Monday, November 28, 2011

The Exegesis: The Myth of Progress


Back in the 90s when everyone had gone crazy for the tech bubble I'd get a lot of people asking me what I was investing in. "Nothing," I'd reply, "I'm too conservative to play the stock market."

It always got a chuckle and then a double-take; oh, he means it. I'd seen a few bubbles come and go in the comic market and saw the damage they could do when they burst. The tech bubble burst but that was just a sneak preview of what would happened when the housing bubble burst. Bubbles are fundamentally anti-conservative, in my view.

In these Orwellian times, when dominant power structures devote vast resources to destroying our vocabulary and the possibility of discourse itself, the word "conservative" has come to be identified with a person who blindly follows any of the dominant right-wing political modalities; Theocon, Neocon, Corporatist.

None of these modalities are in fact conservative because none of them value modesty, caution, tradition or the preservation of long-standing conditions or institutions.


Instead they are all degrees of soft fascism, in that they all worship corporate power and seek to remake society in their own image, according to their varying precepts of "Progress." But all of them would result in a world in which civil society would be replaced by corporate dictate.

In many ways I'm a Yankee of the flinty, old school variety-- there's nothing I hate more than arbitrary or unnecessary change. And I still believe in many of those old school conservative values --such as honesty, industry, loyalty and thrift-- that the situationally-ethical corporatist establishment prescribes for others but never practice themselves.

It's just that I know from study that counterculture, mysticism, psychedelia and the rest are actually traditions as old as the hills.

One of the reasons I wrote Our Gods Wear Spandex and The Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll was to prove that cultural movements that are dismissed as aberrations or accidents of history are anything but, in fact they long predate many of the more respectable cultural institutions like the Church or classical music.

And although I love technology, I have a deep suspicion of the ideal of Progress-- the ideal that human history is this linear sequence that is on an infinite arc up, to where depends on who you ask.

You can't study ancient history and pretend that civilization, technology and culture are anything but cyclical, if not utterly random. One of the best examples of this is Ancient Egypt, which seemed to have started at a peak and then sort of spiraled downward in some ways and stayed utterly stagnant in others.

Europe followed a similar path from the rise of Constantine to the Renaissance. Science, health, social comity and overall education took a nosedive sometime between Theodosius and Romulus Augustus, the last emperor of the West. Things got so bad in Rome proper that the details and chronology of the latter's reign are still unknown. Modern conservatives protest that Rome continued in the East, but there too we saw incessant decline, just on a slower timetable.

That's what history teaches you: Progress is subject to the variables that are often impossible to account for- weather, earth changes, plague, etc etc etc. There are no straight lines.


My distrust of Progress is how easily the idea can be twisted to suit the agenda of the least humane elements in the world.
The Plutocracy, for instance sees the replacement of American and European workers with offshore labor or machines as the apogee of human progress, but for everyone else it's a disaster. They see the replacement of craftsmanship and pride of work with mass-produced plastic or glueboard crap from slave labor camps in China the same exact way.

Correspondingly, the far left have replaced the tradition tenets of liberalism-- tolerance, equality of opportunity, economic justice-- with the intentionally nebulous ideal of "Progressivism," which in many ways is not only often radically illiberal, it's often used as cudgel by the Right to bash the liberals with. There's no doubt in my mind that it was designed to do so.

My favorite example of the regressive reality of the Progressivist ideal is Antioch College, a legendary liberal institution whose alumni included such luminaries like Coretta Scott King, Rod Serling and Steven Jay Gould. Antioch took every progressive innovation to heart until it became a national laughing stock for its extremist adherence to political correctness, then succumbed to an ugly, prolonged decline before finally being shut down by its trustees in 2008. It's reopened this past year but has a very long way to go before it can restore its reputation or its student population.

Robert Motherwell's idea of Progress

Ultimately though, my suspicion of Progress is based, like everything else, in culture and the arts. The only person who wasn't surprised that the CIA funded the abstract expressionist movement was me, since I've long suspected that all of these emperor's new clothes movements in the fine arts world were designed to drive a wedge between the arts community and the general public.

I'd suspected as much largely due to the fact that the Guggenheim mining dynasty-- along with other corporate oligarchs such as the Rockefellers-- were the main patrons of these increasingly alienating movements, which allowed the talentless children of privilege like Robert Motherwell (whose father was the president of Wells Fargo) to pretend they were artists. The damage this program did to the prestige and reputation of the visual arts lingers to this day.

This new "Progress" decimated several generations of artists in North America and Europe, as prestigious schools stopped teaching the fundamentals of the craft and filled student's heads with a bunch of bullshit theory in their place. Representational artists were openly scorned, ridiculed and suppressed as "regressive" and counter-revolutionary. Only in the past couple of decades has the pendulum swung back, thanks largely to the low brow and neo-Surrealist movements openly hostile to the art world establishment.

Some context is needed here, mind you. In many ways abstract expressionism and related movements were a response to the challenge posed by the Industrial Revolution and its aftershocks, especially motion picture and video. Many promising artists- Donald Cammell, to name one-- felt like the plastic arts were static and inert compared to the possibilities of electronic media (in Cammell's case it was cinema and rock and roll).

But the response was the wrong one, in my opinion. And it points to a hideous irony-- how the progressive ideal is in many ways actually reactionary, or at least reactive.

MICROCOSM


Gang of Four before...

But of course the thing that made me come to deeply resent the myth of Progress was the response the music industry had to the disappointing reception most of the first wave of Punk and New Wave bands faced in the late 70s and early 80s.

When disco imploded in 1979, the new crop of rock bands was given a major push by the record companies. The investment paid off for acts like The Knack, Cheap Trick, Elvis Costello, The Police, and The Cars. But many other bands tanked or underperformed and success was shortlived for many of the new hitmakers.

In order to jumpstart sales, enormous pressure was put on these bands to radically tone down their music and their images, even acts as seemingly hardcore as The Clash and The Ramones. However, the bands and their labels faced a major problem-- the hype that accompanied their debuts proclaimed that these bands had declared war on the soft rock and disco complacency dominating the charts. Now that these bands were themselves recording soft rock and disco only marginally distinguishable from the acts they were meant to replace, a new argument had to be made for them. And that was the "Progress" argument.

The word came down from on high that these bands had embraced "Progress," which inevitably moved in the direction of the Top 40. These acts weren't selling out by recording soft rock and pop and disco, they were being Progressive, usually by adding in some vague politics and radio-friendly Third World rhythms into the mix.

By far the most egregious sellouts-- and the most obnoxious proponents of the new "Progress" party line dogma-- were Gang of Four, who made their mark serving up frantic, aggressive punk funk (influencing acts like the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the process) and confrontational Marxist politicking. But as soon as the record company looked at them cross-eyed the Gang rolled over and played dead, serving up the odious soft rock/disco hybrid abortion Hard in 1983.

By its release, two of the Four had quit in disgust already and the band was laughed out of existence the following year. They made a Stalinist point to erase all of this from their history when hitting the comeback trail a few years back. Ironically, the new generation was only interested in the records they made before this suicidal embrace of Progress took old, as is usually the case.


...and after Progress.

Gang of Four were by no means alone (Combat Rock anyone?). And what neither the bands nor the record companies realized was that the audience was in a state of transition at the time. Music video would make weirdos and punks marketable by mid-1982 and a sizable alternative circuit would emerge and eventually complete the work the punks had set out to do in the late 70s.

