A very popular conspiracy meme focuses on the crash landing of a potential UFO in Roswell, New Mexico and the dastardly attempt by the government to cover it up. This conspiracy dates all the way back to 1947, when technology was much less advanced and strange findings were foreign and unfamiliar. Very quickly, the story of William “Mac” Brazel and alien debris that crashed in his fields became wide-spread, and remains today to be one of the most believed alien conspiracies. So why is this? The Roswell Incident has successfully percolated through American society to become a widely believed meme. As a matter of fact, in a recently conducted survey by Public Policy Polling in April of 2013, twenty-one percent of the 1,247 registered voters that partook in the survey believed that there was a legitimate UFO crash in Roswell and that the government tried to cover it up. But what makes this Roswell incident so believable? According to author Susan Blackmore, a meme is something that “has evolved in its own unique way with its own history, but… is using your behaviour to get itself copied” (pg. 7). In this way, people have taken the facts of the Roswell incident and used their personal experiences and knowledge to weave their own version of the tale, one that appeals to them and is entirely conceivable.
Take, for example, the opinion of “EagleEye” on a UFO and conspiracy theory website known as Godlike Productions. Godlike Productions is a very popular site for conspiracy theorists, with over 1,500,000 views per day and topics about news on conspiracies, articles, state and government news, and forums open to the public where people can discuss what they think about certain conspiracies and the material that is found on the site. “EagleEye” brings his own unique facts to the table for a Roswell forum that is proof to him that the Roswell incident really occurred. He uses information like old pictures and unreliable videos to argue for the legitimacy of the event. By using an advanced search with his User ID number, I found all of his previous postings over the past couple years. This information showed that he was an avid believer in multiple conspiracies, including college conspiracies, BP oil spill conspiracies, and potential conspiracies about lunar cities on the moon. In all cases, he brings either website links or Youtube videos to his aid as evidence for his claims, regardless of the “officiality” of this evidence. Another conspiracy theory site known as Alien-UFO-Research presents similar information as “EagleEye.” This new site emphasizes alien and UFO sitings rather than a variety of different conspiracies. Different abduction stories, UFO pictures, articles, and the latest in alien news can all be found on this site. The author of this site presents both backstory to the Roswell incident as well as copious information and “facts” pertaining to the events that occurred in 1947. This conspiracy site is much more “official” than Godlike Productions, with more factual information and a more in-depth analysis to what occurred during the Roswell incident. On this site page, the writer also provides copious information about the alien biopsy and the pictures of a humanoid figure that was recovered from the site of the crash.
Clearly, some information (like the pictures and videos referenced above) serve as more concrete evidence for the spread of this meme. When describing Illuminism and Masonry, author Richard Hofstadter recognizes that there are “certain elements of truth and reality” that underly some stories of Masonry (pg. 79). Similarly, the Roswell incident includes elements of truth and fact that allow people to be swept up in the potential of aliens and government conspiracy: elements of truth and fact that the author from Alien-UFO-Research includes and incorporates into his article.
Another convincing aspect of conspiracy theories such as the Roswell incident are their ability to disregard any information that doesn’t bolster the conspiracy argument, while often finding support where none should be found. A great example of this is “CMV,” a reddit user who is convinced that Roswell really was a UFO encounter. He describes how the government has switched stories on the public about what occurred at Roswell so many times that even the newest explanation, “Project Mogul,” doesn’t carry much weight. This fits in perfectly with what columnist Ted Goerzel describes as the “central logic of the conspiracy meme.” Goerzel claims that it is always “to question, often on speculative grounds, everything the ‘establishment’ says or does and to demand immediate, comprehensive, and convincing answers to all questions ” (pg. 1). Reddit user “CMV” disregards the government’s explanations for the Roswell incident because the government is the enemy, the liar, and the deceiver. Even if new information about what really occurred at Roswell is convincing or extremely probable, “CMV” neglects that information because he is already convinced that Roswell really was an alien encounter. However, “CMV” has a very interesting account on Reddit. Essentially, his blog, “CMV,” stands for Change My View. In every thread, he starts the posting with his views on a subject and the facts that he thinks are important, and then opens the discussion up for people to prove him wrong or, as the case may be, change his view. In this way he both learns more about these topics like conspiracy theories or TED talks or Lord of the Rings while also starting discussion about these topics and drawing attention to them with the public. “CMV” puts what he finds disturbing about the Roswell incident to light and then sees what others think and what information might still be out there. So although he believes Roswell to be a true conspiracy and disregards new information from the government due to its constant changing of the truth, at least he’s still open to other opinions on the matter.
But conspiracy memes like the Roswell incident are easy to accept and support as truth. They propagate and “infect” members of society with their enticing possibilities, and allow people to imagine a world that lies in mystery. The power of the meme becomes prevalent through conspiracies like the Roswell incident, and chances are conspiracies such as the occurrence at Roswell will live on forever with a following of true believers, that use the information at hand to spin their own opinions and develop their own versions of the truth.
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.