Fiction as Cover-Up

Stokely: So they've just been setting us up over the years with their E.T.'s and their Men In Black movies, just so no one would believe it if it ever happened?
Casey: I think so.

We've all seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But what if these stories weren't false, but rather, made to distract people from the real aliens, government conspiracy and vampires?

This trope describes the use of stories to serve as a psychological smoke screen. If someone came up and said that small grey aliens with big eyes just abducted him, you'd probably dismiss him as watching too much TV. It's used in media to show how big the conspiracy is. The people in charge know that they can't keep a lid on it all the time, so they start to release fictional accounts of their exploits, so if they ever do get seen, people will not believe the witnesses.

Such a show is always popular, which isn't exactly reassuring about how much power the Conspiracy must have...

There are two main variations:
  • A specific show (or work) exists, which obscures the fact that the events in it are real.
  • A large number of works exist, which obscures the fact that the outlandish type of events they depict are, in fact, plausible, though they may or may not depict actual events.

Subtrope of Cassandra Gambit. See also Plausible Deniability and All Part of the Show. When the "fake fake show" is a direct part of the main plot, it's a Show Within a Show.

Examples:

Comic Books
  • This is the entire point of Hoax Hunters — they're paranormal investigators with a reality TV show, disproving supernatural phenomena wherever they find it. Naturally, the stuff they're debunking is basically always real; why cover it up when you can decry it?
    • In a more straightforward example, Hoax Hunters Case Files reveals that the Hoax Hunters have at various times released fiction based on their cases, including comic books marketed towards children.

Fan Fiction
  • In A Time to Kill, the Doctor tells Donna that this is a fairly common practice. James Bond (who they've just met) and SGC both use it, and even he had a TV show once. Unfortunately, it got cancelled in the late '80s...
  • In the Harry Potter fic Who Needs Obliviators?, this is played with a bit: American Sentinels (Aurors) pass off any public magic use as filmshoots, instead of mind-wiping the Muggles.
  • Several The Sentinel fanfics have Blair writing up his Sentinel thesis as a novel or series of novels.

Film

Literature
  • Isaac Asimov's short story Paté de foie gras describes a group of scientists who found a goose who laid golden eggs; after testing every theory they could think of to figure out why, they decided to write about the exploit in hopes of getting advice from outside sources. Due to the need for secrecy, they of course published it as a fictional short story, safe in the knowledge that no one would believe it...
  • In Alan Dean Foster's Quozl, a human friend of the rabbit-like aliens stranded on Earth produces a kiddie cartoon show about rabbit-like aliens stranded on Earth. Her brother confronts her about it, but she waves him off when she makes him realize that anyone claiming that cartoon characters actually live in a national park would never be taken seriously. As for the real Quozl, they discover the broadcasts and while they are insulted and feel used by her, they realize that trying to interfere with the broadcasts would do far more harm than good and instead insist on being secret creative consultants in order to make the situation more bearable and perhaps use it to their advantage when they come out of hiding.
  • Inverted by the White Court of vampires in The Dresden Files, which arranged for the publication of Dracula in order to expose the rival Black Court vampires' secrets and vulnerabilities.
    • For a number of years this is how Karrin Murphy spends the majority of her time as a cop: explaining the wacky hijinks she and Dresden get into on approximately a yearly basis. She has the thankless job of turning vampires, sithe, gods, and rogue wizards into something that isn't magic, like gas leaks or terrorists, and even once offers to call in muggle cavalry on "terrorists with high tech suits" at the airport. Harry comments that she could easily write novels, she gets so much practice with writing fiction.
  • Doctor Who Expanded Universe
    • In Steven Moffat's first foray into Doctor Who lit, Continuity Errors, the Doctor himself is said to insert himself into the narratives of the worlds he helps. As a result it is impossible to convince the people of these worlds that a dangerous alien is among them (the guy explaining this has some issues) when they're to busy laughing at how cheap the effects are.
    • In the unofficial book I am the Doctor presented as the Doctor's autobiography, the last chapter is about how Ian and Barbara were involved in hushing up the Shoreditch Incident by helping to make two films about the Daleks, starring Peter Cushing.
  • This is revealed to be the "truth" of James Bond, with a touch of Literary Agent Hypothesis, in the novel You Only Live Twice: the obituary of Commander James Bond, RNVR, states that a series of popular novels have been implicitly approved (or tolerated) by Her Majesty's Secret Service to obfuscate the truth of his missions, although they've hewed dangerously close to "actual events" once or twice.
  • Inverted in Little Green Men, in which Majestic 12, rather than covering up abductions, actually stages them to drum up a belief in alien life, in order to justify maintaining spending for NASA. It turns out that the real truth that the Government is trying to conceal is that outer space is really, really boring.
  • In A Deepness in the Sky, humans are hiding in orbit around a planet with a developing alien society, studying the aliens. At one point, the humans take a ship down to the planet's surface, and need to run their very bright afterburners for several thousand seconds in order to decelerate safely, but they don't want the planetary society to immediately realize a spaceship is landing, so they spam the planetary network with outlandish reports of yetis and nuclear explosions and, indeed, alien spacecraft, to discredit the few legitimate reports from official sources that realize a spacecraft has been sighted. (By the time they are ready to visit the planet, the humans have broken virtually all the aliens' cryptologic communication, and they can send messages over secure networks as well as public, which explains why government facilities can't just communicate on private, trusted networks.)
  • In A. Bertram Chandler's "The Proper Gander", the Aliens, finding that their ships have been spotted by Earth dwellers, proceed to "contact" gullible flying saucer believers, knowing that the rest of the people will not believe THEIR stories. At the end, the one who made the "proper gander" pun is assigned to be a comedian making fun of the contact stories, anticipating that he will "make 'saucer' the dirtiest word in the English language."

Live-Action TV
  • The "Wormhole X-Treme!" show on Stargate SG-1. The Pentagon acknowledged that it would prevent any future leaks of information about the Stargate program from ever being taken seriously. Subverting the popularity part, the show was apparently canceled after something like two episodes. But got a movie. Based on its DVD sales.
  • The "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" episode of The X-Files
    • This also happened in one of the tie-in comics produced by Topps. A man going on the talk show circuit claiming to be John Lawrence, one of the pilots of the famous Flight 19 that got lost in The Bermuda Triangle is eventually revealed to be an actor playing an elaborate hoax. However, Mulder correctly deduces that the real reason behind the hoax is that the aliens really have sent Flight 19 back to Earth and The Conspiracy set the whole thing up so if any more of them turned up nobody would believe them.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Dracula got Stoker to write his book to pump up his street cred. Other vampires thought it was a really dick move, because it let the normal humans in on a lot of their secrets.
  • The 1988 War of the Worlds TV series is based on the premise that the invasion depicted in the 1953 film actually took place, but most people don't remember it due to a Weirdness Censor effect. In one episode, the characters visit Grover's Mill, New Jersey, where the 50th anniversary of the 1938 radio drama by Orson Welles is being celebrated. They learn that the 1938 invasion was also real (although it was defeated by the local militia, not by terrestrial microbes), and the government hired Welles to produce his broadcast as part of a cover-up.

Role-Playing Game
  • In GURPS Illuminati, the Conspiracy encourages the Weekly World News and similar publications to write up stories about conspiracy so that the Serious Press won't believe them.

Video Games
  • Many Mega Ten fans take Persona 4's mention of a Raidou Kuzunoha movie as this. It would make it the only indication of any games in the series (beyond the direct sequels and Persona sub-series) to take place in the same (exact) universe.
  • Something similar is hinted at in Deus Ex. The conspiracy makes artifical life-forms called Grays that resemble the popular idea of aliens (round heads, gray skin) and is implied to let rumours about them circulate as a smokescreen for what they are really up to in the Area 51 facility. Some sources also claim that the Grays are clones grown from genetic material from the Roswell UFO, but nothing conclusive is given.
    • This is actually the purpose of the Midnight Sun tabloid. Joe Greene, agent of Majestic 12, writes sensational articles about the gray death virus that aren't quite the truth, but just close enough to discredit anyone trying to tell the public the real story.

Web Comics
  • As well as most of the Expy science fiction shows the main characters are fans of, in Fans!! even shows like Sesame Street are apparently constructs funded by the F.I.B to serve this purpose. The Count? Really a vampire.
    • The other Muppets are up to something sinister, too. H. Ross Perot was one of them.

