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More Than Meets The Eye

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More Than Meets The Eye

From the realistic to the outlandish, conspiracy theories have become a staple in pop culture and entertainment.

From the realistic to the outlandish, conspiracy theories have become a staple in pop culture and entertainment.

Emy Galustyan

From the realistic to the outlandish, conspiracy theories have become a staple in pop culture and entertainment.

Emy Galustyan

Emy Galustyan

From the realistic to the outlandish, conspiracy theories have become a staple in pop culture and entertainment.

By Jack Stromberg, Troy High School

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On the morning of January 10, 2018 at approximately 5 a.m., a car pulled into the front driveway of Troy’s Zion Church (located on Livernois, no more than half a mile down the street from the community center). The driver of the vehicle pointed a laser at the building and shot out the front window. The Troy Police Department received two phone calls that day: one, from Zion Church, reporting the shooting; the second, from the shooter, warning that Zion Church was “an alien mothership” housing “reptilian invaders.”

While the suspect was quickly apprehended, the story of the Zion Church shooting has become a part of local lore, with the meteor strike near Howell prior to the event only fueling the sensationalism of the tale. However, when it comes to local legends, there is no shortage. Lake Orion’s annual “Dragon on the Lake” festival, as well as their beloved high school mascot, originate from reported sightings of a ferocious water dragon living on the lake. It is widely believed that the myth arose after a group of teenagers built a floating model of a dragon to prank locals all the way back in 1894. Nonetheless, the story endures today, and is cherished both during the festival and through the city’s youth sports teams.

The recounting of Lake Orion’s dragon legend is not alone. Some other Michigan favorites include the Michigan dogman (or dogmen, in some tales), the melon-heads of Saugatuck County, upper peninsula sasquatch sightings, and the most infamous, the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. Myths, legends, tall tales and conspiracy theories are ingrained into our culture on a local, national, and even global level. Some dark, some humorous and some outright ridiculous, the US hosts a plethora of conspiracy theories that never cease to provoke the curiosity of the public.

BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING

The public’s distrust for authority is the root of many popular conspiracy theories. The enduring belief that the government is not only keeping secrets, but has in fact lied to citizens about past events is a topic conspiracy theorists obsess over. One theory claims that the white streaks of water vapor left in the sky by planes are in fact chemicals being spread by the government (theorists refer to these as “chemtrails”). Believers say these chemicals can control anything from the weather, to people’s behavior, to even population.

Many theories regarding the government’s honesty toward its people stem from space exploration. Because until recently, all space expeditions were executed by government organizations, many theorists believe much of what we are told about space travel is fraudulent; for example, that the first moon landing was staged and that we did not set foot on the moon until much later.

“It sounds logical to the ignorant,” science teacher John Morrison said. “But then once you do a little bit of research, it becomes clear. Everything has such simple explanations that people kind of just want to ignore.”

Another popular conspiracy theory that has recently arisen is the infamous “Flat Earth” movement. While Morrison defends ancient astronomers and philosophers believing the earth was flat, he believes in today’s day and age the argument is irrelevant.

“Plato actually said that the earth was the most perfect shape there was: a cube,” Morrison said. “We know that it’s round because Galileo, in the early 1600s, saw that the earth’s shadow was cast on the moon. There’s so much evidence that the earth is round it’s ridiculous.”

However, one event in our nation’s history has perhaps more conspiracy theories surrounding it than any other: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Emy Galustyan

“The conspiracy is not that JFK wasn’t killed,” social studies teacher Dan Mastrovito said. “The whole nation saw it. Ties to organized crime have been alleged. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but that’s part of the conspiracy.”

Mastrovito revealed that he has family ties to the conspiracy: a distant relative who worked under JFK.

“I only met him one time before he died,” Mastrovito said. “He’s much older, and he’s my second or third cousin. He was a secret service agent. His name was Mike Mastrovito. He has testified that he took JFK’s brain and put it through a meat grinder. He alleges that he was told to do this, and that it would stop people from being able to see [the bullet’s] entry into the brain. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. That’s been written in conspiracy theory books that have interviewed my cousin.”