The phony idea of "Progress" turned out to be a poison pill when the change came. Many of the acts that compromised collapsed under the weight of all the bullshit or were disgraced and/or relegated to cult act status. The ones that didn't went on to build huge, dedicated audiences. If only the artists and their managers stuck it out a bit longer, they could have gotten over the hump and helped change the face of the music industry.

MACROCOSM

Ironically, there were two opposing movements in the 19th Century that enshrined the ideal of Progress. The first was Marxism, which reacted to the massive social crises unleashed by the Industrial Revolution by proposing a "scientific" model in which to re-organize industrial society. The other was Dispensationalism, the Christian Fundamentalist interpretation of scripture which presented a model in which all of history was seen to progressing inexorably to the Great Revelation and the coming of the Kingdom of God.

The unprecedented explosion in machine technology, as well as in chemistry and other sciences, seemed to bolster the idea that culture and religion were both part of this march of progress. Fascism too embraced progress at the same time it presented itself as the great restorer of European tradition.

With the rise of computers and the Internet the idea of linear progress became self-evident to many people. Particularly those who ignored that the Industrial and Information Revolutions were not entirely without precedent. Or ignored that technology has led to the de-evolution of human talents and abilities in many ways.

Many of us take Moore's Law as a truism, and the idea of this incessant doubling of technological capacity has led to what is in many ways the apotheosis of the Myth of Progress, namely Transhumanism. Yet the idea that computer technology is approaching the Singularity is by no means embraced by the scientific community, and we're seeing a lot of talk now claiming that progress has stalled. Transhumanism may come to pass or there may be some event that militates against it. But it is not inevitable.

In the final analysis, there's progress and there's the myth thereof. I believe absolutely that humans can't operate without something to look forward to. I believe absolutely that we need goals, sometimes impossible ones to keep us going.

I believe that human beings have potentials yet unrealized, perhaps even a destiny. I strive in all things to improve and innovate, whatever it is that I do. I live with the hope every day that I'll overcome my health issues and live a better life. I want to think that I'll be happy and fulfilled in my work. I want the same for everyone around me.

But in order to achieve our objectives I believe we need to stop thinking that wheel needs to be constantly reinvented. We need to place human well-being above all other goals, most especially the goals of Progress. There's no good innovation that doesn't contribute to the greatest good of the greatest number.

People come first. Without that first principle, Progress will always give birth to horror.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Eros, Esotericism and Esteban Maroto


In many ways, Our Gods Wear Spandex was about being a young and impressionable fanboy at a time when esotericism was common as crummy printing and cheesy advertising in comics. My local newstand Valles News (pronounced "Valis") was no less than a literal shrine to me, a place of discovery and mystery that haunts my dreams to this very day. It's probably significant that it physically straddled the Braintree-Weymouth border.

It was my Internet before there was such a thing, a window onto the wider world tucked away in a nondescript storefront next door to a hardcore alkie bar ("Helen's") whose patrons would often be passed out in their own puke or shit in the alleyway we took to get our various sugar and newsprint fixes. I lived anything but a sheltered life in my younger days.

Weymouth Landing, grim as ever, more so since Valles left

Valles was downright exoteric in comparison to Hennessy's News in South Braintree Square (across the street from the site of the Sacco-Vanzetti shootings), which carried the forbidden (literally- most places in the area wouldn't stock them) black and white horror and sci-fi magazines, particularly those published by Warren.

I couldn't usually afford the Warren titles (particularly Eerie, Creepy and Vampirella) and I'd have to smuggle them into the house if I could, but they made an enormous impression on my young psyche all the same.

A lot of that had to do with the art, mostly created by a Spanish studio of genius draftsmen, whose drawing chops were only equalled by their flaming libidos. Artists like Jose "Pepe" Gonzalez, Aureleon, Sanjulian and Gonzalo Mayo were less interested in the niceties of storytelling than in the endless celebration of the idealized female form. The mixture of heavy sex and light horror was the trademark of England's Hammer Studios, another touchstone in my early esoteric education.

There were other imported artists in the mix (particularly the great Filipino wave who were terrifying tired Yankee journeymen with their lush brushwork and tireless work ethic) and a couple of token Americans like the artgod Richard Corben (more on him later), but the artist who seemed to be the most arcane of them all was Esteban Maroto, who threw in occultomythic themes, Art Deco flourishes, surrealist and pop art weirdness and chiaroscuro flair into the mix, along with the usual testosterone-fueled fury.

Maroto's neoclassical portrayal of Perseus

When Warren bit the dust in the early 80s most of the Spanish artists seemed to move on (the Filipinos moved into animation en masse as their styles fell out of favor with editors) except Maroto, who stuck around and did some work for DC and Marvel. It was all gorgeous but by necessity it all lacked that erotic fire that made his Warren work so addictive.

Dejah Thoris, from Edgar Rice Burrough's
theosophy-tinged Warlord of Mars novels

Or maybe it was the times- Spain had chafed under Franco's fascist government for most of these artist's lives and the beginning of General's decline coincided with their ascent as Jim Warren's go-to men for his then-struggling comics line. The erotic energy and feeling of liberation they put into their work was infectious.

It was a marriage made in heaven- Warren wanted to adult comics up but was saddled with a stable of green and/or burned-out talent who made everything look like a crummy fanzine. When Maroto and the crew came in it all changed overnight.

Maroto's Faerie queens

Looking back on the line the art was by far the best thing about the Warren books, since Warren favored young and often sophomoric writing talent who had roughly the same mindset as their audience.

Although writers like Alan Moore and Grant Morrison like to sell themselves as pioneers in the use of esoteric tropes in comics, they are actually revivalists. We like to forget where things come from in order to heap praise what we have, but there was no shortage of high weirdness in 70s comics- they were all just very matter-of-fact about it. It was all about trying to amuse a jaded audience with new kicks learned in the then-active occult underground.

Check out Esteban Maroto's website here.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

TVOD: The Fringe Fade and the Hard Sci-Fi Paradox



This season I had only one wish for Fringe; I wanted it to give as much of that 90s/Vancouver X-Files vibe as it could possibly manage. The X-Files leaving Vancouver was as much as a shock to my fanboy worldview as The Clash going pop for London Calling was.

Never was a TV show more attuned to the mystic, magic possibility of a landscape as TXF was to Vancouver. I'm by no means alone in this-- the ratings for TXF took a nosedive when it moved to LA and never recovered. And though I think Ten Thirteen continued to do very good work (and the Mytharc was better focused and significantly more subversive) after the move, there seemed to be something missing.

A sense of the real.

Even though its fans will scream until they're blue in the face that Fringe is nothing like The X-Files at all (it most certainly is) and plus it's a million times better (it's clearly not), Fringe seems to be very quickly running out of gas this season. Some people blame the "Peter is missing" and shapeshifter storyline (closely paralleling the "Mulder is missing" and supersoldier storylines of Season Eight of TXF), but I'm not sure it's that exactly.

I was a bit iffy on the third season of Fringe-- there were some great episodes on offer to be sure, but I think the overexposure of the alt-Earth stripped it of the mystique needed to power the suspension of disbelief. In other words, the less you see of an alt-Earth the less you know about it and the more you fill in with your own imagination. That's the stuff suspenseful sci-fi is made of. The more time you spent on Earth-2 the less mysterious and strange it seemed.

