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Sexuality and Agency in Pop Star Conspiracy Theories

by Ethan Tussey

by Meagan Winkelman for IN MEDIA RES

The first clip that you will see is of a testimony from reality television star, Tila Tequila, who in November 2012 started vlogging about her experience of sexual abuse, mind control, and a “deal with the devil,” initiated by corrupt forces in the entertainment industry. Interspersed with Tila’s “truth-vlogging” are videos made by YouTube users attempting to prove that pop star Britney Spears is a victim of abuse, mind-control, and child prostitution, and by conspiracy vlogger Mark Dice berating Rihanna for “Illuminati” affiliation.

These interpretations represent only a small subset of conspiracy theories about female pop stars. However, the interpretations of Britney Spears and Rihanna reflect the two major trends in pop star conspiracy theories, which seem to be polarized:

1. Theories that frame stars as victims of an evil, exploitive conspiracy. (Britney Spears, Tila Tequila)

2. Theories that denounce stars as evil benefactors and agents in the conspiracy. (Rihanna, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga)

We can see the discourse about these stars' involvement with the Illuminati developing around topics similar to those covered by tabloids. Both conspiracy theorists and tabloids focus on the personal lives of these stars and practice a similar form of reporting, featuring drama, rumor, and speculation. In addition, both tabloids and conspiracy theories focus specifically on pop star's sexuality, often policing certain sexual behaviors.

Publicized drama about Britney Spears has focused more on her psychology since her highly-publicized head-shaving in 2007, which conspiracy theorists see as a cry for help from Britney to let the world know that she was being mind-controlled.

While conspiracy videos seem to respond to Britney Spear's more vulnerable moments in the public eye with empathy, they debase pop stars like Rihanna. I wonder what role these stars’ performance of sexuality in music videos and public persona plays in conspiracy readings. Is it because Britney Spears’ performs “innocence” and Rihanna performs “dominance”? Or is it more complicated? If the “Illuminati” represents media power, perhaps it’s because Britney is troubled by rumors, while Rihanna derives pleasure from negative media attention.

Tila Tequila’s vocality about her experiences is relatively unprecedented. At what point do we decide to dismiss her testimony? If an “Illuminati” exists, perhaps it’s power is to present itself as fiction. Or, if Tila Tequila is “making it up for attention," this marks an interesting turn in celebrity agency in the rumors and other dubious narratives that surround them.

Sexuality and Agency in Pop Star Conspiracy Theories

Montage of YouTube conspiracy theories

from Truth Vlogging (2012)
Creator: Tila Tequila, Mark Dice
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey