How to create a conspiracy theory

The human mind has a great capacity for pattern recognition. It’s hard wired into us because, at the time that we were a prey animal, it was very useful to be able to recognize a lurking predator, whether it was really there or not.

It also taught us to recognize human faces, and to this day, more likely than not, if you see a pattern of two circles or dots (“eyes”) somewhere above a curve, line, or circle (“mouth”) you will see a face. Sometimes, there may even be a vertical line making up the nose.

This is the entire basis of all the text-based smiley face emoticons that preceded modern, more literal emojis.

The phenomenon is called pareidolia, and it covers more than just seeing faces. Jesus on toast, animals in the clouds, the face (or rabbit) on the Moon are all examples of this.

But humans don’t just see visual patterns. They are good at connecting dots that are not there as well. We have a tendency to create meaningful patterns from random data.

Sometimes, it can be harmless, like noticing that you always hear your neighbor leave their apartment around six in the evening, then only hear them come back after two in the morning when you’re up late on weekends, so assume that they’re a server or bartender. They also only seem to go out during the day on Mondays, the same day they never go out at night.

You could have nailed it completely, or you could be right in general and wrong in specifics — for example, they work the swing-shift in retail, or they’re on-staff at a theatre either backstage or in the house.

Yes, these are all pre-COVID assumptions. But the point is, in this case, if you create a pattern from random data, it doesn’t really hurt anyone. Well, at least not until you start to assume darker things about your neighbor and then start to intentionally gather data to “prove”  that they are involved in something really shady.

When someone goes too far in seeing those meaningful patterns in random data, they go off into full-on conspiracy theories, all of which are quite unhinged. Some are perennial and have been around forever. Others are uniquely 2020.

So, how does it happen that people can wind up believing conspiracy theories? As noted in one of the links above, it comes down to three things: A need for understanding and consistency, a need for control, and a need to belong or feel special.

“I can’t comprehend this thing, so I want to control the situation, and by saying I understand, I feel special or that I’m part of a like-minded group.”

Let’s make up a conspiracy right now! Not that none of this is intended to be taken seriously. Rather, it’s just my effort to walk you through the mental gymnastics that a typical creator of conspiracies goes through. Ready? Let’s begin.

I’ll start with today’s date: 01/11. It doesn’t look like much, but if you take 0111 in binary and convert it to decimal, you get 7. And if you take the British style date, 1101, converting it to decimal gives you 13.

Hm. Two prime numbers that also happen to be very important in all matters religious and occult. Now let’s look at three particular years, and how their digits add up:

1755: 8+10 = 18; 1+8 = 9

1906: 10+6 = 16; 1+6 = 7

1930: 10+3 = 13; 1+3 = 4

So we find a 7 and a thirteen in there again, and the two leftovers are also important numbers in mathematics, but what do you get when you add 9 and 4? That’s right. 13 again!

Ooh. What’s going on? Well, here’s the really interesting part. Those three years above, when combined with January 11, are the birthdates of these three people, in order: Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founders of the U.S. and musical subject; Albert Hofmann, chemist and discoverer of LSD; and Rod Taylor, actor most known for appearing in the original film version of The Time Machine.

Now, besides the birthdays, the connection between the two Als should be obvious: They have the same initials, AH. A is the 1st letter of the alphabet, while H is the 8th. Add that up and you get… 9 again. And counting the syllables, “Alexander Hamilton” has 7, while “Albert Hofmann” has 4.

So there’s another 974 hiding in plain sight.

Now where I’m going with this is how the musical Hamilton came to be created, and I believe it was because Lin-Manuel Miranda is actually a front for an ancient Hamiltonian conspiracy. And we get that by adding one more date to the list.

January 16, 1980. This is the day that Miranda was allegedly born, and I say allegedly because I’ve never seen his birth certificate, so it could be one of two things. He was also actually born on the 11th, but that would have been too big of a giveaway, so it was officially changed.

Or… he was actually born on the 16th via induced labor with the intention of making his birthday come 5 days after the others, and 5 is a sacred number to (wait for it) the Illuminati.

Hamilton would have been very familiar with them, if not a member himself. In fact, George Washington almost certainly was, and some people even think that he was the group’s founder, Adam Weishaupt, in disguise.

Let’s see what shakes out of Miranda’s official birthdate. January 16 gives us 1+16=17, and 1+7=8. Meanwhile, the year gives us 10+8, which is 18, meaning 1+8, for 9.

So we get the 9 again, but a new number, 8, which is considered very lucky in Asia. And if we add 9 and 8, we get 17, which adds up again to 8. This means that Miranda was engineered to be extremely lucky.

