9/11 and conspiracies

Today is September the 11th, which means for an awful lot of people there’s an awful lot of mourning to do, or there’s people hiding behind the attacks to use ‘patriotism’ to further their cause and of course, it’s the day when conspiracy theorists come crawling out the woodwork to reveal how watching some 15 year old’s vlog on Youtube shows how it was an inside job, and that Bush and Blair were reptilian morphing aliens intent on creating a New World Order.

The problem is that most conspiracy theories focus on one incident, or something that can be endlessly dissected til in effect, it’s proof of a larger conspiracy by virtue of the smaller incident being ‘proved’ .

So for example, take this picture.



It’s an Oasis bottle in a lump of grass. Looking at this picture you’re going to think it’s on the side of a motorway, or that it’s somewhere in an inner city or anything to ‘prove’ what you think when you see the picture for the first time. You might not be an expert in discarded drinks bottles, or grass but you’ve looked at it and it backs your opinion.




You don’t especially notice the bigger picture until you pan back.




The bigger picture is irrelevant though because before you’ve informed yourself of it you’ve made your mind up based upon whatever limited information you have, not to mention what limited experience in fields which often taken the sort of scientific understanding that laymen can’t pick up quickly.

So you get a mix of confirmation bias, ignorance, misinformation or just enough science to make it seem sensible, but ask yourself how many of these theories have been peer reviewed by actual experts with years, if not decades in a field? How many stand up to more than two minutes of actual scrutiny?

As pointed out in this excellent Scientific American article, the word ‘theory’ in  this context does not mean the same thing as a scientific theory.

a conspiracy theory is not, of course, a theory in the scientific sense of the word. In science, a theory is an explanation of a phenomenon that has been substantiated through experiments and testing and has become accepted by most experts in the relevant field—the theory of relativity, say, or the theory of evolution. Conspiracy theorists propose, without having collected rigorous data to support their case, that powerful people or groups are secretly plotting to accomplish some sinister goal.


Of course these stories help ties up world events in a nice, cost knot and simplifies real world events in a way that creates an easy to grasp, even an exciting narrative. It’s always about finding the smoking gun, or some new bit of information as to who was on the Grassy Knoll that day nearly 50 years ago, or what type of knife Jack the Ripper used to carve up Mary Kelly and on and on.

This isn’t to say secret things happen that bleed into the open. They do, but things like the various conspiracies around 9/11 trivialise the loss of life, and some genuinely insult any decent person to the point of anger, but the fact is that 19 people flew planes into buildings which caused over 3000 people to die. No aliens. No government plots to fly holographic photon torpedoes into buildings. No hiding of victims in an island paradise. Just 19 people who had this one astonishing plan which worked for a variety of reasons, including the incompetence of an American government but not their complicity.

Thing is what’s a greater horror? That of a massive international conspiracy involving tens of thousands or 19 people with box cutters flying planes full of terrified innocent people into buildings? The former involves this building of a mythology to make sense of it, while the latter, the truth, is simply so fucking scary it beggars belief but thinking the former is true comforts some people while giving them an escape route from reality which is depressingly scary in it’s own right.

The world is often an amazingly complicated place, so that when we don’t understand it we often endeavour to simplify it in order to avoid asking questions which often don’t have an answer, or avoid the grim reality of what actually happened because fantasy is easier to explain than reality.

The weird day that was 9/11

It’s coming up to that time of year where everyone starts talking about ‘what were you doing on November the 9th?’.

I’ll credit Stewart Lee with that joke…

Anyhow, it’s nearly September the 11th, or 9/11 for most people, which means that the largest media event in the history of the planet happened in front of millions upon millions sets of eyes, and this is the story of how they unfolded in front of my eyes in particular.

It was a Tuesday and I was off work with flu/stress so I was a messy lump. This wasn’t helped by the fact that although I was kind of on good terms again with my then girlfriend after going to the Reading Festival a few weeks earlier, we were a wee bit frosty. That morning I was up early as she went out for a double shift which meant she wouldn’t be home til the next day as she had to sleep over at the care home she was working at, so I was up early and after a trip to the shops I settled in front of the telly for a day of recovery and doing nothing.

To help myself chill I decided to watch The Matrix again, so I settled into the comfy chair early on what was an amazingly warm and nice sunny day and watched Keanu Reeves shoot people and hit them with his fists for a few hours. After dipping myself into the violent conspiracy filled world of Reeves and company I went to make myself a bacon sandwich when this happened as Neighbours was just finishing…

I didn’t know what exactly I was watching as it felt unreal, and as you can see from the clip, the reporters are in a state of disarray themselves. What was unfolding was astonishing to watch, especially if you’re on medication for the flu and you’ve just watched The Matrix. It quickly became obvious that this was indeed very real and that thousands were probably dead .

I spent the next few hours sitting in front of our little TV flicking between the BBC and ITV who had both abandoned their normal programming to run continuous coverage of the events. Also, as this was the 21st Century I was able to follow developments online though in those days of a dial-up connection that was often slow, and of course, sites were crashing left right and centre but thankfully the internet keeps almost everything, and sites like this help show what webpages were like on the day..

The BBC site kept crashing but it was up in a basic form for most of the day while other sites crashed instantly, or were so slow that they weren’t worth looking at. All the while on the telly the images were unfolding in grim detail and then the rumours and conspiracies started-was a plane going to crash into London? Was the Whitehouse going to be hit? The lack of firm facts meant there was a vacuum which was being filled by speculation by most people. This meant people got scared quickly and this became apparent when I realised that one source of information were internet forums so i went to one comedy forum I used a lot at the time to read what was being written by various posters.  Most it was speculation, some was panic, a lot was ranting insane rubbish. In the midst of it all a picture was starting to form and by the night it was clear a massive atrocity had happened but unlike 99% of atrocities we saw it happen, unedited, in front of our eyes.

I was glued to the PC and the TV til gone midnight and beyond. Eventually I went to bed to be woken up the next day by a call from my girlfriend who was worried, so we had a chat and she said she had to cover another night so I spent another day off work sick glued to the TV watching things happen which nobody knew were events which ended up changing everything for the world.

It was an odd couple of days that every now and then I think about, and although I find the conspiracy theories that litter 911 on the whole to be ludicrous, I do find looking at the raw footage from various channels to be utterly compelling. The CNN coverage for example  is amazing to watch.

Some of the raw footage is painful to watch, especially when there’s a musak version of How Deep is Your Love? playing in the background. Be warned, this is the sort of raw footage that rarely makes it into news programmes anymore.

The more you get into watching these clips, the more you realise how filmmakers must have done the same in a massive scale to make modern Found Footage films like Cloverfield. Here’s an example of what I mean.

Here’s another example and if you look around the 20 minute mark or so you can see the wake of the boat in the previous video.

It’s astonishing that when you look back you realise how this one day changed politics, media, culture and the way things are done so effectively because these images are carved into the brains of anyone to have seen them. The problem lies in how they’ve been interpreted, so for some it’s a conspiracy by THEM to bring down the world, for others it’s a senseless act of terrorism for others it’s the excuse for war they’d always been looking for and so on..

It’s a Rorschach blot, but looking at the raw footage without scary music, or self-important commentary that gives a sense of the reality and impact of the day, so there’s one last clip left I’d like to share that is simply utterly terrifying as you can see the horror build up slower than you normally see when the clips of the second plane hitting are shown. It’s a clip that you need to watch.