Jesse Ventura is one hell of an American.
After graduating from high school in Minnesota, he became a Navy SEAL who served during the Vietnam War. Next, he was a member of the outlaw motorcycle gang “The Mongols,” (his nickname was Superman) where he rose to the rank of Sergeant-at-Arms. After a stint as a bodyguard for the Rolling Stones, he then defined himself as Jesse “The Body” Ventura, the bleach blonde villain of the world of pro wrestling.
This launched him into the world of celebrity, where he was able to parlay his natural charisma and blunt intelligence into careers as an actor, author, radio call-in host, NFL analyst, mayor, and of course, Governor of Minnesota.
Ceaselessly reinventing himself, Ventura’s grabbed every opportunity that’s unfolded before him, becoming a kind of kitschy folk hero in the process. Now nearly 60, he’s morphed into the host of “Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura,” which debuted on TruTV (formerly Court TV) to over one and half million viewers.
A simple-minded hybrid of TMZ and “The X-Files,” “Conspiracy Theory” purports to be an investigative program that examines the dominant conspiracy theories of the day, but is little more than a live-action interpretation of a cartoon like Scooby-Doo. It’s an adventure, one that has Ventura and his team of eager sycophants running about interviewing crazy people, all the while trying to fob off their innuendo and suggestion as a buried mystery rather than a mental illness.
The show opens in a fury as apocalyptic music pumps away and clips of evil looking politicians, riots, fires and various death machines scream across the television. Honestly, I half expected to see the kid from The Omen pop up, but instead, from the shadows, we’re gifted with the revelation that is Jesse Ventura.
Typically shot from below so that he looms above us looking utterly massive and imposing, Ventura, sporting the grey ponytail of an aging outlaw, wears a tight, black t-shirt and the sort of leather jacket your dad might wear when he’s trying to look cool. Ventura’s angry, of course. His slow and thick voice rising, he asks us if we think we know the whole story. Well, if we do, we should think again, because he’s here to blow our minds and show us that we know nothing!
A recent episode tackled the coming end of the world in 2012, and the subsequent plans that the government has to save the elite in massive underground facilities, “leaving the rest of us to fry in an Earthly hell!” Or so the lurid voice-over informed us.
As a “Conspiracy Researcher” (it’s never a scientist or professor with credentials) explains how a 2012 solar flare was going to blow out the electrical grid in America and create a 500-foot tsunami that was going to wash viciously over the continent, impressive computer graphics occupy the screen illustrating our fate. As this mini-presentation comes to a conclusion, the conspiracy researcher enthusiastically adds that if we want validation of his theory, we can just ask NASA! Well, yeah, that does sound like a good idea, but that would be, um, responsible, and this show is all about inciting panic and anger, and so NASA’s point of view on the matter is never mentioned again.
As Ventura listens, a look of simian concentration animates his face. When he’s told that the only thing preventing the survival of our civilization is politics, a look of furious incomprehension seizes his face. We see his face in close-up, and as if clenching his massive hands in rage, he repeats the word “politics?” as if he’s about to rip out the interior of some enemy.
His rage wasn’t really because our imminent destruction was being concealed, but because the government was planning on saving the elites, who would be “housed in “massive, comfortable underground bunkers while you and I are not invited in!”
Ventura and his staff then trot out a motley assembly of the marginalized and lost — all of them supporting the particular thesis of the episode — without ever bothering to give any face time to those who might try to deconstruct their arguments.
Via Skype, we hear from a guy with a Russian accent who’s trying to build an underground city somewhere in Africa. He’s seen this coming for a long time, and sweet Jesus, it’s going to be bad. Jesse then visits a guy trying to build an inverted survival condo tower (complete with swimming pool!) in an abandoned nuclear missile silo in Kansas. This man, who had the shifty, nervous eyes of a lousy poker player making a bold bluff, told The Governor (this is what Ventura’s staff always call him) that the US government was secretly building a massive underground facility underneath the Denver Airport to house those who had been selected to survive the coming apocalypse.
And so we rush off to the Denver Airport, where evidence of the massive project is made manifest by the presence of a Freemason symbol on a plaque, signs of construction (possibly subterranean?!) in outlying property, a decorative gargoyle, and a creepy mural that seemed to be depicting the end of the world.
Ventura and the “conspiracy expert” who was conducting the tour, marveled at all the obvious signs in their midst, causing our host to wonder why the government would be giving out such obvious hints of their activities. For a conspiracy theorist, regardless of the question, there is always an answer, and in this case it was that our leaders only wanted to save people who had certain skills of perception and were able to break the code and piece together the clues.
Conspiracies have the merit of making sense, even if first these conspiracies have to be invented. They’re catnip for those seeking to discover some presiding intelligence in a complex and inexplicable universe, giving them some hope that somebody — even if they’re malevolent — is in control and steering this ship. Ventura exploits this; substituting passion for reason, he avoids critical reasoning and attacks authority and the undemocratic exclusion it represents, in whatever form it appears.
And just like the over-dramatized wrestler we remember and love from our youth, Ventura concludes each episode by screaming into the camera, assuring us that that there are enemies out there, and that we should first and foremost, by angry and distrustful of them, for they are everywhere.
Michael Murray is a freelance writer. For the last three and a half years he’s written a weekly column for the Ottawa Citizen about watching television. He presently lives in Toronto. You can find more of his musings on his blog, or check out his Facebook page.