Knight, Peter. Conspiracy Culture: From the Kennedy Assassination to The X-files. London: Routledge, 2000.
Conspiracy theories and the paranoid style are a particular influence in post World War II America. Venturing from significant assassinations of public figures to personal “body panic”, the widespread suspicion that underlying forces generate certain society climates and important events, become iridescent in American culture during the twentieth century. In Peter Knight’s book, Conspiracy Culture; From Kennedy to the X Files, he explores and details the authority of conspiracies within American culture as no longer being “a symptom of a naïve and fervent demonology” but rather, “a very knowing acceptance of suspicion as a default mode—including even a cynical and self-reflexive skepticism about that suspicion itself” (55). Knight’s study of conspiracy theories offer how conspiracy culture has developed, been explored and continues today. His credited work seems advanced and well supported to give an accurate portrayal of how conspiracy culture works in America during the twentieth century.
Throughout this book, Knight contributes work of other authors, movies and TV shows as support for his theories about conspiracy theories. Knight also outlines several arguments about conspiracy theories and how they have contributed to the ‘conspiracy culture’ of America; primarily through the JFK assassination, social movements and personal body panic, eventually concluding that conspiracy theories do appear ubiquitous.
While Knight never really gives his own definition of what a conspiracy theory really is, he does relate to other credited authors of their understanding about how conspiracy theories transpire. The first chapter of the book presents a summary of general changes in the methodology and function of conspiracy thinking, with an examination of other scholar’s theories such as Douglas Hofstadter, Daniel Pipes and Gordon Wood. He dismisses Richard Hofstadter and Daniel Pipes definition of conspiracy theories as being a product of gullible paranoia within American politics. And instead of conspiracy culture being deemed “dangerous and deluded”, Knight prevails and says it can also be “necessary and sometimes even creative” (8). Overall, Knight’s objective of the conspiracy study is necessary because he claims it as “becoming increasingly important in spite of its cultural turn” (9).
Knight’s view of conspiracy theories produces a general skepticism of government agency involvement within incredulous events that produce an influx of anxiety within American culture. His prime example of this justified skepticism within society can be seen in his second chapter-- Plotting the Kennedy Assassination. Throughout this chapter, Knight recognizes the different theories behind JFK’s murder as an agent to fuel paranoia throughout American society. However not only does JFK’s death spur suspicion due to lack of closure, it is also “in tune with a postmodern distrust of final solutions” that lead American culture to be inseparable from paranoia (116). Knight also reasons that due to such a traumatic event happening to such an important figurehead, the widespread loss of faith also feeds into the paranoid reality of postmodern times.
The next two chapters divulge into how the judgment of conspiracy has shaped two new social movements of the time—feminism and African American civil rights, blurring the line of what is literal and what is an illusion of conspiracy within the 1960’s culture revolutions. Knight discusses feminist writers throughout chapter three (such as Wolf, Friedman and Faludi) and discusses the rhetorical divisions that have lead conspiracy to brainwash women. In Knight’s next chapter, ‘The Fear of a Black Planet’, he examines the African American conspiracy culture of AIDS, crack cocaine and how they have been claimed as a warfare weapon controlled by the government.
Overall Knight expresses credited knowledge about conspiracy theories and the notions that come with such thinking. His general argument about conspiracy relies within “a vast web of anonymous interconnecting forces, that popular paranoia in effect undermines the logical coherence of the very thing it was seeking to defend” (244). Compared to the last book by Pipes, Knight exemplifies what it means to have conspiracy within American culture and clearly defines its underlying role within America.