We Call Him Super
May 11, 2022 5:58 PM   Subscribe

Roughly 50 million Americans are thought to believe in ideas associated with the conspiracy theory QAnon. In the 8 minute documentary “We Call Him Super,” the director Michael Patten tells the story of his next-door neighbor.
posted by dmh (32 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Accompanying text piece:
Ultimately, Patten thought, QAnon was part of Balvuena’s story. But can something so dangerous be left unchallenged? It is not for lack of rigor, Patten indicated, that the documentary, which never interrupts Balvuena’s narration, seems to let him off easy. “Why does he look to this for answers?” Patten said, “I think that’s what the film is trying to answer.”
Spoiler alert: it doesn't.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:54 PM on May 11 [13 favorites]


Came here to quote the same thing. This film is a major cop out. The short blurb after the main part of the film summarizing QAnon begs for a response from Balvuena, but of course none is given. I'd also like to hear him discuss how his experiences as an immigrant make him different from other immigrants who are demonized by the QAnon crowd.
posted by Reverend John at 8:11 PM on May 11 [3 favorites]


This sat uneasy with me as with the other two commenters. Although the subject narrates, I wonder what the framing and editing are doing, aside from the choice of subject. He seems almost preternaturally calm whereas I often imagine QAnon types either frothing at the mouth at those who eat babies for the adrenochrome, or in heightened anticipation of the Great Awakening, looking rapturously at every piece of Fake News about Chinese Communist Party troops entering Canada or the trial and execution of Trump's enemies. Maybe with a deep dive into this guy's world view and life one would see something troubling to offset the uneasy sense that this hardworking, sensitive, artistic immigrant really believes this ideology.

A few things I was starting to read into it:

How strong is his command of English? We see him watching a QAnon video in English.

"Everything happens for a reason," he says. I'm not inclined to agree.

The way "everything happens for a reason" is framed in the video it seems like quiet stoicism. But maybe that utterance is key to why this crazypants conspiracy theory appeals to him.

QAnon is also a mytho-poetic movement. It appeals to archetypes. He's a painter, and while the framing seems jarring in that it seems to say: look at this sensitive, educated, humble guy who's into QAnon. Yet a person who processes the world through subconscious images and not a rigorous testing of his own cognitive bias might just be the kind of person to fall for QAnon.
posted by Schmucko at 9:30 PM on May 11 [17 favorites]


When people for whom critical thinking is as habitual as breathing get our faces rubbed yet again in the awareness of the sheer numbers of people for whom it is no such thing, it's always deeply discomfiting and the natural tendency is to get cross with the people doing the rubbing.

can something so dangerous be left unchallenged?

Yes, when challenging it changes no minds and achieves nothing.

Curing Bonhoeffer stupidity is a process that needs to be driven by the afflicted themselves in order to have any chance of success. The challenge for the rest of us is to organize ourselves to remain resilient in the face of its worst effects.

This sucks. I don't know of a way to make it not suck. But it's not Patten's fault. This little film is excellent. If you still don't understand what you're dealing with, it will help.
posted by flabdablet at 11:14 PM on May 11 [39 favorites]


This sucks. I don't know of a way to make it not suck. But it's not Patten's fault.

Agreed.

Simply showing the problem, and not challenging it upfront (other than the subtle methods of editing, and the simple fact of making the film in the first place) is a perfectly legitimate act of subversion.

The film maker leaves that blank for me to fill in, which is part of why it feels so frustrating and uncomfortable.

flabdablet thank you for sharing that article. It is so useful in dispelling the cognitive dissonance I feel on being confronted with conspiracy-theory thinking.
Especially this:

"This much is certain, stupidity is in essence not an intellectual defect but a moral one. There are human beings who are remarkably agile intellectually yet stupid, and others who are intellectually dull yet anything but stupid."

But what is meant by this next quote ?

" Only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in most cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then, we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person."

(hope this is not too much of a derail.)
posted by Zumbador at 12:10 AM on May 12 [8 favorites]


Seems to me that any culture whose most distinctive feature is trumpeting the ongoing maintenance of the power and privilege of the few at the expense of the many, especially when the few are as few and the many as many as they are in the US, has got plenty of scope for implementing the kind of liberation I assume Bonhoeffer was referring to there.