CREATURES OF THE UNKNOWN

Another point of interest for many conspiracy theorists is the possibility of undiscovered life forms, both on our planet and elsewhere. Some of the traditional titles that often come to mind are the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot (aka Sasquatch), the Himalayan Yeti, or the chupacabra of Mexico, as well as the very popular idea of extraterrestrial beings.

“I joke that the reason every ancient civilization around the world built pyramids is because the aliens told them to do it.””

— history teacher Scott Gibbons

“Whether you’re talking about the Mesopotamians, whether you’re talking about the Egyptians, whether you’re talking about the Mayans and the Aztecs, and the Inca or even the Chinese. And when you look at the lore of all these civilizations, they all include dragons. So my theory was that the aliens look like dragons, and that they built the pyramids. It’s frighteningly logical.”

Some of these “undiscovered” creatures have gained popularity through the belief that they could be existing remnants of species thought to be long extinct (like the Loch Ness Monster being a marine reptile called a plesiosaur, or bigfoot being a giant ancestor to the orangutan called gigantopithecus). The idea that members of extinct species may still roam the earth is often more believable than the existence of creatures that are complete fantasy. Many believe the megalodon, a prehistoric relative of the great white shark that could reach lengths of up to 60 feet, still lurks in the depths of the ocean. However, while it’s estimated the megalodon went extinct nearly 2.6 million years ago, some species, like the Australian thylacine (aka the “Tasmanian tiger,” a doglike marsupial), have only gone extinct quite recently. The last known thylacine died in 1933, but numerous sightings have been reported since then. In addition, some species, such as the coelacanth, a species of armored fish thought to be extinct for several million years, have been rediscovered alive and well.

Emy Galustyan

DEAD OR ALIVE

One area that seems to yield countless conspiracies is the deaths of iconic people, be it famous historical figures or popular celebrities. These can range from suspicions about the circumstances of their death, or allegations that the celebrity is still alive and hiding from the public eye. For example, after the death of Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain (which was ruled a suicide), many fans alleged that his wife Courtney Love murdered him. One popular urban legend describes Walt Disney’s severed head being cryogenically preserved, in hopes of one day resurrecting him with future technology. And, of course, the death of “King of Pop” Michael Jackson is still being debated over by die-hard fans. However, one celebrity conspiracy many young people feel very passionately about is that regarding the rapper Tupac Shakur.

“There was no real evidence of Tupac Shakur’s death.””

— senior Bryce Allain

“[The funeral] wasn’t open-casket, so no one knows if he was actually in there. Then there are possibilities of him fleeing the country to Mexico or Cuba. This would enable him to live a secret life without anyone from the US knowing. I think there’s a chance he’s still out there.”

One rather haunting theory claims that Adolf Hitler did not, in fact, die in his bunker at the end of World War II; theorists suggest that the body found was a body double of Hitler, which he is believed to have had a number of.

“The accepted history is that Hitler committed suicide with his wife Ava Braun, and that the bodies were then taken out of the bunker, covered in gasoline, and lit on fire,” Gibbons said. “The conspiracy is that all of that is a hoax, and that Hitler and other top-level Nazi officials escaped Germany.”

After escaping the bunker, some claim Hitler fled to Argentina, much like many other Nazi leaders, but others describe an underground bunker in Antarctica; not only did the Nazis dig miles of underground tunnels in Europe, but Hermann Goering led an expedition to the frigid continent in the summer of 1938. The purpose of this expedition is still debated over.

“The theory sort of developed because because it was Russia that liberated Berlin, so the United States and the other allies never got to see Hitler’s corpse,” Gibbons said. “When you think of the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States in the aftermath of World War II, the idea that the Soviets could be lying to us was a pretty acceptable theory.”

