This humorous essay on the terrifying and interesting subject of how the tinfoil hat has emerged as the symbol of personal and group paranoia appears in Lost Cactus – The Second Treasury, available for purchase everywhere you buy books. Enjoy. And if you are among that special group who feels the need to wear one on occasion, following the blueprint instructions will fashion a darn fine tinfoil hat.
It’s curious how a simple object can over time become emblematic of a particular circumstance, and from that day henceforth, be the iconic representation of said situation. Take the cigar, for example. While smoking is frowned upon in just about every corner of the world, inexorably, cigars are happily passed out to celebrate all kinds of life events from newborn babies to World Series victories, and everything in between. Hence the phrase, “Give that man a cigar.” Most of the time, bringing forth an actual Cuban is not required, the mere notion of the celebratory cigar is satisfactory. However, iconic items are not always in commemoration of a happy moment in time. They can also portend dark and sinister events, such as in the case of that harbinger of doom, the tinfoil hat.
Tinfoil Hat Crowd
Let’s take a closer look at the infamous tinfoil hat. It conjures up visions of a society that is imperiled and vainly attempting to protect itself from plotting and conniving government entities, or maybe even extraterrestrial beings telepathically breaching minds from beyond Earth. Spooky. For the most part, you don’t necessarily need to wear a tinfoil hat all the time to be considered a paranoid person who’s afraid of everything. However, can a properly-fitted tinfoil hat perched atop a distressed noggin help, even a little? Let’s find out. If we’re successful in this endeavor, we can take a puff off that victory cigar, or if you happen to be one of those staunch anti-tobacco types, a bubblegum version will suffice.
Let’s start with a little housekeeping: No tin is used to make a tinfoil hat. Aluminum foil replaced tin post the second war to end all wars as a much cheaper and more accessible material. But as for hats, the name tinfoil stuck, maybe because it rolls off the tongue much easier than the multi-syllabic and infinitely more accessible metal with the atomic symbol Al.
Now that we have that minor issue out of the way let’s move on to who would wear such a ridiculous contraption, and why. Well, let’s say we have a person that’s bombarded daily with all sorts of fear-mongering and hysterical rants from TV and the internet. And to begin with, this person was already a little concerned, i.e., paranoid, that evil government forces are tracking their every move. Then they discover on some wacky internet posting that the government may also be reading their thoughts! After their freak-out has subsided to merely cowering in the corner in a fetal position with all the blinds drawn and every appliance unplugged from the sockets—just in case the toaster is a camouflaged recording device—they devise a plan to inhibit this outrage from occurring ever again. The freaked-out individual sneaks into their kitchen, trying not to be seen or heard, and fumbles for the drawer containing that roll of foil they last saw sometime around Thanksgiving. With beads of sweat pouring down their forehead, hands shaking like leaves, our subject rips off a few yards of the shiny material and clumsily commences forming it into a bowl-shaped hat. Then the crumpled mass is perched atop their fevered head, and with that accomplished, they wait. If villainous men-in-black are not pounding at the front door within minutes, then they know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that their tinfoil hat must be working. Success! Now they can enjoy that victory cigar. Wait a minute; no they can’t. There is a no smoking rule in the building. Of all the luck!
So, tinfoil hats can be de rigueur for paranoid misfits belatedly trying to halt their brain pans from being siphoned by faceless, ominous government entities, and aliens that can only have bad intentions. But what happens when entire segments of populations feel the paranoia creeping into their groupthink. We see this all the time. Fed by an undercurrent of urban myths, conspiracies, and a total distrust of anyone perceived as being in charge, modern society has become fixated on privacy rights, foreign hackers, and outright spying. It’s practically all we talk about: Movies and TV shows predicated on these conspiratorial themes are the mainstays of our entertainment. Meanwhile, entire industries have sprung up based solely on our insistence that we’re targets of sinister plots by horrible unseen forces.
And never to be outdone, elected officials spend a goodly amount of time reassuring us that we have nothing to fear, but fear itself. Then they leverage these same runaway fears to enact laws and regulations that limit our abilities to think and act in a free and open manner. Do you want that kind of overreach? Too late, you already have it. The point here is that it’s not the symbolic metallic chapeau, but the underlying mentality that constitutes what I refer to as the ‘Tinfoil Hat Crowd.’
Wait just a minute. Is there a tiny drone hovering outside your window even as you finish reading this essay?
Made you look.