Every Thursday, about 8:15am, Matthew talks with Zac (with Lucas and Ellen lurking on the sidelines) on 95bFM’s “Breakfast Show” about conspiracy theories.
Let me start out by stating the following: I agree with many learned people on the internet that “Pronunciation Book” and the story I am about to tell is some kind of viral marketing for an ARG (alternative reality game) and thus whilst the way in which “Pronunciation Book” certainly looks conspiratorial, it’s fair to say that the uncovering of this conspiracy will not (I may need to correct myself in a week) lead to the discovery of great injustices and sinister institutional activities.
So, with that said, let me introduce you to “Pronunciation Book”.
“Pronunciation Book” is (or was) a YouTube channel containing instructional videos on how to pronounce certain words, like “Quiche”:
As part of its schtick, the Pronunciation Book videos used sample sentences to illustrate the words in question, like this example from the “Can/Can’t” video:
I can still hope for Mendoza’s cooperation but I can’t imagine how we’ll explain this to the Chief.
“Pronunciation Book” was an oddity for about three years, given that it would sometimes be quite instructional (such as it’s video on “How to use superlatives in English”) whilst other times being merely odd (such as it’s video on how to pronounce “quiche”). However, on the 9th of July1, the countdown began.
Countdown to what, you might ask? Good question. As seems to be the way of the world now, people on the internet started to collaborate to try and find out what was going on. Rather than me merely trying to summarise their work, I’m going to provide you a link to the discussion document they have generated, which goes through all the available evidence and the major theories.
So, why is this interesting if, as it looks likely, it’s just canny advertising for an ARG?
Well, in part because it supports a thesis I have about the way information is shared amongst members of a community. The investigation into who is behind Pronunciation Book and what it is they might be up to has been an entirely crowd-sourced affair and the result is quite incredible: we now know an awful lot about who is (currently) behind Pronunciation Book and we have some fairly good theories as to what it is they are up to.
This then, is a nice example of how we might investigate conspiracy theories: the work that has gone into the “77 Days Research Document” is a great demonstration of how such community-lead investigation of mysterious states of affairs could work. Theories have been proposed and numerous candidate explanations have been relegated to the “Legacy Theories” section because the evidence for such theories turned out to be lacking.
Now, before we get all “This is the future!” it’s important to realise an important difference between the investigation of Pronunciation Book and, say, the investigation of the events of 9/11. In the case of Pronunciation Book we have a mystery which needs resolving, whilst in the case of 9/11 we have an alleged case of a conspiracy which requires uncovering. There doesn’t appear to be much in the way of examples of people creating disinformation to put off investigators into the mystery of who is behind Pronunciation Book, and what it is they are planning to do, whilst in the case of 9/11 the claim is that the well-regarded explanation is not just dubious as an explanation but it is also part of a disinformation campaign to distract the public from the truth of what happened that day. As such, the investigation into Pronunciation Book looks nice and level-headed because there’s no attendant hypothesis about disinformation needing to be countered.
Finally, the analysis of the investigation of Pronunciation Book it rather supports my notion that we should be working with perfectly general notions of both “conspiracy” and “conspiracy theory”. The mystery behind Pronunciation Book case looks like it’s a conspiracy, given that there is a plan that has been hatched in secret to achieve some end, presumably orchestrated by more than one person.2 Despite the lack (or so it seems at this juncture) of revelations of malign political shenanigans, this is perfect fodder for a conspiracy theory analysis. By showing how we can analyse such a case, we can hopefully remove–at least partially–the stigma involved in believing and analysing other such cases.