THEY are out to get you!

Ah, conspiracies. Love ’em!

Mind you, I don’t mean business conspiracies like certain bankers getting together in the bushes to play hot potato with imploding mortgages that ruin naïve people’s lives or rig global interest rates as an investor-cheating tool. Nor do I mean certain social network sites that recently started selling stock to the public while letting favored large investors in on the secret that the emperor has no clothes. Borrrring!

(Or maybe not. C. S. Lewis remarked somewhere that his vision of Hell was that it was a lot like the head office in a ruthless business concern where well-dressed men plotted monstrous evil without ever raising their voices.)

Nor do I mean criminal conspiracies hatched by the nifty guys who run drug and prostitution rings and have sometimes been known to lower their ethical standards to match those of some of the guys in corporate offices.

No, I mean the sort of conspiracies where you have some mastermind in a room with giant television screens. You know the type. Somebody sitting in a huge leather chair, petting a gorgeous Persian cat, and plotting to steal all the ketchup on the planet, just ’cause. Or the ones where aliens have replaced chocolate chips in Girl Scout cookies with microscopic devices that will play all the Alvin and the Chipmunks songs in your head until you surrender to the Great Chipmunk Overlord from the planet Appendix.

Conspiracies like these examples are great fun and show up quite a bit in light, escapist fiction. No one took them seriously, and everybody had a good time.

Until now.

I see emails from people vending conspiracies just as nutty as plots by alien chipmunk overlords or the Grinch Who Stole Ketchup. Just now, most of these are coming from the right and often include some version of the notion that the current President is a human-alien DNA splice from Kenya whisked to America by flying saucer. A few years ago, most of this twirling-mustaches-plotting-in-the-bushes stuff came from the left. I especially liked the one where President Bush personally flew one of the planes into the Twin Towers. Highly plausible, you must admit.

Okay, here is what bugs me: the screwball conspiracy theorists are muscling in on the territory of those of us who write escapist fiction. Will readers already terrified by an email or an Internet site or a reality-challenged news network informing them that X political party is in cahoots with the adult diaper companies to give them chronic projectile diarrhea be frightened by mere fictional villains invented by a humble writer of light entertainment? I think not.

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