History of Conspiracy Theories

This week saw the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings. This was perhaps one of the greatest moments in human history, showcasing the determination, ingenuity and bravery of our species. All throughout this week, people have flocked to social media to share their memories of the Moon landing, telling stories of being sat in front of black and white television sets watching the Apollo 11 space shuttle slowly float skyward. These scenes captured many people’s imaginations all over the world.

Yet this historic moment is dogged by the shadow of conspiracy theories. Mention the Moon landings to someone and inevitably the conversation will eventually turn to how they were faked by a Hollywood film crew, all directed by Stanley Kubrick himself. For some reason the Moon landing of 1969 has become synonymous with wild conspiracy theories, despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest it was faked. Can anyone truly believe that the amount of people that such a production would have involved would have been able to keep the secrets for 50 years?

The Moon landings are not alone, history is littered with conspiracy theories. From the building of the pyramids (UFO’s), to the assassination of JFK (CIA or Lyndon B. Johnson), where there is any sort of mystery, there is undoubtedly a conspiracy theory surrounding it. But just why are humans so obsessed with uncovering some shadowy machination behinds history’s greatest moments?

For an explanation we must turn to sociology. As suggested by Karen Douglas and Jan-Willem van Prooijen, the urge to create conspiracy theories stems from an fear of the unknown, an inability to explain the mysterious, and a fundamental need to understand why events occurred. When faced with something we can’t explain, humans create narratives that typically involve a group of evil-minded, powerful individuals. When it comes to the Moon landing of 1969, people can’t comprehend how we as humans managed to develop something that could take us to the moon. Therefore they created the myth that it was all done in a studio, this myth spreads and eventually becomes a part of the history of the event.

While most conspiracy theories are utter nonsense, they reveal something truly interesting about the human condition.

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K. Douglas, and Jan-Wilem van Prooijen, Conspiracy theories as part of history: The role of societal crisis situations, Memory Studies, vol. 10, 323-333 (2017)

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