From Publishers Weekly
"Just because overarching conspiracy theories are wrong does not mean they are not on to something," opines Fenster in this commendably level-headed analysis of the grip that conspiracy theories maintain on contemporary America. He does not bother sifting for truth in the The X-Files, the Clinton Chronicles or JFK, but he does pay close attention to those who believe and promulgate conspiracy theoriesAwhat he calls the "conspiracy community." Even if every conspiracy theory is patently false (Fenster does not marshal evidence either way), he argues that mainstream culture's affinity for conspiracy theory is an important phenomenon itself. The "conspiracy" tag can be used to delegitimize others' opinions, as when the allegations that the CIA helped bring crack into East L.A. were written off as part of the African-American community's supposed susceptibility to conspiracy. And conspiracy theory is too often simply the cover story for racists and anti-Semites. But Fenster also notes that conspiracy theory serves a useful purpose as a balm to the politically alienated segments of society, and he optimistically interprets the popular pursuit of uncovering the hidden mechanics of power as evidence of a latent populism waiting to harnessed. By neither dismissing conspiracy theorists as paranoid kooks nor being seduced by their yarns, Fenster constructs a strong case that even while we do not believe, we should nonetheless listen.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
JFK, Karl Marx, the Pope, Aristotle Onassis, Howard Hughes, Fox Mulder, Bill Clinton, both George Bushes—all have been linked to vastly complicated global (or even galactic) intrigues. Two years after Mark Fenster first published Conspiracy Theories, the attacks of 9/11 stirred the imaginations of a new generation of believers. Before the black box from United 93 had even been found, there were theories put forth from the implausible to the offensive and outrageous.
In this new edition of the landmark work, and the first in-depth look at the conspiracy communities that formed to debunk the 9/11 Commission Report, Fenster shows that conspiracy theories play an important role in U.S. democracy. Examining how and why they circulate through mass culture, he contends, helps us better understand society as a whole. Ranging from The Da Vinci Code to the intellectual history of Richard Hofstadter, he argues that dismissing conspiracy theories as pathological or marginal flattens contemporary politics and culture because they are—contrary to popular portrayal—an intense articulation of populism and, at their essence, are strident calls for a better, more transparent government. Fenster has demonstrated once again that the people who claim someone’s after us are, at least, worth hearing.