TV UK, 4 May
'The Secret Rulers of the World goes beyond demonstrating the cookiness of the conspiracy theorists to uncover the viciousness and stupidity of unsinister mainstream institutions.'
It may well be that my digital TV provider already has more information about me than the UK government requires on the census form.
Maybe it’s the obnoxious music on the census advert then, but when the government asks me to identify my ‘ethnic group’, I’m tempted to tick the ‘Any other’ box and write ‘12-foot lizard’.
Jon Ronson’s excellent series on The Secret Rulers of the World (Channel 4, Sunday evenings) exposes much more than an international conspiracy hatched by shapeshifting reptiles. Ronson even goes beyond demonstrating the cookiness of the conspiracy theorists themselves to uncover the viciousness and stupidity of perfectly unsinister mainstream institutions, from the FBI to the Anti-Defamation League.
The series began at the end of April 2001 with the story of the Ruby Ridge incident. In 1992 US authorities picked on an eccentric gun enthusiast on the fringes of a far right group in Idaho, and tried to recruit him as an informant. He refused to oblige, and was duly targeted for harassment. When his 14-year-old son’s dog attacked federal marshals, they shot it, the son shot a marshal, and the marshals shot the son (with machine guns), first severing his arm and then cutting him down as he fled.
This led to a siege involving 400 federal troops, during which the dead boy’s mother was shot through the head while holding her baby, and the father and a family friend were both wounded. You don’t have to be a paranoid lunatic to agree with the federal judge who said that the FBI had shown blatant disregard for the family’s rights. Conspiracies aside, government agencies are deeply uneasy about people who won’t recognise their authority. As with the UK census, ‘count me in’ good, ‘leave me alone’ bad. (‘Leave us alone’ even worse.)
This week’s episode (6 May) deals with David Icke, the one-time goalkeeper and BBC sports presenter who now travels the world giving lectures about the all-powerful international oligarchy that controls business and the media. Not an unusual theory, except that David Icke is talking about 12-foot, blood-sucking lizards. One more respectable conspiracy theorist describes Icke’s lizard theory as ‘the turd in the punch’.
The man is clearly disturbed, and I suspect not very bright, but in Vancouver David Icke comes up against the ranks of the truly witless. Convinced that when Icke says lizards he really means Jews, a coalition of radical activists organise to have him banned from speaking in public, and ultimately deported. They succeed in having him thrown out of a bookshop and bumped by a radio show, but ultimately the consensus is that when Icke says lizards, he means lizards.
There is a wonderful moment when Icke stands backstage in a packed-out theatre singing along to Boyzone’s No Matter What (1) while a self-righteous picketer outside complains incredulously, ‘Somebody called me a fascist!’. In fact, the programme’s strength is in drawing out the similarities between conspiracy theorists left and right.
Jon Ronson points out that the US militia movement’s rhetoric about a New World Order dominated by international bankers and corporate interests is not far away from the rhetoric of Seattle-style anti-capitalist protesters. And Icke’s right-on Canadian detractors seem to be with him right up until the part about the lizards (and if they believed he really meant lizards, who knows?).
In its own way, then, The Secret Rulers of the World gets closer to explaining contemporary anti-capitalism than the blanket coverage of last week’s May Day protests. It’s politics, Jim, but not as we know it.
Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).
The Secret Rulers of the World, by Neil Davenport
(1) On reflection, this song is the perfect anthem for conspiracy theorists everywhere. See the No matter what lyrics
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