It seems that we're in an Earth-3 situation this season, which may be why we're seeing a lot less of Earth-2. That works for me in a big way, loving alternate-reality storylines like I do. And I love the fact that they're going out of their way to recycle X-Files plot-points and story beats. The thing that's killing me this season-- and I think might be killing it for others who may not realize it-- is that the purported "science" of Fringe is so contrived and absurd.

We're in the middle of a reductionist, anti-mystical phase in some quarters of fandom, though certainly not the mainstream of fandom by any means, given the popularity of Warcraft, Skyrim, Twilight, Harry Potter, True Blood and on and on and on.

A lot of the anti-mystical reaction is due to the tireless efforts of that pedantic pedagogue James "Amazing" Randi and his adoring aparatchiks, but a lot of it is also an understandable reaction to religious fundamentalism, which despite some diminishment in power, is still destroying the fabric of this country. Even if the media doesn't want us to realize that.


But reaction is still reaction, and Fringe's response to the mysticism of The X-Files was an attempt to ground its stories in some kind of theoretical science, hence the name of the series itself. You can see how jealously some fans guard the pretense to hard science when fans complain about Walter praying when Peter was dying.

But hard sci-fi has itself always been a fringe concern, even in fan circles (even a one-time hard sf stalwart like Greg Bear is doing more mystical work these days). Sci-Fi only went mainstream when it became explicitly mystical, probably starting with Frank Herbert's Dune and 2001: A Space Odyssey in the late 60s.

It was the irreducibly-mystic Star Wars that conquered the mainstream itself and since then the genre fiction that sells is the mystic stuff. Even Star Trek is suffused to the bone with mysticism (or "woo," in the words of the Randiites), as we've seen here over and over again.

Of course, the mystic geekery must never cross over into true religion. Caprica died because all of the godtalk, and I think the same made the second X-Files movie so irritating to some fans. Allergy to right-wing intolerance has creating its own knee-jerk intolerance, as usually happens. Mystical Geekery must provide the desirable aspects of religion without succumbing to it. It's a fine line, and lapsing into mawkish religious sentimentality breaks the spell.

Fringe may not realize it but its efforts to replace mysticism with "hard" sci-fi have been the cause of its undoing, particularly this season. Now I'm biased, but it's easier for me to accept all of the weirdness in The X-Files being the work of extraterrestrials. Hell, it's easier for me to accept the demonic goings on in Supernatural. Not because I believe in literal angels and demons, but because they're presented in such a way that there's an internal logic at work that facilitates the suspension of disbelief.

Simply put, I don't believe any of the science in Fringe. Having followed the press releases of the theoretical science special interests (including DARPA) for the past three decades I've seen a lot of stuff that exists on paper and nowhere else and probably always will. In its admittedly righteous struggle against religious fascism, Science has oversold itself to credulous journalists, and in many ways Silicon Valley has done the same.

What's more, the omnipresence of Massive Dynamics and its subsidiaries tells the truth about science and technology-- it's the almost exclusive province of the rich and powerful. And as such it offers very little to the rest of us, aside from more surveillance, more disease blowback, more tech-driven redundancy and internet-enabled unfair competition.

The reason Randi (or Rambli, as I like to call him) and his bunch do nothing but attack "woo" is that not only do a lot of them have no scientific credentials to speak of, they at least subconsciously realize that science has been completely co-opted by the Powers that Be and is mind-numbingly boring and impenetrable to the people they're trying to reach.

They can attack phony psychics and fortune tellers all the livelong day, but in the end they can be nothing more than apologists for Big Pharma and the technocratic oligarchy. They work very hard to make sure you don't realize that.

Likewise, Fringe presents a world in which science and technology can do nothing for any of us but make our lives worse. It's a world in which elite corporations monopolize the tools that control our lives and no one but the disgruntled minions of those corporations can break that monopoly and usually do so only to our detriment. That's not escapism, that's the same shitty situation we face every single day.

This is why Fringe is dying, and may not survive the season. Enthusiasm for the show has tanked along with the ratings. At it is, it's on a crippling two-month hiatus, which Fox could very easily use to let it quietly die.

That's a shame in many ways because Fringe could have gone on the warpath against the very power structures that it's (at best) ambivalent about. Its tacit approval of invasive and unresponsive elites like Fringe Division and Massive Dynamics doesn't resonate in an era of populist dissent across the political spectrum.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Question Time: Nick Redfern is ON FIRE!

The most-read post in the history of this blog-- at least since Blogger began making stats available in May of 2009-- was a blockbuster interview with Nick Redfern, who this writer sees as the top UFO researcher of our times.

Back then we discussed Nick's book Final Events, which traced the origin of the "UFO=Demon" meme to a shadowy, ultra right-wing secret society in the Pentagon called the Collins Elite.

That interview kicked off a major controversy as other sites picked up on Nick's research. Nick's published a few more books since then (the guy is the Stephen King of modern UFOlogy) and has more in the works (which you can check out on his site). Suffice it to say that if you only have time to follow one author on all things alienistic, Nick's your man.

I wanted to check in Nick since next year marks the 65th anniversary of the birth of the modern UFO era; the Maury Island, Kenneth Arnold and Roswell incidents, to be precise.
UFOlogy seems to be in a strange spot at the moment, in that there's both a lot more and a lot less of it out there.

The UFO topic is getting more attention in the mainstream press than it has in ages, and not all of it is bogged down with the usual, lame-ass, "night-light" hoaxes (nearly all of which are the work of Amazing Rambli-worshiping skeptics) or the corny "Bubba butt-probe" cliches that get aired out whenever the topic is raised.

But even though more sightings are being reported than ever before, field work is sorely lacking and the phenomenon seems to have entered a new (some would say fallow) period. Indeed, we seem to be on the tail-end of a flap that peaked in 2009 and 2010, a period which also saw the Vatican and the Royal Society take the topic more seriously than most observers would have dared believed was possible.

One thing I've noticed throughout the years is that UFOlogy-- in all its various expressions-- seems to come and go in cycles.

The biggest story of the past year would be the huge success of the Ancient Aliens series, now in its third season on The History Channel.
The show seems to blow hot and cold and people who've studied the topic aren't crazy about the sensationalism the show sometimes lapses into, but it's brought the subject back into the mainstream in a way we haven't seen since the late 70s.

Nick's been featured as a pundit on the show and will be dealing with the topic in his upcoming book, The Pyramids and the Pentagon.

Nick is part of a new breed of UFOlogists that don't go for the old materialistic, nuts-and-bolts explanations of the phenomenon. And as a cold-eyed skeptic-- in the traditional sense of the word-- and a meticulous researcher, he's not really impressed much with the quasi-religious nature of UFO literature out there either.

You almost get the sense that he'd be just as happy washing his hands of the whole topic if only he could lapse into the intellectual dishonesty and Orwellian mindgames of the denialist crowd ("extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" is just a way of saying "I reserve the right to arbitrarily move the goalpost and toss out any evidence I can't explain away"), but his integrity and honesty won't allow it.

Without any further ado, let's get into it. Get out your asbestos overcoats, because this man is on fire....

Secret Sun: 2012 will mark the 65th anniversary of the modern UFO movement. What kind of shape is the old girl in as she nears retirement age?

Nick Redfern: The old girl (actually, it's more like an old, diseased hag) is in the same shape that it has always been in!

