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Zeitgeist 4: Ok here's the real truth
February 13, 2011 3:10 PM   Subscribe

(Warning: several-hour documentaries ahead)
Peter Joseph, the creator of the 2007 hit conspiracy documentary Zeitgeist, has come a long way from pleading 9/11 truth, attacking the foundations of Christianity, and warning of one-world governments. In his 2009 sequel, Zeitgeist: Addendum, Joseph steers away from the "man behind the curtain" theme and centers the film around a radically different thesis: money is obsolete, technology is our future, and society must be redesigned. Addendum has enjoyed a dose of mainstream discussion, but Peter ain't done.
Now it's 2011, and Joseph's third and completing installment, Zeitgeist: Moving Forward, opened with 314 screenings world wide, and the film bears even less resemblance to its grandparent. Who is this Peter Joseph guy, anyway?

Previously, the first movie and the second movie.
posted by Taft (89 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think the trick to watching these movies is a steadfast attitude of picking the good from the horribly misguided.
posted by Taft at 3:13 PM on February 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


What a nutter.
posted by boubelium at 3:13 PM on February 13, 2011


Conspiracy Theories are truly The Peoples' Schizophrenia.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:20 PM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I know a Zeitgeister - can someone give me an objective potted breakdown? Cause it seems pretty damn potty.
posted by Paragon at 3:22 PM on February 13, 2011


In all seriousness, before the advent of youtube how did conspiracy theorists get the word out? Or how did they ever find other conspiracy theorists to hangout with? AM radio?
posted by boubelium at 3:24 PM on February 13, 2011


Isn't the point of this post that the movies get less conspiracy-ish as each one comes out? Disclaimer: I didn't like zetigeist no 1 and havent watched the other ones yet

Hmm, the Venus Project site has some great pictures of utopian tech.
posted by memebake at 3:33 PM on February 13, 2011


can someone give me an objective potted breakdown

I couldn't possibly try to sum it all up for you, but the Wikipedia pages for all three films may provide the kind of overview you're seeking.
posted by hippybear at 3:37 PM on February 13, 2011


Not so much that they get less conspiracy-ish.

I'm just fascinated that this outspoken guy with ever-changing ideologies can pump out compelling documentaries every few years that present a new set of things that are of dire importance.
posted by Taft at 3:39 PM on February 13, 2011


In all seriousness, before the advent of youtube how did conspiracy theorists get the word out? Or how did they ever find other conspiracy theorists to hangout with? AM radio?

I edited a documentary about conspiracy theorists and one of the guys interviewed (in the militia movement in Idaho) had hundreds of dubbed VHS cassettes (best name: "It Was Only a Paper Moon"). There was, and still is, a fairly robust network for distributing movies. Nowadays it's mostly done on Google video / Youtube or by hand at rallies but you can still get them mail order, generally from the few conspiracy radio stations that are up (Alex Jones, Jack McLamb). I bet you could find ads for conspiracy docs back then in the classified section of military/militia type publications and pamphlets. The militia movement and the conspiracy movement run pretty parallel.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:42 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


In all seriousness, before the advent of youtube how did conspiracy theorists get the word out?

The first time I saw The Gemstone File (around 1975 I suppose), it was as a roneo'd stapled document that was being sold in alternative bookshops.

In those days, it really did have a kind of samizdat feel about it.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:43 PM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, zines, self-published books, shortwave radio programs, buying blocks of unused time on local radio programs to broadcast hilariously incompetently produced shows, taking out ads and asking people to mail in for your pamphlets...

Before the Internet, the conspiracy theorists had lots of outlets.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:47 PM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm just fascinated that this outspoken guy with ever-changing ideologies can pump out compelling documentaries every few years that present a new set of things that are of dire importance.

Really?

Because, you know he wouldn't be the first conspiracy-surfer.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:49 PM on February 13, 2011


I'm just fascinated that this outspoken guy with ever-changing ideologies can pump out compelling documentaries every few years that present a new set of things that are of dire importance.

This comment brings to mind David Icke, who publishes a new book every year or two with an _even_more_complete_ analysis of the world conspiracy thing.