But he had to get the idea somehow in the first place, which no doubt came from Hamilton himself. So… how did that happen? Hofmann was the stage-setter, while Taylor’s character functioned as a message to the modern-day Illuminati. Well, at least the ones who were around when Miranda’s future parents were young.

Hofmann’s invention of LSD was key, because it spread into the arts community from the 1940s through mid-60s, at which point it was made illegal but was still very prevalent, and it had one pretty huge effect.

It changed the way people created art and perceived history big time. In fact, “time” is kind of the key. This was the era when stories started to be told out of chronological order, which was almost everything that directors like Nicolas Roeg did.

It was also when people started treating history a lot less reverently, which gave us shows like 1776, which told the story of the founding of America, but through decidedly modern lens.

It was also a time when People of Color started pulling a reverse on the theft of their culture (think Ragtime, Jazz, and Rock, etc.) and started creating their own versions of white classics, The Wiz being just the most prominent, but not only, example.

And none of this would have happened if Hofmann’s wonder drug hadn’t shook things up and shown people how to perceive time and the universe in entirely new ways.

Meanwhile… nearly 20 years before Miranda was born, the Illuminati of 1960 were sent their signal via Rod Taylor in the Time Machine. And how did they do it? Simple. The dates he stops on in the film. Keep in mind that the Hollywood elites who created the movie’s screenplay were no doubt Illuminati, too.

I’ll add the month and day separate from the digits of the year, and then combine both, but it all works out the same.

9/13/1917: 22 + 18 = 4 + 9 = 13 = 4

6/19/1940: 25 + 14 = 7 + 5 = 12 = 3

8/18/1966: 26 + 22 = 8 + 4 = 12 = 3

10/12/802701:  22 + 18 = 4 + 9 = 13

And let’s look at that 1940 date in particular, because it’s nearly 40 years before Miranda was born, which was about 40 years ago now. Hm. Interesting symmetry, eh? So maybe this is another Illuminati message.

Hm. 1940 gives us 5 if we add up the digits. 1980 gives us 9. Put those together, and it adds up to 14, which comes back to 5, which all points back to both the Illuminati in the past and Miranda in the future.

And how did we get from one to the other? Well, artsy folk weren’t the only one who took acid in the 60s. Plenty of scientists did, and a lot of their projects from the 60s to the 80s were off the hook.

I mean, come on — we put people on the moon, we created the internet, we created the basis for GPS and cell phones and, well, pretty much modern life now, and all that heavy pipe was laid from the 60s onward.

So don’t you think that somewhere in there a heavily insulated cabal wasn’t able to create time travel and keep it secret?

Then, at some point after 1999, the Illuminati hooked up with the brilliant creator of In the Heights, brought him back in time to meet the actual Alexander Hamilton, and this was the point when Lin-Manuel Miranda suddenly realized, “Holy crap, this dude was born in St. Kitts and Nevis, and he is clearly not white, despite the paintings, so I am going to write this thing.”

And there is your fake conspiracy theory, which I don’t believe for a second. But… keep this in mind because far too many people go through this many backflips in order to justify their pet theories.

You can make numbers do anything, really, depending on how you manipulate them. For example, notice how many numbers I ignored because they weren’t convenient, and how I’d add extra steps to get a new number that was.

Also, like a lot of conspiracy theories, I built this one backwards. I was looking for a famous person born on this day in history to profile but when I saw the combination of those three, it just hit me as a funny idea to try to figure out how Hofmann’s invention of LSD might have led to Miranda writing Hamilton, with working Taylor in there just a bonus.

It’s easy to “prove” a conspiracy theory if you design it to fit what you already believe, after all.

The saddest part is how hard it is to pry these painfully stupid ideas out of the heads or hardcore believers. And I‘m not sure that this is even possible yet. Sigh.

Image Source: bust of Alexander Hamilton by Ethan Taliesin, (CC) BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Theatre Thursday: Sometimes, the movie is better: part 2

Last week’s post was all about how the film version of Cabaret was much better than the original stage musical, although that musical was based on a play that was based on a book.

This time around, the derivative work started out as an off-Broadway musical that went to Broadway and then to film, so there aren’t any other layers to unpack. The stage show premiered in 1967 and hit Broadway the next year. It took just over a decade for it to make it to film, directed by a Czech immigrant to America, Miloš Forman. And, honestly, there’s a really good reason that he can relate to political protests in 1968.

Or, in other words, he showed how an immigrant can get a better handle on life in America than most Americans can and in this film, he nailed it.