That's to say that it is as static as ever, and is largely filled to the brim with: (A) people who believe the UFO phenomenon has extraterrestrial origins, the reason being they have a psychological, comforting need for a rigid belief system, rather than an open, inquiring mind that isn't steeped in belief or one theory; (B) a smaller number of skeptics who think it's all a nonsensical issue they can condescendingly make fun of (because they have weak, fragile egos and self-doubt, and poking fun at people makes them feel significant and strong, but, believe me, they aren't significant or strong), and dismiss with a smile of the type that deserves a good, solid punch or several to their glass-jaws; and (C) people like me who absolutely believe there is a real UFO phenomenon of unknown origins, but which may not be literally extraterrestrial.

Or, if it is, it extends far, far, beyond mere "nuts and bolts" UFOs and alien scientists coming here to "steal our DNA," because their "race is dying."


Secret Sun: You're one of the few UFO authors who's still putting out important books on UFOlogy. Why do you think there are so few books out there while interest in the topic has never been higher or more widespread?

Nick Redfern: I don't care at all if Ufology is widespread or is not widespread. Those who do care are the ones who use Ufology as a means to have a career and who drone on with the same fucking lecture for year after year, decade after decade.

If I write a book that sells less than 500 copies (as some of my books have done over the course of their "lives"), or if they sell more than a couple of thousand of copies (as some of my books have done), the important thing is not the number of copies sold, but getting the word out to those who are interested, and those who care about what's afoot in Ufology and the latest breakthroughs.

There are actually a lot of good books on UFOs being published, but many are self-published, e-books, print-on-demand etc. This, in itself, is not the problem. The problem is that many UFO authors are totally sh*t at promoting themselves. If someone writes a UFO book and it doesn't sell, then that's entirely the author's fault and no-one else's: Stop complaining, get off your arse, and promote it! But just stop whining! Do what needs to be done to get the word out.

As for how this lack of interest in UFO books relates to interest in the subject being at its height, its actually very, very simple: The Internet is free, TV shows are free, live-radio is free. UFO-themed books and magazines are not free. And, in the current economy, free stuff is better than spending money.

Secret Sun: You're a featured commenter on History Channel's Ancient Aliens series. Why do you think the show is so incredibly popular? What chord do you think it has struck in the public consciousness?

Nick Redfern: I think most people realize that our world, our history, the field of archeology, are all filled with mystery, and unresolved issues that mainstream science either ignores or tries to place into rigid, simplistic camps.

Maybe, it's some deep, inherited, ancient memory, but I think most people know - even if they don't exactly know why they know - that our views on the very, very earliest years of human civilization are sorely lacking, and that significant things have happened in our past that are primal, subconsciously remembered and that strike a chord - huge floods, ancient races possessed of fantastic technologies, amazing cultures that flourished and died, and much more.

And I think Ancient Aliens hits that note - it brings out something in our inherited, subconscious memories that we are missing something massively significant about humanity's very ancient past. I really do believe that.

Secret Sun: I'm old enough to remember when Chariots of the Gods was an international blockbuster and spawned countless imitators. Why do you think the ancient astronaut topic vanished so suddenly with the rise of Reagan and Thatcher and went viral again after the end of the Bush/Blair era?

Nick Redfern:
Well, I don't know as I think that the ancient astronaut issue sunk because of the rise of Reagan and the vileness of the evil Thatcher regime that I lived through in England. I think it's pretty clear that, when it comes to paranormal topics, subjects surface, peak, and decline.

And sometimes - like with the Ancient Aliens series - they come back. Other times they don't. Astrology was big once. Back in Victorian times, it was seances, and table-rapping. Ouija-Boards had their day, as did the Contactees. Look at stories of alien abduction - nowhere near as popular or prevalent today as they were in the late 80s and in the 1990s. That's how things go.

It's no different to rock music - it began in the 50s, with Elvis, Little Richard, etc. Then there was the Beatles and Stones in the early 60s, Psychedelia in the late 60s, Glam-Rock in the early 70s, punk in the late 70s, new wave and crappy keyboard shit and skinny ties in the 80s, grunge in the 90s, and lip-synching bitches with no brains today who have sold their musical heart for cash and fame.

Forteana and Ufology are the same - one time something is popular, then it's something else.


Secret Sun: You're a born Englishman who lives in America. What's the difference in the two countries in how the UFO topic is perceived in the public and in the media? Is there a disconnect between the average Briton and the establishment press?

Nick Redfern: I think where there are similarities is that, both in the UK and the US, the media (TV, radio and newspapers), are more willing - today - to take the subject with a greater degree of seriousness than, say, 15, 20, or 30 years ago. I think public perception is pretty much the same, and very much black and white as it always was - it's either literal aliens or it's not real.

The biggest difference, as I see it, is that in the UK the UFO research community is more willing to look at alternatives to the ET hypothesis. One of the key reasons for this is that US Ufology is very commercialized, and if you don't kiss ass and say what people want to hear, it won't bring people to conferences and money won't be made. That's a tragic, f*cked up approach.

I'm not saying the following to be big or clever, but no-one of prominence in US Ufology would ever have even contemplated writing a book like my "Body Snatchers in the Desert," because they would have feared the backlash from colleagues and peers, and they would have feared not getting booked to speak at mainstream, major UFO conferences etc.

The biggest difference is that I really do not give two f**king sh*ts what people think of me, nor do I do want people want me to do, nor do I care about what people think of me. And I see that as a big difference between the UK and the US - American Ufology is about selling tickets at gigs, about continuing "the scene," about hooking up with the right people to become a minor celebrity in Ufology, and about keeping the industry going. UK Ufology is more about just the phenomenon.


Secret Sun:
I've written on the blog about what I call the "Elusive Companion Hypothesis," arguing that whatever we call UFOs are not in fact extraterrestrial as we might understand the term (meaning originating outside the Solar System) but are in fact part and parcel of our physical environment, similar to the Watchers of ancient myth. How seriously is this taken in UFO circles?


Nick Redfern: Well, my view is this: people say I don't believe in the ET hypothesis, and that I prefer to focus more on such issues as Tulpas, Tricksters etc. That's true. However, I don't outright dismiss the ETH at all.

Rather, as I alluded in an earlier answer, I think the simplistic issue of "nuts and bolts UFOs" piloted by "alien scientists" coming here to "steal our DNA because their race is dying," is the sort of stuff people want to hear at conferences.

This simplistic approach (which is the same simplistic approach that life after death equates to something as simple as going to Heaven and Hell) does not - and simply cannot - account for other aspects of ufological experiences, such as synchronicities, cross-over cases between Ufology and (for example) poltergeist activity, Shadow People, or Cryptozoology etc.

How seriously are the views of yours taken by Ufology? My experience has been that many high-profile Ufologists have either experienced the high-strangeness stuff or know people who have, that are suggestive we may NOT be dealing with literal ETs.

But they lack the self-confidence to say so, because - again - they worry about how their views will be looked on by the old-timers of Ufology.

The reason they worry is that the old-timers are plugged-in to the people who arrange the conferences and the magazine editors who promote their books, and they don't want to rock the boat. F**k all those c**k-s**kers who know - but who lack the strength to stand up and say: "There's something weirder going on than just ET scientists visiting."

As long as Ufology is dominated by being a business and not much else, this will never change.

Change will come when the old and tired researchers who yearn for pre-Internet eras when people wrote letters instead of emails, and who mailed 'zines instead of emailed PDFs, have gone to their graves.

I have no faith at all that Ufology will advance, progress or learn anymore than it has already unless Ufology becomes more open-minded to all sorts of ideas and paradigms.


Sixty-four years since Kenneth Arnold, and all we have to show are lots of filing-cabinets, filled with lots of files, and lots of memory-space taken up.
That aside, all we have is theories, ideas and beliefs, but no hard evidence of what's afoot. That's because belief controls the nature of how people investigate things.

If Ufology falls and fades, then Ufology can only blame one thing: the field itself.

You know what I would love? If, next year, one of the big UFO conferences had on their roster someone talking about how DMT can provoke abduction-type UFO experiences, someone else giving a lecture titled "Saucers and Synchronicities," the next person addressing the story of Aleister Crowley and Lam, and a fourth person presenting on ritually invoking purported alien entities while on mushrooms swigged down with Absinthe.

It's not gonna happen though. Instead, it will be more regurgitation of a pro-ET nature on Roswell, Socorro, Mantell, etc. That is the "good old days" that old-school Ufology wants and which sells tickets.

Ufology might go the way of the dinosaur, or it may bring itself back from the brink. The sad thing is that, such is the belief-driven nature of the subject, I really don't care at all if Ufology does implode. The phenomenon will still interact at a deeply personal level with us, even if Ufology as a movement does die.

The phenomenon has always been with us. It doesn't need Ufology, the movement, and its preconceived beliefs to interact with us. What the phenomenon wants from us are minds that are willing to break down barriers and boundaries and look beyond the simple into the far more complex.

Ufology, though - or at least as it stands today - may not be up for the challenge. Too bad for Ufology.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Supernature



Jeff Kripal is doing yeoman's work in getting the mystical geek gospel out to the mainstream. Hot on the heels of Authors of the Impossible (which we discussed here and here), Jeff has a new book out called Mutants and Mystics in which he explores the superhero meme and its spiderweb of mystical and magical reverberations.

What's more he's working on two films with producer Scott Hulan Jones; one is a documentary on Authors of the Impossible and the other is a doc called Supernature, on Esalen and the human potential movement.

Scott's looking to raise funds for Supernature on Kickstarter, since it's impossible to get financing these days for anything that doesn't bolster corporate hegemony in all its various forms, both overt and covert.
SUPERNATURE: ESALEN AND THE HUMAN POTENTIAL is a documentary film about the influential Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, and The Human Potential Movement it spawned. At a time of unprecedented political, social and ideological conflict, we believe the world would benefit from a broad, beautiful, and sophisticated exposure to the ideas and practices fostered by Esalen, particularly those that move us beyond the present schizophrenic split between religion and science.
We believe that the world is crying out for positive, even ecstatic models and ideas that can embrace the best of our religious pasts without being bound to those pasts; that can celebrate the discoveries of science without equating these discoveries with a materialism of despair and meaninglessness; and that can finally envision the human being as a conscious embodiment of the evolving cosmos. With SUPERNATURE, we hope to bring exactly this vision to a much wider audience and so play our part in the transformation and future of American culture.

We also have previously recorded interviews with Astronomer, Computer Scientist and UFO Expert Jacques Vallee, Writers Erik Davis, Mitch Horowitz, Victoria Nelson, Doug Moench, Lawrence Sutin and Christopher Knowles, Parapsychologist Dean Radin, Physicist Ed May, Professor of Religious Studies Christopher Partridge, and Medium Paul Selig.



These interviews were all filmed at the Superpowers conference at Esalen in 2009, which I wrote about in detail here. Scott and the crew are looking to do more filming in the new year, so if you want to contribute to what is sure to be a very interesting and worthwhile project definitely check out the Kickstarter page.

You can hear more of Scott's work on his podcast-- click here.

Jeff is everywhere promoting his new book, but regular readers will want to check out the Hidden Experience podcast for a more informed dialogue on how synchronicity and UFOlogy tie into the superhuman and mutant memes. Take it away, Mike C!:
The book MUTANTS AND MYSTICS explores the how comic books and science fiction are somehow intertwined with profound mystical experiences, including the UFO contact lore. This is the kinda stuff that gets my attention!
Delving deeply into the work of major figures in the field—from Jack Kirby’s cosmic superhero sagas and Philip K. Dick’s futuristic head-trips to Alan Moore’s sex magic and Whitley Strieber’s communion with visitors, this book explores how creators turned to science fiction to convey the reality of the inexplicable and the paranormal they experienced in their lives.

Expanded consciousness found its language in the metaphors of sci-fi and the incredible powers of the comic book super hero. From gnostic revelation to alien abduction, Kripal spins out a hidden history of American culture, rich with mythical themes and an awareness of the imaginal.
Click here for a direct download of the interview.
I'll be talking with Jeff sometime around Christmas as part of the Re-Enchantment Dialogues series. My goal for the blog for the foreseeable future is to explore artists and writers who incorporate magic, synchronicity and the esoteric arts into their work. I've done a whole lot of blabbing this year, writing some pretty huge posts.

Now I want to leave the hermitage- virtually, at least-- and talk to people exploring the same unknown territory we've been. For the next few months, this blog will be about community-building and dialogue. And boy, do I have a corker of a dialogue coming up in the next couple of days.

Watch this space.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Exegesis: Culture Creation in the Age of Upheaval


The point of art for most of human history was magical- culture was about the cult.

The goal of art was to commune with the gods- to create environments in which human beings were surrounded by images of them.
We'll leave aside the obvious parallels with the post-World War II cargo cults and the rest of it (for now at least), because I'm more interested in exploring the cultural aspect of this.

The rise of the Protestant movements in the late Renaissance were accompanied by distinct anti-cultural trends-- the iconoclasts, Biblical literalism, the anti-liturgical movements and so on-- that were in fact the logical precursors to atheism.

What arose from this was an emphasis on legalism and the power of speechmaking that very easily allowed successive generations to peel away from the cult, exactly as what we're seeing in America today and what we will see in the developing world in the future. The Puritans of old New England evolved into the Congregationalists and then into the Unitarians, both of whom are in serious decline today, if not in fact moribund.


The Church was the culture for over a thousand years, until successive technological innovations-- the invention of the printing press foremost among them-- gradually began to chip away at its monopoly. The rise of Protestantism eventually whittled away at the artistic and cultural aspects of Christianity, mostly because the people it tended to attract didn't understand art or music and were primarily concerned with the law, money and most of all, politics.

The Middle Ages weren't much different than Ancient Egypt when it came to the use of the arts in ritual, which is to say magical ritual. Pre-Christian architectural techniques were revived and improved upon in order to create a literal sanctuary (meaning "holy place"), a place where the parishioner directly encountered the supernatural.

Chartres is probably the greatest expression of this, but it's by no means alone. The wealth and relative social harmony of the High Middle Ages gave birth to the artistic movements that would later result in the Renaissance, meaning the rebirth of the old arts, sciences and particularly, the old gods.

The Romans paid lip service to culture, but were always more concerned with the material world and its pleasures. But the massive influx of conquered peoples into the Empire brought all of the Mystery cults with it, as well as a worldwide craze for all things Egyptian. Isis nearly conquered the world, and it was mostly because of her beauty, her rich and complex rituals, and of course all of the art. Isis was a goddess of the senses, a lush, feminine presence in otherwise bleak lives.