I guess conspiracy theories are all about exciting revelations, and in these fast moving times you have to keep providing fresh revelations to stay in the game.
posted by memebake at 3:52 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I came by a badly photocopied version of the GEMSTONE FILE in the mid 80s. We used to read it on our radio show with an old Quick Draw McGraw album crackling away in the background ... and then mix into the Butthole Surfers, or something equally suitable.
posted by philip-random at 3:52 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Guy gets a new 27" iMac Pro...has a bit of buyer's remorse as he realizes he spent $6000+ for a ridiculously loaded system. Finally opens it up, starts using it...loves it. Then claims money is obsolete, technology is our future, and society must be redesigned.

Happens everyday.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:53 PM on February 13, 2011


This comment brings to mind David Icke, who publishes a new book every year or two with an _even_more_complete_ analysis of the world conspiracy thing.

Ickeans and LaRoucheites playing poker:

"Queen Elizabeth is the head of a world-wide drug-dealing conspiracy!"

"Oh, yeah? Well, I'll see that and raise you LIZARD PEOPLE!"
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:20 PM on February 13, 2011 [20 favorites]


Part of the history major in me dies every time I see a "before the internet" question. In this case: the conspiracy subculture resembles the genre fiction fan subculture, right down to the mimeographed handwritten publications of the 1970s.

See, also, Art Bell, the first four seasons of the X-Files, etc.
posted by SMPA at 4:27 PM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the answers everyone.
posted by boubelium at 4:27 PM on February 13, 2011


"In all seriousness, before the advent of youtube how did conspiracy theorists get the word out? Or how did they ever find other conspiracy theorists to hangout with? AM radio?"

For the young hipster in the far off year of 1988, when old people wore onions on their belts sincerely and the rest of us did it ironically, there was a great book for getting started: High Weirdness by Mail Which had a great overview and ways to contact hundreds of fringe groups. Most of these groups, or often lone crazed individuals, were thrilled to have someone listen to them and they'd correspond with anyone willing to listen. I used to get tons of books, zines, and tapes just for writing a letter and saying 'hi'.

There were other outlets. The late great Loompanics Catalog was a great place for reading up on the latest conspiracies and also provided various how-to guides on how to build that bomb shelter, what canned foods to stock, how to prevent the shelter from receiving unwanted radio waves, and how to stop paying taxes on said shelter forever.

The gateway drug for the kids of my generation was the Illuminatus Trilogy. Wonder if the kids today still read it?

This one is just conjecture, but I think conventions were probably a good source as well. SciFi/Star Trek/Comic conventions would have brought together conspiracy minded otakus and would have helped form connections.

For more mainstream folk, the gateway often would have been churches. Sometimes from the top down, a watered down theory would come from the pulpit and sometimes from the bottom up when the scared old men in Sunday School would talk about the latest mechanism being put in place to ensure the rise of the Antichrist and the coming enslavement of all mankind.
posted by honestcoyote at 4:29 PM on February 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


High Weirdness By Mail is completely awesome. I actually ended up on a few mailing lists due to that book, back in the day. Thank goodness I've moved more than a few times since I was a teenager. God only knows what kind of watchlist receiving any of those publications would put me on in a post 9/11 world.
posted by hippybear at 4:31 PM on February 13, 2011


A lot about Zeitgeist pissed me off, but I really don't think it's at all fair to put it in the same category as David Icke, Art Bell, etc.

Aside from the 911 conspiracy stuff, Zeitgeist struck me as a mostly benign sort of conspiracy theory movie... in that it was heavier on the 'theory' part. There seemed to be a more self-aware desire to be provocative than is present in most conspiracy wackiness. Some of it was crazy. Some of it was asking important questions, even if the answers it then provided were woefully undercooked.

When faced with the rapid concentration of wealth and power in our society, the two poles of reaction seem to be "Just naturally happens that way because of chance/original sin/irreparable greed inherent to all people/free market" and "A vicious velvet-wearing cabal is casting evil spells in bank vaults." If we plot the former at -100 and the latter at +100, I'm willing to bet reality hovers somewhere around, oh, +30.

Things like Zeitgeist take a provocative position to figure out how we got to 30. The film overshot and ended up at 60. But as I recall (keeping in mind it's been 3 years) there are some useful and insightful things in Zeitgeist (mixed in with plenty of batshit WTFness). And if, as this post implies, the filmmaker is willing to temper the original enthusiasm and work his way back to more reasonable explanations, without caving in to binary pressure to say EVERYTHING'S COOL, I'm alright with that. I'd rather people overshoot aiming for truth than overshoot aiming for apathy. I can pick the good out from the bad. It's called being literate.
posted by regicide is good for you at 4:36 PM on February 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


But as I recall (keeping in mind it's been 3 years) there are some useful and insightful things in Zeitgeist (mixed in with plenty of batshit WTFness).

To quote Dr. Johnson, "What is good, is not original; what is original, is not good." Can you remind me of something useful and insightful you learned from Zeitgeist that is not found in actual fact-checked non-fiction sources?

Because what I remember is a bunch of nonsense lightly studded, like a pudding, with nuggets of the true yet blindingly obvious presented as if they were shocking revelations. A subscription to Vanity Fair for a year would provide a metric buttload more actual information about current events (and I am no fan of Vanity Fair).
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:43 PM on February 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Can you remind me of something useful and insightful you learned from Zeitgeist that is not found in actual fact-checked non-fiction sources?

It caused some people to question the narrative fed to them by their government and their culture. That's worth the price of admission right there.
posted by notion at 4:49 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Conspiracy Theories are truly The Peoples' Schizophrenia.

Sorry, but I call b.s. on this. Anyone who studies oh I don't know, say organized crime or espionage, knows that "conspiracy" broadly defined merely refers to two or more people agreeing in secret to commit criminal activity. And in the case of government conspiracies finding examples is trivially easy: stove-piping faulty WMD intelligence in the run-up to Iraq is but one example. Thus the entire comforting, dismissive notion of "tinfoil-CT-as-merely-the-crazies and no one else" unfortunately acts more often than not as as a way of restricting any serious discussion on certain topics.

Non-crazy serious adults should still be capable of agreeing to disagree on such things as (to take but two examples) why over 2,000 pages on JFK's death remain classified, or why five key objects on David Kelly's body lacked fingerprints (why all files related to his death are to remain secret for 70 years, is another example).
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 4:55 PM on February 13, 2011 [18 favorites]


Can you remind me of something useful and insightful you learned from Zeitgeist that is not found in actual fact-checked non-fiction sources?

While I don't necessarily support the viewpoints of Zeitgeist, I'm not sure this is a valuable metric as to whether something like this series of films is useful or not.

Often it is a well-presented round-up of information available through other sources which garners attention. An Inconvenient Truth didn't contain any new information which would meet the above metric, but it presented its arguments in a compelling, concise way which drew together a broad scope of information and changed the nature of the discussion.

Sometimes the masses require a quality summary of information which can be found elsewhere in order for the big picture to make sense to them. That is what quality journalism is.
posted by hippybear at 4:56 PM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are lots of great summaries of information and documentaries that question the narratives perpetuated by government and culture without being shot through with nutty bullshit. I don't see the benefit in defending Zeitgeist on those or similar grounds. Far better to actually refer someone to sources that are rooted in fact.
posted by Falconetti at 5:06 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another pre-Internet conspiracy source: Fate magazine (which apparently is still being published).

A friend of mine is part of an art collective with a gallery/workspace. One of the members got their hands on some boxes of old Fate issues from the 70s and 80s, so one night they went out and grabbed a newspaper box, put in the gallery bathroom, and stuffed it full of these magazines. Hours of entertainment. When I'm in the neighborhood and drop in to say hi, I always make sure to make a trip to the bathroom and kill a few brain cells.
posted by mannequito at 5:09 PM on February 13, 2011


Conspiracy theorists always have beards. Obviously never heard of Ockham's razor.
posted by dougrayrankin at 5:17 PM on February 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


It caused some people to question the narrative fed to them by their government and their culture.

people have been questioning that narrative for decades and often more intelligently
posted by pyramid termite at 5:17 PM on February 13, 2011


The gateway drug for the kids of my generation was the Illuminatus Trilogy. Wonder if the kids today still read it?

Don't know if I count as a kid, but I read it a few years ago ... guess I would have been about 25 at the time. Overall I enjoyed it but in certain parts I really found it ground to a halt, and I had to push myself to keep going. Other parts of it were really dated as well.
Granted I was in Mexico at the time and kept making the mistake of trying to combine reading with mezcal. It's still sitting on my shelf here so I might give it a re-read in a few years time. I remember finding RAW's Illuminati Papers much more enjoyable.
posted by mannequito at 5:18 PM on February 13, 2011


oh man, how did anyone learn about anything before the Internet! Books, maybe? Books about conspiracy go waaaaay back. I met a guy who ran a flea market book stall who made for some of the most interesting conversations and turned me on to days of good reading. People into conspiracy often grow along less rigid lines than the norms, and given the transience and uncertainty of life, I'll often take entertainment over what passes for truth from the average fool. Besides, given the magnitude and unexplainable evil apparent in international relations, not to mention the tiny percentage of humans who actually benefit from that evil, it is DAMN hard to figure it not being somewhat conspiritorial
posted by Redhush at 5:19 PM on February 13, 2011