But back up a bit. The original stage show was a pretty shallow review that only ever got attention because the cast got nude, they sang dirty words, and explicitly mentioned issues of race and vaguely protested the Vietnam War. That was pretty much it, and the thing really didn’t have any kind of plot beyond that, nor much of a real relationship between the characters.

Honestly, the script is a hot mess, more interested in abstract symbolism than in anything else.

But when this whole thing becomes a movie at the end of the ‘70s, Miloš gets what was going on in the ‘60s, and, bonus points, decides to take the approach of staging all of the musical numbers in real life. In other words, he’s going throwback old school — the exact opposite of the Cabaret approach — and, oddly enough, he makes it work.

Oh. Did I mention that part where the original stage show really didn’t have any coherent story? Right, I did.

This was the other big thing that this version brought to the table through two simple tweaks: Take the Lead Couple (a musical tradition), remove them from the hippie tribe, and make them the fish out of water (Claude and Sheila), then eliminate the concept of secondary couple entirely, and replace it with the rest of the core Tribe: Berger, Woof, Hud, and Jeannie — any one of whom could have been in a couple with any of the others.

In case you’re wondering, this is the show I’m writing about.

Hair (1979)

Much like the film adaptation of Pink Floyd — The Wall would three years later, Hair begins in relative silence as our lead character, Claude Hooper Bukowski (John Savage), leaves his house in Oklahoma. It’s a foggy and probably very early morning. Sound and colors are subdued and muted as Claude’s father drives him to a roadside bus stop in the middle of nowhere.

We won’t know for sure until almost the last shot of the film, but this is most likely the summer of 1967, which tells us something else: Claude is no poor boy from the sticks, as his father insists on giving him $50 cash, in case of emergencies.

Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $390 now.

Claude hops onto the bus and sets off for New York City, and this is where the music begins as he gets closer to his destination. By the way, Forman makes the very interesting choice to have the camera track from right to left instead of the other direction. I don’t know whether he was just confused about American geography, but the tradition in film here is that right to left means going west, while left to right means going east.

So, in other words, to an American audience, the instinct is to feel like Claude is heading to California.

On the other hand, having come from Czechoslovakia, this may have been a very conscious choice on Forman’s part, representing a metaphorical journey to the west, from an oppressive, gray place to the land of freedom and color.

As soon as we hit Central Park and the opening number Age of Aquarius fully kicks in, we definitely explode in a riot of color in more ways than one. The entire cast of the movie was about as diverse as possible, and we pretty much have every ethnic group represented in the opening, with several interracial couples included.

Here, the costuming (and, naturally, hair) also manages to be spot-on, avoiding any of the usual media screw-ups when it comes to portraying the look of a fairly recent youth culture a decade after the fact.

There’s a lot to unpack in these opening six minutes, and they’re worth watching.

We’re a witness with Claude as he stumbles into this be-in in the park, and we also meet The Tribe — Berger (Treat Williams), Hud (Dorsey Wright), Woof (Don Dacus), and Jeannie (Annie Golden) — who will become that all-important collective secondary couple.

Here, Claude also has his first vision of Sheila (Beverly D’Angelo), clearly a member of the patrician class, as she rides with two chaperones. She and Claude spot each other, and both are clearly smitten.

There’s also a lot of magic going on, and one particularly delightful moment comes when two mounted policemen approach the group. Most of the flee, but a brave duo of dancers remains, and their movements seemingly control the horses, making the cops powerless. It’s a really nice touch along with everything else.

The choreography here and throughout is stunning, and I have to give a big nod to Twyla Tharp, who does remarkable work, and pops up onscreen several times. This was her first of five film credits, a small part of a very long and illustrious career.

It’s very interesting to contrast her choreography with Bob Fosse’s in anything he did, but particularly Cabaret. Fosse was all about control through the concept of isolation. What this means in choreography is that a dancer should have precise control of any particular part of their body at any time, right down to a fingertip or a toe.

This is why a lot of Fosse’s moves seem to be intentionally robotic or jerky, with emphasis frequently being given to, say, just the hands, or the way a dancer tilts their head. Compare the choreography in the clip above to this bit featuring Fosse himself, with Gwen Verdon, in the film adaptation of Damn Yankees.

On the surface, it may seem like those are loose movements, especially given the tempo and tune, but if you watch closely, they are anything but. And you can also see the emphasis of ballet in Fosse’s work.

Tharp’s work in Hair, in contrast, seems to defy gravity, and clearly combines influences from tai chi and gymnastics. The dancer’s bodies are loose and limber, and rather than clearly controlling themselves, they seem to be drawn along by external forces.

It’s a perfect visual metaphor for the film, in fact.