NOT WHO THEY SAY THEY ARE

Another popular suspicion with famous celebrities is whether they are the person they claim to be. As with many conspiracy theories, obviously some are the topics of internet memes or ongoing jokes; that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is a lizard-person (or a robot, depending on who you ask), as well as former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, or even that US senator Ted Cruz is California’s infamous “Zodiac Killer.” However, others, while they may still largely be for fun, are taken with a bit more legitimacy by fans. Some say rapper Gucci Mane, while in prison, was replaced with a government clone, as after his release he had lost a significant amount of weight. Another claims that the legendary playwright William Shakespeare we know today was not, in fact, the same Shakespeare that wrote the classic plays such as “Hamlet” and “Romeo and Juliet,” or that Shakespeare used plays written by other authors. One theory suggests that revolutionary pilot Amelia Earhart, who went missing during a highly ambitious flight around the world, was a government agent sent to spy on the Japanese. However, perhaps the most popular theory of this nature is the one regarding former Beatles member Sir Paul McCartney.

“Basically, they say the original Paul McCartney was with [The Beatles] when they got signed with Apple Records,” senior Aidan Salomon said. “Then very soon after, he was in a car crash early in the morning and was decapitated after going through a red light. They all panicked, and basically replaced him.”

Despite the so-called “evidence” fans have uncovered, including certain song lyrics that have been interpreted to reference McCartney’s death, Salomon is skeptical of the theory.

“I think it’s fake,” Salomon said. “I’ve spent so much time trying to convince myself that it’s real, but I don’t think I believe it.”

WHY WE WANT TO BELIEVE (OR WHY WE REFUSE)

Whether we like it or not, conspiracy theories have become very relevant in today’s pop culture. Celebrities seem to adore them, joining movements like Scientology, flat earth, chemtrails, or even claiming to be members of the Illuminati. Tesla founder Elon Musk has expressed that he believes the reality we live in is nothing more than a computer simulation (much like the movie “The Matrix”). In addition, many US citizens have gotten on board with theories involving climate change, 9/11, professional sports and other ones previously named such as flat earth and chemtrails.

“Why people in general seem to like them, and why it’s worse now, I think is social media.” ”

— psychology teacher Kelly Forshey

“It’s confirmation bias. You can find evidence to support whatever conspiracy you follow. You can find all sorts of things that point to it but you’re ignoring all the things that don’t.”

Some have suggested that celebrities are responsible for much of the trendiness behind conspiracy theories.

“Kyrie Irving kind of brought back up Flat Earth,” Morrison said. “He came out and said the earth is flat. And then about a year and a half later he said he just wanted to see how far it would go on social media. But then about six months after that, he came out and said, ‘Oh, it is flat.’ I’m thinking he’s just messing with everybody again.”

The internet gives people a platform to preach their conspiracy theories more easily and to a wider audience. Some people gain a significant number of followers, such as Infowars host Alex Jones, who is often called the “King of conspiracy theories.” Forshey believes vocal proponents of conspiracy theories may not actually believe the theories, but instead want to convince people of the theory to feel they have power over them.

“I don’t know if statistically celebrities are more into conspiracies than us, but they have a bigger platform,” Forshey said. “You wonder if people who do political conspiracies or any of those things, do they really believe in it, or do they like that they can get people stirred up? Do they like that they can get people who are paranoid or people who want to believe these things?

Forshey also suggested excessive obsession with conspiracies can be unhealthy, and could even be a sign of mental disorders.

“This whole idea of mental illness is part of the delusional thought process,” Forshey said. “You think people are out to get you. It makes you prone to conspiracy.”

Emy Galustyan

However, discussing conspiracy theories doesn’t have to be serious and dark, and can be a fun and exciting topic to debate. With shows like “The Twilight Zone” and “The X Files,” viewers are entertained by the possibility of the impossible.

“It’s human nature to imagine and it’s also human nature to wonder, ‘What if?’” Forshey said. “There’s always the possibility. It’s fun to look at and share those ideas with other people, and it’s something you can bond over.”

Forshey believes the innate desire to question things is part of what makes us human.

“The whole philosophical question has always been, ‘Why are we here?’” Forshey said. “‘Why are we living these lives? Is this all part of a bigger picture? What’s it all for?’ I think it’s just curiosity. People are naturally curious. We live kind of mundane lives, and then you have something that can pull you out of that and make life more interesting.”

This story was originally published on The Chariot on April 19, 2019.

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