The Bizarre Rise of theCelebrity Conspiracy Theorist
Nathan O’Hagan tries to offer an explanation for why celebrities are more susceptible than most to wild misinformation
Over 30 years on from the release of the iconic debut Stone Roses album, frontman Ian Brown has, in a few recent tweets, performed one of the least surprising celebrity transitions into conspiracy theory territory. Even the most ardent of Stone Roses fans among us would surely admit there has always been more than a faint whiff of the mystical pothead conspiracy shaman about Brown.
Alarm bells first starting ringing when, on 14 July, he tweeted, “PUT YOUR MUZZLE ON GET BACK IN YOUR BASKET”. Ian went quiet for a while after that, with only a handful of benign posts, but if anyone thought he had calmed down, they were soon to be disappointed.
What hope is there when, of all people, Piers Morgan has become the comparative voice of reason on an issue?
“GET BEHIND YOUR DOORS FOR THE NEW WORLD ORDER” he tweeted on 31 August, his paranoia seemingly having only been building up over the intervening few weeks, before he went completely down the rabbit hole on 5 September with “NO LOCKDOWN NO TESTS NO TRACKS NO MASKS NO VAX,” adding the somewhat baffling hashtag #researchanddestroy.
Quite where Ian had carried out his research is anyone’s guess, but it’s fairly safe to assume it didn’t stretch far beyond the first crackpot YouTube channel or Facebook page he stumbled across, spliff dangling from his gob. Next came the inevitable implication that Bill Gates essentially funds the World Health Organisation, and a rejection of the suggestion that Brown’s lack of medical expertise should prevent him from making sweeping statements on medical issues. The only clichés now missing from Ian’s output were a reference to George Soros and an entreaty to ‘wake up sheeple’.
Brown is far from alone in his anti-mask views. Always eager to tread the same ground as his heroes, Noel Gallagher was quickly out of the blocks to give his own particularly narcissistic slant on the masks issue while being interviewed on Matt Morgan’s podcast.
“It’s not a law. There’s too many f**king liberties being taken away from us now… I choose not to wear one. If I get the virus it’s on me, it’s not on anyone else… it’s a piss-take. There’s no need for it… They’re pointless.”
Although equally wrong-headed, an obvious difference between Brown and Gallagher’s views is that, while Brown’s seem entirely rooted in conspiracy theory paranoia, Gallagher’s seem motivated primarily by selfishness. He doesn’t want to wear a mask, therefore he shouldn’t have to, because he’s Noel F**king Gallagher. Despite this, his assertion that “there’s too many f**king liberties being taken away from us now” also clearly shares some common ground with Brown’s psychobabble.
Fame and Paranoia
This kind of tinfoil-hatted paranoia seems to be at an all-time high, and it’s not just middle-aged Mancunian musicians getting in on the act.
Mainstream celebrities from Denise Welch and Richard Madeley to Matt Le Tissier are using their platforms to question whether the Coronavirus is as dangerous as experts claim, and are frequently being invited onto prime-time TV and the columns of major newspapers to do so.
As people continue to die, and infection rates continue to climb steadily, people continue to dismiss it. Just a few short years ago, the idea of such outlandish views being given the legitimacy of prime-time air would have been unimaginable, but we are now so far post-truth that nothing seems out of the ordinary. Not only are these people pushing what should be regarded as nothing but fringe lunacy to audiences of millions, they’re often doing so completely unchallenged, hardly surprising when someone like Eamon Holmes propagates the myth of 5G causing the Coronavirus while actually presenting ITV’s This Morning. What hope is there when, of all people, Piers Morgan has become the comparative voice of reason on an issue?
And it’s not just COVID-19 denial that occupies their grey matter.
The arrival of 3G and then 4G cellular networks came and went with little fanfare. The advent of 5G, however, seems to have proved a bridge too far for many. The likes of Woody Harrelson, M.I.A, Vanessa Hudgens and John Cusack have posted on their social media about the supposed dangers of 5G.
One of the most grotesque theories of recent years was what became known as ‘Pizzagate’, where a Washington pizzeria became the focus of rumour and accusation from a corner of bulletin board 4Chan, with participants convinced that members of the Democrat Party were using the basement of the restaurant to engage in satanic child abuse.
These clearly insane rumours have been comprehensively debunked many times; the restaurant doesn’t even have a basement. But the fact that they’d been disproven wasn’t enough for former boy band bad boy Robbie Williams. No stranger to espousing bizarre views, Williams gave an interview as recently as June in which he claimed that ‘Pizzagate’ hadn’t been debunked at all, and seemed very eager to believe it.
“But the fact that we don’t know means nothing has been debunked,” he said “Yes, there was no basement in the particular pizza place. That’s not the debunking that I want”.
Exactly what form would a satisfactory debunking take for Robbie? So deep is he into this nonsense, one suspects no such debunking exists.
The Back Story
What is the cause of this common thread of conspiracy theorising amongst actors and musicians?
We can only speculate, but those drawn to the creative industries are often driven by more extreme personalities, and maybe don’t quite see the world the way most people do. Add to this the acquisition of often extreme wealth and status – something which in itself can separate a person from reality – and too much time surrounded by ‘yes’ men who are not likely to challenge your views in the way a more conventional group of friends might.
These factors, perhaps sometimes combined with some level of substance misuse, could certainly leave a person vulnerable to these theories. Maybe their pampered lifestyles simply leave them with so little day-to-day stress and struggle, that they have too much time on their hands to ruminate on matters they have no expertise in.
These last few months, we’ve all had too much time on our hands, and maybe that has led some who were already focusing their thoughts and energy in the wrong direction to truly disappear down the same conspiracy rabbit hole Brown was busy digging himself deeper into.
In the case of Matt Le Tissier, maybe he’s just – well – a bit thick.
Just two years after the Stone Roses had released their debut album, David Icke, previously known as a sports broadcaster and former Hereford United goalkeeper, made his infamous appearance on the Terry Wogan show, in what was arguably ground zero for the celebrity conspiracy theory phenomenon.
Three decades on both from that appearance and the Stone Roses bursting onto the scene, things came full circle, albeit an oddly shaped circle. Just weeks after Brown’s first anti-mask tweet, David Icke led a rally in London of roughly 10,000 people protesting against pretty much everything.
A quick scan of the crowd revealed it to be quite the melting pot of conspiracy theorists, none of whom necessarily had anything in common with each other. Climate change deniers. Anti-5G, anti-vaxx, anti-lockdown, and anti-abortionists. They were all present, along with an unsurprising smattering of far-right and QAnon placards.
It’s got to the point where people have been running Twitter polls and taking bets on the next rock movie or soap star to share a #5Gweapon or #KBF hashtagged post.
If the last few months are anything to go by, whoever it is, they are unlikely to be the last.