[The following are excerpts from an article by Mark Lawson in today’s edition of The Guardian:]
In an early scene of the new Channel 4 drama series Utopia, an academic rejects a student's proposal for a PhD on conspiracy theories with the clincher: "I mean, conspiracies aren't very now, are they?" The line is winking inwardly because Utopia is the second conspiracy thriller in a row on this network, following Secret State – with a third, Complicit, soon to come.
So conspiracies are very now, and about to become even more so with the return of the genre's dark lord and author of what is more or less the bible of the form, The Da Vinci Code or, as it is known to non-believers, The Bad Book. Dan Brown revealed this week that his new novel, Inferno, will be published on 14 May. (...)
Although Brown's books frequently present religion as an agent of conspiracy, his literary career has benefited from a general western decline in faith. The human instinct to see a shape to our days, which once drove people to the Bible and Dante's Inferno, now sends them to The Da Vinci Code and Brown's Inferno. In frightened, sceptical times, conspiracy theories flourish.
And those who question official histories have recently received vindication, though not in the areas they hoped. While no truth has ever been proved in the favourite fantasies of conspiracy theorists – that, for example, the Apollo moon landings were faked, Princess Diana was murdered or President Obama is not an American – numerous grave conspiracies have been exposed.
The work of Bishop James Jones's commission of inquiry has exposed that the circumstances and causes of the deaths of 96 football supporters at Hillsborough were hidden by the police and other authorities in establishment machinations far more concrete and shocking than those long summoned up in sceptics' seances over the Kennedy assassination or the moonshots.
During much of the same period of British history, the activities of Sir Jimmy Savile and Sir Cyril Smith benefited from at the very least a conspiracy of silence, if no greater collusion, among some of those in the circles in which they moved. And, at a lesser level of human suffering, it is now established that intrigues and cabals existed in the banking sector to fix the Libor lending rate and seems likely that other collusions contributed to the wider banking collapse. And who knows what secret deals may be revealed by the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war if (after a delay that is itself the subject of conspiracy theories) it is eventually published?
We also now know that the private lives of the well known and those thrown into the news by tragedy or grief were routinely suffering intrusion from a conspiracy of journalists. (...)
The biggest conspiracies are to be found not in fiction about the far past, but in the facts of the present.