Truth hurts. And it’s getting harder and harder to determine what it is. Facts used to be the foundation of truth, but “what happened” is increasingly shoved aside for more creative certification methods. From Hearst’s yellow journalism to Murdoch’s multinational 24-hour cable con job, the news is not so much based on “truth” as on what sells. Today’s infotainment does away with the accuracy middleman and serves up secondhand speculation in more “magical” ways. Even Marshall McLuhan didn’t foresee a time when nonevents like the Scott Peterson murder case would receive nonstop pundit-powered programming.
Disinformation wants to spearhead a media revolution. Originating in the U.K. and picked up by USA Networks, Inc. (who then refused to air it), it’s a newsmagazine show pumped up with enough counterculture propaganda to rival the Weather Underground. The brainchild of writer and cultural critic Robert Metzger, Disinformation dares to cover Satanism, she-males, and extreme pornography. Simultaneously celebrating and deconstructing the very notion of “truth,” the series reports on the cult of Genesis P-Orridge, redneck hi-jinks, and perplexing performance art.
Cracking open the two-disc DVD set, one learns that Disinformation is a lot like the Weekly World News as written by James Randi and the staff of The Skeptical Enquirer. Entertaining and enlightening, this six-hour mindfuck features a range of cortex-cracking tall tales. Metzger is our smarmy anchor and interviewer and each episode is divided into individual segments. Call it the anti-60 Minutes, with Brother Theodore as Andy Rooney.
Consider Brice Taylor’s story, told in the premiere episode: she claims that she was a sex slave for the CIA, pimped by Bob Hope, and forced to have Ronald Regan’s genetically engineered love child. Why? Because Queen Elizabeth asked the U.S. government for such a double-helix superbaby. At first, you might be drawn in by the Jerry-Springer-meets-Lyndon-Larouche nature of her allegations; an interview with a former FBI “agent” confirms her story. And then the segment is over. No punchline, no wink at the audience to indicate that it’s all a joke. As Metzger says each week during the introduction, “If you don’t wonder if we’re making this stuff up, then we’re not doing our job.” It sounds more like a threat than a promise. And that’s Disinformation in a nutshell.
Other episodes will surely trigger your balderdash-warning systems. Preston Nichols describes the “craziest conspiracy theory ever,” which he calls the Montauk Project. Montauk, he says, is the location of a now-defunct Long Island military base that supposedly housed experiments in time travel, using a sexually aroused psychic as a means to split the space/time continuum. One agent, Nichols reports, traveled back to pilfer the blood from a dying Jesus in order to clone him. Or, Duncan Laurie describes his “illegal” experiments in Radionics, a science purported to channel the vital energy patterns of all living things to do man’s bidding. He believes that by listening to plants “speak” to each other, we can come to understand crop circles.
The fact that the show suggests (via interviews with others) that Montauk may be a cover for Nichols’ “de-programming” techniques, which require him to touch young naked men, and portrays the devil worshippers act like Goth kids who didn’t get tickets to the Bauhaus reunion tour, suggests that Disinformation does indeed have an agenda. If it can make you think a man who says the next housing boom will be domiciles grown from seeds is a right sensible bloke, then why can’t the mainstream press make the War on Drugs appear an international imperative? The more times you tell a lie, the more readily someone will believe it, even if “it” is a report on a mentalist who sends DNA detectives back in time to recover Christ’s chromosomes.
Even when its zaniness is not overt, Disinformation offers a fascinating look at the faux famous. Mixed in with the crackpots are such hilarious highlights as an exposé on “outsider” music (public access performers), or Roy “Mr. Awesome” Shildt, in the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest score ever on the video game Missile Command. Grant Morrison (creator of the comic book, The Invisibles) and Paul Laffoley (who takes his abduction by a UFO as a guide to designing architecture) are granted a platform for their underground grumblings. The most enigmatic episodes focus on a “hillbilly” tape entitled Uncle Goddamn. Think of it as Jackass without the slacker irony. The videotaped journals of a pack of trailer parkers who light their drunken relatives on fire—over and over again, the segment is must-not-see-TV.
Not all of Disinformation is so outrageous or entertaining. The show’s ideological monologuing can be daunting. Disk two features four and a half hours culled from an 11-hour “cyberpalooza” organized by Metzger, evidence of the longest, most non-linear lecture series ever attempted. While the need for an editor is painfully clear, Douglas Rushkoff offers useful insights regarding the battle between the establishment and the counterculture, but he rambles. The same can be said for conference “headliner” Robert Anton Wilson (author of Cosmic Trigger). While his “us vs. them” fuming is mesmerizing, he wanders off-script, obsessing over blowjobs (this material dates from the height of Monica-gate). And while the elusive Kenneth Anger appears, he only wants to discuss Alistair Crowley, not his own legacy as an avant-garde auteur.
Unless you are in tune with its Magic: The Gathering mentality, Disinformation can feel like an intellectual costume party. You might suspect that, for all its high-minded middle-fingering of the media establishment, it’s just shilling sensationalism like the big boys. McLuhan noted, “In the name of progress, our official culture [strives] to force the new media to do the work of the old.” Disinformation pushes product (books, DVDs, websites), using familiar sales tactics. The pornography sequences feature explicit material and Uncle Goddamn appeals to consumers’ love of violence.
Disinformation aims to educate those whom Alvin Toffler argued would be “illiterate,” not because they “cannot read and write,” but because they cannot “learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Metzger and his new world media messiahs see the cabal of truth as an ongoing struggle between the tech savvy and the luddite. He recognizes the stagnation in the system and proposes a different way of clearing the pipes.
McLuhan warned, “[E]lectric technology is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing us to reconsider and re-evaluate practically every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted. Everything is changing: you, your family, your education, your neighborhood, your job, your government, your relation to the others. And they’re changing dramatically.” Disinformation may be selling a new pair of rose-colored glasses, but the media cosmos makes more sense seen through them.