Check out this site for more info on this image

No Roman who visited Egypt could come away unimpressed with the art; the sculpture, the paintings, the architecture, the music, the beautiful costumery. It was everywhere, especially in the major metropolises and cult centers. And ALL of it was dedicated to the gods and designed to create Heaven on Earth. To create an environment in which the gods never left, in other words.

The grandeur of Egypt would influence the Greeks and the Romans to upgrade their temples from humble, functional shrines to places like the Temple of Zeus and the Parthenon, where supplicants would be awestruck by enormous, painstakingly rendered depictions of the gods. Clever priests would devise elaborate machines to make these images "speak," using an early type of PA system.



All of this is to say that people in ancient cities were as heavily mediated as we are today. Advertising was everywhere as well, as was grafitti, particularly that of the pornographic variety. It didn't matter that most people couldn't read; they didn't need to. Someone would always be on hand to tell them what all of those hieroglyphs were saying, or at least their own interpretation of them.

As I wrote about in
Our Gods Wear Spandex, modern fandom has recreated all of this. I'm no different- my walls and shelves are cluttered with artworks depicting gods old and new. What this is all about is creating your own sanctuary and creating your own reality.

From time to time you'll see stories on super-collectors; people who spend all of the disposable income on tchotchkes: posters, figurines, collectibles and all of the rest of it in tribute to their respective obsession. This becomes a question of degree; the only difference between these fanatic fans and everyone else is simply their level of commitment.


So we have an ancient and modern analog of cultish devotion,
all in service of creating an alternative to the crushing boredom and endless disappointments of ordinary reality.

We also have the billion dollar advertising and promotion industries working to sell us their clients' alternative reality, a dreamworld in which that popular soft drink isn't just semi-toxic fizzy water but a totem, a kind of amulet guaranteed to summon the good times back into your life.

A delusional state in which that odious bodyspray will get you laid by the hottest chick you've ever seen in your life. Or in which guys who don't drink that light beer that tastes like O'Douls-flavored urine are all homosexuals.

It doesn't end there, of course. It get a lot more insidious and destructive. Those very same agencies also create a world in which anyone who mildly inconveniences --or even looks cross-eyed at-- our plutocracy is a communist or a Muslim or a homosexual (these guys always go for the homophobia fail-safe, whether they're trying to sell beer or a bloodsucking political candidate).

Subsequently, billions upon billions of corporate dollars have been spent pushing Evangelical Protestantism all over the world
as the closest thing there is to a One World Religion on the market today, ensuring a huge labor pool of docile and submissive serfs.





Imagery, music, and other sensual stimulants create realities. What you pay attention to becomes the building blocks of your weltanschauung. Targeted media has accelerated this process, created a multiplicity of microcultures, all certain of their beliefs and all equally certain of the invalidity of the belief system of those who disagree with them. These in turn become schismatic, leading to ever more refined micro-mini-cultures.

In this context, there's no reason at all to ask permission to create your own culture and your own worldview. All of the minicultures out there can wax ecstatic about the shortcomings of their opponent's worldview, all the while ignoring the fact that their own shortcomings are nearly identical, if not identical in their opposition. So don't worry about them at all.

However, what then becomes the aim is efficacy. Sure, you can find a bunch of people to worship some old Sumerian fire goddess or the works of some obscure Italian anarchist philosopher, but does that mean that culture produces the results you're looking for? The great cults rose because they answered the questions of their adherents, producing results if often only in the form of a beatific or tranquilized state.

The great cults fell when the times changed and the old answers stopped applying to new realities. The old pagan cults gave way to the Mystery cults when civilization softened the hard edges of Nature, and the Mystery cults gave way with the rise of the philosophic religions and the challenges of the imperial state. Catholicism gave way to Protestantism with the rise of mercantile capitalism and Protestantism gave way to Evangelicalism with the rise of corporatism and electronic media.

Religion is giving way to Science today only out of a kind of forfeiture, since most sensible people realize that the real power of Science is monopolized by the corporate state. Atheism and skepticism are negatively inspired in that they are reactions to religious fascism. The corporate fascism that Science is the completely submissive handmaiden to is less of a concern to the people gravitating to the movement. But that will surely change. And soon.


We're well into an age of upheaval, a state of flux, of uncertainty. Historically-- specifically, the late Roman republic and the Industrial Revolution-- people gravitated towards belief systems that seem to tame uncertainty while exploiting it. The occult, the Mysteries and so on are expressions of this process.

And this is why mainstream culture has so perfectly co-opted those expressions that we don't even notice anymore. Harry Potter, Twilight, The Walking Dead and World of Warcraft are nothing but a new coat of paint on a very old geek chassis. But they speak to young people in a way that religion or high culture no longer can. The hideous celebrity culture is a fantasy as well-- fake celebrities who are built up by the media solely so they can knocked down again.

You are what you eat, and your worldview is evidenced by the culture you surround yourself with. I won't even get into the magical possibilities of all of this right now. But you can at home.

Monday, November 07, 2011

The Re-Enchantment Dialogues, Part 4: Innies and Outies

Alan Moore, author of the 21st Century.
Sketch by Joe Linsner for Spandex

One of Jung's great contributions to the modern psychological lexicon were the terms "introvert" and "extrovert." These terms have been a bit dumbed down over the years, with introvert coming to describe shy, retiring wallflower types and extroverts describing loud, boisterous salesmen/politician glad-handlers.

However, you can have outgoing introverts and vice versa. The term introvert- which is the one we'll concentrate on here since it probably describes most of the people reading this- can be described more succinctly as an individual whose life experience is filtered through his or her own internal narrative.

Or more aptly, extroverts are those telling the story of their lives to others and introverts tell it to themselves. And again, there are sorts of caveats and amendments to add here and it's not really to be taken literally since most writers tend to be introverted, but let's forget them for now. Let's concentrate on the fact that introverts live a life of the mind and not of the senses.

Kirby, whose stories intruded
on the flow of linear time.


We understood the mechanics of all of this for a very long time, before the rise of consumer capitalism (and then the predatory/monopoly capitalism we have today) demanded that everything be commodified, that everything be reduced to a price tag.

A price tag in a state of constant deflation, I might add.

The process of re-enchantment demands not that the price be reinflated but the whole idea of a price tag on human experience be abolished. Magic is neither bought nor sold, it doesn't even respond to that kind of terminology.

Lovecraft, who blurred the boundary
between fiction and the occult

And since Magic has traditionally been understood to be a harmonization of our inner reality and the invisible forces that control the flow and rhythm of our outer reality, the key is to learn the symbols that gravitate towards you and stop to think what you are meant to do once those symbols harmonize on the interior and exterior expressions of your life.

In other words, it makes no sense to study symbolism and Synchronicity unless you are going to eventually use them to steer the course of your life.

And now as the exterior expression of our lives becomes more hollow and impoverished, learning how to understand and then to surf the waves of Synchronicity is increasingly important. In fat times, introverts are always left out, always outsiders looking in. Those folks on the borderlands between the inner and outer worlds abandon ship and ride the gravy train. In lean times, the equation is often reversed.

One of the reasons I wrote Our Gods Wear Spandex was that I understood that the mainstream was gravitating towards suphero fantasies (the same escapist fantasy of the harried nerds and geek populations they either ignored or bullied in their school days) because they finally began to understand that they were nothing to the masters of the Universe lording over them.

