The Da Vinci Code and QAnon

Adam Lewental tries to understand how his parents became fans of the QAnon conspiracy theory and thinks that the best-selling book The Da Vinci Code may offer some clues. (I have not read the book but did see the 2006 film starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou and found it so absurd that any inclination that I may have had to read the book was utterly squelched.)

Lewental says that he first read it as a 13-year old and was blown away by it. But he “was shocked to find upon revisiting the book as an adult that it is absolute, unadulterated trash. Just really poor, from top to bottom.” But after explaining why it is so awful in terms of the plot and the quality of the writing, he says the damage done by the book is far more than to the world of literature. He says that its success is based on the fact that it persuades the reader to think that they themselves are able to figure out the clues and connect the dots to reveal a complex plot that is hidden from the unenlightened. This is exactly the mindset of the QAnoners.

The QAnon phenomen has frequently been referenced as a bad Dan Brown plot. In fact, it is more than that; it is exactly a Dan Brown plot, where dumb and obvious codes are meant to mimic intellectualism. Like “The Da Vinci Code” readers, QAnoners don’t want to feel like they’re being told what to believe, especially not by a media that would have to be complicit for the conspiracy to be true in the first place. Instead, they use the critical thinking espoused by Dan Brown, which is that veracity can be defined by the existence and confirmation of sources, rather than the credibility of sources. This time, our parents aren’t going to Google to sleuth for political sex cults, at least not initially. They’re finding their information on Twitter and Facebook, the modern bastions for fantasy “confirmation bias” bait that corroborates what they already know, which is that conspiracies can be found if you’re “woke” to them and “savvy” enough to disregard obvious truths. By the time their heart-racing hunt leads to Google, it doesn’t matter that they’re only finding references within references to since deleted forum posts or Alex Jones videos about lizard people, they’ve already gotten the dopamine rush of being in the know, of solving the challenging, obscure puzzle.

Unfortunately, the stakes are now quite larger than a book series outperforming the skill of its writer. A person who is just mildly receptive to the QAnon ideology may find themselves disillusioned with their inability to reconcile fact and fiction, leaving them further exposed to dishonest charges of “fake news” and unable to trust any subject matter expert who has dedicated their career to approaching as closely as possible to an objective truth. Whereas a QAnon enthusiast may become further entrenched in a destructive fantasy far removed from any shared reality, a vicious cycle that alienates them from anyone with an opposing viewpoint.

It is true that when questioned, QAnon people repeat the Q mantra of “Do your research” as if they have done so when what they have done is merely find someone else, whose credibility they have not examined, who has said the same thing.

I am curious to see how long the QAnon phenomenon will last now that Trump is no longer there to give it oxygen by being the focus of their Messianic hopes.


  1. blf says

    Looking for simplistic explanations, I blame the The Wizard of Oz (the 1939 movie): A naïve young lady discovers a deep state plot by a pretend wizard to maintain his power, aided and abetted by witches, lions, and animated scarecrows. With dazzling insight and a puppy, the horrid imaginations are defeated, and tornadoes rule again.

    (If that makes no sense, neither does qAnon. And if if does make sense, please back away, slowly, from the computer, and seek professional help.)

  2. says

    The Qanon type culture is never going to go away, most people love simple answers and have real trouble thinking in terms of probabilities. I often chide even my smartest friends for trotting out binary observations about complex problems. Not sure how much good it does but I keep trying.
    It starts all the way back with “Have you been naughty, or nice?” Culture is coded in binary.

  3. johnson catman says

    blf @1: At least the artists of The Wizard of Oz (the movie) had the excuse of good psychedelic drugs.

  4. says

    Back when Da Vinci Code came out, I read several Dan Brown books back to back. It quickly became clear that he’s basically just writing the same book over and over, changing the details each time.

  5. Matt G says

    Being highly intelligent is a double-edged sword -- it can make you good at reasoning, or good at rationalizing. Lots of smart people are bad at thinking, especially when motivated by emotion (greed, ethnocentrism, etc).

