On Search Party and the Power of Conspiracies

One of the tropes surrounding millennials is that we lack direction or purpose in life. It’s true, to a certain extent: gone are the post-war well-paid industrial jobs that allowed our grandparents to prosper; so too the large scale government programs that helped the less to fortunate achieve what would have been impossible a generation or two earlier. Into a world of better education, instant communication and reduced opportunities millennials have been cast, working their way through bullshit jobs to pay for soulless houses in gentrified neighbourhoods full of like-minded people stuck in the same socio-economic bubble.

It is here that Search Party places Dory and her friends. Not one of them has a job they enjoy or find meaningful (personal assistant, perpetual intern, jobbing actress and liar/charity fundraiser), but none of them can find it within themselves to change their lives. As much as it is tempting to label this as laziness, this is a natural consequence of the lot of our generation: we’ve done everything asked of us, so how is everything so much worse than it was for our parents’ generation?

I use “we” here because when I finished watching Search Party, I was struck by how much Dory’s hopes and desires resonated with my own. Dory’s fascination with conspiracy, her wanting there to be something guiding the events in her life, and her tenaciousness when attempting to uncover those hidden, is something that I felt keenly when watching the show.

This is where Search Party shows its true hand. Like most programmes terme “dark comedies”, it humour does not lie in one-liners or set-pieces, but in the broader themes the programme addresses. Search Party plays the common tropes of modern crime thrillers (all criminals are geniuses; there is a conspiracy controlling everything; collusion and corruption are commonplace) against the audience. Each plot twist is a deliberate anti-climax, undermining the expectations of both the audience and Dory herself.

But for me, the place Dory finds herself in is the key to all of this working. Our mid-20s to late-30s is the period of our lives when aspects of our lives like careers and relationships are “meant” to start falling into place. But for so many people of Dory’s age and background (such as myself) this isn’t happening. Dory’s dissatisfaction with her life mirrors my own; that’s why we’re so susceptible to the grandiosity of conspiracy theories.

I believe conspiracy theories are one of the pseudo-religions of the modern age. From jet fuel melting steel beams to Pizzagate to foreign powers controlling elections, assigning all that goes wrong in one’s life to the machinations of an untouchable elite is equivalent to blaming omnipotent gods. And just like the power of gods, people can manipulate the fears caused by conspiracy theories into making more gullible souls (like myself) into doing their bidding.

If all of this sounds self-indulgent, it’s because it truly is. But wanting the flights of fancy Dory went on to invent those conspiracies in Search Party to be true myself made me question why I want those to be true. All TV indulges us in these sorts of story, so why would I choose this one over any other to be invested in? Was it really that I felt a kinship in Dory’s aimless life? Or is it actually because by telling myself such things exist, by surrendering to the power of conspiracy, my life becomes easier? I can’t think of another programme that has made me ask these questions.