If anything they-- especially if they are in the middle classes-- are an irritant and an obstacle to the program of impoverishing and disempowering the entire world population so that the various plans and agendas could be put into place without delay or obstruction.

In the best-case scenarios, a lot of those put-upon kids were saved by heroic fantasy, whether superhero-flavored or not. They were able to enter into a parallel reality-- an inner reality-- where they weren't helpless or marginalized. Innovations like role-playing games and hardcore punk --as well as the eternal last refuge of the victimized sensitive, the martial arts dojo-- offered practicable methods to exorcise those demons and reinvent themselves and their place in the world.

We're still too early into the process to see if the mainstream will be rescued by variations on this same process, but the fact that a lot of kids have decided to stop waiting for saviors (like Wall St. princeling Barackobamun) and take to the streets is certainly an indicator that things are indeed changing.

What I'm trying to say here is that all of the things we talk about here are often dismissed or ridiculed, but that's only if they are used for a kind of rank, escapist onanism. Synchronicity-spotting is just a stoner's game if it isn't A., applied to one's own life, and B., used as a way to change one's relationship to the world outside.

Sure, you can go to any convention, whether pop-cult or "New Age," and find a lot of hopeless cases who have shut out the world from their reveries. But you can find those kinds of people anywhere. And it's the people who shut out the world inside that end up doing more damage to themselves and the people around them.

But we're not allowed to talk about that.

Even so, I know a lot of people who took that inspiration and changed the course of their life (often getting themselves out of some very difficult situations) because of those same stories. If you add in symbolism and Synchronicity to all of that and turn on new seekers to the mix, who can tell what will happen once that formula kicks in?

Magic, probably. On a worldwide scale.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Saturday Matinee: Revelation of the Pyramids



This has gotten a lot of comment on the Facebook page and I'm sure everyone else will get a rise out of it as well. A lot of people might be all pyramided out-- or at least tired of some of the boilerplate floating around out there on the topic-- but this may change your mind. Here's the pitch from the doc's producers:
The Revelation Of The Pyramids takes an in depth look into one of the seven wonders of the world, the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Mystery has surrounded these epic structures for centuries with theories varying from the scientific to the bizarre.

However with over thirty-seven years of in depth research taking in sites from China, Peru, Mexico and Egypt, one scientist has as at last managed first to understand and then to reveal what lies behind this greatest of archaeological mysteries: a message of paramount importance for all mankind, through time and space.

I hope you enjoy it and get something out of it. Any thoughts or links are always appreciated.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Metaphyction, or My Favorite Flops


Before launching The Secret Sun I briefly toyed with the idea of a blog on metaphysical themed movies and TV shows called "Metaphyction." I've since covered a lot of the topics here that I wanted to do in that blog (which might have gone live for a short time) and more besides, so it was obviously a case of too narrow a focus.

But I realized something very telling about the films I wanted to cover on that blog- a lot of them were flops.

Granted a lot of them went on to enjoy afterlives on video, but that didn't help them any at the box office. Some of these films are still underappreciated, which gives the lie to the "pop culture" part of The Secret Sun. Actual "pop culture" is a turgid miasma of stupid these days and really doesn't warrant much analysis at all, at least most of it. Of course, working the "unpopular culture" beat won't make you many friends these days, but what do you want for nothing.

Anyhow, the point of all this is that films that delve into metaphysical themes ("metaphysical" being a blanket term for most of the stuff we look at here) don't seem to do well with the mall/multiplex crowd who make or break films these days, but often do much better with the shut-ins like myself who prefer to consume their entertainment in their own homes.

So, in chronological order here are my favorite flops, which barring a few outliers, comprise the list of my favorite films. I'm sure your lists might have some overlaps, but be sure to post them anyway in the comments.



The Wicker Man (1973)
Production Budget N/A
Box Office (Int'l) N/A

To say The Wicker Man was a flop on its release is to reduce the term 'flop' to a trifle. This was a film that its studio hated so much that not only did they go out of their way to figuratively bury it in the theaters, they actually took the negative of the film and physically buried it (it was used as landfill for a highway project).

If it weren't for low budget maestro Roger Corman, the film might have been forgotten. Always looking for product, Corman worked up a truncated cut of the film in the second-run/drive-in circuit, where it built up a devoted cult following.

As with many of these films, I prefer the theatrical cut to the extended version. Corman's old-school instincts served the film well, and cut out a lot of extraneous exposition that slowed down the action. The film draws heavily on James Frazer's The Golden Bough for historical accuracy and may also draw on the equally-unappreciated British film Eye of the Devil, which starred a young and brain-meltingly gorgeous Sharon Tate.

The Wicker Man is deeply pagan, while most of my other favorite flops are Gnostic, but the humor, the sex and the subversion (as well as the songs) have made this one of my all-time favorites. And I'm certainly not alone. And I must say that the ending was genuinely shocking to me the first time I saw, way back in the pre-Internet, VCR-powered Stone Age.

Neil LaBute's misogynistic remake has muddied the waters, although his RenFaire-gone-wrong paganism is probably more realistic than what we see in the original.



Blade Runner (1982)
Production Budget $28M
Box Office (USA) $27M

The first of many big-budget Philip K. Dick adaptations, Blade Runner was hampered by a downbeat vibe and a overly competitive release calendar (this was the summer of ET, Poltergeist, Tron, The Road Warrior, etc). I had no idea at the time (this was before our pathological obsession with box office grosses turned us into soul-dead bean-counters instead of fans). I thought it was the best thing I'd seen since the first Star Wars.

Of course, it's "weighed down" with Gnostic pessimism and metaphysical ruminations about what it means to be human, and a lot of critics chafed at the voice-over (which I loved, and still prefer) but it's still a master class in big-budget movie-making. The sparkly Vangelis soundtrack doesn't hurt either.

I miss the days before non-executives spent their Monday mornings brooding over grosses. Blade Runner is still an important movie that people still want to see for the first time, and it's still a movie that rewards repeat viewings. Can you say that about Van Helsing or Transformers 3? Of course not.

I'd imagine Blade Runner's made its money back on video but if it hasn't it exists to balance out the moral and aesthetic debts that Hollywood has run up since the early 80s.


NSFW

The Hunger (1983)
Production Budget: $10M
Box Office (USA): $6M

This movie is grossly misunderstood, mostly because of that scene (if you've seen the movie, you'll know what I mean). But it's a downright startling prophecy of the AIDS crisis, which was still in its early days when the film was being made.

It's also a powerful meditation on obsession and addiction, as well as a condemnation of the shallow, youth-centric culture that only got crazy worse since the 80s. Never mind the Astro-Gnostic elements that were later introduced in the original novel's sequels.

Plus, it has Bauhaus (well, Peter Murphy) miming to 'Bela Lugosi's Dead,' which I thought was just the coolest damn thing ever, being a major Bauhaus fanatic at the time. Of course, they broke up soonafter.

The movie was savaged because of that scene but also because David Bowie -- who filmed it before the release of Let's Dance-- was seen as a dilettante playing at acting. The fact that director Tony Scott (brother of Ridley) made his bones doing commercials in the UK didn't endear him to the wags, either. Of course, this was before Communion, so the opinion makers hadn't turned on Whitley Streiber (who wrote the original novel) yet.

None of that phased me. I loved this movie back in the day and I still love it. This is the modern-day vampire story Anne Rice wishes she wrote.