Web Original
  • Inverted in the Paradise setting. In the years leading up to the dawning of The Unmasqued World, when the fact that some people were being transformed into Funny Animals stopped being Invisible to Normals, a greater-than-normal number of shows and stories featuring anthropomorphic animals were featured in popular entertainment-—apparently to get the general public acclimated to seeing them around.
  • Slightly different take on the subject in the Whateley Universe. Famous horror writer Michael Waite's best known book, "Incongruity", was a huge success. Michael Waite died. Sort of. He became 'Carmilla' who is prophesied to evolve into The Kellith and sweep humanity off the planet and replace humanity with its spawn. It turns out that "Incongruity" is really The First Book of The Kellith.
  • In a number of John C. Wright's online short stories, it is stated that all science fiction is records of actual events from the past, present and future, disguised as speculative fiction, and the annual meetings of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is when authors are assigned authentic manuscripts and diaries to turn into publishable stories.
  • Warp Zone Project runs with the idea of all fiction not being only cover-up, but the true stories of super-powered individuals. They conntribute to an exploited Weirdness Censor in such a way that if someone actually runs into super-heroes or super-villains doing their usual super-hero and super-villain activities, the memories change into the impression of remembering a scene from a comic book or movie featuring the characters.

Western Animation
  • In Kim Possible it turns out that Area 51 really is filled with aliens and captured spacecraft that the government is experimenting on, and the government deliberately leaked all the rumors and conspiracy theories to the public because they knew nobody would really believe it if "the truth" ever got out. Kim and Ron are understandably perturbed that that they are being asked to help keep a secret that everybody already knows.

Real Life
  • Some conspiracy theorists believe that films (especially ET) and other media featuring aliens are secretly meant to acclimate the public with extraterrestrials to ensure they will be welcomed enthusiastically when the government reveals their existence.
  • During World War II, the FBI considered censoring American science fiction stories about atomic (or to use a popular term of the time "uranium") bombs and similar stories about nuclear physics. They decided to let the stories get published because the sudden absence of them after years of them would alert other nations that they were being censored because of real life research.
    • In the case of the science fiction story "Deadline", which featured a fairly accurate description of the atomic bomb — in 1944. Astounding editor John Campbell convinced the FBI agents who showed up at his office that attempting to pull the issue from distribution would only call attention to it.
    • Isaac Asimov asked a physicist friend for technical advice about such a bomb for one of his WWII era stories; the friend refused to discuss it. Asimov later learned that he had been part of the Manhattan Project.
  • A documentary in 2014, titled Mirage Men, alleges that the US government was actively involved in spreading conspiracy theories about extraterrestrials. The logic was that, if people (and hopefully the Soviets too) believed that the strange lights in the Nevada desert were visitors from outer space, then they'd pay less attention to the top-secret experimental aircraft that the Air Force was actually testing at Area 51, along with other black projects that the military was engaged in. (The cattle mutilations of the '70s, for instance, were likely connected to an ill-advised experiment in "nuclear fracking".) Of course, this film could be just another layer of the cover-up...
  • UFO Abduction, an obscure 1989 found-footage film about an Alien Abduction, is to this day passed around among some ufologists (who refer to it as "the McPherson tape") as proof that aliens are here and kidnapping humans, complete with claims that the story of it being a fictional horror film was just damage control. (The story of how it wound up getting released at allnote  also played heavily into its mystique.) Years later, UPN and the film's director, Dean Alioto, remade it as Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, which is, of course, also alleged to be part of the cover-up.
  • The satirical book The Report from Iron Mountain: On the Possibility & Desirability of Peace was presented as an authentic leaked government document upon its publication in 1972. It was, in fact, written by Leonard Lewin as a Stealth Parody of the Pentagon Papers and the attitudes of Washington think tanks like the RAND Corporation during The Vietnam War. To this day, it is passed around and republished by conspiracy theorists as proof that They are actively sabotaging world peace and wish to create a state of permanent warfare, rejecting Lewin's repeated statements of its true origin and intent as merely part of the cover-up.

Alternative Title(s):

Masquerainment, Entertainment Assisted Masquerade