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by Rob Horning

23 Jun 2009

More on conspiracy mongering. Coming up with conspiracy theories is a pathological way of dealing with too much information (which threatens to bury us, confront us with our utter insignificance), with often strikingly inventive and ingenious results. But perhaps more often, the results are pernicious and hateful, prompting deranged people to commit crimes in the name of their disturbed theories. If the hypothesis that conspiracies derive from stunted creative energy with no socially sanctioned outlet holds, would creating these theories provide an outlet for such people’s unstable pent-up energy, their alienation and feelings of powerlessness? Does it help them let off steam, defusing the danger they otherwise represent? Or do the theories necessarily harden them in their madness, providing justification to go further, to act, to murder a bunch of celebrities on Cielo Drive, or a guard at the Holocaust Museum. 

This article by Mark Oppenheimer, the first of a series, (via the Atlantic’s Ideas blog) promises to investigate what drives Holocaust deniers to reject history in favor of nebulous and despised conspiracy theories. The first installment contains this remarkable exchange between the author and Bradley Smith, a 79-year-old Holocaust denier.

Once we were both seated at the coffee shop, I tried to ask Smith about possible flaws in the works of great Holocaust historians.
“You’ve read all the standard accounts,” I asked, “like Lucy Dawidowicz and Raul Hilberg?”
“Yeah,” Smith said, “that’s what I started with, I read Hilberg. I didn’t read them very closely. Because I’m not really interested in the history of the period.”
I was a little shocked. “I mean, you read Lucy Dawidowicz’s book on the period? You read David Wyman?”
“Not thoroughly,” Smith said. “Wyman, I didn’t read. He came a bit too late.”
I was astounded. “But that’s kind of amazing, right? Because here are these classic works of Holocaust literature that purport to show it all and you say you haven’t read them closely. So you have read Arthur Butz, who’s a nobody in the field, closely, but you haven’t read the great titans in the field closely?” 
“You know what? I’m not interested in the story,” he replied. “Revisionists have written very detailed documents about the holes—”
“So what are you interested in?”
“In a free exchange of ideas.”
“But you aren’t interested in trying to find out which ideas are right?”
“Not particularly. You know what I’m really interested in? Every generation has its taboo, and I happen to be here with this taboo. I happen to be here with this one. And I can see how it’s exploited, and who benefits from the exploitation.”

Smith wants to reason backward to some crazy version of the “truth” by starting with the bad incentives of supposed “exploiters” of history, all while regarding history itself as insignificant. But if history doesn’t matter, what is even at stake? As he says, the “free exchange of ideas,” but what that really means is his freedom to be recognized as different in a culture that seems to encourage sameness and at times projects images of a homogeneous people all believing the same things. (“The Nazis were evil.” “Everybody loves the Beatles.”) It’s a grandiose way of signaling resistance to the normative culture of our time (to borrow a phrase Amitai Etzioni uses in this TNR article). What is at stake for him in his Holocaust denial is not history at all or even his urge to disseminate anti-Semitic propaganda. Rather, it’s nothing other than his own reputation as a stalwart nonconformist. Holocaust denial ends up seeming like the extreme version of hating Coldplay because they are popular.

by Thomas Britt

23 Jun 2009

Joe Walker of Breakfast at Sulimay’s fame interviews Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger about upcoming Fiery Furnaces album I’m Going Away. As is often the case with his interviews and reviews, Walker fits a history lesson or two into the conversation, which is intercut with songs from Widow City and the new album.

by PopMatters Staff

23 Jun 2009

by Rob Horning

23 Jun 2009

The “Paul Is Dead” conspiracy seems to me one of the most interesting spontaneous social creations in the mass media era (to put it as pompously as possible). It’s not exactly a work of art, but I’ve had hours of entertainment from it, and it has enriched my appreciation for the Beatles immeasurably. Something similar, I must confess, is true of the bizarro Charles Manson reading of the White album, which enriches the music with the spirit of chaos and upheaval that then reigned in culture. That’s not to excuse the murders he and his cult committed out of a misguided sense of social protest. My point is that conspiracy mongering is one of the most durable forms of “remixing” culture, a primary mode of folk art in the midst of an information surfeit.

So I can partly understand why Joseph Niezgoda would write a book like The Lennon Prophecy: A New Examination of the Death Clues of the Beatles, reviewed here (via Metafilter). The author’s urge to create in the conspiratorial mode seems to have been cloaked or excused here by religiosity—which also suffuses the review and, incidentally, enhances the ironic, distanced appreciation for a secular apostate like me. Irony is probably not the best way to consume conspiracy; it’s probably much more fulfilling to be caught up in it, to give yourself over completely to the fantasy that any association you can think of has weighty significance, that all things can finally be connected if you are sufficiently zealous to weave a large enough web. Enjoying conspiracies ironically is to take a condescending and ultimately dismissive attitude toward creative (albeit misdirected and possibly insane and destructive) human energy.

by shathley Q

23 Jun 2009

Could it ever have been any other way?

In The Ultimates, writer Mark Millar offers a radical inversion of a popular Marvel theme; superheroes and the media. Spider-Man, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four and even mainstream Marvel Avengers have never been strangers to media scrutiny, but with The Ultimates, Millar provides something of a reversal in a team that relish media attention. The media often being cast as an antagonist in Marvel stories, always seemed to foreshadow a moment when a superhero, or group of superheroes, would actively embrace media attention. The other side of visual equation, the collaboration between superheroes and military intelligence has similarly been a Marvel mainstay, with such heroes as The Hulk, Wolverine, Iron Man and even Captain America himself either confounding or aiding in military operations.

The power of this Millar-Hitch image comes by way of a number of vectors, not least of which is the image’s resilience at imbricating the reader in the act of storytelling. Does Captain America somehow belong among the bright lights of Times Square? Is his joining the vibrant bustle of NYC nightlife a foregone conclusion? And if that reading is imposed, does it signal the presence of the military as somehow sinister? Or could an entirely different narrative arise from the panel? Is the bustle of city life at night somehow unsafe? Is the encroachment of advertising the means to subliminal control of the populace? Is the government, in an effort to intervene and protect the lives and property of its citizens, correct in enlisting the aid of superhumans?

Does the true danger lie with the military sworn to protect citizens, or with the city that despotically organizes the minds of civilians? The true power of this panel lies not in its search for an answer to this question, nor in the visual of the superhuman dwarfed by both military and media, but in Millar and Hitch’s skill in posing the question.

//Mixed media

How Röyksopp's 'Melody A.M.' Brought Electronica Into the Mainstream

// Sound Affects

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