I am not a conspiracy theorist, though I know a few. I know someone who believes that Wal-Marts are designed to corral and potentially dispose of the unruly masses. And that vapor trails are actually mind-controlling drugs being spread by the government (which is why there are more vapor trails over liberal cities than conservative cities). Someone also told me that there is a tunnel that runs from under the Masonic Lodge to the Vance Monument, though I can’t imagine what good that would do anyone. Or how a group (however weirdly secretive) that holds fundraiser spaghetti suppers could be up to no good. Further proof, I suppose, that I’m just not paranoid.
But for those of you who enjoy wrapping your minds around such issues (Where is Bin Laden anyway? And was the American government out to silence Bob Marley? And what’s with the fezzes worn by the Shriners?), I offer Web of Conspiracy: A Guide to Conspiracy Theory Sites on the Internet (Information Today, Inc., 2008) by James F. Broderick and Asheville-based author Darren W. Miller.
The book, like its name suggests, covers highly trafficked conspiracy theories as they are duked out on various Web sites. Not that the sites provide forums for banter; rather they are constructed to support arguments around any number of view points. Of the PBS-created pages for the Stratford vs. Oxford case (debating the true identity of William Shakespeare), Web notes, “The site remains one of the best designed, most easily navigated and clearly written on the topic. Because it never really gets bogged down with too much microscopic detail, the site is the perfect introductory course to de Vere’s challenge of the Bard.”
Here, it’s worth noting that Web really is about Web sites. Yes, each chapter provides background (often titillating) on a number of conspiracies — info culled from each side — but the book’s real focus is on the Web sites perpetuating the facts and works of fiction.
Which is not to say Web won’t be of interest to conspiracy theorists of all technological capabilities. Subject-wise, there’s something for everyone, from aliens (Roswell) and politics (9/11) to religion (Jesus) and celebrity (the death of Princess Diana). Some of the information may offend delicate sensibilities (on the chapter about AIDS, the authors maintain, “Within the conspiracy community, there are sharp divisions over such basic questions as whether AIDS is even fatal, or rather if it’s the treatment for AIDS that kills instead.”); there is also plenty that’s light-hearted (in the same chapter, a photo caption for a blurry image of flying saucer notes, “Some conspiracy theorists believe that the AIDS virus resulted from an alien plan to infect and weaken the human species.”).
For this reader, the most intriguing chapters are those on the mystery-shrouded, made-for-PBS’s-History Detectives “The Order of the Skull and Bones,” and the Hollywood, silver-screen-drama of “The Death of Marilyn Monroe.” But that’s strictly a matter of taste. The book itself is well-written, moves at a respectable clip even through the densest of material (though the authors do an excellent job of leaving the hardcore hashing to the Web sites about which they write) and provides interesting overviews of these many cultural phenomenons. And really, even if you’re not about to take sides on who killed J.F.K. or kidnapped the Lindbergh baby, there’s no harm in brushing up on the swirl of controversy that these events continue to stir up. If nothing else, it makes for good party chat.
• On Tuesday, July 29, Malaprop’s hosts An Evening of Fantasy with Jeff Vandermeer and Tobias Buckell. Vandermeer is the author of several novels and collections and the editor of anthologies including The Best American Fantasy 2007 and The New Weird. Sci-fi author an blogger Buckell most recently wrote Sly Mongoose. The event begins at 7 p.m.
• A writers’ gathering is slated for noon on Thursday, July 31, at the Grove Corner Market in Asheville’s Grove Arcade. Grab lunch and talk shop with other area writers. Organizer Mark Bloom describes the get-together as an opportunity to “share stories, job leads, and business cards — although we’re certainly not limiting you to that. This informal group is a great way to stay in touch with your colleagues in the Asheville area.” No dues to join the group. If you (or someone you know) would like to be on the mailing list, e-mail MarkHenryBloom@aol.com. Info: 280-1686.
— Alli Marshall, A&E reporter