Back in the early 1990s when the Buffalo Bills went to the Super Bowl four years in a row, an episode of The X-Files included a scene in which the all-powerful “Smoking Man,” the guy behind every conspiracy, vowed that the team would never win the football championship while he was alive. It was a joke. It was a funny joke. It was not meant to be taken seriously and nobody took it seriously.
Fast forward to this year and MAGA world is seriously spreading conspiracy theories about the Kansas City Chiefs, their star tight end Travis Kelce and his girlfriend, Taylor Swift, who just happens to be the word’s biggest pop star at the moment. Because, apparently, Kelce advocates COVID vaccinations and neither appear to be fans of Donald Trump, it is all somehow a conspiracy to boost Joe Biden. Don’t ask me to explain beyond that— I don’t understand and am not going to devote too much time trying to understand. But the conspiracy theories are so prominent that they made it to the pages of the New York Times (click to link).
This is a kind of microcosm of what’s changed in American politics since the dawn of the Trump Age. A generation ago, the Dixie Chicks spoke out against the Iraq War and some of their conservative fans turned on them. To the best of my recollection, there was no conspiracy theory. The band took a political stand, and those who disagreed with their politics expressed their disapproval. I was with the Dixie Chicks on the issue, but hey, it’s a free country and the fan reaction against them was not especially confusing or illogical.
Put aside how neither Kelce nor Swift have actually done anything having to do with the 2024 presidential election, at least as far as I can tell. Swift has endorsed Democrats before, but all she’s doing in relation to football is going to games and cheering on her boyfriend. Even as someone who wants to boo the Chiefs (because of their emergent rivalry with the Bills), that in itself seems to be inoffensive and unassailable. How or why would anyone object to a woman attending her boyfriend’s games and showing her support?
As for Kelce, as far as I can tell, he’s done even less than Swift. He shows up for his games and does his job. As a Bills fan, that doesn’t make me especially happy. He scored against the Bills during their playoff game last month, and helped once again deny my team from advancing to the Super Bowl. Boo! But there was nothing conspiratorial about one of the best football players in the NFL doing what he does.
It seems MAGA’s big problem with Kelce is his advocacy for vaccinations. Not to get off on a tangent, but this reminds me of one of the Democrats’ biggest mistakes— we should have embraced the vaccines as the one positive accomplishment of the Trump Administration. We should have labeled them the Trump Vaccines. This would not have deterred health-minded Democrats, but maybe it would have depoliticized the vaccines and saved thousands of lives. But we didn’t do that and have to be content with Travice Kelce telling people to protect themselves.
Anyway, it isn’t especially new or unexpected that this celebrity couple is viewed in political terms. What is new is the leap to X-Files-style conspiracy theories, seriously embraced apparently by wide swaths of the American public.
I have sometimes wondered why there hasn’t been a recent X-Files revival. At a moment in time when Congress is seriously having UFO hearings and QAnnon is followed by millions, one would think that the show is better suited to the present than 30-years ago. But why watch a show about conspiracy theories when you can watch the nightly news? Or, more to the point, the curated, individualized so-called “news” feeds that breath life into these absurd and bizarre notions?
I liked The X-Files, but don’t like that we’ve arrived at a point that the show might more be thought of as a documentary series than science fiction. I’m not entertained. And of course, my partisan hackles are engaged, so my instinct is to support Kelce and Swift.
But I don’t want to support the Kansas City Chiefs. Part of the fun of being a casual football fan is cheering your team (in my case, the Bills), and rooting against their rivals. Boo Chiefs! But MAGA weirdos are making that tougher. Not for the first time, they are taking the fun out of an all-American activity. Boo MAGA!
On the other hand, the Smoking Man has been unusually silent on the matter. Maybe MAGA is on to something. The truth is out there!
February 12th update: So, the Chiefs won the Super Bowl. Following the game, President Biden Tweeted an image of himself with his “Dark Brandon” laser eyes, reading, “Just like we drew it up.” I am certain that some number larger than zero of MAGA people took this seriously.