Authors Note: My final project for my “Conspiracies in Literature” class was to find a conspiracy, describe it, analyze a document that espoused it, and then analyze why it might be so attractive to its believers.
Introduction and General Beliefs
The Mattress Firm conspiracy seeks to provide an answer to the questions: “why are there so many Mattress Firm stores? Why are they so close to each other? How are they open when no one seems to ever be shopping in them and they look almost empty inside?” Because the presence of multiple Mattress Firms, often in close proximity to one another, strikes the theorists as odd and nonsensical, they have proposed that instead of actually selling mattresses, the franchises are fronts in some sort of criminal enterprise; everything from rent inflation, money laundering, and drug trafficking to smuggling illegal immigrants and extraterrestrials has been suggested. According to Snopes, the main conspiracy (that Mattress Firm is laundering money through their brick-and-mortar stores) seems to have come from a 2018 Reddit post, although there has been suspicion with Mattress Firm for years.
Mattress Firm’s response to the reddit post only fueled the suspicions. Their Twitter account posted a gif of a surprised man with the caption “Us looking at our mentions like…” on January 23rd, 2018 and on July 16, 2018, in a response to user “@AllyiahsFace,” wrote “We know we have a lot of stores and understand that some of them are so close together it’s funny, but there’s a strategy behind it. The idea that the proximity of our store locations is related to money laundering or any illegal activity is absolutely false. In addition, the Reddit post and account that had brought the theory to the public’s attention was mysteriously deleted (the date is unknown). Although screenshots, comments, and the thread the post was originally on remain active on the website, they have not gained nearly the same amount of traction. The deletion of the original Reddit post and account only raised more suspicions.
The last two events that theorists use as evidence that Mattress Firm is involved in money laundering happened in 2018 as well: the resignation of company CEO Ryan Murphy, who had adamantly defended the company, on January 26th and Mattress Firm’s October 15th voluntary declaration of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. After internal restructuring ended in early November, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an article about a legal battle between Mattress Firm and previous associates that included, Snopes’s editors wrote, “allegations that all reportedly stemmed from the idea that real estate brokers and property development companies paid Mattress Firm insiders bribes and kickbacks for artificially inflating rental rates on leases throughout the country,” in accordance with the sub-theory about rent inflation. Having the Post-Dispatch, a more reputable source than Reddit, espouse the Mattress Firm conspiracy only lent it credibility in the eyes of theorists.
A document that “exposes” the Mattress Firm conspiracy is a Youtube video with 1,066 views at the time of writing. User AA FOR DAYS, also known as Aaron Rodriguez, published the video, entitled “Mattress Firm is money Laundering?!?! (CONSPIRACY THEORY),” on January 3rd, 2020. In it, he uses multiple rhetorical strategies to persuade the reader of the conspiracy’s truth. The first is the setting of the video and his attitude. Rodriguez sits in a dark room with a light shining primarily on his face, looking directly at the camera (and by extension, the viewer). He talks calmly, clearly, and slowly, and tells the viewer about how he’s listened to his audience’s requests for him to speak more loudly. He also jokes around with the viewer, making puns about the “laundering” part of money laundering. All of these elements (what Aristotle would describe as two of the “pillars of persuasion” ethos and pathos) serve to make the viewer feel like they’re friends with Rodriguez, spending time with him as he talks about something he’s been interested about and wants to share with you — making the viewer feel special, included — making Rodriguez seem more professional and thereby more believable.
Rodriguez grounds his case for the Mattress Firm conspiracy in reality — everything he says about the quantity of stores, the common lack of customers in the stores, Mattress Firm’s acquisition of Sleepy’s, their shares becoming more expensive after Steinhoff International bought the company, and the company’s 2018 bankruptcy is true. Rodriguez uses a distorted form of logos instead of its true form because his “reasoning” makes large leaps in logic. Instead of understanding the company’s business model, how online sales factor into Mattress Firm’s business, and the events surrounding the company’s bankruptcy and Steinhoff’s investigations, he uses them all as proof of the conspiracy theory’s existence. Thus, he engages in conspiratorial thinking — everything is connected, everything is purposeful, everything is a confirmation.
In terms of rhetorical devices, Rodriguez uses many rhetorical questions throughout the video. He asks the viewer, “wouldn’t [the conspiracy theory being true] be cool?” expecting an affirmative answer. When he discusses the deletion of the Reddit post, he asks “why would [the original Reddit post about the conspiracy] be deleted if it was just fake,” again, wanting a specific answer from the viewer (something along the lines of “well because they want to cover the conspiracy up). Rodriguez puts the viewer on the right track to believe in the conspiracy, but makes them get there themself, knowing that forming the belief themselves, even if he influenced the belief, will make it stronger.