Wherever we find ourselves with no escape from an oppressive system it's only to be expected that we'll seek some kind of explanatory framework for that, and that many such frameworks will end up rooted far more firmly in truthiness and self-reinforcing confirmation bias than in accuracy. This is a human universal. We all do it, as evidenced by the ongoing popularity of religious ideas like redemption, salvation, afterlives and reincarnation. Habitual critical thinkers are just a little more selective in what we're willing to accept as truthy.

It also seems to me that keeping the resentment of the oppressed aimed exclusively at misidentified and/or nonexistent oppressors lowers both inconvenience for oppressors and immediate dangers to the oppressed; storming the bastions of the powerful with pitchforks and torches is a risky enterprise for all involved. Stupidity is, therefore, structural and won't be cured without ongoing structural reform.
posted by flabdablet at 3:30 AM on May 12 [10 favorites]


You don't have to run faster than the ravening monster, you just have to run faster than it's next meal. Or point the ravening monster towards someone else.


Faith is sticking to a belief that comforts you, no matter what the evidence may or may not say. Having a lot of people around you confirming that belief must be wonderful. I'm not even sure anymore that this brand of lunacy is particularly worse than the other long established groups that want to deny me and mine personhood. Sigh. #giantmeteor can't come too soon.
posted by Jacen at 3:32 AM on May 12 [4 favorites]


Personally I rate the QAnon choice of fucking Tr*mp, of all people, to be hailed as champion of the underclass as the kind of darkly twisted, wholly evil marketing genius that could only ever have emerged from the US.

The fact that such a manifestly idiotic notion could get the legs that it has is pretty much the emblematic example of everything I perceive as being wrong with that culture, having supplanted the utterly craven hagiography of Ronald Reagan in that role.
posted by flabdablet at 3:51 AM on May 12 [16 favorites]


The film maker leaves that blank for me to fill in, which is part of why it feels so frustrating and uncomfortable.

That's exactly why I like it so much. Contemplating stupidity as insidious and as skilfully inculcated as QAnon should feel frustrating and uncomfortable. Any implication that it's the kind of phenomenon that can be adequately dealt with without honest, critical self-examination completely misses the point. This little film doesn't miss the point.

All of us are susceptible to carrying around our own budding delusions, and othering QAnon adherents as some kind of frothing lunatic is no help whatsoever in keeping those buds nipped.

Other people's fuckups can be a gift, as long as we can keep on finding ways to stop them actively trying to kill us.
posted by flabdablet at 4:16 AM on May 12 [8 favorites]


the emblematic example of everything I perceive as being wrong with that culture

...though Kenneth Copeland runs it a pretty close second.
posted by flabdablet at 4:25 AM on May 12 [2 favorites]


Oh, but Trump is the perfect rabid demagogue for the cult. A TV hero for the under informed chattering types, saying the bad shit out loud and getting away with so, so many crimes. And once you buy in to the crazy and evil, you're almost stuck defending it. The more evil they do, the more you're tacitly or enthusiastically complicit in. And nobody wants to feel like they did a bad, so there's massive peer pressure to pretend that their attack monster is a good thing, that he's on their side, crusading for justice and restoration of the balance so cruelly denied to them.

Anything obviously wrong is either persecution, an attempt to keep them down, to stop the golden society promised by the people who gild everything; or part of the master plan solution, necessary evil as part of the Grand Plan. And if everyone around you drinks the Fox flavor aid propaganda, loudly and violently, how could you picture anyone voting for the other side? Everyone you know is already in the cult! Everyone you like is down the road with you! There must be something wrong with people who disagree! My mom and uncle and church can't support evil, so this must be ok.

And the circle draws tighter, dissenting is crushed, and the nice comforting narrative tells them that they aren't wrong, ignore the people behind the curtain, look at the successes, you're good and wonderful and eggs have to be crushed anyway, right?
posted by Jacen at 4:58 AM on May 12 [7 favorites]


My mom and uncle and church can't support evil, so this must be ok.

Self-strengthening confirmation bias is a hell of a drug.
posted by flabdablet at 5:13 AM on May 12 [6 favorites]


I hated this. It reminded me of unfocused films I saw in first year film production classes. You finish the film knowing absolutely zero. There are immigrants. There is Q Anon. Sometimes these things intersect. And?!

I can't believe the New Yorker did this. It's so lacking in any character.

I suppose much of my frustration comes with just how stupid Q Anon is. It is so preposterous that if it was in a movie you wouldn't believe it. Infuriatingly stupid. I can't imagine having a loved one fall victim to this nonsense, and yet, so many people fall for it.

I hope America gets out of this mess. I'm not convinced it will. Uncritical documents like this won't help.
posted by dobbs at 5:58 AM on May 12 [7 favorites]


Jacen: you make a good point. Qanon arose because Trump needed it. He is so profoundly, visibly stupid and unethical that an entire mythology is required to prop him up. Those guys in the Philippines sensed it, and made a little snowball that rolled down the hill.

You know who didn't need Qanon? Ronald Reagan. He was just as foolish and hateful, and he too had probable cognitive disabilities. But he was an actor. He could play the part of President, and his wife the First Lady. Even to himself, he was playing the part. He acted kindly, competent, stern, fatherly, all the needful things, while his government ransacked the future. If there had been an internet back then, perhaps he wouldn't have found it so easy, but there wasn't and he did.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:11 AM on May 12 [16 favorites]


QAnon self-reinforces in the spaces where it's difficult or impolite to push back against it.

I remember the first time I met a 9/11 truther. It was 2008 and I was on a job doing technical support when the client suddenly started talking about a 'fascinating' video they had seen about jet fuel. They asked me what I thought about it. I wanted to say "that's a load a BS" but I was professional and I dodged the question so I could continue working on this guy's goddamned computer. Politely refusing to engage only caused the guy to talk even more about the video and how many questions it raised.

You can argue that had I responded with "that's wrong and you should feel bad about believing it" he would have felt offended and been driven farther into his own ignorance, but I really don't think humoring him was any less effective at providing the self-reinforcement he was craving.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:20 AM on May 12 [2 favorites]


Maybe Q is Dan Brown's less successful cousin? 🤔
posted by Jacen at 7:00 AM on May 12


wholly evil marketing genius that could only ever have emerged from the US.

Or a dance hall girl in Argentina (Evita)

Or a lowly KGB functionary in Russia (Putin)

Not a historian so probably many "leaders" through history that grasped just the functional thread of attention of the 'mob' and probably did not figure the plan out themselves but were used by more wiley shadows behind the throne. But, yeah, the cognitive disconnect between fine conservative republicans and *4Chan* denizens hugging and kissing is just beyond.
posted by sammyo at 7:22 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]


the client suddenly started talking about a 'fascinating' video they had seen about jet fuel.

I somewhat also blame covid, I think there was some stifling of wacko ideas in the workplace just with eyerolls. There has never been a shortage of conspiracy theories (alien astronauts) but there has been a natural control in a simple "ok, that's enough" that was removed and eyerolls don't transmit over zoom.
posted by sammyo at 7:33 AM on May 12 [4 favorites]


On a flight yesterday. There was a woman sitting across the aisle with a carry on bag with a bright blue luggage tag with a big “Q” on it. That could mean many things but it’s easy in these times to wonder uhh oh boy. No other clues that I could see.

And a month or two ago we were on a hike in our community and a skywriting plane came along and made a weird pattern which could maybe have been a “Q” but it was hard to be certain.

Am I paranoid about conspiracy theorists?
posted by stevil at 7:36 AM on May 12 [3 favorites]


It's often been said that you can't reason somebody out of a position they never reasoned themselves into. I think it's more accurate to say that you can't reason somebody out of a position they don't want to be reasoned out of if reason was never their real motivation for adopting it in the first place.

All of the conspiracy theorists I've ever met (and there have been quite a few) have two things in common: a strong sense of community with other conspiracy theorists, and an apparent frustration at their inability to reason the rest of us into adopting the same positions as they do.

But I have yet to meet a conspiracist who has genuinely given their own positions any serious scrutiny, though every single one I've met has of course claimed to have done exactly that. When invited to lay their position out for me in clear terms that I can understand, at the first hint of pushback from me on any point that's demonstrably false, every single one has leapt upon the opportunity to retreat behind a squid-ink cloud of furious offence and/or told me that I mustn't accept what they say but instead need to "do my own research". The latter has occasionally been followed up with a hopeful barrage of links to assorted puerile YouTube crap and/or mis/disinformation-heavy web sites that look like they've been thrown together under the influence of strong drink.

These are people who fundamentally don't get reason. They'll imitate its forms, and they'll use reasoning-like words, but near as I can tell they're all essentially faking it: as soon as whatever they're using instead arrives at a place that feels true to them, that's where inquiry stops. Because it's not about inquiry, it's about finding their people and if I demonstrate that I'm not one of those by obviously caring more about refuting their nonsense than about soothing and validating their need for personal connection, then I quickly become somebody best avoided (or, at worst, attacked and/or suppressed).

It seems to me that what conspiracy theorists are after, first and foremost, is the company of people who will not make them feel stupid, not even when they're absolutely being stupid. And if I were somebody for whom reason didn't come as easily as it does because I'd had less luck with family and general cultural stability than I've had, and who had therefore always needed to rely more heavily on blending in with a crowd to find adequate safety in this increasingly confusing world than I've needed to do, I'm sure I'd want exactly the same thing.

Do I have any idea how patronizing I sound right now? Of course. But I don't care. So if you're a flat earther or Q theorist or prosperity-gospel "Christian" or Scientologist or Joe Rogan fanboi or any kind of committed promoter of whateverthefuck baseless untestable faith-based horseshit you're using for a tribal marker, please know that I have no respect whatsoever for the belief system and worldview you're so at pains to sell me. None. Not a shred. Keep it to yourself, though, and as long as you're not offering violence to those who disagree with you, we'll rub along just fine.

If you want to be in my tribe, you'll need to toss all that crap overboard and just get accustomed to the discomfort of not knowing things you're not in a position to know. Because the key to success in keeping an open mind is not stuffing it to the gills with utterly worthless garbage.
posted by flabdablet at 7:43 AM on May 12 [24 favorites]


Or a dance hall girl in Argentina (Evita)

Or a lowly KGB functionary in Russia (Putin)


Neither of those people was ever a multimillionaire's failson.

The thing that makes their appalling US parallel peculiar to the US, it seems to me, is the willingness of a large segment of the public to accept that somebody born with a silver spoon in his mouth and who has since spent every waking hour leeching off and/or betraying everybody he ever dealt with in relentless though transparently pathetic pursuit of utterly undeserved self-aggrandizement could be in any way a role model, let alone a plausible working-class hero.
posted by flabdablet at 8:14 AM on May 12 [7 favorites]


is the willingness of a large segment of the public to accept that somebody born with a silver spoon in his mouth and who has since spent every waking hour leeching off and/or betraying everybody he ever dealt with in relentless though transparently pathetic pursuit of utterly undeserved self-aggrandizement could be in any way a role model

Also the number of craven Republican politicians already in office who are willing to bet their entire careers on a multimillionaire's failson at the expense of the nation. How many governors, representatives, and senators have completely debased themselves in support of Trump? Is this really the guy they want to hitch their wagons legacy to?

Would a bunch of Republicans lose office if they suddenly turned on Trump and alienated his base? Yes. Would Republicans end up spending some cycles in the political wilderness? Probably. Would this be the death of the Republican party and and end to conservatism forever? Not very likely. It's beyond selfish that these people are willing to sacrifice our country and everything we hold dear just so the Democrats won't win the next election.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:38 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Would this be the death of the Republican party and an end to conservatism forever? Not very likely.

Ohhhh!?
posted by flabdablet at 8:54 AM on May 12


There is no nation, just white power and grievances. How are they supposed to care about the peopleoppressing their freedom????


Culture war means war, and they have to win or we apparently eat the children we can't turn trans gay space communist
posted by Jacen at 9:10 AM on May 12 [2 favorites]


I liked this film. Knowing the subject matter was coming I wondered how the map would unfold. What I saw was the frightening normalcy of a person who had been swept up. The hidden part of the iceberg revealed in murky cold depths.

It is uncomfortable to sit with that knowledge. Good films bring us to thought and emotion. I believe that this has accomplished that much.
posted by zerobyproxy at 9:11 AM on May 12 [3 favorites]


luxury tho, and fully automated
posted by flabdablet at 9:12 AM on May 12


Thanks for sharing Bonhoeffer’s theory of stupidity, I’d never heard of it. Knowing that the bully always preys on the marginalized, and those without a voice, the group follows along out of fear of being the next target.

I guess that’s why, in the face of pushback in life, and here, I always support the social underdogs, the innocent, and animal rights.
posted by I will not be Heiled at 9:18 AM on May 12 [2 favorites]


Personally I rate the QAnon choice of fucking Tr*mp, of all people, to be hailed as champion of the underclass as the kind of darkly twisted, wholly evil marketing genius that could only ever have emerged from the US.

A rich, loud elite telling a specific caste of Americans that they are the only ones whose votes should count, that they are the only real Americans, and that they must fight back against the enemies of that elite (and if they just do what they're told and keep making him rich, they'll get their jobs and their money and their influence back real soon, sure, that check is in the mail) is nothing that shocks me. Trump had the luck to fall into the position where he had instant name-value recognition, a vacuum of viable candidates in the GOP, zero hesitation towards pandering shamelessly and a... polarizing Democratic candidate to run against.