Jacob's Ladder (1990)
Production Budget $25M
Box Office (USA) $26M

This movie spoke to me on so many levels-- many of which are very painful-- that it became one of the first movies that I obsessed on, rewatching more times than I could count (Apocalypse Now was the very first). As with Blade Runner, it's an object lesson in big-time directing. And having read the original script I can say it's as much--if not more-- an Adrian Lyne film as a Bruce Joel Rubin film.

Lyne used the film to stoke his own William Friedkin obsession, something my fellow children of the 70s will appreciate, but he also went out of his way to avoid horror cliche, creating a new visual vocabulary for demons and monsters that is still in use to this day.

Balancing out the terror is abject heartbreak, a young working-class father who loses a child (played by a young Macaulay Calkin) before being sent to the killing fields of Southeast Asia. Elizabeth Pena smoulders with carnality and several actors who went on to bigger and better things put in A-plus performances.

I could write a lot more about the movie and hopefully I will, providing I can avoid the minefield of trauma that the film dredges up for me.



Dark City (1998)
Production Budget $27M
Box Office (Int'l) $27M

We've covered this AstroGnostic classic (here, most recently) and it's grown in stature on DVD, but it was a flop upon release. Again, I was oblivious because I was sold on Dark City as soon as I saw the trailer. Even then I saw it took the retro-noir vibe of the first Batman movie and actually wrote a story to place it in.

Some have been disappointed with Proyas' career path since (I actually like Knowing quite a bit, Nic Cage or no) but that's Hollywood for you. Multi-million budgets are not meant to be used to make quirky statements based in Gnostic cosmology, they're meant to make multi-million dollar profits in return. That they so often don't shows that nobody in show business knows what they're doing, since it's impossible to say what will happen in the culture and the world during the several years you're working on your film.

Caveat: the Dark City Director's Cut is bogged down with a bunch of padding that belonged on the cutting room floor. Stick with the theatrical.



Dagon (2001)
Production Budget $4,800,000
Box Office (Int'l) €212,699

One of the very first essays on The Secret Sun was about this film (it was reposted in 2009 when I was at Esalen). For some reason, Stuart Gordon's far less faithful adaptations of Re-Animator and From Beyond are clutched to fandom's bosom and this film is not. This is a deeply divisive movie, even among Lovecraft fans (hell, especially among Lovecraft fans. I'll take Dagon any day.

In the surface Dagon is just another B-movie gorefest, but as the credit sequence tells us, it's below the surface where all the action is. Lovecraft's pagan-phobia was simply a stand-in for his revulsion towards the immigrant hordes descending on the Northeast. Gordon takes an opposite tack- the Mystery cult initiation we see unfold is a revelation to a deeper gnosis. Paul Marsh is systematically stripped of all of the yuppie comforts he took as a birthright, only to find a much deeper and more powerful birthright he had no idea existed.

The creepy Medieval Spanish village is a nice stand-in for Lovecraft's Cape Ann (which is a yuppie paradise these days) and the usual Gordonian sex/violence is less juvenile and more pagan. I love the ending (the film is an adaptation of 'Shadow Over Innsmouth,' so you might already know it) and the actress who portrays Uxia brilliantly encapsulates a whole powder-keg of emotions familiar to any woman who's found the love of her life. And why Ezra Godden is not a star is a mystery to me- he does a wonderful job in the Jeffrey Combs role.

If you haven't seen Dagon- or saw it and didn't like it- read my essay and watch it again.



Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Production Budget $15M
Box Office (Int'l) $20M

Inland Empire is essentially the same film (though much, much grimmer and much more insane) but Mulholland Dr. gets the nod for the sumptious color and cinematography that the bigger budget allowed. David Lynch has always been the poet laureate of dissociation and dream logic, and for my money Mulholland is his masterpiece.

Naomi Watts would go on to star in the remake of Ringu, but this is a much scarier film because it's real. It's about how America takes everything away from the naive and the dreamers (her character is Canadian, appropriately) and gives them nothing but cold concrete and a bullet to the head for their trouble.

A lot of people don't understand the narrative, but it's all very simple once you have the key. I didn't have it for years but loved it anyway. I'm not surprised Lynch has quit making movies, since Mulholland and Inland stripped away all of the lies and bullshit that Hollywood sells and showed the disease-riddled, reanimated corpse that hides behind the curtain, pulling all of our strings.

More on this film here.



Solaris (2002)
Production Budget $47M
Box Office (Int'l) $30M

Long-time Secret Sun readers know all about my Solaris jones, which I've covered here and here. I was late to the Solaris party, since I didn't happen to watch it until it was on cable. I made up for lost time. Soderbergh came of age at a time when Hollywood was on fire and the storytelling tics of the late 60s and 70s are all over his work. His non-linear approach sometimes works, sometimes doesn't. It definitely works here. Artistically, at least.

I can only explain this film's existence by the fact that it's essentially a James Cameron project, with Soderbergh hired on to supply the poetry. If Hollywood didn't live in mortal terror of Cameron there's no way this brooding, atmospheric Astro-Gnostic meditation would have been greenlit. Clooney might have helped seal the deal, and it's always great to see Natascha McElhone, even if she's weirdly lit in a lot of this.

As with many of my favorite films, the soundtrack is an integral part of the magic. I think I've listened the film's soundtrack more than several other favorite albums combined.



The Nines (2007)
Box Office (Int'l) $130,000

Again, another obscure film that longtime Secret Sun readers are very familiar with (you can read up on The Nines here and here). I don't think The Nines was ever released outside the festival circuit so don't be scared off by its paltry gross. The performances by Ryan Reynolds, Hope Davis and Melissa McCarthy are spotless, not to mention some stunning work by Elle Fanning. The domesticity of the film works in its favor, as all of the action takes place in the mind. Where it belongs.

The critics saw this as John August's Charlie Kaufman move, but it's more interesting than that. It's also Gnostic as all hell, so go watch it for free on YouTube then click on this links. You'll thank me in the morning.



The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Production Budget $30M
Box Office (Int'l) $68 M

I've written extensively on this film, most notably here, here and here. Ironically, given the unjust drubbing this film took, it's the only film on this list to turn a profit at the box office. This film was a victim of bad timing, given that The Dark Knight (released the previous week) worked so hard to dredge up the 9/11 vibe that pulled the rug out from underneath the series.

Its time will come and people will come to appreciate how perfectly Carter captured the bleak vibe of the late Bush years and how brilliantly directed and filmed it all is. All of the various X-Files clones out there need to fail before people realize how great the original series was and how this film captures the vibe of the early seasons much better than the first XF feature did.



The Box (2009)
Production Budget $30M
Box Office (Int'l) $32M
CinemaScore audience rating: F

I can't help but wonder if this film followed on Donnie Darko's heels without Southland Tales in the middle there whether it would have done better. I love this film to pieces (and said as much here) and it depresses me to think how badly it was received, flying right over everyone's heads.

The Box taps into very deep streams of the Unconscious (both personal and collective) in such a way that most people were unprepared for. This movie seemed to bother people, in much the same way I Want to Believe did, though for different reasons. I hope that it too gets a re-evaluation, like so many of these films. It deserves one.



NOTES: I had originally intended to post this over the weekend, but Mother Nature had other ideas.

Click here for my Metaphyction Amazon buyer's guide from 2007

SECRET SUN READING LIST