Birds aren’t real, eh?


Madeline Houston/Birds Aren’t Real

In early 2017, Peter McIndoe, now 23, was studying psychology at the University of Arkansas, and visiting friends in Memphis, Tennessee. He tells me this over Zoom from the US west coast, and has the most arresting face – wide-eyed, curious and intense, like the lead singer of an indie band, or a young monk. “This was right after the Donald Trump election, and things were really tense. I remember people walking around saying they felt as if they were in a movie. Things felt so unstable.”

It was the weekend of simultaneous Women’s Marches across the US (indeed, the world), and McIndoe looked out of the window and noticed “counterprotesters, who were older, bigger white men. They were clear aggravators. They were encroaching on something that was not their event, they had no business being there.” Added to that, “it felt like chaos, because the world felt like chaos”…

I just thought: ‘I should write a sign that has nothing to do with what is going on.’ An absurdist statement to bring to the equation.” … That statement was “birds aren’t real”. As he stood with the counterprotesters, and they asked what his sign meant, he improvised. He said he was part of a movement that had been around for 50 years, and was originally started to save American birds, but had failed. The “deep state” had destroyed them all, and replaced them with surveillance drones. Every bird you see is actually a tiny feathered robot watching you…

…It’s a made-up conspiracy theory that is just realistic enough, as conspiracies go, to convince QAnon supporters that birds aren’t real, but has just enough satirical flags that generation Z recognises immediately what is going on. It’s a conspiracy-within-a-conspiracy, a little aneurysm of reality and mockery in the bloodstream of the mad pizzagate-style theories that animate the “alt-right”.

Way too sophisticated for today’s version of the John Birch Society. Today’s neo-fascists would follow Trump over the edge of the flat earth-ideology they accept as part of the fightback against “liberal plotters” against “True Republicans” like Trump.

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