Blather, Rinse, Repeat: An Ethnography of Conspiracy Theory

(image by Aaron Escobar, used under a Creative Commons license)
This is the video of the talk I did at the Dublin Paracon 2009 on the subject of 9/11 and conspiracy theories. This talk resulted from a course called Digital Cultures, part of the MsC. in e-learning at the University of Edinburgh, where we were encouraged to carry out a ‘virtual ethnography’ on a community of our choice. I chose, for reasons passing understanding, the 9/11 conspiracy theorists, choosing some of the recent 9/11 films as a field site.

Press play.

And this is the presentation with all of the materials. Press the play button, let it load and the choose the full screen option in the bottom-right corner to properly view all the embedded materials.

For some context on how this all came about, you can rummage through my blog for the university course.
Thanks to Mark Guerin for processing the video for us.
Tracking the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

The Republican Party And The Obama Conspiracy Theories

The Tea Party: ‘The People Who Hate People Party’

Damien DeBarra was born in the late 20th century and grew up in Dublin, Ireland. He now lives in London, England where he shares a house with four laptops, three bikes and a large collection of chairs.


  1. Well done Damien! How polite you were.
    On the subject of film-making and persuasive arguments, it’s very interesting what you said about critical thinking. In fact, I am never really satisfied with any documentary, and if it’s interesting I usually try to read an actual book about the subject, e.g. before watching ‘Century of the Self’ by Adam Curtis I was glad I had already read a book by Sigmund Freud, and I made sure afterwards that I read an actual book by Marcuse rather than go with the few lines of summary that the documentary offered.
    Film is an image-based medium and communicates to the part of the brain that decodes images, whereas a book is aimed at the linguistic, more logical side of the brain. In a book there is also always going to be more information, and space to examine the subject more in-depth. Although books too can, of course, be misleading, I know which technology I prefer of the two. I’m suspicious about the whole method by which movies/TV give information, with, as you said, emotional music.
    I saw an art film on DVD that seemed more than aware of all this. It was called ‘Dial H-IS-T-OR-Y’ made by Johan Grimonprez around 1999 or 2000, and by a massive coincidence it presented a history of footage of plane hijacks, with interviews with plane hijackers from the time (they were almost like movie stars in the past, with media people shoving cameras and microphones into their faces, asking ‘why did you do it?’) and the film was framed with quotes from Don de Lillo, commenting on hyper-reality, one quote being along the lines of you thinking of a scene from your own life with the thought ‘what music should be playing? and who will play me in the movie?’
    So, certain people (known as – or dismissed as – ‘truthers’ by the antiwar movement, I believe) wanted me to watch this or that documentary, and I watched Loose Change and that’s all I could be bothered with. Instead I read books on the immediate background of 9/11: CIA, FBI, NSA, the presence of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the rise of fundamentalist Islam itself. I believe this is the best approach because I will never become a structural engineer or an expert in plane crashes, and for those conspiracy theories to be true, the human story about the hijackers and the journalistic research in the books I’ve listed below, would all have to be false. Once, when I was sitting reading ‘Perfect Soldiers’, the biography of the 9/11 hijackers, extremely well-researched by LA Times journalist Terry McDermott, I was surprised to experience a friend asking me if I was reading ‘a conspiracy book’. I infer from that that it is MORE NORMAL TO READ A CONSPIRACY BOOK THAN A HISTORY BOOK! I’m sure these books have not sold 100,000,000 copies.
    You seemed hazy during the talk about the ‘CIA passing something to the FBI’ but I can say from my reading that the three organizations CIA, FBI and NSA were intense rivals, so nothing substantial was passed between them, so none of them on their own had ‘foreknowledge’. Their isolated pieces of the jigsaw were not enough.
    Lawrence Wright: The Looming Tower (weaves the story from various different angles, all culminating in 9/11)
    Steve Coll: Ghost Wars (history of the CIA and Bin Laden in Afghanistan up to 9/11)
    Robert Dreyfuss: Devil’s Game (the rise of fundamentalist Islam and the American role in that)
    James Bamford: The Shadow Factory (the NSA’s role prior to and after 9/11)
    Terry McDermott: Perfect Soldiers
    Peter Dale Scott: The Road to 9/11 (mentions some players the other books don’t)

  2. Very very good Damien. Very much in the middle and you stood a very diplomatic ground. You agreed with some facts and disagreed with others, not bringing any personal agenda in it. You did leave out a lot of other things to do with conspiracies but you cannot expect to fill everyone is without boring the arse off everyone.
    Blather, Rise and Repeat can be said about ANY stance to be honest, not just conspiracies, it’s human behavior really. I have watched every 9/11 video and read and watched even more things explaining why it was not a conspiracy and I am the same as you, I have no idea! Because I don’t care, does not concern me, it’s the American government’s self-made problem to do with the way they see and treat the world.
    One thing I know, is that if someone comes along and tells you ‘this is how it is’, they are wrong…..everything is intangible

  3. “VALLEY OF THE SQUINTING WINDOWS” is a book by Brinsley MacNamara published in 1918 about colloquial gossip in rural Ireland.

  4. I thought this was pretty good. Not a Debunker, but just trying to remind people to use their brains – which I agree with his statement that our education systems do not encourage/develop critical thinking.
    On a side note, I just want to remind people that blanket statements are dangerous. It is obviously foolish to believe that “ALL Conspiracies are TRUE”. However, it is equally foolish to believe that “ALL Conspiracies are FALSE”.
    In the world of conspiracies, the ones that are found to be true, end up being swept under the rug. It’s unfortunate – but it ties into the lack of critical thought.

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