  6. says

    I am curious to see how long the QAnon phenomenon will last now that Trump is no longer there to give it oxygen by being the focus of their Messianic hopes.

    I don’t see it as much goofier than christianity. It’s just as hard to deconstruct. So, maybe a couple thousand years? It’s a movement that would be remarkably susceptible to schism-generation and disinformation. Too bad there is no secret organization that specializes in tying conspiracy theorists into mental pretzels.

  7. John Morales says

    Since Marcus addressed it @8, I offer this opinion piece:

    Pullquote from the intro:

    If populist movements have proved anything, it’s their remarkable staying power, even after their leaders have been removed from power, democratically or otherwise. From Berlusconism in Italy to Perónism in Argentina and Fujimorismo in Peru, personality-driven movements rarely fade once their leaders have left office. In the face of victimization, real or imagined, they often thrive.

    What, then, of Trumpism? While these movements differ in ideology and context, they can be instructive in anticipating what happens next.

  8. says


    I think I was 16 or 17 when a trusted adult told me about Detroit’s squelching of the secret 100 miles per gallon carburetor. I told my dad about it and he set me straight.

    The same event in the 21st century doesn’t die as easily. Instead of asking my Dad I would probably googled and come up with stories like these.” and down the rabbit hole I would have gone.

    When an individual can find thousands of people to confirm that the conspiracy is real in a matter of seconds, Facts and Reality have little chance.

    @Marcus, No. 8: What you said…

  9. Matt G says

    I had a conversation with an engineer a few years back, the father of the bride at my SO’s nephew’s wedding. He told me that the cure for cancer was a machine invented 100 years ago, which used “vibrations” to kill the cancerous cells. I asked what happened to this invention -- oh, the doctors and drug companies squashed it. I couldn’t really challenge him at his daughter’s wedding, but as our conversation unfolded I learned that his niece died of cancer at just 15 years of age. I think that answered my question about how an educated, intelligent person could believe such nonsense.

  10. steve oberski says

    Too bad there is no secret organization that specializes in tying conspiracy theorists into mental pretzels.

    They seem to be pretty good at that already without any outside assistance.

  11. says

    When I tried to read Digital Fortress by Dan Brown, I encountered plot holes you could get a bus through — sideways.

    I’m not exactly an expert in computer security matters, but I know for damn sure that the idea of DF being “encrypted with itself” is utterly unworkable; since if the decryption program is not in the clear, the computer trying to run it is not going to get anywhere. And using 64 ASCII characters to represent a 64-bit key is an impressive amount of multiple redundancy.

    As for the non-computer-related plot holes, I’m torn between the amount of earth excavated and getting the name of a country’s currency wrong. Honourable mention for making up a name that is such a bad fit for the character’s nationality, it just exposes Brown’s intentions.

    About 33% of the way into any Dan Brown book, Brown will full-on try to persuade you one thing is about to happen, purely in order to keep that mistaken idea in your mind until about the 95% point when he reveals that actually, you were wrong and something different actually happened, that is going to make the difference in the final act. It’s a sucker trick and while it might have been entertaining the first time, it’s pure annoying on every subsequent occasion.

    Anyway. The thing about the “suppressed invention” conspiracy theories is this: If some inventor really had a cure for cancer, or a car that needed just one litre of fuel to travel a hundred km, or a light bulb that lasts forever (well, they almost have; in a typical pound store LED bulb, it’s almost always the capacitors that wear out) somebody else should be able to re-invent the same thing independently.

  12. says

    I wrote:
    Too bad there is no secret organization that specializes in tying conspiracy theorists into mental pretzels.

    I really enjoyed Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum and if any of you want a great novel about weird conspiracy theories it’s a thing of true beauty. The answer to my comment, as several people have noted, is that it does exist, it’s just secret. Eco reveals that it’s name is The Tres. Fuck Dan Brown, Eco could write better than an entire Boeing 737 Supermax full of Dan Browns in a nose-dive with a tail-wind.

  13. bmiller says

    Marcus: I made it through three pages of The DaVinci Code. I am no lit-uh-ruh-chur nerd, but mygawd, that writing HURT. So clunky and cliched.

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