But the movement is not about Trump specifically; it allowed him to play Messiah for as long as he pandered to it, and is capable of leaving him behind and lurching further rightward into even uglier territory.

Look at people like Dan Crenshaw, who is an odious toad who voted with Trump 90% of the time and is now being declared an enemy of the state by alt-righters. Why? He dared to call out grifters like Marjorie Taylor Greene as grifters. He recognizes that government needs to get _some_ basic work done occasionally, rather than burning everything down to the ground. That's anathema to the America First crowd. Look at Sean Hannity, Trump's shadow Chief of Staff, who is growing equally hated because he isn't Tucker Carlson and he still treats the Lindsey Grahams of the world like they're human beings. Look at the backlash to Trump's promotion of COVID vaccines as a positive accomplishment of his. Look at the Senate race in PA, where his endorsement of Dr. Oz led to howls of derision and a movement behind Less Photogenic Candace Owens, Kathy Barnette, who might just win the nomination over Trump's say-so because she's more extreme and ideologically pure.

QAnon are useful idiots to Trump. But the reverse is also true, once someone who's just as twisted but not quite as bumbling seizes the reins, just as Trump did in Campaign 2016.
posted by delfin at 11:32 AM on May 12 [2 favorites]


Thanks flabdablet for the "theory of stupidity" reference!

Why Dunning-Krueger when we already had Bonhoeffer? Self-fulfilling prophecy? (I speak for myself of course.)

When I was a young card-carrying evangelical the attraction to the ideology was the (appearance of) control and access to power it gave me. If I see Balvuena's experience through this lens, I get the attraction to Q. It's not stupid to want to have agency and control of your life, it's human. It gets stupid when the agency and control you seek/aspire to depends on someone else telling you how to see and what to think.

When I could see that it was the ideology and its spewers that was the cage, I could find the door and step through it. But I'm white and male.

If Balvuena saw the stupidity, what would stepping out of the cage look like to him? A lesser-enough evil? A worthwhile devil's bargain? Seeing one cage as better than another might be too big an ask. What if it's cages all the way down?
posted by kneecapped at 12:18 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]



It’s not the same as Dunning-Kruger at all. That is a specific cognitive bias based on a lack of sufficient information to accurately evaluate one’s own abilities. (And wasn’t there a debunking of it posted recently?)

It becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power, be it of a political or religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. Almost as if this is a sociological-psychological law where the power of the one needs the stupidity of the other.

Bonhoeffer’s perspective is definitely insightful but I feel like that article maybe doesn’t quite do him justice. Every strong upsurge of power breeds stupidity? The Civil Rights movement, for example — that was also based on surging stupidity? (Sorry just can’t resist a brief bit of JAQing off.)

It seems to be that what both Bonhoeffer and the Q effect center on is a version of cult psychology. There are very similar issues of isolating subjects from society at large, tightly controlling their access to information (or else discrediting heretical sources), and playing on the subject’s sense of social obligation.

But I have yet to meet a conspiracist who has genuinely given their own positions any serious scrutiny, though every single one I've met has of course claimed to have done exactly that.

Around 9/11 I went pretty far down the speculative rabbit hole. There are still a lot of unanswered questions around it, but that’s beside the point. I never bought into the Truther BS and Alex Jones always seemed like a grifter to me. And eventually by giving my views serious scrutiny I did discard some of the more speculative theories.
posted by viborg at 2:37 PM on May 12


Personally I rate the QAnon choice of fucking Tr*mp, of all people, to be hailed as champion of the underclass

That’s a bit of an odd framing to me since from the beginning QAnon was piggybacking on the “populist” movement Trump already had. Religious comparisons are cliche here but QAnon is very much a conspiracy syncretism thing and there’s plenty of precedent for movements that grow through their ability to integrate something that’s already popular.
posted by atoxyl at 5:42 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]


Right, but in a very specific context.

In describing gamers, Bannon said, "These guys, these rootless white males, had monster power. ... It was the pre-reddit. It's the same guys on (one of a trio of online message boards owned by IGE) Thottbot who were [later] on reddit" and other online message boards where the alt-right flourished, Bannon said.
posted by viborg at 2:44 AM on May 13


« Older Well you know what they say about great artists   |   she doesn’t trust the words to do their work Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.