Now one thing about the original is that it has a bunch of character intro songs at the beginning that don’t really introduce the characters. Sure, they give an actor something fun to sing, but they didn’t really have any greater meaning. Here, they become background to the more important thing happening, which is actual character development.

One of the first and most important of these is right after Claude meets The Tribe. They ask him for change, and he wonders why he should give it to them. At first unmoved by their claim that Jeannie is pregnant and they haven’t eaten for two days, he finally tosses them what’s probably half a buck — about $3.90 now.

Now, one of the things that happens in the opening is that The Tribe comes across Sheila and company on their horses, and Woof sincerely asks if he can ride for just five minutes, because he’s never done it and he’s always wanted to. Naturally, they refuse.

But as soon as Berger realizes they have enough money, what does he do? He makes sure that his friend gets his wish. They rent a horse and go for a ride and, when they catch up again with Sheila and her chaperones, Forman puts Woof’s intro number to perfect use.

It’s a little ditty that I like to use as an audition piece and it’s called Sodomy. It has exactly 23 words in its lyrics. Five of them are references to sex acts, none of them involving missionary sex, and two of them refer to basically the Indian Big Book of Sex.

Naturally it scandalizes the two older women with Sheila, although it’s not clear whether she’s so upset. Still, the trio rides off, passing Claude. Moments later, the horse that Berger and Woof were on runs by rider-less, and the Tribe implores Claude to catch.

Remember: Claude is from Oklahoma, so he does, and takes the opportunity to show off some trick riding skills to Sheila, only to have them go one way at a fork in the trail while he goes the other. Another potentially intentional move by Forman: Sheila and company go right. Claude goes left.

The other intro numbers, which do have some powerful political content, come together during Claude’s first night in New York, after the Tribe has convinced him to hang out with him, then get him higher than fuck. In short order, the titles of these numbers are Colored Spade, Manchester, and I’m Black/Ain’t Got No.

The first one, performed by Hud and the people of color in the cast is basically a litany that throws just about every racist slur about black people right back at the white people, and Hud owns it here — clearly the original intention of the number.

It may seem un-PC now, but in reality it’s a clear and early example of “taking back the words.”

As if to emphasize that, Manchest is Berger introducing (and speaking for) Claude, and significantly all of the people of color vanish. Poof, instant erasure, as Berger describes Claude as being from Manchester, “England, England, across the Atlantic Sea.” It’s the American Empire in a nutshell.

Everyone returns and launches into the number Ain’t Got No, which is a litany worth repeating now, because it describes the true struggle that was going on at the time. It wasn’t about black vs. white. It was, and is, about have vs. have not.

After all, in this song, it’s all of the Tribe and hippies singing together.

Then morning comes, Claude wakes up, and starts to head off on his own. He’s about to leave when Berger notices a newspaper on the ground identifying Sheila, who is having her debutante party that very afternoon.

Side note: This means that she is probably sixteen. Since Claude comes to New York in response to being drafted, he’s probably not that much older. Pay no attention to the casting of actors who were 28 and 30 at the time the film was made.

But, again, Berger ignores logic and reason to help give a friend their dream. When Claude balks at crashing because he wasn’t invited, Berger replies, “Do you want to go to a party with me?”

And that’s the end of just the first act, which has already packed in a lot more character development, relationship, and meaning than the source material did in its entire length.

I could continue the deep-dive through the rest of it but that could easily turn into a 10,000 word post so, instead, I’d just urge you to see it. It’s currently available on Amazon Prime — I’ll leave you to search it yourselves because I’m not trying to monetize.

But the message of this film, which comes through much more clearly than it did in the stage show, is far from dated. The struggle we’re in is one of greed vs. community, fear vs. love, and hatred vs. hope.

Just substitute the concept of forcing people to go fight in the Vietnam War with the concept of forcing them to go back to work during a pandemic because, economically, they have no choice.

The rich could always wiggle their way out of the draft, whether it was via student deferments, daddy knowing Congressmen (they were all men then), or bone spurs.

The poor, not so much, unless they were willing to do things that would ruin their lives in other ways, like pretend to be homosexual, or insane, or flee to Canada — although one of Jimmy Carter’s first acts when he took office was to pardon the so-called “draft dodgers.”

Kind of seems familiar now, though, right? Hole up in your well-stocked mansion with no worries about where the money is coming from, lobby your Congressperson, Senator, or Governor to end the lockdown — for the people who work for you and earn you your money — or fly off to your private island.

Or… go back to work without proper PPE, maybe via public transportation, without health insurance, while you’re taking care of your kids and your elderly parent, and take your chances.

Watch Hair, listen to the message, and then do something. And remember: in the film version, Berger goes full on Jesus mode in order to help his friends.