On Conspiracy Theories, Cults, and Taylor Swift

On Conspiracy Theories, Cults, and Taylor Swift January 30, 2024

confetti fluttering through the air at a concert
image via Pixabay

I woke up to find that the Right Wing has views on Taylor Swift again.

They were melting down over Taylor Swift over the weekend, because she looked so happy hugging her boyfriend, Travis Kelce, after that football game I didn’t watch. I didn’t even know there was a football game going on until I saw people freaking out about how it ended and about Taylor rejoicing with Travis on the field. Since then, things have devolved into an absolute circus, with One America News claiming that professional sports are all a psy-op, to that crackpot Vivek Ramaswamy claiming the whole Super Bowl is rigged to be an advertisement for Joe Biden, to Donald Trump himself allegedly ranting about Taylor Swift as well.

Personally, I know even less about Taylor Swift than I do about professional football. I couldn’t hum one of her songs for you. I sat down and watched a few of her videos in preparation for writing this post and I still can’t hum the music. She’s a very talented performer, but her brand of music just isn’t one I like and it doesn’t leave an impression on me. I couldn’t tell you what team her boyfriend plays for or what position he plays, because sportsball in general leaves even less of an impression than pop music. I don’t object to football or pop music or the people who enjoy them in any way. If you like them, good for you. They’re just not my thing. But I certainly respect both Taylor and Travis a lot more this week than I did last week, seeing how annoyed the far Right are.

As far as I can gather, it turns out that the Right don’t like Taylor Swift because she decided to come out against their political stance on the Violence Against Women act:  because she’s from Tennessee and a Christian and doesn’t want Marsha Blackburn to speak for her on such an issue (and I can relate). She’s driven a huge number of her fans to register to vote, which is admirable of her and irksome for the Right. But I wonder if there isn’t a broader reason they’ve latched onto her as well. .

At this point in history, after all, the Republican party has devolved into a movement that works just like a cult, and cults don’t want people to like things.

Cults, and cultlike high-control religious movements, almost always latch onto certain fun popular things and paint them as evil and dangerous, things their followers should avoid. They’ll claim the fun thing is actually scandalous or a conduit for the demonic or a near occasion of sin, or they’ll make up a silly conspiracy theory as a reason why not. I’m thinking of the way that Fundamentalist Christians railed against Dungeons and Dragons or rock music a couple generations ago, and how the Catholic Charismatic Renewal picked up their obsession in the 90s.  Of the way Christian girls were told they had to put away Baby-Sitters’ Club books and read The Best Friends Club because it was Christian. Of how certain sects ban dancing altogether in case it leads to sexual thoughts. Of my Regnum Christi youth group leader mocking Britney Spears and calling Nickelodeon cartoons “trash.” Don’t go camping with the Girl Scouts, go on retreat with the youth group. Don’t play “The Legend of Zelda,” play “Spiritual Warfare” and “Exodus.” Don’t watch good cartoons, watch Focus on the Family home videos. Don’t trade Pokémon cards, trade Bible character or patron saint trading cards (yes, those both exist). Don’t read fantasy stories except for the narrow selection we’ve curated, because they’re conduits for the demonic. Don’t watch horror movies because they’re demonic too. Don’t buy Pringle’s potato chips, because Procter and Gamble supports Satanism. And the list is endless, because the point of these restrictions isn’t to keep you safe from real dangers. It’s to keep you away from things you might like, no matter how innocuous.

High-control movements ban innocent things, so that they can break people down and use them. People who don’t have the fun things that they like are easier to manipulate with propaganda.

People who are conditioned to distrust themselves, substituting someone else’s likes and dislikes for their own, are easy to control. As a Christian, I think demonizing the things people like is a tactic for destroying people’s healthy spiritual lives and into following dangerous human movements masquerading as religious instead of listening to Christ.

I remember that monumental essay from C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, where the senior devil says to the devil in training: I myself would make it a rule to eradicate from my patient any strong personal taste which is not actually a sin, even if is something quite trivial such as a fondness for country cricket or collecting stamps or drinking cocoa. Such things, I grant you, have nothing of virtue in them; but there is a sort of innocence and humility and self-forgetfulness about them which I distrust. The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the word, for its own sake, and without caring two pence what other people say about it, is by that very fact fore-armed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the “best” people, the “right” food,” the “important” books. I have known  a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.

I always loved that brilliant insight: that unabashedly liking and taking joy in things is in itself humble and innocent. That all other things being equal, it’s a good thing to like what you like– not only on a psychological level but even on a spiritual one. That the things that make you happy are the things that make you yourself, and if you’re secure in yourself you can easier move toward real virtue. That if someone, human or demon, wants to control you, an excellent tactic for doing that is to take away the things that you like, in favor of the things that THEY like. That if a movement is trying to suck you into their control, into their cult, into their sin, an excellent way to do it is to convince you that the innocent things you’d rather be doing are evil. If they can do that, they can erode your sense of yourself, and put themselves at the helm of your life.

That’s what I think of when I see the hysteria over Taylor Swift just now.

I’m amused at the consternation she’s evoking just by being herself.

And I wish her and Travis all the best.



Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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