Review: Birds Aren’t Real by Peter McIndoe and Connor Gaydos - Hindustan Times
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Review: Birds Aren’t Real by Peter McIndoe and Connor Gaydos

BySaai Sudharsan Sathiyamoorthy
Jun 26, 2024 05:12 PM IST

A clever bird-themed dystopian fable about the risks that come with the widespread denial of truth in a world rife with disinformation

They gathered in cities across the United States, brandishing pictures of bald eagles reimagined as robotic drones. They disrupted town halls, heckling officials with chants of “Birds aren’t real!” The adherents, known as “Bird Truthers,” even protested outside Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco to demand that the company change its “disgusting” bird logo. Their social media profiles have spread an intricate mythology that all birds were exterminated decades ago and replaced by government surveillance drones disguised as flying animals. What began as one man’s joke during a demonstration has grown into an online phenomenon: the “Birds Aren’t Real” movement. This conspiracy theory, equal parts satire and hoax, which claims that birds are government surveillance drones, has taken off, turning into a viral counter culture phenomenon and captivating a youth confronted with a world rife with disinformation.

The original billboard sponsored by the Birds Aren’t Real movement that was erected in Memphis, Tennessee. (Wikimedia Commons)
The original billboard sponsored by the Birds Aren’t Real movement that was erected in Memphis, Tennessee. (Wikimedia Commons)

272pp, ₹1827; St Martin’s Press
272pp, ₹1827; St Martin’s Press

According to many Bird Truthers, the US federal government purportedly eradicated all avian species in its territory between 1959 and 1971 and replaced them with indistinguishable unmanned aerial drones used for surveillance. And obviously, the Deep State has a hand in this dark conspiracy. The Deep State, say the Bird Truthers, has systematically exterminated more than 12 billion birds and replaced them with drones specifically engineered to conduct surveillance on citizens and promptly relay their activities to the government. It is said that birds perch on power wires to replenish their energy, and that they defecate on automobiles as a means of tracking. Gull drones monitor the oceans and coastlines, gathering genetic material by pilfering fries, and vultures assist the highway patrol in road management. Bewilderingly, they even claim that President John F Kennedy was assassinated as he learned too much about the birds. To them, the apparent disappearance of baby pigeons from US cities — but the presence of grown up pigeons — is one of the many smoking guns that prove that birds today are factory made.

In Birds aren’t Real, whistle blowers and hero Bird Truthers Peter McIndoe and Connor Gaydos go into the very sinister origins of this sprawling and covert political conspiracy and share a wealth of knowledge regarding the new surveillance state. Through the book, these dedicated patriots hope to raise awareness of the Deep State’s elaborate hoax and, with that aim, have provided readers with a plethora of helpful pictures, exercises, and confidential documents that they hope would persuade even the most vocal sceptic that birds are not real. Presented as a factual exposé, the book gayly provides the supposed truth about this sinister conspiracy of the Deep State. McIndoe and Gaydos humorously provide a narrative with extravagant assertions, accompanied by historical distortion and leaked documents for good measure, that portray every president from Eisenhower forward as being somehow involved in the concealment of this avian-centred conspiracy.

Co-author Peter McIndoe (Courtesy Macmillan Publishers)
Co-author Peter McIndoe (Courtesy Macmillan Publishers)

McIndoe came up with the conspiracy theory on a whim in 2017 upon witnessing pro-Trump counter-protestors at a Women’s March. Then a college student, he held up a placard with the concise message, “Birds Aren’t Real.” It was a spur-of-the-moment jab at the absurdity of the political climate. A video featuring McIndoe gained widespread attention, arousing curiosity and fuelling the momentum of the soon-to-be-movement. Unsurprisingly, the absurdity of it all struck a chord with a generation deeply immersed in memes, irony, and scepticism. Over time, an internet provocateur’s riff on fringe conspiracy theories, such as QAnon and Pizzagate, has transformed into a rallying call on doubt in a society where truth is often disregarded and false information spreads rapidly through social media.

The careful construction of intricate lore and the use of “evidence” effectively create a satirical diversion, skilfully concealing the book’s actual purpose as a pointed allegory about Gen Z’s scepticism towards sources of information and organisations in the post-truth era. McIndoe and Gaydos have created a clever tale about the societal risks that come with widespread denial of truth, using a bird-themed dystopian fable. However, the book itself could have used more polishing.

Saai Sudharsan Sathiyamoorthy is an advocate, Madras High Court.

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