Conspiracy Theory (Part One)

Part One: Media and Conspiracy Psychology

Conspiracy theories are as old as the human psyche. But fears of an all-embracing political plan to take over the world appear to go back only as far as the French Revolution. In that same country, in the nineteenth century, the Dreyfus affair divided public opinion. Conspiracy theories continued to grow in importance up until the mid-twentieth century, when two arch-conspiracy theorists, Hitler and Stalin, warred against one another (despite a non-aggression pact), causing the worst blood-letting in human history. The world war sobered the Americans, who in subsequent decades dismissed conspiracy theories, and the mainly fringe groups or individuals who promoted such ideas, in their valid quest for some meaning or motive behind the seemingly meaningless, wanton destruction of war and commercial exploitation.

Sometimes those holding such ideas were denigrated for political, commercial, cultural or racial reasons, or for reasons of academic jealousy.   Some raise issues current in our culture:  these include those who question the assassination of Kennedy, or the death of Princess Diana, “Ufologists,” and perhaps those, such as David Icke, who claims  a reptilian race runs the earth and/or alien installations exist under the earth’s surface. Such themes enjoy a certain popularity, but owe little to common sense or carry little real influence. The politically disaffected,the political far right, and other alienated minorities have all been labelled ‘conspiracists’. Their theories imply a political agenda, but lack any significant credibility, or even influential publicity. To run for office with similar ideas in the manifesto would be to experience electoral disaster.

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One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest -1975 DVD

Rating: ★★★★★

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest [1975] [DVD]

This 1975 classic portrayal of how the routine of an American psychiatric asylum turns upside down by one man, a disruptive, rebellious prisoner feigning madness, Randall P McMurphy, who was unforgettably portrayed by Jack Nicholson. It is a deceptively simple story, set within a stiflingly small world, the ward ruled by Nurse Ratched. 

With the potential to fail miserably, considering the bleak setting, it is at turns dramatic, frightening, funny, moving and uplifting. It is based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Ken Kesey, a psychiatric nurse with a serious point well made, the lack of humanity in such institutions of the time. We may well feel we are on familiar ground here, since so many films, novels and TV series have similarly explored the dehumanising aspects of large institutions, for example, hospitals, prisons, schools and military establishments, all having received attention. Needless to say, if not the first, ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’ is a definite front runner. One could draw a comparison with ‘Hamlet‘, set within the confined court of Elsinore, and the central question, “Is he mad or isn’t he”?

The novel ( One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest ) is told through the eye of the narrator, a mute Native American, Chief Bromden. It can take a while to follow him, as he explores the idea that the patients were the only sane, truly human people within a closed society forced into compliance by a powerful, machine-like, autocracy, using drugs and electro-convulsive treatment on the patients, and more subtle means on the lesser staff. The film opted for a more objective, conventional narrative, which reportedly infuriated Ken Kesey. The rumour is that he would never watch the film.

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Groundhog Day -1993 DVD


Rating: ★★★★★

Groundhog Day (Collector’s Edition) [DVD] [1993]

I know anyone reading this will probably feel like they’ve read it before.. Ok, enough deja vu joking,  other people beat me to it. My favorite was the one who hadn’t seen the joke..’it is not a film I would want to watch more than twice, having seen it on television once already, 10 years ago’..hope you don’t mind me saying, but don’t you preview the comment before you post it?

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Riding in Cars with Boys- 2001 DVD


Rating: ★★★★★

Riding In Cars With Boys [DVD] [2001]

This film, based on the true story of Bev Donofrio, is no mere ‘chic flic’. Touching and funny, we found ourselves involved with the characters and the problems they faced, including Bev’s teenage pregnancy, and subsequently bringing up her son, often alone, Ray the hopeless husband, and Faye, best friend but seen as a bad influence.

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Monsters Inc. -2002 DVD


Rating: ★★★★★

Monsters Inc. [2002] [DVD]

Recently, authors Benjamin Hoff and Ernest Shepard have explored the philosophy of Winnie the Pooh. In similar vein, interesting concepts can be discerned behind the storyline of Monsters Inc. I have notched up a good few viewings with my three year old daughter! So without taking away the fun, here goes..

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Cool Hand Luke -1967 DVD

Rating: ★★★★★

Cool Hand Luke (Deluxe Edition) [DVD] [1967]

Paul Newman stars as the loner who will not conform to the arbitrary, oppressive rules of his prison captivity. As the film opens, Luke is using a pipe cutter to cut the tops off of parking meters. He is drinking, but not violent. When the police arrive, he is arrested. He is tried, and sentenced to two years in prison.

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Tichborne Claimant-1998 DVD

Rating: ★★★★★

Tichborne Claimant 1998 [DVD] John Kani, Robert Pugh, Stephen Fry, Robert Hardy and Sir John Gielgud

“Never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence.” – Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)


The Tichborne Claimant affair was the celebrated 19th-century legal case of Arthur Orton, who claimed to be the missing heir Sir Roger Tichborne.  In April 1854, Sir Roger Charles Tichborne was homeward bound from South America, when his ship was lost at sea.  When the news reached her, Roger’s mother refused to believe he was dead. She inquired all over the world, and in November 1865, heard from a Sydney lawyer claiming that a man fitting the description of her son was living in Australia.

The supposed Sir Roger was actually Arthur Orton ( Note: there is some evidence he could have been the illegitimate son of Roger’s father James). Aside from a superficial resemblance to Tichborne, he did not fit the description well; however Lady Tichborne was desperate enough to accept him as her son and sent him money to come to her.
Orton was seemingly reluctant to go at first, however, a former family servant, Andrew Bogle, accompanied him on his trip to Britain. He arrived in London, December 1866 and visited the Tichborne estates. When he travelled to the Paris hotel where Lady Tichborne was living, she recognised him as her son. She even handed him Roger’s letters from South America, and she gave him an allowance of £1,000 a year.
After Lady Tichborne’s acceptance, other members of the Tichborne family were outraged,  and unsurprisingly declared him an impostor. They found many discrepancies when Orton tried to fit his own South American experiences to those of Sir Roger.
When Lady Tichborne died in March 1868, Orton lost his most prominent supporter. It was unfortunate also for the cause of truth, for she died before she could testify  in the witness box. By this time, Orton owed a significant amount of money. (He sold “Tichborne Bonds” in music halls to pay the legal costs when he tried to claim the inheritance.) The rightful heir at the time, Henry Doughty-Tichborne, was only two years old. The claimant, in the eyes of the public, had become a `cause’..

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The Verdict – 1982 DVD

Rating: ★★★★★

Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) has all the odds stacked against him. His career is heading nowhere fast, a wrecked personal life, his legal partner (Jack Warden) has had enough, and a whisky habit that could kickstart an economy. He is sinking into a hole near impossible to climb out of. Stanley Ellin in The New York Times Book Review wrote that “the book, by David Mamet, by digging deep into the mysteries of medical, legal and clerical practice, has everything going for it, and makes dramatically potent use of each element.“..

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