I'm a "kid" who read Illuminatus freshman year of college, and it really did seem like a counterculture epic to me. It deserves to be much better known, unlike Zeitgeist which deserves to be decaying in a bin somewhere.
posted by shii at 5:35 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder if there is something more self contradictory than intellectual hubris.
posted by notion at 5:37 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just don't care to even look at this new project because his first one was so utterly discrediting that nothing he could ever say now should be taken seriously. It doesn't matter if he's hit the nail spot on the head, he was so completely wrong, his logic was so twisted, his research so shoddy that his judgement is permanently tainted. If he really wants to make a difference in the world, he should put together an apology for Zeitgeist that points out all the flaws in its construction. That would be useful. This just isn't,
posted by scalefree at 6:17 PM on February 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


And in the case of government conspiracies finding examples is trivially easy: stove-piping faulty WMD intelligence in the run-up to Iraq is but one example. Thus the entire comforting, dismissive notion of "tinfoil-CT-as-merely-the-crazies and no one else" unfortunately acts more often than not as as a way of restricting any serious discussion on certain topics.

I don't know if we're having a clash of nomenclature here or what, but to my mind "conspiracy theory" is synonymous with "unsubstantiated nonsense." I'm sorry, but to suspect evil doings is one thing, but to asset that those things are actually happening -- without any actual evidence -- is where you cross the line into crazyland.

You brought up the example of the Iraq War. To my mind, the worst part of the 9/11 tragedy is how the Bush crew were able to use that event to manipulate the people into starting a war without any decent evidence. Anybody who was cognizant at the time (and not afraid to be called unpatriotic) could clearly see that their evidence was weak. But people were scared, and scared people do dumb things, so you get shit like the Iraq War. Now, a conspiracy theorist looks at 9/11 and says "Bush made it happen" or "Bush let it happen." First off, that's a ridiculous claim, because nobody is that good at keeping a secret -- especially one so enormous. But aside from that, I think our reaction to 9/11 was far worse than the terrorist attack itself. Compare 100K civilians dead in Iraq to 4K in the WTC.

The irony of the situation was that all the really evil shit Bush et al did was right out in the open, in clear daylight. The Patriot Act? The Iraq War? The tax cuts? The energy policy? The Bush Administration flouted common decency and common sense every chance they got, in clear view of the C-SPAN cameras and a million cheering monkeys watching Fox News.

And you know what? I stand by my comparison to schizophrenics. I've spent time around them, listened to their ramblings, read them on the internet. And you know what? Their mentality is not too far off from that of the 9/11 Truthers.

Bottom line : you let yourself buy into unsubstantiated nonsense, you're opening the door to a certain kind of insanity.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:21 PM on February 13, 2011 [13 favorites]


to my mind "conspiracy theory" is synonymous with "unsubstantiated nonsense."

There are a lot of people who use this circular, ad hominem, broad-brush "argument" about the supposedly unambiguous "nonsense" of any and all "conspiracy theory" to effectively censor any intelligent and honest discussion on particular historical events.

Their mentality is not too far off from that of the 9/11 Truthers.

I'll grant you that it's a controversial subject, but this kind of simplistic and dismissive attitude seeks only to silence those you disagree with.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 6:32 PM on February 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


So, hmm, what do we call people who study actual conspiracies with historical evidence?
posted by LogicalDash at 6:33 PM on February 13, 2011


You brought up the example of the Iraq War

Drawing a nation into protracted conflict when you own many of the machines of war as well as many of the machines of post-war clean-up, and require fuel to power both sets of machines, ranks as conspiracy to this boy. It's also a theory. It's also completely substantiated. Got any others?
posted by tapesonthefloor at 6:35 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


tapesonthefloor, read the rest of the paragraph? It's hard to call it a conspiracy when it was out in the open.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:37 PM on February 13, 2011


It's hard to call it a conspiracy when it was out in the open.

No it's not, and in the particular case under discussion it was only until the release of the Downing Street Minutes and other documents (like the forged yellowcake memorandum) until what had previously been suspicion was elevated to cold hard fact. The point being that the Bush administration systematically conspired to deceive the nation into war, and even if you recognized that at the time there were/are people who, despite the evidence, did/will roundly deny it to this day.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 6:43 PM on February 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Emperor of Ice Cream,

Would you consider yourself a truther? A contrarian?

