Blog #6. Tracing the evolution of conspiracy memes

This strip was drawn by Barbara Smaller and published in the June 14, 2010 edition of the New Yorker. You can purchase a framed version of this strip from the Conde Nast store.

This strip was drawn by Barbara Smaller and published in the June 14, 2010 edition of the New Yorker. You can purchase a framed version of this strip from the Conde Nast store.

This semester’s incarnation of COMM 2302 focuses on the role of conspiracy theories in global culture. Several of our assigned readings (Paul Cornell’s Saucer Country, excerpts from Susan Blackmore’s book Meme Machine, Richard Hofstadter’s “The paranoid style in American politics,” and Ted Goetzel’s “The conspiracy meme”) make explicit connections between communication, culture, and the popularity of conspiracy theories.  In your next blog posting — due no later than 2:00 a.m. on Friday, October 11 — you will investigate the different ways that a single conspiracy meme is manifested online. This blog posting should make at least two specific connections to the course readings, and it should include at least one captioned photo.

1. Research conspiracy theories.

Give yourself 15-20 minutes to investigate the wide range of conspiracy theories that are floating around the nooks and crannies of the Internet. Cast a wide net, and remember to go deep. If Google gives you 47,000,000 results in response to a search term, don’t limit your research to the first few pages of results.

2. Explain your chosen conspiracy meme in a single sentence.

Choose a single conspiracy meme, and state this meme in a single sentence. For example, “One widespread conspiracy meme revolves around the belief that the Federal Government is fluoridating drinking water in order to control the minds of American citizens.” Remember to be specific when stating the conspiracy meme. “Aliens have visited the planet” is much too broad. A better explanation of an alien meme: “One widespread conspiracy meme revolves around the belief that a race of cat-like aliens from a distant solar system has infiltrated leading Hollywood studios.”

3. Discuss ways that this theory is manifested online.

Track down at least three different locations on the Internet where people appear to believe this conspiracy meme. (Remember to include annotated links to each of these sites.) Drawing on language from Blackmore and Goetzel, investigate different ways in which this meme is expressed. Can you situate this conspiracy meme within a larger memeplex? What sorts of behaviors are these conspiracy meme believers implementing  (or recommending) as a result of their belief in this meme? What do you know about the authors of these web pages? What else can you figure out about the sites on which this meme has appeared? For example, are these sites linked to organized groups are do they appear to be the work of a single individual?

There is a strong likelihood that some of the conspiracy meme believers will follow link track-backs to your posting. They might actually read what you’re writing. Though you should critically scrutinize these conspiracy memes, and though some of the memes might seem extremely far-fetched, you should express any doubts and criticisms  in a respectful manner. It’s OK to have a sense of humor about these things. Just remember that there are actual human beings on the other side of the computer screen. (Note: Trinity students are almost always respectful, so this paragraph is probably unnecessary.) 

Citing course readings

Although I usually ask you to use footnotes in your written work, this approach doesn’t work as well on WordPress. Thus, you should use parenthetical citations when making specific connections to the course reading. For example: The meme theorist Susan Blackmore (1999) notes that “memes spread themselves around indiscriminately without regard to whether they are useful, neutral, or positively harmful to us” (p. 7).

At the bottom of your blog posting, you should include an alphabetized list of works cited.

Works Cited

Susan Blackmore (1999). The Meme Machine. London: Oxford University Press.

Ted Goertzel (2011) “The conspiracy meme,” Skeptical Inquirer, 35(1). 

Richard Hofstadter (1964) “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” Harper’s Magazine, November. 

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