The book "Fantasyland" lays out the long history that has led to fringe political conspiracy theories like birtherism, seen on display in the billboard pictured here, in Colorado. In this 2009 photo, Obama supporter Mary Schaeffer argues with Obama critic Gary Henderson in front of the controversial sign.

The book "Fantasyland" lays out the long history that has led to fringe political conspiracy theories like birtherism, seen on display in the billboard pictured here, in Colorado. In this 2009 photo, Obama supporter Mary Schaeffer argues with Obama critic Gary Henderson in front of the controversial sign.

Journalist, author and radio host Kurt Andersen had an epiphany when he saw the first episode of “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central, more than ten years ago.

“Whoa, yes, I thought: exactly,” he writes.

America had changed since I was young, when truthiness and reality-based community wouldn’t have made any sense as jokes. For all the fun, and all the many salutary effects of the 1960s—the main decade of my childhood—I saw that those years had also been the big-bang moment for truthiness. And if the ’60s amounted to a national nervous breakdown, we are probably mistaken to consider ourselves over it.

Now, in an age of “alternative facts” and #fakenews, conspiracy theories and vaccination panics, Andersen asks how it all began. His new book “Fantasyland,” tracks what he sees as “a 500-year history” of “how America went haywire.”

Guests

  • Kurt Andersen Host and co-creator of Studio 360, a public radio show and podcast; author of "Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire","Heydey", and "Turn of the Century"; former cultural columnist and critic for Time and The New Yorker

Read An Excerpt Of "Fantasyland"

Excerpted from Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen. Copyright 2017 by Kurt Andersen. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Welcome To Fantasyland

When we did our show on conspiracy theories, we learned that many people have a “pet” conspiracy theory — one they believe while dismissing many others. So, what are these odd theories and beliefs that go against scientific consensus or existing evidence? Here’s a roundup of what recent polls have found:

A 2013 Public Policy Polling survey asked Americans about their beliefs in conspiracy theories. The questions are below. Roll over the charts to see the results.

“Do you believe a UFO crashed at Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947, and the US government covered it up, or not?” 

 

“Do you believe that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order, or not?”

 

“Do you believe the moon landing was faked, or not?”

 

“Do you believe the government adds fluoride to our water supply, not for dental health reasons, but for other, more sinister reasons, or not?”

 

“Do you believe that shape-shifting reptilian people control our world by taking on human form and gaining political power to manipulate our societies, or not?”

 

“Do you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President Kennedy, or was there some larger conspiracy at work?” 

 

“Do you believe in Bigfoot or Sasquatch, or not?”

 

“Do you believe Paul McCartney actually died in a car crash in 1966 and was secretly replaced by a lookalike so The Beatles could continue, or not?” 

 

“Do you believe media or the government adds secret mind-controlling technology to television broadcast signals, or not?” 

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