I'm actually interested, because I'll freely admit that I think that that whole 'movement' is pretty much all batshit, but I'd like to hear more about your opinions on the matter. Obviously, it'd be silly to get that whole debate started, but what are your motivations for defending that mindset?

really not trying to be dismissive or open a can of worms. just intrigued.
posted by graphnerd at 6:43 PM on February 13, 2011


I'm a conspirator. I'm conspiring right now to organize a birthday party for a friend, with other mutual friends. One of those includes the target's wife. Her mission is to execute a honey trap operation, luring the target into a compromising position without his becoming aware. We also have a sleeper planted, his mother, that he'd never suspect. She has an extensive working knowledge of the target's psychological profile. The birthday boy is getting suspicious, but so far we've managed to keep him unsure of what's going on through a dedicated campaign of misinformation, misdirection, and false-flag operations. The black helicopters fly this Saturday night.
posted by jet_manifesto at 6:52 PM on February 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Would you consider yourself a truther? A contrarian?

I'm actually interested, because I'll freely admit that I think that that whole 'movement' is pretty much all batshit, but I'd like to hear more about your opinions on the matter. Obviously, it'd be silly to get that whole debate started, but what are your motivations for defending that mindset?


Well I'm hesitant to get into it b/c I've felt the wrath of something like persecution about this stuff on various internet forums before, but your question deserves an answer. I consider myself sane and empirical first and foremost.

I am agnostic on the subject you ask about, but admit I am sympathetic with some of the more intelligent people asking questions about 9/11 (the idea that they are all crazy is just patently false); and believe there are enough open questions to warrant a new investigation. I realize at once that just saying this will mean to some here that I'm a lunatic; so be it.

Broadly speaking, my larger interest in such things as intelligence wars, organized crime, parapolitical research and historical revisionism stems from a conviction that certain "accepted" conspiracies (Iran Contra, Watergate) are very probably not the only ones that have occurred.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 6:56 PM on February 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


I like conspiracy theories, as they're like historical fiction set in the present. If I had Fox News, I'd probably watch Glenn Beck if only for that reason.

The only problem is when people can't separate fiction from reality.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:30 PM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I work with a conspiracy theorist, makes a change from the tea bagger I used to work with. Makes lunchtime endlessly entertaining as I just wind him up and watch him go :)
posted by arcticseal at 7:36 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are a lot of people who use this circular, ad hominem, broad-brush "argument" about the supposedly unambiguous "nonsense" of any and all "conspiracy theory" to effectively censor any intelligent and honest discussion on particular historical events.

Yeah, this. The tobacco companies conspired for decades to obscure the connection between smoking and cancer. The people who worked at Bletchly Park -- thousands of people -- kept their secret for thirty years. al-Qaeda conspired for five years to bring down the World Trade Center.

Yes, most conspiracy theories are transparent nonsense; but people do conspire, every day. Governments do lie. Organizations do keep secrets. Dismissing anything off the beaten track as a conspiracy theory is a good way to make sure they're never caught at it.

My favorite conspiracy theory is that the Powers That Be actually sponsor the nuttier conspiracy theorists so they can tar people who posit more mundane conspiracies with the crazy brush.

Well, that and the whole Lizard People thing. You gotta love that one.
posted by steambadger at 7:39 PM on February 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


If you're into investigating actual conspiracies going on right now, you're not a theorist, are you? Perhaps you're a researcher or an investigator.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:43 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well I'm hesitant to get into it b/c I've felt the wrath of something like persecution about this stuff on various internet forums before ...

CONSPIRACY!11!!!
posted by joe lisboa at 8:01 PM on February 13, 2011


something like persecution

There must be a conspiracy afoot involving the dictionary and the meaning of the word persecution. Seriously, that is downright offensive at worst and narcissistic at best.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:02 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


My favorite conspiracy theory is that the Powers That Be actually sponsor the nuttier conspiracy theorists so they can tar people who posit more mundane conspiracies with the crazy brush.

maybe - but it's my feeling that many of the conspiracy theories out there are put out there to damage the legitimacy of our governments and institutions by people who hope to make political gains by doing so

the irony being that one doesn't have to make stuff up to do that if one is coming from a leftist point of view - but a leftist point of view isn't going to be useful to the powers that want to be in their program to create a somewhat fascist system - so they capture people's imaginations with this sort of stuff so they won't listen to the left's explanation of what's going on and act on that

think of it as a distraction or a vaccine

and let me be clear on this - this is not being done by the establishment - it's being done by people who want to become the establishment
posted by pyramid termite at 8:13 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


that is downright offensive at worst and narcissistic at best.

Perhaps it was a poor word choice, but there are enough stories like this one (re: US Wants UN Human Rights Expert and Princeton Law Professor Fired for 9/11 Comments, wherein said comments were asserting "awkward gaps and contradictions in the official explanations") to make anyone who has doubts about the official story think twice about raising those doubts publicly.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 8:22 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's the definition of a conspiracy theory?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:25 PM on February 13, 2011


The definition should be "Anything where people thinks there's a conspiracy going on, but don't have a single damn fact to back it up".
posted by ymgve at 8:37 PM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


The definition should be "Anything where people thinks there's a conspiracy going on, but don't have a single damn fact to back it up".

There's already a much better term for that: it's called a paranoid delusion. Why do we have to have a new one?
posted by saulgoodman at 8:40 PM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ok just making sure. Physics is fun.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:46 PM on February 13, 2011


"The gateway drug for the kids of my generation was the Illuminatus Trilogy. Wonder if the kids today still read it?"

Read it as a teenager and I'm 25. There were alot of Discordians in my high school in Connecticut. I dug it - RAW's a funny writer
I know too many hippies who take this conspiracy stuff seriously though. My awesome friend shows movies like Zeitgeist at his house... public screenings. I ignore the nutiness
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:52 PM on February 13, 2011


I used to work with a bunch of people into this kind of stuff. What I found to be the standout trait that triggered my back-out-of-the-room-slowly instinct, was the constant ramifying and ratcheting of theory-layers.

An example progression:

Week One: "Assange has opened Pandora's box! All hail Assange the Revealer!"
Week Two: "He's being taken down! It was a setup by the New World Order!"
Week Three: "Actually he was just a pawn in their game all along."
Week Four: "The whole 'house arrest' thing is a ruse. He must be a double-agent."
Week Five: "In fact the entire Wikileaks operation is a CIA false flag op. None of those cables are real"
Week Six: "Wait, now Egypt is revolting! The cables are working!"
Week Seven: "Anonymous is helping to keep the nets up, giving the Truth voice!"
Week Eight: "But Anonymous must be seeded with moles. What is their agenda?"
Week Nine: "This whole Egypt thing is a mirage: it's a CIA op to remove Mubarrak."
Week Ten: "Mubarrak was actually a freedom fighter; the populace has been co-opted to serve Mossad."
Week Eleven: "Twitter was financed by the US government. It's a tool of econo-political warfare..." ad infinitum.
posted by jet_manifesto at 8:59 PM on February 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


The point that many miss about the wonderful Illuminatus Trilogy is that from the outset it was always intended as a satire on conspiracy theory; to the very end, RAW continued - with gusto - to take the piss out of those taking its sillier elements over-seriously.

On the other hand, conspiracy theories at large serve as a perfectly servicable first port of call for those discovering critical thinking for the first time. There are many who never learn to question what they read or view. Others start from there and oscillate to the other extreme, questioning everything without exception. Eventually you realise - hopefully - that it is also necessary to be equally critical about the conspiracy theories themselves, and sanity, of some sort, is restored.

In the end you reach the unhappy medium where you realise that while some of what you are told is indeed true, if coloured by the bias of the particular messenger, there is also a whole bunch of stuff - both dodgy and extremely dodgy - going on behind our backs, as the massive desperate clusterfuck of process leading up to the Iraq War should be sufficient to demonstrate to anyone without an axe to grind.
posted by motty at 9:03 PM on February 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


the process. Jesus.
posted by motty at 9:04 PM on February 13, 2011


It always helped me to read Robert Anton Wilson once I realized he shared a bit of an accent with Bugs Bunny.
posted by Catblack at 9:13 PM on February 13, 2011


this kind of stuff

There is indeed a lot of nonsense out there, but uncritically retreating to blanket generalizations about psychological types can reveal more about one's prejudices than anything else.

Others start from there and oscillate to the other extreme, questioning everything without exception. Eventually you realise - hopefully - that it is also necessary to be equally critical about the conspiracy theories themselves, and sanity, of some sort, is restored.

Hopefully such a dialectic process is still possible; we are all negotiating a lot of information, misinformation, and perception management all the time.

Somewhere between obvious paranoid delusion and slavishly believing everything one reads is probably where the truth lies; but the phrase "CT," when used as a catch-all to stigmatize certain POV, seems pernicious; a little paranoia (like the hermeneutics of suspicion) can actually be a good thing.

posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 9:15 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


My discovery of The Gemstone Files and the Illuminatus Trilogy were absolutely co-terminal. At the time, Ken Campbell was producing the trilogy as a piece for the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:29 PM on February 13, 2011


*dies of jealousy*
posted by motty at 9:31 PM on February 13, 2011


Hippybear, thanks for the links to the wikipedia pages. I was shocked to find out that while the first one seemed like complete fucking lunacy start to finish, the second one especially and to some degree the third one sound like things I'd probably largely agree with.

Actually it mostly just sounds like this Jacque Fresco/Venus Project thing is worth looking into; the very sketchy description in the wikipedia articles on the zeitgeist movies made it sound insightful and reasonable. Maybe it is maybe it isn't. But interesting to know about.
posted by edheil at 9:31 PM on February 13, 2011


Yeah, I just watched it while reconciling some banking stuff. It's about 50% interesting interviews with intelligent people, 50% heavy-handed editorializing and bad editing. Somewhere towards the middle the narrator starts talking about "strategic resource management" which "simply" allocates resources worldwide using a giant computer. Basically, if you've run into a hippie whacked on liquid acid wondering, "Why do we need money, man?" then you have seen this part of the film.

More or less I'd say it was worth it for the interviews. Once you start seeing the word strategic, it goes quickly downhill.
posted by notion at 10:11 PM on February 13, 2011


So basically, life is a big Ponzi scheme. I actually really enjoyed the "Moving Forward" movie. Thanks.
posted by phaedon at 10:14 PM on February 13, 2011


Another book replete with, well, kooks is Kooks: A Guide to the Outer Limits of Human Belief. It came out in the mid 90s IIRC, though I think the newest edition has been updated. I learned about much of American subculture through this.

I can't recommend it enough, many of the articles are surprisingly in-depth. Another book is the little read You Are Being Lied To by the Disinformation editors. Not so much about kooks as by the kooks. But they're good kooks. It's perhaps a bit dated by now, but there are some mind opening essays in there.
posted by zardoz at 10:28 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's already a much better term for that: it's called a paranoid delusion

Back in the day (late 80s - early 90s), we just called them PCTs. Paranoid Conspiracy Theories. Which separated them from mere conspiracy theories, which weren't as much fun.
posted by philip-random at 11:31 PM on February 13, 2011


The outright dismissal most people give anything that is labeled a 'conspiracy theory' really bothers me. Its not that I know what's going on, I absolutely don't and neither does anyone else.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 11:37 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


What is true in these films is neither original nor well explained, and what is original is not true.

Contrast these works with something like Inside Job, which documents a very real and recent conspiracy, but doesn't give off a whiff of the schizophrenic jumps in Zeitgeist or the most recent film.
posted by benzenedream at 1:25 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


In all seriousness, before the advent of youtube how did conspiracy theorists get the word out? Or how did they ever find other conspiracy theorists to hangout with? AM radio?

Man, the printed word already inconceivable as a distribution medium? I'm one foot in the grave.
posted by telstar at 1:42 AM on February 14, 2011


Man, the printed word already inconceivable as a distribution medium?

My question was more along the lines of how people were first introduced to conspiracy theories before the YouTube age. Obviously there were books, but I imagined these would be specialty presses and hardest to find. The connections to militia groups and their related periodicals as a gateway was the kind of answer I was looking for.
posted by boubelium at 4:03 AM on February 14, 2011


Oh bloody hell. We've just about got people to stop posting that Zeitgeist craziness to r/atheism. There's a sequel? Couldn't you keep it quiet?
posted by Decani at 4:10 AM on February 14, 2011


Fnord
posted by Joe Chip at 5:25 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Obviously there were books, but I imagined these would be specialty presses and hardest to find

Leaflets, pamphlets and tracts--not books. The primary messenger of political thought (including the conspiracy minded stuff) used to be self-published leaflets, broadsheets and flyers that people would hand out in public spaces or distribute through clandestine networks (depending on the level of government oppression in a particular place/time). That's why the mere intention to own a printing press in Tzarist Russia could be an offense punishable by death (In pre-revolutionary Russia, Dostoevsky was famously nearly executed merely for knowing someone who had the intention of setting up a printing press). The most comparable modern equivalent is probably the screen you're staring at right now.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:46 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm just fascinated that this outspoken guy with ever-changing ideologies can pump out compelling documentaries every few years that present a new set of things that are of dire importance.

