SDCC 2020–What’s It Like to Live a Sci-Fi Conspiracy Out Loud?
It’s Not a Conspiracy If It’s True
Comic-Con at Home today kicked off with a roster of panels geared mostly toward teachers. Never has there been a panel so perfectly timed as the “Conspiracy Theories and Propaganda Through Pop Culture” panel, which featured STEM teacher Guadalupe de la O, writer G.L. Lambert, teacher a YouTube personality J.D. Lombardi, and writer Justin Montgomery.
Together, they hash out some of the greatest conspiracies in pop culture today. Shield IS Hydra. The virus in Watchmen was made to cut the population down. That Magneto’s “protection” jargon was only a tool to build an army for his own uses. These and others were mild compared to the real conspiracies that the group presented in the panel—COVID caused by 5G for example. The most interesting part of the panel was when the group talked about why people will believe a conspiracy over the truth.
The panel began with a quote from Alan Moore. “conspiracy theorists believe in a conspiracy because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is actually chaotic. The truth is that it is not The Illuminati, or “The Jewish Banking Conspiracy”, or the Gray Alien Theory. The truth is far more frightening–Nobody is in control. The world is rudderless.”
I Watch too Much Sci-Fi for This
“The work that I’ve done has dealt with a lot of this [events of 2020] and that’s why it’s freaking me out because I’m like, ‘I watch too much science fiction for this shit.’ This is just like… walking outside and seeing people with masks on, running and jogging, feels like a Black Mirror episode.”
Janelle Monae gave me this answer during the junket for Homecoming Season 2. In it, she plays a woman with no memory who wakes up in the middle of a national project gone wrong. I had asked her if she thought COVID and the wild events of this year would reshape Afrofuturism and science fiction work. Her answer has stuck with me today, as the administration has taken another twist that no one expected.
Real Life is Worse Than Fiction
This past weekend, Americans were shocked to hear that 100 federal agents had been sent to Portland, Oregon, by the President, to quell Black Lives Matter and police brutality protests there. The agents come from Homeland Security, US Border Patrol, and Customs, and agents from other federal agencies swarmed the federal courthouse to allegedly protect it from vandalism.
Then, reports rolled into social media of unmarked vans rolling up on protestors and kidnapping them. No one knew where they went. More photos and video emerged of federal agents tear gassing protestors like they were vermin, with the courthouse nowhere to be seen. They were attacking and snatching people far from the federal space. Today, the administration revealed that the attacks were intentional, and they had a name, “Operation Legend”. He promised to “surge” federal troops into more cities that he deemed violent with so-called “weak” local governing systems. The cities named all had Democrat leadership.
Why We Need Conspiracies Today
So, people would rather believe the conspiracy because there is a villain to blame. There are details that account for the worst parts. People go nuts when they don’t know. When things are uncertain. That’s why everybody bought toilet paper when the coronavirus lockdowns started. Toilet paper, we can control. A virus that hides for two weeks before we tell where it is? That is maddening.
According to de la O, humans have a need to connect and that’s why we flock to the theories. Lambert made the point that we flock to movies and television where creators have learned to sample from the conspiracies just enough to entertain an audience. Lombardi added that audiences love being able to put all the pieces together. However, the anxiety comes racing back when those movie themes start cropping up in real life.
Their panel cleared up a few things from recent events. For example, at the beginning of quarantine, the trending films were a docuseries on pandemics and the 2011 film Contagion about a flu virus that wipes out half the world population. I was baffled by this news, but now I see it. People flocked to the pandemic media because they had the details, the villain they could blame, and the process (the story arc) that they could predict. It was an escape mechanism.
When Conspiracy Conveniently Creates Propaganda
Another thing that the panel cleared up is the reason the President named his illegal booted soldiers “Legend” like it was some video game. They also clear up the reason why he also announced them as a “solution” to problems that don’t actually exist. It’s because he is playing off the rules of conspiracy to create propaganda that White Americans will welcome.
He offers a villain, details of a false narrative, and a solution at a time when we are drowning in uncertainty. Americans are woke to the racism that the majority were privileged enough to deny for years. The protests are chaos no one is comfortable with, and that damn coronavirus is running a comeback tour before it’s even done with its first run.
In the midst of all this, the administration offers the protestors (and the black and brown people in “urban” areas) as the villains. They are damaging government property just because they are unruly and violent. Add in pictures of Confederate (#herirtage) statues tumbling and the police under attack, and you have the details needed to send out a solution. It’s a solution with a gamer’s name too—Legend. (Add the waving flags and patriotic music.)
Operation Legend is Ripped from Black Mirror
Remember the Black Mirror episode “Men Against Fire” was all about a military unit that was armed and charged to keep the citizens of the town safe from the monster outside it. The soldiers were told all about these monsters. There were too many details actually. So when one soldier accidentally starts seeing the truth, it doesn’t add up. Turns out, the monsters were really people of the same town who had been pushed out by the rich and healthy. The propaganda about the monsters and danger were programmed into the soldier’s brain. When he saw the truth, however, turning his friends became a nearly impossible task.
That Black Mirror episode is Operation Legend. But, how do we fight it?
The Solution is Us
Monae’s words during the Homecoming junket really hit home. And stayed with me. However, today I had to go back to that interview to remember what else she said. It was the inspiration we all need after the “Conspiracy” panel. “I think it’s just going to ultimately be the people. The people. We are going to have to save us, as I said [ earlier in the conversation]. This is going to be the time where we’re going to have to show what we’re made of. And, we can’t depend on the leader of this world. So, the artists, it’s going to take us. The writers, the journalists, what you guys are doing, the things that you’re covering, the things, the truth that you’re bringing, the people that you’re highlighting, or choosing to highlight, all of this is going to be on us. We’re going to have to do this. We’re going to have to, you know, be the hope and the change that we so desperately need, right?”
The panel ended with a firm talk about debunking conspiracies and finding the truth. The panelist, like Monae, called upon us all to combat the real-life dangers we are facing with the truth. As Operation Legend rolls out, we here at Blerd galaxy plan to do exactly that.
Catch Homecoming Seasons 1 and 2 on Amazon Prime.
You can watch the entire “Conspiracy Theories and Propaganda Through Pop Culture” panel on the SDCC YouTube channel. Or at the link below: