Friday, March 30, 2012

Skull & Bones: The Parapolitics of Ten Thirteen's Millennium, Part 4

Millennium went down, but it went down swinging for the fences. Carter later revealed the series’ fate was sealed when the always stretched-to-the-bone Ten Thirteen Productions took on sci-fi actioner Harsh Realm as its next project, a show which was quickly killed in its crib by new Fox programming chief Doug Herzog, who was no fan of The X-Files and went out of his way to alienate Carter--his network's top moneymaker-- during his brief and disastrous reign as network chief.

As many Millennium fans know, Frank Black was brought back to television on The X-Files episode named ‘Millennium’, somewhat of an anticlimactic coda to the highs and lows of the three seasons of the series itself. As written by XF head writers Frank Spotnitz and Vince Gilligan, 'Millennium' had members of the Group (the Rooster faction, of course) committing suicide in order to be resurrected as zombies at the stroke of midnight, 2000.

While Henriksen was in top form and worked well with Duchovny and Anderson, the story didn’t seem to make Millennium fans happy, nor Henriksen himself. Long-suffering X-Files fans loved it, though, since it featured Mulder and Scully's first onscreen lip-to-lip kiss.

I’d offer that the X-Files episode that brought the Millennium story full circle, even though Frank Black himself doesn’t appear in the episode, was ‘Orison’. Written by Chip Johannesen, ‘Orison’ is a sequel to the episode that inspired Millennium in the first place, ‘Irresistible’. That thriller introduced Donnie Pfaster, an “escalating death fetishist” (the network nixed the term “necrophiliac”) who likes to bathe and groom his victims and then keep their body parts as trophies. Pfaster becomes fixated on Scully and kidnaps her, planning to murder her as well.

In ‘Orison’, Pfaster is freed from prison by a psychic preacher who is a serial killer of a kind himself, freeing notorious prisoners only so he can pass final judgment on them. Pfaster outwits Orison and goes after Scully once again, only this time Scully turns the tables and puts Pfaster’s lights out forever in one of the most chilling and dramatic sequences in the X-Files’ long history.

Again, no Frank Black, but quite a bit of the flavor and ambiance of Millennium.

Indeed, The X-Files would grow increasingly “Millenniumistic” in its final season when Duchovny left and Anderson played a lesser role. New agent John Doggett (played by Henriksen’s close friend Robert Patrick) made for a suitable gruff Frank Black analog and new partner Monica Reyes often found herself in a Lara Means-lite role in several episodes infused with a Millennium vibe such as ‘Daemonicus’, ‘Hellbound’, ‘Underneath’ and ‘Release’ (all very Millennium-sounding titles, don’t you think?).

In fact, many X-Files fans complained that the second X-Files film (I Want to Believe), was more of a Millennium movie, with the older and more weathered David Duchovny fitting snugly into the Frank Black role (right down to his wardrobe) and Scully doing the same as the new Catherine. (Even with all the trashing of Believe*, it seems like there's been at least five or twelve Fringe episodes rewriting the plot to the film, only without the thorny sexual politics).

Believe had the same body-parts crime plot (reminiscent of ‘Dead Letters’, among others) and the same religiously-themed debates for seasoning. But it just goes to show how closely linked the two shows were (in more ways than their respective fanbases would want to admit) with Frank Black very much of an older, wiser and world-weary Fox Mulder to begin with. And it was the under-appreciated Season Three of Millennium that provided the vital connective tissue between the two.

There's been no shortage of TV shows retracing the path first set by Ten Thirteen Productions, but none have dared to ask the questions that The X-Files or Millennium did. Blatant X-Files clones like Fringe and (God help us all) Warehouse 13 are as subversive as Super Friends, in that the bad guys (not the truth) are always out there. Power never corrupts, the enemy is never within.

For my MM peeps- Lucy and Davina reunited on NOL

This might be more comforting for the kind of people who will throw an absolute hissy fit if you question the countless absurdities in the Warren Commission report or suggest that FDR had advance warning of the Pearl Harbor attack, but at the same time the safety and comfort these shows offer in place of the danger and paranoia of Ten Thirteen shows prevents them from ever resonating with people's real fears.

Doing so didn't create the militias of superstitious paranoiacs the skeptics feared; it had a kind of homeopathic effect, allowing these fears to be manifested, analyzed and understood.

But we may have already seen the Golden Age of Television, maybe even the gold-plated zinc age as well. Hour-long dramas are expensive to produce, and though tech-savvy geeks love to brag about watching their favorite shows via torrents or some other kind of convenience, advertisers are not stupid.

They realize that people aren't watching the ads that pay for all of these expensive shows anymore. So these shows are all disappearing, replaced by one dismal "reality" show after another. Maybe those reality shows will eventually all be replaced by infomercials. Or test patterns.

There's an apocalypse of our making, if ever I saw one.

*Read these brilliant and insightful reviews (here and here and here) of I Want to Believe. Ironically, many of the exact same people who trashed IWTB then adopted Scott Pilgrim as their favoritest movie ever, which cost a whopping $55M more to make and earned $20m less at the box office. IWTB had a successful run as a rental as well. The Internet allows extremely small but vocal minorities to distort everything.

Which is not to say the knives weren't out for IWTB long before anyone saw a frame of it, as a simple Internet search will quickly prove.
Some recent revelations about certain practices among certain powerful players in Hollywood might certainly explain why Carter was so paranoid about keeping the plot of this particular film so tightly under wraps-- and might explain the obvious preemptive campaign against it-- but that's a topic for another post...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Skull & Bones: The Parapolitics of Ten Thirteen's Millennium, Part 3

Read part one and part two

Frank’s struggle to expose the Group’s hidden agenda escalates throughout the season, prompting extreme measures in return. One of these events occurs in ‘The Sound of Snow’, a strange and surreal entry in the mytharc.

In ‘Snow’, Frank is sent a tape created by a strange female audio engineer (played by Jessica Tuck, later of True Blood) who seems to possess the power to subliminally draw out feelings of guilt and shame in her targets on cassette tapes that seem to only consist of white noise, leading to her targets’ deaths by suicide.

‘Snow’ directly follows Peter Watts’ forced confession as to the Group’s involvement in the bioweapon tests in ‘Collateral Damage’, though there’s no specific connection made in the later episode (note the radio/audiotape motif links the two in a subtle yet powerful way). Even so, the goal is to drive Frank to suicide, which no one seems to think is a very far trip.

The Group nearly succeeds when Frank returns to the mountain cabin where Catherine died and follows a hallucinatory apparition of her into the woods. But rather than surrender to the power of the subliminal hypnotic suggestion, Frank comes to terms with Catherine’s death. Even so, he nearly dies of exposure and is only saved when Emma Hollis and his friend Seattle Det. Geibelhouse search the forest and rescue him before he freezes to death.

Subliminal hypnosis is an evergreen topic for the conspiracy underground, ironic given that so many believers had already been successfully programmed by the massive Evangelical media infrastructure that appeared almost overnight starting in the mid-1970s, relying on a host of propaganda, political intimidation and neurolinguistic programming techniques to instill a state of obedience.

Lost during the rise to power of the Religious Right (that in turn fueled the conspiracy subculture) was the fact that the “ministries” of the new wave of televangelists were using the exact same mind control techniques that well-publicized cults (People’s Temple, Children of God, Unification Church, etc) were using only a few years before.

Cults that also seemed to appear fully-formed and fully-funded, out of nowhere.

Even so, the topic of subliminals first became a hot topic when their use in advertising was brought to light in muckracking journalist Vance Packard’s expose of the advertising industry, The Hidden Persuaders, in the late 50s. In Mind Control in the United States, Steven Jacobson tells us about the history of auditory subliminals:
Experiments were not limited to television. In 1958, radio station WAAF in Chicago broadcast "subaudible" commercials. Seattle's KOL broadcast hardly audible taped messages "below" the music played by its disc jockeys. "How about a cup of coffee?" was one, and "Someone's at the door" was another.

On December 8, 1972, The New York Times reported that In-Flight Motion Pictures, Inc. would begin selling subliminal commercials embedded in the movies they would distribute to all the major airlines. Supermarkets across the country are reducing theft an average 30 to 50 percent by broadcasting subliminal messages such as "I will not steal" and "We are watching you".

A more recent controversy concerning subliminals had to do with alleged "backwards masking," in which heavy metal bands were accused of sneaking tributes to the Prince of Darkness into their songs-- backwards, mind you-- as part of an effort to brainwash the youth into serving Satan.

The backwards masking advocates argue the human mind can hear a lyric being sung and reverse the complex mixture of words, intonation and musical notes in their mind like a tape recorder and then decipher it all while a song plays, with all the various electric guitars, electronic synthesizers and drums flailing away.

Unsurprisingly, controlled experiments have proven that listeners can't even detect messages when played backwards in songs (except in obscure corners of the Christian conspiracy underground, the backwards masking controversy is long over, also unsurprisingly).

Even so, British heavy metal legends Judas Priest were dragged into court in 1990 when two of their fans were somehow able to backwards-decipher the usual spiel about trolls, wizards and leathermen and boil it all down simply to “Do it.” (the song in question wasn't even a Priest composition).

The two then interpreted the imaginary "do it" as Judas Priest somehow ordering them to blow their own heads off with a shotgun (after an all-nighter of drinking and getting stoned, of course), an act which one of the fans amazingly survived for a few years.

In the end, all of the controversy and Evangelist bloviating over backwards masking simply inspired thousands of heavy metal bands to glorify the Forsaken One in their lyrics openly (the signals in my tinfoil hat are telling me that might have been the idea all along), which ultimately served to set the cultural table for a show like Millennium to later appear.


Case in point: a considerably more serious mind control hoax than backwards masking was addressed in another Season Three episode, ‘Darwin’s Eye’*.

Although the Group doesn’t appear in the story they seem to haunt it, or rather haunt the dreams of the disturbed young woman, Cassie Doyle, at the center of the drama. In ‘Darwin’ we meet Cassie as she escapes from a mental institution after decapitating a hospital orderly. She flags down a sheriff’s deputy named Joe and distracts him long enough to turn his own gun on him and take him hostage.

But Cassie has a story-- a story of a dark and elaborate government conspiracy against her-- that eventually seduces Joe into her fantasy world. Cassie later seduces Joe sexually in the same hotel room where her father used to rape her.

Frank tracks the pair down only to find that Cassie has killed Joe, just as she killed her father and the orderly. The conspiracy that Cassie clung to was her coping mechanism, her way of dealing with the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, who worked in military intelligence.

“Cassie Doyle” may well have been inspired by Cathy O’Brien, co-author of Trance Formation of America (1995), a bombshell of a book that rocked the conspiracy underground to its core and continues to reverberate to this day.

O’Brien (along with “former” CIA agent Mark Phillips) recounts her experience as a “mind-controlled sex slave” in the service of Project MONARCH (which no one had heard of before the book and of which no credible documentation has ever been found). The book names names (politicians, celebrities, and so on) and details a life of dehumanizing servitude in the MONARCH ranks.

But for some
serious parapolitics watchers, the timing of the book was extremely suspicious, coming as it did on the heels of a series of well-documented revelations of Cold War human experimentation and general abuse, such as radiation and LSD experiments on unwitting subjects.

One of the parapolitics experts to cast a skeptical eye on Trance Formation was the late Jim Kieth (aka Commander Zero), who wrote extensively on O’Brien and Project MONARCH in his book Mind Control, World Control: The Encyclopedia of Mind Control (1998):
O'Brien may have been the victim of massive abuse during her life. But most likely is that the whole convoluted crazy story is delusion or consciously made up. My reasons for believing this, aside from the overall improbability of her lurid account, follow.

O'Brien states that MONARCH mind control conferred photographic memory on her, thus making it possible for her to remember verbatim the conversations of the persons in her book. What she pointedly does not remember is even a single date by which the presence and activities of prominent or not- so-prominent persons could be connected, verified, or disproved in her anecdotal accounts.

(O’Brien’s) powers of description utterly fail her when she is talking about the layout of Air Force bases, the technology of mind control laboratories, the top secret compounds of high level politicos, and offices and other interiors in Washington, D.C.

Also, there is not one incident of high level political chicanery that she mentions that could not have been surmised from published accounts,
nor are there any unknown secretive dealings that could be verified independently—not one that I can find.

O'Brien's remembrance of what took place amongst the high and mighty, figures like Bush, Reagan, and Noriega, is oddly all common knowledge in the news and the literature of conspiracy theory. All of her "insider" information is confined to primitive diatribes about the New World Order, NAFTA, and Education 2000, the kind of half-baked pabulum that anyone could pick up with a cursory reading of some of the popular titles in conspiracy research.
He goes on - it's pretty comprehensive.

Kieth was a hardcore believer in MK, so his disbelief in O'Brien's claims should be taken very seriously.
Even so, Trance Formation has created an extremely lucrative cottage industry in its wake, with corporate-sponsored conspiracy sites spotting "MONARCH" symbolism everywhere they look. Which isn't hard, since controversy-savvy directors and stylists (predominantly in the already-decadent high fashion demimonde) eventually picked up on the meme and deliberately embedded some of the imagery (none of which is remotely secret) in their work for a while.


Feeling they had a tiger by the tail, the Millennium writing team took the mind control theme to its obvious conclusion and blew apart the original vision of the series for good with a stunning two-part finale.

In ‘Via Dolorosa’, Frank attends the execution of a serial killer named Ed Cuffle (played by Matthew Glave, who also appeared in The X-Files’ series finale), the investigation of whose case caused Frank’s first breakdown.

Frank sees Cuffle say “yes” before he’s killed and assumes it’s for his benefit (shades of "do it"). But the “yes” is directed towards Lucas Barr, a man who will continue Cuffle’s work, using the same tools and modus operandi. What Frank doesn’t realize is that Barr is actually being controlled by the Group, who will booby-trap his apartment to keep the FBI from arresting Barr and discovering his connection to them.

In ‘Goodbye to All That’, the Group has totally outmaneuvered Frank and the FBI. They’ve killed Barry Baldwin and quite possibly forced Andy McClaren to retire. Dangling a cure for her father’s Alzheimer’s disease, the group ultimately recruits Emma Hollis and installs her as McClaren’s replacement, as Frank is forced out of the FBI.

Before this all goes down Frank is shown a disturbing videotape Barr made of Jordan in her bed, which drive him to confront Peter Watts by gunpoint in his home. However, Frank soon realizes that Watts has been cut out of the loop.

Watts tries to look into Barr’s case but is frozen out of the Group’s database. He arranges a meet with Frank to hand over Barr’s aliases and tell Frank of the neurobiological process the Group has perfected, which ultimately cures Emma’s father at the same time it’s programming Lucas Barr to become the new Ed Cuffle.

The most revealing aspect of the series finale is Peter Watts' Rooster speechifying, which Frank immediately recognizes as "cult propaganda." We now realize that Watts is not a villain; he is that most dangerous of men, the True Believer.

Watts cites the principle of Alchemical transformation as the foundation of what the Roosters are trying to accomplish; taking a world they see as fallen and corrupt and remaking it in their own image. All means are justified for the glorious End.
“Man has made a mess of Eden. Our greed is only eclipsed by our tribal stupidity and our brutality. We are rushing toward an apocalypse of our own creation... Maybe not the end of the physical world, but the end of a world that is worthy of human life. And that's not that something that the Group invented, that's what the Group is trying to prevent.”

It's a realization of the age–old alchemical dream, which was never about the transformation of lead into gold, but about the transformation of mankind. We can transcend ourselves.”
What we were seeing here was the final break of the fictional Millennium Group from the real-life Academy Group: these guys weren’t simply catching serial killers, they were actually programming them. After doing so, the Group set them loose on society in order to justify their public face as heroic crime-stoppers.

In other words, the Group were creating a problem that only they could solve, and used the power and influence that their success afforded them to pursue their agenda of hastening the Apocalypse, in order to recreate the world in their own image.

In conspiracy parlance, this is known as “Problem/Reaction/Solution”; creating a crisis that only the conspirators can solve by seizing more power away from the populace. Truly subversive stuff; how it made it past Rupert Murdoch’s censors is anyone’s guess.

Watts' use of alchemical symbolism in his obviously-rehearsed recitation of Rooster dogma parallels theories expounded by fringe dwellers like Stephen Knight (whose work on Jack the Ripper inspired Alan Moore's From Hell), James Shelby Downard (author of King Kill 33) and Michael A. Hoffman, the author of Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare (1992), one of the foundational texts of the modern neofascist wing of the conspiracy underground:
Many "serial" murders are nothing more than the work of a single individual acting out a graphic horror movie he saw, or responding to powerful "psychotic" impulses for aggression and predation. But others are ritual murders involving a cult protected by the US Government and the corporate media, with strong ties to the police. Such killings are actually intricately choreographed ceremonies; performed first on a very intimate and secret scale, among the initiates themselves in order to program them, then on a grand scale, amplified incalculably by the electronic media.

In the end what we have is a highly symbolic ritual working broadcast to millions of people, a Satanic inversion; a Black mass, where the "pews" are filled by the entire nation and through which humanity is brutalized and debased in this, the "Nigredo" phase of the alchemical process (This is the alchemical psychodrama for the transformation of humanity).
Not your usual network fodder, by any means.

But the endless fever dreams of the conspiracy underground were often fed by Hollywood in the first place (especially in the 70s with The Exorcist, Network, The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor and so on) and Hollywood has never been shy of feeding back when its visions are recycled by religious and political extremists.

The difference with Ten Thirteen Productions is that they dug deeper and were able to get further inside the heads of the conspiracy underground. An underground whose visions were more reliant on the entertainment media they so openly disdained than they would ever be able to admit.

Chris Carter's hidden hand looms large in the intense paranoia of Millennium's third season, coupled with Chip Johannessen's complimentary mystical sensibilities. Rolling Stone interviewed Carter in 1997 and asked him why he was broadcasting all of these paranoid memes in the happy-go-lucky Clinton years:
Well, I have a basic mistrust of people. And because people are government, I have a basic mistrust of government. I think this government doesn’t care about the individual. The government cares about the government, and that’s a problem.

There’s an interesting quote that one of the editors keeps on top of his keyboard: “Perfect paranoia is perfect awareness.” I think if I’m adding static to the collective awareness, that’s a good thing.

Paranoia is a good thing. It creates smart people.
Certainly not an attitude to ingratiate yourself to post-9/11 Hollywood.

But it's worth noting that shows like Fringe or The Event- which retrace Carter's steps without his radicalism-- fail to resonate while The X-Files was a worldwide phenomenon and Millennium gains new converts all the time as cult show. The former was definitely of its time while the latter-- especially the third season-- was ahead of it.

Indeed, the “nothing to lose” feeling of Season Three of Millennium ripped a whole host of shadows from the deepest corners of America’s Id for us to examine in the light.


* Click here for a look at the Baptist symbolism in Darwin's Eye.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Skull & Bones: The Parapolitics of Ten Thirteen's Millennium, Part 2

The ”Grillflame” remote viewing program at the “Stanton Research Institute” was based on a real-life program of the same name that was a very hot topic indeed at the time in the conspiracy underground (we looked at it here a few years back).

From the article “CIA-Initiated Remote Viewing At Stanford Research Institute” by H. E. Puthoff, Ph.D., we read the following:
In July 1995 the CIA declassified, and approved for release, documents revealing its sponsorship in the 1970s of a program at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, CA, to determine whether such phenomena as remote viewing ‘might have any utility for intelligence collection.’ Thus began disclosure to the public of a two-decade-plus involvement of the intelligence community in the investigation of so-called parapsychological or psi phenomena.

The words ‘threat assessment’ were often used to describe the program's purpose...much of the remote-viewing activity was carried out under conditions where ground-truth reality was a priori known or could be determined, such as the description of U.S. facilities and technological developments, the timing of rocket test firings and underground nuclear tests, and the location of individuals and mobile units.
The woman above is a stewardess in "The Innocents."
Later, her sister remote-views in her hospital bed.

The RV director in 'Exegesis' is based on Russell Targ, who ran the program at Stanford. Targ believes that RV could be explained through the concept of "non-locality":
Non-locality is a description of the space-time we live in which under certain conditions twin particles and twin people have much more connectivity that you would think they have... In quantum mechanics we say the emission of two photons or two elementary particles from a common source are entangled even though they travel away from one other at the speed of light.

If you grab one of them, the other one shows the effect of that. Einstein’s special relativity said that things traveling away from each other at the speed of light are disconnected and there’s no way to communicate between them so the idea that non-local connections permit such a connection between the elementary particles contradicts special relativity. General relatively pertains to gravity and has nothing to do with this. Special relativity pertains to the connection between things traveling at the speed of light and the nature of space-time. This has now been well demonstrated.

David Baum, one of the pioneers in modern quantum mechanics, called this quantum interconnectedness. Henry Stapp, who is chair of the physics department at UC-Berkley, said that non-locality may be the most important discovery in all of science because it shows that we misperceive the world we live in.

Grill Flame subject 512, their mother

Targ also believes that RV is a skill that anyone could learn, under the proper conditions:
The teaching of remote viewing is principally giving people permission to do it. Society says it’s nonsense, there is no such thing. What the remote viewing teacher has to do is use his conviction to convince a person to suspend their disbelief, quiet their mind, and describe their mental impressions of whatever the remote viewing teacher is offering as a hidden target.

People quickly learn to separate out their mental noise -- the memory, imagination and analysis -- from the information that’s surprising and unfamiliar looking in order to do remote viewing.
Given that one of the main tasks remote viewers were given was to locate missile sites, it’s interesting to note that ‘Exegesis’ ends with a shootout in an abandoned missile silo in Virgina. There, the target of the group-- an elderly woman who was the most prodigious of the fictional Grillflame remote viewers-- reveals the Group want to kill her because she has seen that they want to bring about the Apocalypse. This would be a thruline with the retooled mytharc.

Remote viewing had a strange connection to apocalypticism in the Ten Thirteen Universe. In The X-Files episode Pentagon operative Michael Kritschgau is called in as exposure to an alien virus is causing Mulder to lapse into a psychotic state when triggered by radiation embedded in an alien artifact.

Kritschgau was enlisted by Skinner to help, which he does by injecting Mulder with an anti-seizure drug he claims was used to medicate CIA remote viewers.

'The Sixth Extinction' where Mulder's alien RV abilities manifest

All of this takes place while Mulder's blood was being used to create a vaccine against an virus intended to kill off most of humankind, yet another sub rosa connection between the mythologies of The X-Files and Millennium. In many ways, the ‘Sixth Extinction’ three-parter can be twinned with ‘The Innocents’/’Exegesis’, in which a family of remote viewers are the only thing standing in the way of the radicalized Millennium Group.

Obviously, the issues raised in the Millennium two-parter seemed to get under Chris Carter’s skin.

Coincidentally, the themes in Season Three of Millennium preceded a real-life report released by the FBI in October of 1999 called Project Megiddo, that dealt the Bureau’s concerns about the militia movement, the “Christian Identity” movement and other apocalyptically-obsessed groups. Quoting from the report:
Apocalyptic cults see their mission in two general ways: They either want to accelerate the end of time or take action to ensure that they survive the millennium...(an) analysis of millennial cults by the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit describes how rhetoric changes depending on whether the leader's ideology envisions the group as playing an active role in the coming Apocalypse or a passive survivalist role...

Under these ideologies, many extremists view themselves as religious martyrs who have a duty to initiate or take part in the coming battles against Satan.
That last point would be brought to bear in the Season Three mytharc in a particularly dramatic fashion.


In their first work for Millennium since the first season, TEOTWAWKI (an acronym for ‘the end of the world as we know it’), Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz took on both the survivalist meme inspired by the Y2K hoax and the rash of high school shootings across America which peaked with the Columbine High School Massacre in Littleton, Colorado a few months after the episode was aired.

As with the episode that followed (‘Closure’, based on a 1997 standoff between extremely well-armed bankrobbers and the LAPD), Millennium was taking story ideas directly from the headlines, in much the same way that The X-Files had done in its earlier seasons. And by combining the Y2K scare, survivalism and school shootings, the Millennium writers were also tapping into and recombining then-current issues obsessing the extreme conspiracist right. First, survivalism...

Unable to cope with the fact that the very same military, economic and political overlords that they were so submissive to during the Cold War were now selling them out and leaving many of them in considerable financial straits, many on the fringes of the Religious Right found comfort in a new combination of political and religious extremism based more in comic books and Hollywood thrillers than established political theory.

“Survivalism” became a passion and organizing principle for the militia movement that arose from all of this ferment, and many within the movement actually openly hoped for the end of civilization at the millennium, an event only they would be prepared to survive.

Ultra-right Christian polemicist (and former Ron Paul staffer) Gary North worked tirelessly to spread terror about the mythical bug in which computers would be unable to recognize dates starting with 20- and instantly crash and bring all of technocratic society to a grinding halt at the stroke of midnight, 2000 AD. North was quoted as saying in 1997, "Of course I want to see Y2K bring down the system, all over the world. I have hoped for this all of my adult life."

North typifies the paranoid, xenophobic mindset of the far Religious Right in parts of America. His basic philosophy—Christian Reconstructionism, which seeks to establish a government based on Old Testament principles—is functionally indistinguishable from the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, and his social, political, sexual and economic agenda is identical as well.

Quoting North from “Gary North, Y2K, and Hidden Agendas” by Mike Lorenz:
"When I began writing about Y2K, hardly anyone had heard of it. Today, the media cover it sporadically. In a year, there will be a tidal wave of articles. And, month by month, fear will spread. Doom and gloom will sell, as it has never sold before. I have positioned my name, my site, and Christian Reconstruction in the center of this fear. All I have to do now is to report bad news.

That's just about all the Y2K news there is. One by one, the media sources will move in my direction, for two reasons: (1) it's as bad as I say it is; (2) the public will begin to panic, and then there will be a feverish demand for more and more information. The ‘moderates’ -- whose position cannot square with the facts of Y2K -- will be drowned out in a wave of panic.”
And it was all a hoax. North was never called into account for his lies.

North believes that reconstructionists-- like jihadists-- must take advantage of the rights and freedoms of an open society so they can sieze power and deny those rights to their enemies. As North writes in "The Intellectual Schizophrenia of the New Christian Right: The Failure of the American Baptist Culture”:
”So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government.

“Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”
Frederick Clarkson detailed the rise of the Christian Reconstruction movement in the March 1994 issue of Public Eye Magazine in an article entitled “Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence.” (The founding father of the movement was R.J. Rushdoony, who we discussed here a couple years back). Working from their own writings, Clarkson outlines the vision of America that Reconstructionists continue to work towards:
Generally, Reconstructionism seeks to replace democracy with a theocratic elite that would govern by imposing their interpretation of "Biblical Law." Reconstructionism would eliminate not only democracy but many of its manifestations, such as labor unions, civil rights laws, and public schools. Women would be generally relegated to hearth and home.

Insufficiently Christian men would be denied citizenship, perhaps executed. So severe is this theocracy that it would extend capital punishment beyond such crimes as kidnapping, rape, and murder to include, among other things, blasphemy, heresy, adultery, and homosexuality.
In other words, an America no different from Iran or Saudi Arabia. Maybe even worse.

Now, to the shootings: rather than understanding the rash of school shootings as the inevitable result of readily-available weapons of war and a provincial culture that still actively condones bullying of the weak and the unpopular (particularly if the kids being bullied are perceived to be sexual or religious minorities), the school shootings were explained as the work of the “New World Order,” (which morphed into a term denoting a cabal in the conspiranoid lexicon, rather than what it actually is--a corporate plan for unfettered global dominance) for reasons never made clear.

How were all of these shootings orchestrated in all of these different locations? The prevailing theory across the Internet had it that the school shooters were all the targets of a government mind control program. From a December 1999 piece by one “Newshawk” on
There IS a reason why people-- to an increasing degree, often teenage boys--who've never given the slightest indication of being capable of such behavior suddenly go homicidal with deadly weapons on defenseless people.

The reason in MANY, though of course not ALL, cases is MIND-CONTROL PROGRAMMING; of which there are a staggeringly great number and variety--operated primarily by malevolent, clandestine units of the intelligence, law enforcement and military agencies of both the "overt" federal government AND the "covert", globalist, crypto-Nazi New World Order government.
Obviously familiar with these theories (theorists like Newshawk may well have gotten their theories on the school shootings from X-Files episodes like ‘Blood,’ ‘Wetwired’ and ‘Three of a Kind’ in the first place), Carter and Spotnitz lead the viewer in ‘TEOTWAWKI’ to believe that there was a deeper conspiracy behind the shootings, but finally undermine the conspiracy narrative by ascribing the motive to the personal turmoil of a teenage boy who believes so thoroughly in an inevitable apocalypse that he decides it’s better to kill the object of his desire--as well as his classmates-- rather than let them suffer in a post-civilized world. And since all of the adults in his life-- employees of a computer company-- were in full panic mode, he had every right to be.

Never mind that the Y2K hoax had already been debunked
since all of the banks had no problem issuing credit cards with "2000" expiration dates two years prior.


Lance Henriksen made it known that he was unhappy with the new directions Millennium had been taking after Chris Carter had left the series to work on the first X-Files movie. In fairness, however, there were a lot of complaints over the “serial killer of the week” (SKOTW) format during the first season, and the Legion mytharc had not yet established itself despite the enthusiastic reception given to the ‘Lamentation’/’Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions’ two-parter.

Those were followed by a derivative SKOTW (‘Broken World’), an unremarkable Legion entry (‘Maranatha’) and yet another SKOTW which merely acted as a setup for the kidnapping of Catherine by the stalker known as the “Polaroid Man.”

When the Wongs took over, their obvious disinterest in both the SKOTW format (despite having written three of the very finest entries in the genre; ‘Dead Letters’, ‘52666’ and ‘The Thin White Line’) and the Polaroid Man storyline (which they used merely as a pretext to bring back Doug Hutchinson, who played Tooms in The X-Files) was merely a preamble to the radical makeover they had in mind for the series.

As mentioned before, the Wong dispensed almost entirely with the Legion mytharc (‘Room With No View’ was handled by the second-line production team of Ken Horton, Chip Johannessen and Michael Perry that also offered up “Luminary’, ‘The Mikado’ and ‘In Arcadia Ego’) to make room for the Owls/Roosters/Odessa mythology. All of this culminated in the Marburg virus outbreak in ‘Horseman’ and ‘Time’

Given these grave events, it made sense to retool the Group as a villainous conspiracy, along the lines of the Syndicate in The X-Files. It also facilitated the obvious need for conspirators when dealing with conspiracy-themed episodes. With that in mind ‘Skull and Bones’ not only worked to put the conspiracy in stark relief, it also presented an actual conspiracy theorist through which the audience could measure the new face of the Group.

Veteran character actor Arye Gross played the theorist, a brilliant yet extremely paranoid man who witnessed the Group do away with a dissenter outside his apartment building and began tracing its footsteps through news stories and obituaries.

The “caper” of the episode dealt with the discovery of human remains dug up during a highway excavation in Maine. Hollis and Baldwin are tasked with leading the investigation and soon Peter Watts mysteriously shows up as well. Frank suspects that one of the victims was Cheryl Andrews, the Millennium Group pathologist played by CCH Pounder first introduced in ‘The Judge.’

The investigation eventually leads Emma to a literal chopshop- a rural farmhouse in which human remains were dismembered by a contractor hired out by the Group. Watts shows up there too, rather suspiciously, if only to demonstrate that he has drunk deep from the Rooster Kool-Aid. To the newly-converted Watts, “The End” justifies all means, and anyone who stands in the way of the mission of the Group to save the world from itself will soon find herself rotting under the blacktop in the backwoods of Maine.

The title itself is a statement of purpose- it’s taken from the extremely powerful secret society based at Yale University, which has tapped the “best and brightest” to its ranks, including both Presidents Bush, Senator (and multimillionaire) John Kerry, plutocrat Stephen Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group and several other members of the ruling elite. Excerpted from the book The Legend of Skull and Bones by Alexandra Robbins:
Sometime in the early 1830s, a Yale student named William H. Russell - the future valedictorian of the class of 1833 - traveled to Germany to study for a year. Russell came from an inordinately wealthy family that ran one of the United States' most despicable business organizations of the nineteenth century: Russell and Company, an opium empire.
While in Germany, Russell befriended the leader of an insidious German secret society that hailed the death’s head as its logo. Russell soon became caught up in this group, itself a sinister outgrowth of the notorious eighteenth century society of the Illuminati. When Russell returned to the U.S., he found an atmosphere so anti-Masonic that (Phi Beta Kappa) had been unceremoniously stripped of its secrecy. Incensed, Russell rounded up a group of the most promising students in his class … (and) out of vengeance constructed the most powerful secret society the United States has ever known.
Fast-forward 170 years. Skull and Bones has curled its tentacles into every reach of American society.... Skull and Bones, in fact, has been running the United States for years. There is a Bones cell in the CIA, which uses Skull and Bones as a recruiting ground because the members are so obviously adept at keeping secrets....(Skull and Bones) control the Council of Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission so that they can push their own political agenda.


The words of real and fictional conspiracy theory collided again in the mytharc episode ‘Collateral Damage’, which starred James Marsters as an embittered Gulf War veteran named Eric Swan who kidnaps the daughter of Frank’s former Millennium Group partner Peter Watts in order to force a confession from the government concerning germ warfare testing on US troops in Kuwait.

During the investigation Frank discovers that Swan used to call into the real-world AM radio talkshow Coast to Coast AM, hosted by Art Bell. Bell put the wildly popular Coast to Coast on the map in the 90s as a clearinghouse for all kinds of conspiracy and paranormal-related topics. Frank arranges to appear on the show to try to coax Swan onto the air and locate his hideout.

With this appearance, a kind of snapshot of the 90s conspiracy culture zeitgeist was taken, with the mighty Ten Thirteen Productions joining forces with Art Bell, though Millennium was nearing its end and Bell’s own career had become marked with controversy and mysterious absences from the airwaves.

But here again, Millennium was reaching into the deepest recesses of the conspiracy underground. An inflammatory tract of uncertain provenance titled "A Lecture by Captain Joyce Riley on Gulf War Syndrome, Biological Warfare Conducted on US Military Members, and Corporate Bio-genocide Levied on the Planetary Population" made the rounds on conspiracy newsgroups at the time (and seemed to be the primary inspiration for the episode), but so did a more cogent essay titled “The Gulf Bio War: How a New AIDS-like Plague Threatens Our Armed Forces,” by Alan R. Cantwell, Jr., M.D.:
A year later, in 1996, the Department of Defense finally admitted that 400 soldiers (later changed to 5,000; still later to 20,000) may have been exposed to toxic agents when, after the war had officially ended, the military blew up an ammunition storage depot in Kamisiyah in southern Iraq on March 4 and again on March 10, 1991.

After the bombings, a U.N. inspection team informed Pentagon officials that the buildings contained chemical weapons. However, the Pentagon immediately classified the U.N. report and the troops were never alerted about possible exposure to toxic chemicals. Despite the cover-up, exposure to chemicals cannot account for so many sick soldiers.

In the search for a cause of GWS, epidemiologists have been looking for a common factor that could have exposed so many Gulf War vets. ...(o)ne factor common to all the troops is that they were given experimental and potentially dangerous drugs and vaccines employed to protect them against Iraqi chemical and biowarfare agents. As early as December 1990, there were warnings about using our servicemen as medical guinea pigs...(s)oldiers who rejected the injections were given them forcibly.
And just to show how canny and sophisticated the Millennium writing team was in their understanding of the deep, dark corners of the conspiracy underground, the subplot of the FBI using Art Bell’s show to smoke out a genuine dissident spoke to a deep and abiding fear among the militia factions of the movement: that Bell was a shill being used to discredit and expose any dissent against the New World Order, which in the mind of the true believer was a conspiracy to install a one world government and an (imaginary) one world "new age" religion which would exterminate the white, middle-aged, conservative Fundamentalist males who made up the bulk of the now-waning militia movement.

Christian Fundamentalist -- and self-confessed ‘former’ Naval Intelligence asset-- Milton William Cooper (author of the landmark conspiracy text Behold a Pale Horse, which Chris Carter cited as a favorite source for story ideas) summed up these fears best in his 1997 online tract Majesty Twelve:
(Art Bell’s show) dish up nightly servings of ridiculous, outrageous, and fantastic conspiracy fantasies. Occasionally Bell stirs in legitimate, real and dangerous conspiracies. Although Art Bell pretends to be serious, the mix of incredulous fantasy with fact serves to debunk all conspiracies. Bell effectively implants the idea that anyone who believes in any conspiracy is a whacked out nutcase that should be locked up in a mental institution. He is a most effective change agent operating on behalf of our enemies.
The layers of subtlety at work here are so dense as to be nearly Byzantine. But it shows a level of sophistication unseen on network TV when dealing with these esoteric topics. Except, of course, for The X-Files.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pop (Culture) Has Eaten Itself

A look at the 2011 top 20 grossing films in the US should send bolts of terror down the spine of any Hollywood mogul.

The number one film was a Harry Potter sequel, the last in the series. Number two was a Transformers sequel everyone agreed signaled the death knell of the franchise. Twilight, another franchise that's ending, was number three.

Going down the list you have a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel (based on a theme park ride), the fifth Fast and Furious film, a Mission: Impossible sequel (a franchise from the 1960s), a Sherlock Holmes film (created over a century ago) a Planet of the Apes reboot, three movies based on Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comics from the early 60s, a couple comedies, a drama, a Smurfs film (another ancient franchise), some kiddie flicks (including Puss in Boots, based on an old fairy tale) and God help us all- an Alvin and the Chipmunks movie.

Given that nearly all of these films could have been made almost fifty years ago, it's more than safe to assume there is an absolute drought of creativity in Tinseltown, which is merely a microcosm of the drought in creativity in the larger culture. A look at what's been released so far in 2012 is even more depressing, a list of mostly forgettable castoffs with only two films having broken that crucial $100m mark.

We keep hearing how massively huge and awesome Geek culture is, but the numbers don't bear it out. Sure, nearly all of these movies have some tangential connection to Geek culture but more importantly they appeal to chronological children, and taking your kids to the movies is one of the few (marginally) affordable sources of entertainment available to families these days.

Hollywood tried marketing a film solely for the mythical Geek market, and spent a fortune on production and promotion doing so.

The film was called Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, a cute little romp based on a popular series of graphic novels. They pulled out all the stops on this one, spending upwards of $85,000,000 on production and who knows how much on promotion (you couldn't turn on SyFy or Cartoon Network in 2010 without being hammered by ads for the film).

Let's be conservative and say they spent thirty million dollars on promotion- that's an investment of $115M on a film that grossed $48M worldwide ($30M US, $18M int'l) and did a paltry $15M on DVD. Given that the exhibitors and the retailers get half and there are always random legal fees to worry about, this film needed to hit the $250M mark to break even (being conservative, again) and barely grossed a quarter of that. Ouch.

Then there's this:
"John Carter" is now officially a flop of galactic proportions.
The Walt Disney Co. said Monday that it expects to book a loss of $200 million on the movie in the quarter through March. That ranks it among Hollywood's all-time biggest money-losers.

Directed by Pixar's Andrew Stanton, the 3-D effects-laden movie about a Civil War veteran transplanted to Mars was already headed to the "Red Ink Planet," according to Cowen & Co. analyst Doug Creutz. Yet he expected a write-down of about half that size.
I haven't seen the film yet (I want to), but several people on the Secret Sun Facebook group have and really liked it. Critical opinion doesn't mean jack anymore since sites like Rotten Tomatoes include movie bloggers that literally have no readers in their aggregate scores, but Harry Knowles seemed to love the film and other critics did as well.

My theory on the backlash to this film has less to do with the quality of what's on the screen and what it represents; a pre-postmodern America of the pulps and the frontier, an America of possibility that's lost to us now. John Carter, Warlord of Mars is definitely not a postmodern superhero, and can't be revised to postmodernity the way Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes was.

John Carter, Warlord of Mars is also an unwelcome reminder of an America in which mystically-minded creators like Edgar Rice Burroughs actually created-- you know, had actual frickin' ideas.

An America where movies weren't built around god-damned board games:
Battleship director Peter Berg has a rather amusing way of acknowledging the skepticism about a movie based on a Hasbro board game: ”It didn’t lend itself to the most logical interpretation for a film.” But at the panel for Battleship at WonderCon in Anaheim, Calif., Berg seemed determined to convince the crowd that there is in fact a strong movie tucked inside a game that consists of calling out coordinates to try to sink your buddy’s ships. Joined by costars Brooklyn Decker and Alexander Skarsgård, Berg pointed out that when you do end up hitting one of those plastic ships, you and your friend are “trying to kill each other as mercilessly as possible,” and that indeed does make for a compelling story.
Or of constant rebootings of tired, dated franchises:
Michael Bay Responds to Outrage Over Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Plot Changes

“Fans need to take a breath, and chill. They have not read the script…Our team is working closely with one of the original creators of Ninja Turtles to help expand and give a more complex back story. Relax, we are including everything that made you become fans in the first place. We are just building a richer world. When you see this movie, kids are going to believe, one day, that these turtles actually do exist when [we] are done with this movie.”

Then there's TV, the great hope for auteurs and science fiction and fantasy fans.
With the success of Lost (and the critical success of Battlestar Galactica) networks trotted out a parade of series meant to recapture that lightning in a bottle-- Flash Forward, Invasion, The Event-- but most of them failed. The most recent attempt- ABC's The River, seems destined to follow suit.

Nerds will lecture you until the cows come home as to how Fringe is superior in every way to The X-Files, but Fringe is limping to its death at a time (its fourth season) when The X-Files was romping, and garners ratings (just above a dismal one-share) only a fraction of TXF at it's lowest, final-season ebb.

Fox seems reluctant to announce its cancellation because its already catastrophic ratings would collapse to Dollhouse levels, but when your showrunner is talking doing a "fifth season" as a comic book, you know which way the wind is blowing:
Though the producers have previously said they hope to wrap up as much as possible in the fourth season finale if the network pulls the plug, producer Jeff Pinkner says the writers would also put out a one-off comic book to wrap up the rest of the lingering storylines.

"It would be really elaborate, and we would go to town on it and make sure that everything you needed to understand about the show would be in that and pay off that way," he said. "That's our backup plan."
SyFy-- which is to science fiction what MTV is to music today-- recently put the kibosh on a new Battlestar Galactica series, after unceremoniously slaying BSG prequel Caprica. Ringer-- starring geek goddess Sarah Michelle Gellar-- is limping to cancellation, and most of the geek-friendly CW lineup (Vampire Diaries, Nikita) struggles to hit a one-share. Fox killed Spielberg's Terra Nova (though Netflix is talking about picking it and The River up, at much lower fees, surely) and JJ Abrams' Alcatraz and a Napoleon Dynamite cartoon are not the sure-things they should have been.

We'll leave aside the dismal spectacle of pop music because it's been so terrible for so long that I really have to wonder about people who can still be bothered to get upset about it. What I'm hearing on Top 40 radio sounds like an endless late 80s tape-loop, so much so that I'm almost expecting Exposé, T'Pau and Taylor Dayne to be reanimated any minute now.

It does seem that the sickening Nicki Minaj and Madonna spectacles earlier this year aside, quasi-occultism in pop seems to be on the way out, and none too soon. The only thing worse than actually seeing it all was the ridiculous hysteria it engendered.

Comics-- which should be a beehive of pure, unbridled creative madness-- are puttering along, catering largely to an audience of middle-age men (superhero comics) and a much smaller audience of hipster creator/readers (indie comics).

The big headline on industry site ICV2 was that February's sales were up over Feb. 2011, an impressive feat until you see how frickin' flat-out disastrous 2011 figures were. DC's recent reboot rules the Top 10, but that's simply a 90s vintage makeover of a late 50s makeover of early 40s superheroes. An endless nostalgia loop.

Having been involved in fandom since the mid 70s, I can say that I've never seen the ideal of true creativity have a lower cache in comics than it does today.

Sure, all these wacked Kirby concepts we look at here took a good 20 years or so for the rest of fandom to warm up to, but even then you had your mystic madmen like Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, your Robert Crumb's and your Richard Corben's and your Doug Moench's, your hippie phreaks spiking the funnybook punchbowl with four-color blotter.

In the 80s and 90s you had your British Invasion which gave us mystic madmen Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore and Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis. I doubt any of these guys would get their feet in the door the way things are going. The readers simply wouldn't tolerate it.

With Borders gone, graphic novels aren't as welcome in the more conservative environs of stores like Barnes and Noble. A look at what's selling at B& doesn't fill my heart with hope- most of the graphic novels in their top 1000 are Walking Dead volumes, whose success is surely fired by the overwhelming success of the AMC series. But Walking Dead is not a series that most people associate with comics, it's just a George Romero knockoff.

Well-crafted, but I mean, come on. Pay the guy royalties already.

And no matter how hard the sociologists apologize, the zombie meme is a warning sign. It's a symptom of surrender, of collapse. I wonder if zombie stories-- or something like them-- were popular in late-period Rome.

What all of this is symptomatic of is the process of Disenchantment. This, in the end, is a conscious process. And for all of the brave talk about science, rationalism and reason, Disenchantment is an auto-destructive process for societies. History teaches us nothing else.

I'm hearing how successful the Skeptics and Atheists have been in recruiting geeks to their cause, and so the concomitant withering of creativity in Geek culture in the past ten years makes perfect sense: the repetition and remakes, the superficiality, the so-called "hard science" which exists only on paper and probably always will, the imposition of identity politics which repel most readers outside of the incessantly fractious in-groups.

Because true creativity is neither rational nor scientific, as Alan Moore will tell you and as our immersions into Kirby's weird worlds have proven.

Even though Lovecraft and Roddenberry gave lip service to science and rationality, it seems mostly politically motivated (Lovecraft's aristocratic loathing of the superstitious masses he saw in Red Hook and Roddenberry's Hollywood-liberal loathing of his Southern Baptist roots) or perhaps even a kind of protective totem, a lifeline to pull them back in from deep, chthonic realms both men traveled to in their imaginations.

True rationalists write forgettable hard sci-fi crap that no one reads anymore; authors like Asimov, Niven, Bova, Clarke. Guys whose brave predictions of our future have yet to come to pass and probably never will.

So, to approach creativity with the rational mind is profoundly irrational.

Of course I've been here before, most recently looking at Fringe's implosion. Given the quasi-rationalist mindset currently in vogue in Geekdom (which is driven by its need to be seen as intellectually superior without doing any actual science), it's no surprise that Fringe was used as a hammer to bash the mystical X-Files. But the problem is that weird science is usually purely theoretical science, and as such is hard to build gripping drama around:
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.
And I've talked about how MythBusters and the Skeptic (sic) movement (the JREF is the big player in this game, co-founded by the recently convicted Dayvi Pena, aka Jose Alvarez aka "Carlos"- watch this space for more on that story and any news pertaining to related criminal and civil action against Pena, Randi and the JREF) is creating a kind of pissy, reactive reductionism in fans that is directly antithetical to the attitudes of the creators of their favorite franchises.

Licking government boots is the ultimate Skepdick sacrament

It's all a kind of armoring, a retreat to the cold comforts of reduction for its own sake. It's a profound form of cowardice, and as time goes on, and this armoring fails to deal with the psychological dysfunction that used to be channeled into creativity, we'll see a lot of meltdowns in public, like the jerk on Mythbusters, Penn Jillette, the Amazing Atheist and much much more.

But the damage will be done to the culture first- the bed will be shat in:
I can't help but notice how bitter and angry so many of our skeptic friends are, and how all that rage addiction ends up carving ruts into their faces. Since I'm such a fan of myth-building I couldn't help but notice how often that walrus-looking chap on MythBusters looks like he's about to stroke-out from stoking his raging rage-on.

I also can't help but notice how the virtual armor so many people wear online seems to be oxidizing into a virtual iron maiden, with all of the "EPIC FAIL" snotiness and the post-irony we see.

I also can't help but notice how all of this reduction-worship is playing havoc on geek culture, which is stuck in an endless rut of remakes, revamps and reboots. A lot of this is down to the elephantitis (or Elephantiasis for the smarty pants set) plaguing the media monopolies, but a lot of is simply down to the atrophying of the mental muscles that enable the suspension of disbelief.
Ironically, given the mania for "science", or the fetishization of a Humanist religious ideal people refer to as "science" (true science can be as visionary and mystic as art, as Newton, Tesla and Crick taught us), the absolute parade of sludge that we're seeing in pop culture is the direct result of the imposition of scientistic principles on the creative process.

You want science? Look at what's playing on your radio or at your local multiplex. There's your "science," rationalists- in our pop culture. Own it. You made it. Take a bow.

Your average blockbuster movie is created by committees who consult sales charts and graphs and scientifically-designed test surveys, which they use to endlessly bombard the creatives with revisions. Most big-budget production exists in a totally digital environment, with actors reduced to puppets hitting marks in sterile green-screen rooms under the thumbs of dictatorial technocrat directors.

All of it is is test-marketed according to scientistic principles in front of sample audiences who are required to fill out excruciating, scientifically-designed questionnaires, which are then fed back into the system for the requisite changes. Even the production of most comedies and dramas are as spontaneous as the construction of a lawn mower.

That no one loves most of this stuff is a given. Hardly anyone remembers most of these films after a few months. Sure, there are exceptions, but in most cases- Harry Potter, the better superhero movies, Twilight-- the creative DNA has been imported from literary sources, and based in the vision of a single (irrational) creator.

What you're hearing on the radio might as well be created by guys in lab coats- it's almost completely electronic. Even the vocals are becoming increasingly robotic with the use of Auto-Tune. "Artists" are interchangeable, aside from a handful of superstars or genuine talents whose voices can't be simulated by technology. Yet.

So come on, science nerds; you own the Top 40. It was made for you. Hell, it's all made by you- by people who view the world as a dumb, mindless machine meant to be screwed to death, the same way you do. The same way you really do, when you're not trying to impress some pink-haired feminist with some environmentalist patter you heard that the ladies like.

Much keener minds than my own have wrestled with all of this, particularly Max Weber:
The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the 'disenchantment of the world.' Precisely the ultimate and most sublime values have retreated from public life either into the transcendental realm of mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and personal human relations. It is not accidental that our greatest art is intimate and not monumental, nor is it accidental that today only within the smallest and intimate circles, in personal human situations, in pianissimo, that something is pulsating that corresponds to the prophetic pneuma, which in former times swept through the great communities like a firebrand, welding them together.

If one tries intellectually to construe new religions without a new and genuine prophecy, then, in an inner sense, something similar will result, but with still worse effects. And academic prophecy, finally, will create only fanatical sects but never a genuine community.

"The Disenchantment of Modern Life" by Max Weber
Although "Science" is waved about like a religion today, science is simply a tool. It's an elaborate system of measurement. And there are sciences that exist that are valid even if not recognized by pedantic pedagogues like James Randi.

Spot the difference

What we are actually seeing is the emergence of an atheist religion. It's nothing new and it's not a religion with a great track record for self-replication. What the Randi's and the Schirmer's and the Dawkins' won't tell you is that atheism and skepticism were all the rage during the decline period of Ancient Rome, and schools of thought like the Cynics and the Stoics offered a similar philosophy as well.

If you want to scare the shit out of yourself, read up on Ancient Rome, particularly the late Imperial period. It will be like looking in a mirror. Everything this country is going through today, they went through. This is one of the reasons that I argue that History is cyclical and not linear.

But the comfortable cosmopolitans of the Roman Empire were not stupid; I'd say most were smarter than the average American. You even had slaves with high degrees of education. And they too embraced reason and atheism as the hallmarks of a modern cilivized Roman.

They became obsessed with fitness and business and pleasure. And birthrates plummeted far below replacement rate among these fine, educated souls. Not so among the superstitious masses. Their religious leaders used demographics as a weapon and realized that they would one day overwhelm their refined rivals by force of sheer numbers. And, of course, they did.

Atheists and freethinkers ended up being burned at the stake for the next thousand years or so after Rome became a totalitarian theocracy and science, art, technology and medicine utterly collapsed until the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when the old gods of Europe awoke from their slumber once again.

For all of the brave talk about the inevitable march to an atheist, rationalist future the numbers again fail to bear all of that out. Read this bit of number-crunching, from an atheist blog:
Atheist Decline in Recent Past and Near Future

In the last few decades atheists have been a rapidly declining percentage of world population. They are now 2.5% of world population. Agnostics and those who are indifferent to religion are also a somewhat more slowly declining percentage of the world's population, they are now 11.5%.

There are two factors. First, the end of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and the loss of faith in communism elsewhere, particularly China. Atheists and non-religious people are overwhelmingly concentrated in communist countries. About two thirds of the world's atheist population is in China.

Second, religious people have far higher birth rates.
For the future the low birth rates among the more radical atheists and anti-religious people, and the agnostic and religiously indifferent will tend to lower their percentage in the population. There also maybe a vast decrease in the atheist and non-religious population as communism continues to lose its grip in China.
So if you believe in science and reason than you have to acknowledge the fact that this reductionist, atheist mindset has been a death-knell for cultures, going back thousands of years now.

The science has been done, people. Atheism is the religion of the graveyard. And now the same patterns are repeating themselves, as predicted. The canary in the coalmine is our pop culture, the last thing that Americans did better than anyone else.

While the Religious Right was taking over local governments and school boards,
the shills at Skeptical Inquirer were screaming about Loch Ness and astrology

Why someone wants to subscribe to what is ultimately the religion of the cubicle, no matter how cheap an ego fix it gives you, I have no idea. All of the skeptics and atheists talk tough now when the Religious Right are in relative decline, but spent their time worrying about palm readers and flying saucers when the Moral Majority were taking over tens of thousands of school boards, township committees, state legislatures and all of the rest.

In other words, they're just a bunch of cowards and shills. Or in some cases, something much, much worse. More on all that in the next Secret War Against the New Age post.

There is another way- an excluded middle between self-annihilating scientism and mindless fundamentalism. Between formless urbanism and airless tribalism. The problem is that you have to work at it, you have to struggle. You have to overcome the perfectly human need for self-worship and operating within limited comfort zones.

And if you're like me and believe-- no, live-- the concept of the microcosm and macrocosm, then you realize the same principles apply to everything you do, and that everything is a creative act.

So, in other words, our pop culture sucks because our culture sucks. And it sucks because we're focused on the wrong things, and we mistake self-aggrandizement for self-actualization. We've been sold a bill of goods, only the goods were routed to China and now we're stuck with the bill. We're all trapped on the same ride, the only difference is that some of us realize it.

I work very hard to keep this blog focused on its original mandate. This post may be a bit of root canal, and a lot of it might have been said before, but I'll keep saying it until I feel like enough people are listening. There are a lot of hopeful signs, and a lot of people are waking up.

But there is a tendency among some in the excluded middle to throw up one's hands and take the easy way out and fall in line with either side of the dichotomy. I see that as nothing short of treason, if not suicide.

Those people will never accept you, no matter how many of your old friends you turn against, or how many of your old beliefs you disavow. They'll always laugh at you behind your back. They'll always see you as stained, defective, stupid, no matter how far you bend over for them.

Keep fighting, because it's the weirdos and the outcasts who have made things happen, who have moved things forward. Sure, the System loves to appropriate countercultures and subcultures, and now they're doing it with the Geeks. But they do at their own peril. True creativity can't abide by all of that, ultimately it will stop negotiating. And the Golden Goose will be cooked. And we're seeing just how catastrophic that can be, as creativity withers away in the cultural conversation.

But the means to create viable art and culture have never been more available and the means to distribute it have never been more democratized. The question is the will to create it, and yes, to appreciate it.

Breaking through the endless static of 2012 will be the challenge. Having something meaningful and compelling to say and the talent to say it in an interesting way will be the way to meet that challenge.