Well, Glenn Beck does this every week.

I've not seen the Zeitgeist movies (and I don't have any strong desire to do so), but Wikipedia's summary makes them sound like yer basic enlightenment/conversion narrative. 1) Everything You Know Is Wrong. 2) The Truth Is Out There. 3) Guard And Spread This Truth. And to a lot of people that's the appeal of this kind of conspiracy theory, the provision of myths at once unsettling and comforting which give coherency to life in an incoherent world.

I remember High Weirdness By Mail. God, that book was wonderful. I poured over it for weeks, months, and for the first time in my life I realized that there was nothing so absurd that someone somewhere wouldn't believe it.

leaflets, broadsheets and flyers that people would hand out in public spaces or distribute through clandestine networks

Or not so clandestine networks.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:32 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


AM radio?

Coast to Coast FTW. Whenever I'm driving through the midwest at night time, I slowly scan through AM, hoping that there's a shitty little local affiliate who plays Coast to Coast AM. It is truly my favorite brand of batshit crazy.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:37 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


The reason for the growing departure from his original message and tone is because Peter Joseph was assassinated in late 2008, and a lookalike imposter took his place in an attempt to steer the legacy. That imposter's name? Adam Weishaupt.

why doesn't MeFi spellcheck recognize 'imposter'? Or 'MeFi', for that matter? CONSPIRACY
posted by FatherDagon at 7:53 AM on February 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


why doesn't MeFi spellcheck recognize 'imposter'? Or 'MeFi', for that matter? CONSPIRACY

becuase....

the mefi spellcheck has never really existed. It's all in your browser.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 8:03 AM on February 14, 2011


*because.

Ugh.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 8:03 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll be durned. WHAT IS MEFI DOING TO CONTROL MY BROWSER'S SPELLCHECK? See my film next week to find out.
posted by FatherDagon at 8:12 AM on February 14, 2011


WAKE UP SHEEPLE!
posted by joecacti at 8:56 AM on February 14, 2011


BAAAAH, my box has leaks
posted by gorgor_balabala at 10:57 AM on February 14, 2011


A lot about Zeitgeist pissed me off, but I really don't think it's at all fair to put it in the same category as David Icke, Art Bell, etc.

I, on the other hand, find it eminently fair. That is, if shooting fish in a barrel is fair.
posted by y2karl at 11:13 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


becuase....

*because.

Ugh.


Psst! You don't have to apologize for that one; just claim you were making an ironic reference to this.
posted by steambadger at 12:27 PM on February 14, 2011


So, he's leveraging his fame from Zeitgeist in an attempt to sucker people into joining a new cult? The Venus Project, on a quest to build "The Circular City?"

That's rich. Who does the building in The Circular City? Who innovates the new technologies required to build "sea cities?" Most of all, who pays for this?
posted by Alcibiades. at 1:34 PM on February 14, 2011


So, he's leveraging his fame from Zeitgeist in an attempt to sucker people into joining a new cult? The Venus Project, on a quest to build "The Circular City?"

Sucker people in? Cult? That's some serious intention placing.
posted by Taft at 4:43 PM on February 14, 2011


Lovecraft In Brooklyn: ""The gateway drug for the kids of my generation was the Illuminatus Trilogy. Wonder if the kids today still read it?"

Read it as a teenager and I'm 25. There were alot of Discordians in my high school in Connecticut. I dug it - RAW's a funny writer
I know too many hippies who take this conspiracy stuff seriously though. My awesome friend shows movies like Zeitgeist at his house... public screenings. I ignore the nutiness
"

Yeah - I think a lot of people who like RAW really don't grok his message, sadly... Isn't his thought that the idea that there's a conspiracy is absurd? That the universe is too chaotic for there to be such a thing? Not that conspiracies don't exist, but "THE CONSPIRACY" doesn't and can't exist, because there'd be too many factions and it's too unstable?
posted by symbioid at 10:40 AM on February 15, 2011


pffft, facts! Did you know so called "facts" can be used to prove almost anything that's even remotely true?
posted by Redhush at 9:49 AM on March 5, 2011


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