The Age of Conspiracy Theories?

Had dinner with friends a few nights back and during the extended wine soak that followed, conversation got on to one of my TV unmissables, Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. For the uninitiated, each episode of RKN features foul-mouthed and tempered UK celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay troubleshooting a struggling restaurant and seeking to turn business around inside a week.

Recalling some of Ramsay’s spectacular irascible moments – eg: throwing Joan Collins and her food critic companion out of his restaurant; bellowing “fuck me, who the fuck do you think you are, you arrogant French PIG” into the livid face of a blinking continental chef resisting advice – we chuckled heartily (veritable beacons of humanity that we be). But then from across the table came a comment that sliced apart the bonhomie of the night like a Gustav Emil Ern carving knife:

”Of course, it’s faked. Those new recipe recommendations Ramsay comes up with to save the day…well, they wouldn’t really be his.”

“Wha…? Why not?”

(Said with sneer emerging) “He wouldn’t make those up. Gimme a break. It’d be some expert working behind the scenes.”

Well! The gauntlet was down. I launched into an impassioned and probably slightly crazed defence, insisting that Ramsay was more than capable of devising winning dishes, that it was preposterous to question the authenticity of that aspect of his show.

On I went, unstoppable, the wind of outrage in my sails. Ramsay’s restaurant was the only one in England to be awarded a 3 Michelin Star rating (actually, his is one of three, but why should I let facts stand in the way when no one else does?). “Do you even know what a Michelin star is?” I thundered. To which our hosts shook their heads meekly. Nothing like shooting a mouse with an elephant gun. I duly pulled my head in and let the Bacchanalian tide take us back on course.

I have since researched the issue a little and found that Gordon Ramsay successfully sued The Evening Standard over claims that his Kitchen Nightmares program was faked. Wikipedia told me, as well as a BBC News report.

So that’s that. You can always believe what you read on the web and in the press, and the court system is the ultimate authority on truth. Yes?

Speaking by phone to the same mate yesterday, Jamie Oliver’s recent series, Jamie At Home, came up. I am unashamedly a big Jamie fan. I like his no-bullshit approach, his child-like and irrepressible enthusiasm, his emphasis on fresh herbs and quality ingredients in simple classic combos, and the dominant Italian influence in his cooking. I especially loved his rustic outdoor kitchen that featured in Jamie At Home, with the old wooden working surfaces, rough peasanty wood-fired oven and organic vege beds. In fact, his outside kitchen is an ideal for me. You can dream…

Anyway, back to the phone conversation. Bugger me if my mate wasn’t at it again. As I waxed lyrical about Jamie’s outside kitchen and organic garden, he lanced my bubble with the declaration that “they’re not real, of course.”

“Wha…? Why not?” (déjà vu, anyone?)

“Well, they’re just sets, made for the show. He wouldn’t really have a backyard like that.”

Well fuck me. What was this? It was time for a big serve: “You know what? You’re more cynical than me!”

The line fell silent. Then again, the meek tone and a response that was sobering for both of us. “Shit. That’s got me worried. You live yer life with a noose around yer neck, and I’m more cynical than you?!”

By tacit agreement, we changed the subject.

For all his conspiracy stuff, my mate’s got nothing on Marion Cotillard. We’ve all heard the theories that 9/11 was masterminded by Bush and the US government, who were seeking to inspire national outrage against the Muslim world. La Cotillard also suspects 9/11 was the work of the US government, but according to press reports she attributes the act to an economic motivation: the towers were “money-suckers”, she posits, and flying a couple of passenger planes into them was the cheapest demolition option.

Mon Dieu! She goes on to align herself with the conspiracy theorists who claim the moon landings were faked. Nice eye candy, La Cotillard, and her Oscar for her portrayal of Edith Piaf is a tribute to her acting prowess (I suppose…don’t quite trust Oscar, and I haven’t seen the movie), but her career-building strategies and PR skills could do with some tuning. As could her left brain.

Thing is, conspiracy theories abound today. The reasons are not hard to fathom: spin is everywhere. We expect it of advertisers, and rampant propagandising bigots wear their skewed perspectives on their sleeves, rendering themselves impotent. Since we see them coming a mile off, neither ads nor obvious bigots are responsible for the undermining of credibility of all information sources that is at the root of our general cynicism. That feat requires far more subtlety and sophistication.

Reality TV has something to answer for, but the two great culprits are the media, which is still our main source of “news” and has been exposed as biased and unreliable, and our supposed leaders, who are among the greatest exponents of whitewashing and wilful public misrepresentation of factual information. Shit, from the corporate boardroom to the highest political office, they employ expert spindoctors to assist in their sleight of hand.

This culture has nourished urban myth and conspiracy theories at every level, from dinner party conversations about celebrity chef TV shows, to Americaphobe conjectures over 9/11 and the moon landings. The all-pervasive culture of spin in which we are steeped today is inducing a permanent state of mass paranoia. The danger here is the possibility that we will become normalised to this condition, and the world a madhouse run by the most powerful inmates. Some might claim that potentiality has already been realised.

Copyright Ross Buncle 2008
All rights reserved

Article originally appeared in my blog: The Boomtown Rap. Thought it might be relevant to some of the Red Bubble community, so published it here also.

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