You won't believe this story!
Satanic messages hidden in barcodes, newspapers in the hands of powerful secret societies and Covid-19 as a hoax or a deliberate leak from Wuhan… welcome to the rowdy world of conspiracy theories.
You think you know the truth... but do you?
Conspiracy theories are a way of explaining complex realities in terms that are attractively simple – but false. Such ideas have always been around societies., but they spread more rapidly with the rise of social media. The accusation of spreading “fake news” is hurled at those who fight to unmask and those who do their best to let it slip in to the mainstream public debate. Sometimes to the point that it is hard to have an honest debate – a serious threat to democracy.
Conspiracy theorists operating in the shadows nurture scepticism, particularly on the Internet. It is easy to dismiss conspiracy theories as unhinged beliefs propagated by paranoid people. But that is seriously underestimating the pull such fictitious narratives have on large groups of people. Luxembourg’s city museum in a display seeks to show how conspiracy theories work, who believes in them and why, and what damage they can cause.
The exhibition contains a nauseating ride on the information-rollercoaster. It bombards you with images, quotes from social media, video clips and sound recordings. It is impossible to take in every last detail of the show, just like it’s impossible to weed out everything you read online. Perhaps that is how the exhibition is meant: as a parallel to the Wild West of the Internet.
The display starts with recent fake theories, such as the belief that climate change is fake, that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job by the US government and that airplane contrails contain chemical agents meant to harm people in various ways. It then works it way back in time, covering speculation about the first moon landing (it never happened) and JFK’s murder (pick your choice). The timeline stretches back to before the Age of Enlightenment, when religious minorities and “witches” were massacred, seen as allies of the devil.
And just when you think that seems remote, Facebook screenshots pull you back to the now. “The media are a terrorist band that have full control over your mind,” reads one. “Speak only Luxembourgish … Everyone who can’t or doesn’t want to speak our language is an enemy of our nation and our culture. They want to dominate us and take over our country” another.
The exhibition invites the visitor to think about their own view on the information they take up. How do you consume your news? How do you differentiate between news and social media? What do you share on social media? Do you question the source of a story?
Even if you do not think Satan is trying to get in touch just because the barcode on your coffee contains the number 666, a dose of scepticism with your daily information is highly recommended. The exhibition neatly contrast each conspiracy theory with scientifically-based facts, leaving the viewer to expose their illegitimacy. The bigger question of how to deal with today's infodemic is something the viewer is left to answer for him- or herself.
"Gleef dat net…!” shows at the Lëtzebuerg City Museum until 16 January 2022.