Conspiracy Corner – The “Decoded” Review

Every Thursday, about 8:15am, Matthew talks with Ethan and Zac on 95bFM’s “Breakfast Show” about conspiracy theories.

So, I watched Brad Meltzer’s “Decoded” TV series, which makes me very qualified indeed to review it.

Notes on the “Decoded” material

Brad seems like an interesting guy, what with his background, but he has no TV presence and so his humor comes across as him being serious and earnest; an awkward uncle who is trying to joke with you. I know several people like Brad; interesting people who can’t express themselves to other people. The more I watch, the more I think Meltzer is a) the smart one and b) desperately trying to make the wacky things his investigators do and beleve seem reasonable. Indeed, as the show goes on he makes more and more fun of the show.

The three investigators are, well, well-meaning morons.

The show is, basically, the mythbusters of history, on a very, very tight budget.

Episode 1. The missing White House corner stone

The lawyer really has it in for Mason and we do get to see inside the Temple of the Lodge, which is spectacular and rather gaudy. Otherwise… Well, it’s a bit dull.

Episode 2. Secret presidential codes

The case of the suicide of Lewis Meriweather. A cold case and the teams puts forward a convincingly case that the official story, that Lewis committed suicide, is a fabrication and that his enemy, the Army chief, covered up his murder. The Masons get blamed because they are involved in the government.

However, they do eventually come up with a testable hypothesis, which is to check the angle of entry wound on Meriweather’s skull, but they don’t actually test their hypothesis, in part because they would have to dig up a National Park to find the skull but also, I think, because it’s a low budget show and complex forensics is beyond them. It makes for a frustrating ending.

Episode 3. The Statue of Liberty

The Illuminati get blamed for the style, erection and power of the Statue of Liberty. This episode features a numerologist and is a good example of someone who can find patterns by just looking for them and then working out how to recreate them elsewhere.

Episode 4. John Wilkes Booth

The case of Lincoln’s assassin getting away and someone else, a Confederate look-a-like, being killed in his place. The supposed photos which show his survival are inconclusive. However, once again they come up with a testable hypothesis which they can’t actually afford to do, which is to compare the corpse of the assassin with Booth’s brother’s on-file DNA.

Episode 5. Confederate Gold

$200,000 dollars (in old money) went missing when the Confederate Treasury moved after the Civil War; the team want to find out where it went. So they consult someone who claims to be able to read weird, occultic symbols and who has had a remarkable success in finding hidden treasure troves. The worry is that the symbol guy either previously has surveyed the site they go to (and thus is producing good/weird results because he knows what to look for) or the theory he is using is so vague that he can make it fit anything they find. Indeed, it turns out that he has an unfalsifiable theory; his system can uncover all the hidden treasures in America but the people who hide such treasures put in fake clues so 98% of all his searches come up false.

Episode 6. D B Cooper

Apparently we should always believe a deathbed confession. Frankly, when I die I’m going to admit that I am Banksy.

Episode 7. 2012

Brad is pushing the claim that the Hopi prophecies are accurate rather than utterances which can be conveniently interpreted to fit what we know now. So, the badly deciphered prophecy of the Hopi proves the existence of a good track record in re their forecasting prowess.

This episode is particularly bad/credulous. Shows like this would have ruined me as a child, being credulous as I was.

Episode 8. The Culper Ring

This is just history with no real mystery to uncover. They are trying to push the line the Culper Ring might still exist. Answer seems to be yes, but they are no threat to good Americans. Huzzah, America!

Episode 9. Secret Societies

Alex Jones is in this one. B

The first rule of Bohemian Club is you don’t talk about Bohemian Club. (Brad makes a joke of this kind in the episode; I got there twenty minutes before he did)

Interestingly, the sheriff turns up when they try to get access to the grove, with a reveal there has been a tip off. One of the locals or one of the production staff trying to make the show seem more exciting?

Episode 10. Apocalypse in Georgia

A story about America’s own Stonehenge, built, like a lot of American, about twenty years ago. Happily, we’ve moved on from Freemasons (they haven’t featured for weeks); now we are obsessing about the evil of the Rosicrucians.

I like the theory that the Georgia Guidestones are advertising for the granite industry.

They keep running the line that prophecies should be taken seriously because they might be right, with an associated weird claim about the accuracy of such predictions. Luckily, we find out that the area around Atlanta is a safe place with respect to the coming apocalypse. Phew. Moving there, then. The team seem to be perplexed by the claim we might be killed by a meteor or suchlike but bravely decide to persevere in their lives, hopefully to make a season two.


About Matthew Dentith

Author of "The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories" (Palgrave Macmillan), Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.