewing new evidence and research, I’ve come to reevaluate my stance of the Kennedy assassination. Perhaps I had been so immersed in the culture of paranoia that, when confronted with my own personal assassination moment, I rejected outlandish plots in favour of Occam’s Razor. I decried the racism of anti-Muslim hysteria, I marched in anti-war demonstrations and I spoke out against the silencing of writers protesting the War on Terror. I needed no allegations of controlled demolition to be outraged and angry; the ever present spectre of U.S. foreign policy provided me with more than enough.

Oliver Stone’s JFK was a watershed moment for culture that brought long forgotten or buried details about the assassination into the public eye. Like the projector in the film’s courtroom sequence, it shone new light on the Zapruder film and invited further speculation about the dark dealings of the U.S. government. Indeed, the film can be credited with legislative action allowing for the release of previously classified CIA and FBI documents pertaining to the assassination. But with the public eye came public scrutiny and, in the years after its release, the film was often derided as a historical fallacy. But, in the end, does that really matter? Now seen as a cinematic and technical marvel of propaganda, Stone’s work on JFK has served to both define and fuel the paranoid form in our culture. Through the medium of film, it pulled audiences like myself, through the looking glass into an undiscovered country of truth, lies and the grey in-between.

Thanks for taking the time to read this extended post. I hope you enjoyed it and continue to follow my blog for more articles and essays in 2022.

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