Rodriguez also “makes” the viewer come to their own conclusions by feigning ignorance. He often says “I don’t know, it’s up to you to decide, but those are the facts,” “it could be that, or it could be part of the conspiracy” after stating a reason for something in the conspiracy (i.e that Mattress Firm has thousands of trucks for delivering mattresses across the country instead of for trafficking), or simply shrugging after stating a reason that the conspiracy could be true. Rodriguez wants the viewer to believe in the conspiracy, but he does not want them to think they believe in that because it makes logical sense, not because he has persuaded them. It is not dissimilar to how Mark Anthony convinces the crowd of Caesar’s greatness in Julius Caesar in his funeral oratory. Brutus is an honorable man, everything Rodriguez has said about the Mattress Firm could be false, but everything the men built up before then has convinced the listener of its truth. He encourages the viewer to “really break it down and think about it,” knowing that if he has done his job correctly, when they “break it down,” they will come to the same conclusion, his conclusion.
As Rodriguez says when he introduces the theory, it “is actually one that we’ve all thought in the back of our minds for a split second.” Thus, it is how easily the Mattress Firm conspiracy works in tandem with the American population’s economic anxieties and mixed feelings towards large corporations, offering a simple explanation while still being silly and meme-filled that makes it so attractive.
The Mattress Firm conspiracy, like many other conspiracies, is not true. There are dozens of podcast episodes, news segments, and Tik Toks disproving each part of the conspiracy. The thousands of trucks? Many of them are from Mattress Firm’s acquisition of Sleepy’s and both bring mattresses to brick-and-mortar stores from distribution centers and deliver them to remote areas. The thousands of brick-and-mortar stores (many within a few miles of each other without other competition) even when the recommended lifetime of a mattress is around nine years and no one ever seems to be inside the stores? Again, the result of the Sleepy’s acquisition, the majority of consumers ordering online, and mattress production costs being so low and retail prices being so high (partially due to that lack of competition) meaning that Mattress Firm’s profit margins are so large that they can maintain the stores even from selling only hundreds of mattresses in a year.
I believe that the theory is so popular because it offers an explanation to the multiple areas of cognitive dissonance the conspiracy and Mattress Firm’s response have created. With the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in thousands of retail stores closing, companies firing large portions of their personnel, and rent prices skyrocketing, the sustained ubiquity of Mattress Firm feels off. Furthermore, Mattress Firm’s two responses, one serious (a statement from the company’s CEO) and one silly (a meme on Twitter), also seem wrong — we usually expect a company’s self presentation to be one of the two. Especially because of Mattress Firm’s initial choice to be silly and join in on the joke, their later response and crackdown on the theory creates a feeling of uneasiness. The Mattress Firm Twitter’s sudden shift defies the current expectation for companies to take themselves less seriously (as Wendy’s, McDonalds, and other large corporations have done recently).
Despite marketing teams’ best efforts, however, to make Americans feel as though they are friends with the company, there is still tension — Americans know that large corporations thrive on our exploitation. So the company and Steinhoff’s attempts to dismiss allegations of wrongdoing not only do not work on the American consumer, but the realization that they can so easily unnerve a corporation, so often seen as a large, unstoppable force, only motivates them. I would also argue that with the chaos COVID-19 and the destabilization of truth, everyone is in search of answers and simple narratives that explain everything. And so, Mattress Firm has been put in a position in which nothing they can do can stop the conspiracy.
Theorists will twist any official communication into a piece of evidence that answers the economic fears that fuel the conspiracy. As Alexandra says on page 101 of The Abbess of Crewe, “We have entered the realm of mythology.” The difference between history and mythology is how entertaining and neat they are. That is why we are in a similar realm of mythology — although there is a correct explanation for Mattress Firm’s large number of stores, theorists do not accept it simply because accepting it is not nearly as thrilling as touting their version of the “truth” and feeling like part of the privileged few who know a secret the rest do not.
Although the Mattress Firm conspiracy does qualify as a conspiracy, it is dissimilar to QAnon, the Elders of Zion, and flat earthers because it does not require the believer to radically change their world view and other beliefs. As Rodriguez says when he introduces the theory, it “is actually one that we’ve all thought in the back of our minds for a split second.” Thus, it is how easily the Mattress Firm conspiracy works in tandem with the American population’s economic anxieties and mixed feelings towards large corporations, offering a simple explanation while still being silly and meme-filled that makes it so attractive.
 I used a combination of the following videos/podcasts for the explanations: https://freakonomics.com/?s=mattress; https://www.wbur.org/endlessthread/2018/09/21/the-great-mattress-conspiracy; https://www.npr.org/transcripts/676543180; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvlA9UxGvSg