Jesse Ventura Takes the Soaring Interest in Conspiracy Theory to TV – and Viewers Are Flocking to It

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Jesse Ventura
has worn many hats over his lifetime. In addition to being a body-slamming
professional wrestler and one-term governor of Minnesota, he was
a Navy SEAL in Vietnam and a bodyguard for the Rolling Stones. In
his latest career move, he is a conspiracy theory investigator.

His television
show, "Conspiracy Theory With Jesse Ventura" premiered
on TruTV in early December delivering the 17-year-old channel’s
largest-ever premiere audience – 1.6 million people – and maintaining
it during subsequent episodes. It held onto high Nielsen ratings
despite being panned by critics because the masses love it. TruTV’s
slogan is "Not Reality. Actuality." This is a baffling
mantra, but it’s the perfect place for a show like Ventura’s.

"We developed
it for our audience," one that is "usually fascinated
with inside worlds they don’t normally have access to," said
Darren Campo, senior vice president of programming at the channel.
But the show is very much about Ventura’s "voice," he
adds.

"I’m doing
this show to wake people up," Ventura says in a promo. Throughout
the first season (which ended Jan. 13 but lives on through YouTube
and an upcoming marathon) the former wrestler dons a little gray
ponytail and a black leather blazer, expertly fitted to his massive
frame, as he sternly yet charismatically commands his team of "investigators,"
most of whom inexplicably have British accents – perhaps so
they’ll more closely recall Agent 007.

In one episode,
Ventura investigates global warming, which the trailer-voiced narrator
calls "the most convenient scam yet."

The episode
sends Ventura and his team across the globe, speaking to all manner
of global warming conspiracy theorists, including self-proclaimed
investigative journalists and a couple of contrarian climate scientists
– one a physicist at MIT, and the other a blurred-out American
living abroad who says he fears for his life.

While Ventura
says early on that he personally believes climate change is happening,
the overall thesis of the episode is that global warming is being
used as an excuse to make money off our carbon footprint fears and
move us closer to a global government, known in conspiracy circles
as the New World Order.

Al Gore’s name
is trumpeted endlessly as a key financial benefactor of climate
change (though Ventura calls him a "friend"), second only
to mentions of the United Nations, which is presented as the shadow
entity for a powerful elite that seeks to control the world – and
you.

To climate
change believers, the show is hokey at best, but its action-mystery
set-up is undeniably entertaining. You can see how a person might
convince himself that global warming is fake when some environmentalists
are trumpeting cap and trade, which the show’s narrator calls pollution
"permission slips." It’s certainly a contradiction.

TruTV hasn’t
committed to a second season but "Conspiracy Theory" has
found what it most likely needs to survive – an engaged audience.
The first seven episodes have already touched upon many of the most
popular conspiracy theories in America today: 9/11, 2012 doomsday,
government surveillance, and, of course, climate change.

Though the
TruTV executive insists the show is "not political," it’s
propelled by Ventura’s axiom, which he mentions at least twice:
"The one thing I learned in government is if you want to find
the answer to a question, follow the money."

Asking who
benefits is a question most cynical Americans find reasonable and
appealing. And a segment of that demographic takes it to an extreme,
dedicating most of their waking moments to what the majority among
us calls conspiracy theories.

‘There’s
no theory in criminal conspiracy’

By general
definition, a conspiracy theory is a claim that stars secretive
yet powerful rogue groups who seek to control or steal from "the
people" – and it usually carries the stigma of untruth.

According to
David Coady, a philosopher at the University of Tasmania in Australia,
and author of Conspiracy
Theories: The Philosophical Debate
, the term conspiracy
theory started to carry negative connotations after the philosopher
Karl Popper wrote, during the Third Reich, that conspiracy theories
propelled the paranoid ideologies that gave rise to totalitarian
regimes such as that of Adolf Hitler.

Since the term
has a derogatory slant, few conspiracy theorists self-identify as
such. The term is mostly used to suggest that a particular theory
is false, or that the person proposing it is unreliable. A reliable
means of discrediting a story, it’s often used unfairly.

As Uri Dowbenko,
who runs several popular conspiracy sites, including Conspiracy
Planet
, says: "There’s no ‘theory’ in criminal conspiracy."

Because conspiracy
theorists often feel isolated from and demeaned by the rest of us,
they search out communities of fellow believers. Scholars believe
that American conspiracy theorists tend to be predominantly white
and male (no wonder Ventura’s show has done well) and rather well-educated,
albeit narrowly so.

"As conspiracy
theories get more complex, and particularly for people who are more
actively engaged in it, it is an intellectual enterprise which requires
a good amount of reading and concentration skills," says Mark
Fenster, a law professor at the University of Florida and the author
of Conspiracy
Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture
. "You
see a lot of people who have received high levels of institutional
education. For this reason, conspiracy theorists may well be of
somewhat higher than average income level and wealth."

The community
aspect is tantamount to a conspiracy theory’s survival. With the
advent of the digital age, the Internet has become the organizing
hub for conspiracy theorists.

Read
the rest of the article

February
2, 2010

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