I collect conspiracy theories. The nature of what people are willing to believe about their neighbours tells us quite a lot about our attitude to the society we live in, our fears, our worries about deception, and so on. And the past half century has been a boom time for conspiracy theories, from the JFK assassination through the moon landings to the CIA introducing LSD/crack cocaine/AIDS/insert threat here into the USA, to Louis Mountbatten and MI5 trying to stage a coup against the British government in the 1970s ... wait, the last one was real. And, now I think about it, so was one of the CIA ones. That's the trouble with conspiracy theories: true history contains such weird lacunae of surrealism that it's very hard to sift the wheat from the chaff.
I ran across a new-to-me conspiracy theory today; on balance I think it's an urban legend, but it appeals to my credulity very neatly and I can't rule it out for sure. Let me explain why below ...
Hip hop, rap. They're not my preferred musical forms, I will freely admit. I like some, but dislike most: and I really don't like gangster rap, both for its form and for the whole lifestyle and aspirational model it's associated with. Misogynisticre, violent, crude, angry: well, what if it was all a conspiracy inflicted on us, not by the music industry, but through the music industry? And what if the motive behind it was to provide a social model for poor black urban teenagers that would land them in jail and thereby create money-making opportunities for the private prison industry?
Well, that's what this conspiracy theory would have you believe. And it ticks all the checkboxes. Pick a group everyone considers to be unscrupulous and corrupt, like the RIAA: check. Come up with an even nastier Big Bad, a shadowy cabal from the private prisons industry: check. Invite industry insiders to a private conference and bind them to strictest secrecy: check. Our leaker is anonymous: check. Dissidents are ejected at gunpoint and threatened: check. This all stays under wraps for nearly two decades but is leaking now due to an attack of conscience ...
Which is where it fails nearly fatally to maintain willing suspension of disbelief. Here's one smackdown pointing out that the crime rate went down from 1991, not up. (Which tends to undermine the conspiracy's effectiveness, if not its existence.) And then there's the content. Conspirators with guns let a witness with a conscience go? More crazily, we're expected to believe that conspirators with such a large project in mind didn't pre-screen the names on the invite list for the conspiracy?
Naah, doesn't work.
Nevertheless, hip hop did turn gangster-obsessed around that time, and the private prison industry in the United States is a gangrenous moral ulcer rotting away that country's judicial system. Linking the two in a superficially simplifying conspiratorial relationship is ... well, it appeals to our instinct to reach for consistent causal links between parallel phenomena in a complex world. It's the modern equivalent of ascribing bad weather or crop failures to the gods being angry (an activity still popular today among the superstitious).
Meanwhile, if you want to see a real life conspiracy unfolding, you need to look no further than this.