Why Are We So Obsessed With Celebrity Conspiracy Theories?
The Debrief: Taylor Swift in a suitcase, the Royals are all lizards, Beyonce was never pregnant with Blue Ivy, I’ll read them all.
‘So, the theory is she died after Sk8er Boi’, I explain to my friend. We’re on a fairly busy train, which in hindsight probably isn’t the best environment to explain the conspiracy theory that Avril Lavigne died in 2003 and was replaced by a body double. She is giving me that all-too familiar look that says, ‘I really need to make some new mates’. She leans towards me and whispers: ‘Can you please stop talking about this, people are looking at us like we’re insane’.
Here’s the thing, anyone talking about a conspiracy theory seems insane, like, if Matt Damon, the beige-est man on the planet, started talking about how the moon landing was faked you’d think to yourself, ‘What are you doing Matt Damon, you crazy fool? Keep your mouth shut and make another Bourne movie already’.
So yes, I do know I sound insane when I talk about celebrity conspiracy theories but quite honestly, I don’t care. I’m obsessed with them: Taylor Swift in a suitcase, the Royals are all lizards, Beyonce was never pregnant with Blue Ivy, I’ll read them all. Hell, I’ve already read them all. But I’ll read them again for fun, or you know, for ‘work’.
It’s not so much that I believe that any of these things are true, it’s more that I love the creativity behind them. I love that somewhere in the world someone has looked at a paparazzi shot of a man leaving Taylor Swift’s flat carrying a huge suitcase and thought to themselves: ‘I wonder if one of the most famous singers in the world contorted her 5’8” frame into that enormous suitcase.’ I love that people seem to genuinely believe a woman who is worth $250 million couldn’t work out a way of secretly leaving her building without having to literally fold her body into luggage, rather than believing that a photo agency was trying to drum up some cash in what has been, let’s face it, a relatively barren summer for celebrity gossip.
That’s the beauty of conspiracy theories, they often require you to suspend logic, or more accurately to bend it, just a little bit. It’s the same instinct you have as a child when you asked your parents how Santa managed to visit every single child’s house in one night and they gave a half-arsed explanation which you were willing to believe. Sure, there were bits that didn’t add up, but you were happy to ignore those for the sake of a good story. It’s the same thing with Taylor and the suitcase: there’s no proof that Taylor was in the suitcase, but by that token, there’s no proof that she wasn’t in the suitcase either and, if given the choice, I know which chain of events I’d rather believe.
Why, specifically, am I so fascinated by celebrity conspiracies? I suppose so much of celebrity life seems absurd to me: the money, the parties, the feuds, entire lives turned into reality TV shows and pregnancies turned into photo shoots. Literally, every element of being famous is weird, so is it really that much of a leap to think that Britney Spears was hired by President George Bush to stage another scandal whenever his administration screwed up? How do we really know that Tupac didn’t fake his death so that he could go and live a quiet life in Cuba? Or that pretty much every famous person isn’t a member of the Illuminati? Okay, fine it’s a bit of leap, sure, but isn’t there is some sort of sense in believing them? Sort of? Ish?
According to psychologist Rob Brotherton, who wrote a book entitled Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories, there are a few reasons that people believe them, but the one that seems to be present in most celebrity conspiracies is an element of 'confirmation bias', which means that when we have a hunch about something we start noticing other things that confirm it and completely ignore anything that contradicts it. This is exactly what happens to me every time one of these theories surfaces. For instance, once you fall down the rabbit hole of the Avril Lavigne theory and see the hundreds of instances of ‘proof’, no matter how disbelieving you were at the start there will be a little part of you that thinks, ‘Oh my god, maybe she really is dead!’
This is something Ryan Broderick knows about first hand since he’s the one who’s responsible for the Avril Lavigne conspiracy theory going viral and, by extension, the guy responsible for me losing hours of my life to this whole thing. When he was visiting the Buzzfeed office in Brazil back in 2015, people at the office kept joking about this blog that detailed the now infamous Avril Lavigne conspiracy theory. Ryan thought it was funny, so he tweeted a few times about it until some Avril fans started threatening him and he backed off. Two days after he tweeted about the theory, Gawker, Noisey and Paper Mag picked up the story, and by Friday those articles had been shared 13,000 times on Facebook alone. When I spoke to Ryan about why he thinks that celebrity conspiracy theories go viral he explained: ‘I think the main thing that draws people to these huge conspiracy theories is just that they're sort of funny and ironic. Plus, they're usually super visual’. He also pointed out that Avril Lavigne probably holds a place in a lot of people’s hearts, ‘[She’s] a pop star that a lot of people in their 20s right now associate with a huge amount of nostalgia’.
The bottom line is that celebrities do ridiculous things all the time; Angelina Jolie wore a vial of her first husband’s blood around her neck, Rebel Wilson got involved in acting because when she had malaria she had a hallucination where she won an Oscar, Michael Jackson built an entire theme park on his property. Sometimes real life is stranger than conspiracy theories and other times, you spend an entire morning wondering if Taylor Swift really was in a suitcase.
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