Conventional wisdom puts the beginning of modern conspiracy-theory culture at the JFK assassination.
But it probably makes more sense to think of it evolving in its aftermath, in the years following the shooting, once the shock wore off.
Choosing what made the cut was not a scientific process. The only way four boys from Liverpool could execute the manic schedule of the Beatles is if there were many more than four (or they were on amphetamines).
While there were both political and pop-culture conspiracy theories in the 1960s and 1970s — Elvis is still alive, you may have heard — conspiracism as a phenomenon didn’t come into full flower until the 1990s. Message boards and chat rooms of that era gave us the golden age of political conspiracy theory, which we are still living in. ) These days, pop-culture obsessives are quick to cook up conspiracies anytime a celebrity dies, changes her appearance, or even stands next to a triangle, and ideas can now be passed from the edges of sanity to your Facebook feed in a matter of minutes, converting more of the easily influenced into paranoid believers.
They were also the birthplace of pop-culture paranoia — when doubts about the real identities of singers and actors, whether they had actually died or truly written that particular song, gave rise to real debate and “forensic” scrutiny. Not to say that pop-culture conspiracies live only in the present — they are often most delicious when they reach back in time, even way back in time, to propose we consider, say, whether it was George Lucas who actually directed Return of the Jedi (which was, you have to admit, worse than Empire) or whether it was actually Emily Brontë’s brother who wrote Wuthering Heights (exhibit A: fucking Heathcliff! Vulture has spent the past few months undertaking an exhaustive cataloguing of these conspiracy theories of pop culture.
In fact, when you add the Illuminati, the arbitrariness of somebody’s success becomes a kind of circular-logic explanation for it (how else could Andrew W. These may seem, at first, old news and old-fashioned conspiracy theorizing.
And in ways they are — people have been arguing about who wrote Shakespeare’s plays literally for centuries, of course.
Music, film, literature, TV, and anything else a celebrity might touch are organized by “genre” (do you like reading about zombie pop stars or Illuminati Svengalis or secret authors of famous books?