An Open Secret chronicles the story of a number of child actors who became victimized by a fairly sophisticated pedophile ring, which operated under the aegis of movie industry titans, and indifferent investors from as far as wall street.
Included are the stories of Todd Bridges and Corey Feldman. But theirs are hardly the ones Berg chose to focus on. Even more compelling were the ones of children who just didn’t make, and paid permanent consequences for that experience.
What raised the ire of many following this story was the movie’s lack of distribution, and Hollywood’s resistance to either distributing or promoting the film. As David Robb explained in a 8 May 2015 post for Deadline Hollywood:
The ad line for An Open Secret, the new documentary about the sexual abuse of child actors, is ‘The Movie Hollywood Doesn’t Want You to See.’ After talking to the film’s producers, it’s easy to see why. Executive producer Gabe Hoffman wouldn’t name names, but said, ‘We went to everybody and anybody at all the biggest companies and got turndowns everywhere.’
Consequently, the film received extremely brief runs in New York, Seattle, Denver and LA. Unless you lived near one of those metropolises at the time, you’ve probably never heard of it, let alone gotten the chance to see it.
After finally getting a look at it, I can tell you that the information is eye-opening, the narratives emotionally gripping, the approach sober and rational, and the pace perfect stride-for-stride. Amazingly, Berg managed to get through this topic without pandering to the salacious or the prurient. While it’s clear that she is only sympathetic to the victims and their families, she neither judges nor condemns the accused (only one of which gives her an interview).
I’d have been more than willing to shell out twelve bucks to see it, in a theatre no less. But I’ll take it as I can get it, stuck as I am in the Midwest. I don’t know how long the YouTube thing will last. But I highly recommend the viewing the film there or anywhere else you can find it, if for no other reason than to watch a skilled master ply her craft.
Ten years ago today, I correctly identified the late-rock star Robert Palmer as Linus Van Pelt, of Peanuts fame. But within the past twenty-four hours, I've come across solid evidence proving the true identity of another iconic animated character.
It's all in the below video. But you have to watch it closely to see the signs.
A month ago, I was set to type my usual state-of-the blog anniversary post when a set of issues invaded my personal life. Specifically, two people close to me faced serious health crises. I have since spent a good deal of the last six weeks at work, ICUs and hospital rooms while living in a persistent state of anxiety. I couldn't really think of blogging at the time, or collect my thoughts, or even concentrate on writing.
The good news: both loved ones are still here, and recuperating. Now, it's not so much a time of crisis, but rather the start of major lifestyle readjustments. Things are still touchy, but a good deal will be off my chest by April 15, when a scheduled minor surgery (local anesthesia even) will take the biggest danger off the table.
So...to continue on with the state-of-the-blog.
I spent some time researching several new topics. There has also been an interesting development on a story that I've begun here (Assailing the Tender Age). But in the last twelve months, a couple of very good, intelligent and knowledgeable persons have directed my attention to three former series appearing here, and that has consumed much of my X-Dell time over the past year. They've given me much to think about and explore. I don't think I'll post any updates to those series here, but, if I write about them at all, I'll post them on one of my other blogs.
While doing research into these areas, I thought I'd vamp on the topic of conspiracy in a series of posts that I thought would end the blog. I'd been meaning to do that for some time, but kept delaying it to the point where I thought, well hell I'll save it for the end. Yet, now is as good a time as any, I suppose.
Many former peers ask me why I'm interested in this subject. Undoubtedly, they're asking this within a paradigm that processes information in a very strict way -- a way in which I've also been trained. Sometimes I feel this is unnecessarily restrictive and narrow. And given the tendency, in this publish-or-perish context, to obsess over angels-on-the-heads-of-pins arguments, important questions are left unaddressed. These questions have much to do with the nature of power and democracy, and sometimes deal with the conflicts between consensus reality and empirical observation.
I've found valuable purpose in academic rigor. All conspiracy investigators should be aware and critical of sources, knowledge gaps, and, most importantly, their own biases. These are paramount concerns of the scholar, but not necessarily the YouTube poster. And one can see the increasing one-upsmanship of the latter as she or he makes one hypothesis or the other more outrageous, and consequently more entertaining than those preceding it, thus leading to increased hits, attention, and possibly even monetary remuneration.
At the same time, much of the wildest speculation occurs in response to institutional failure to candidly address valid and pressing public concerns. There have, to this date, been only a handful of scholars who have investigated, or are seriously researching the substantial possibility of conspiracy where the stakes are high, most notably (and ably) Dr. Phil Melanson (Political Science, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth). Otherwise, we don't get much pertinent information about the distribution of power and wealth from academia, media or government.
For example, we all most likely learned about various wars in our history classes. Only a tiny fraction of us (if any) studied the espionage that supported these conflicts. There are some classes in Intel that I've seen around the country, at various universities. I've even seen an accredited institution that offers classes and degrees only in intelligence studies. The lecturers of said courses often have a background with CIA or military intelligence. While that obviously makes a certain sense, it nevertheless prompts the question of whether these instructors are mixing education with some measure of indoctrination/propaganda. At the very least, we have little reason to assume that their viewpoints are neutral or objective.
Most of the information we get about espionage comes from off the streets; or more accurately off screens large and small, where CIA's Public Affairs Office (PAO) has performed yeoman's service to increase the Agency's presence in Hollywood. Tinseltown's main business, of course, is the production of myth. The current myth of Intel contains in large part narratives of professionalism (or competence), reasonable adherence to the law, and purely national security missions.
Still, when one digs into the topic, he or she almost immediately has to confront the enormous degree of deception and complexity that occurs within intelligence operations. And after awhile, something else becomes clear: the national-security mission of many intelligence services around the globe have either become entangled with, or have downright devolved into, instruments of domestic political security.
There are other topics of concern here. Yet the above alone should give us all pause to think. I mean, the Church Rockefeller and Pike Commissions (not to mention the Senate Select Committees on mind control chaired by Sam Irwin, Daniel Inouye and Ted Kennedy) gave us ample evidence that Intel had become an apparatus for preserving the political security of the status quo. It's therefore not unreasonable to think that this arm of power saw the US public as an enemy threat. And we can also see that Intel had no compunctions about lying to the public. What's beyond speculative is that the domestic ops exposed by these five official bodies violated US law.
And what is a conspiracy? The collusion of two or more parties to execute a crime or transgression.
Despite the frequently naked bureaucratic agenda of institutional information, many people are satisfied with answers they easily receive about senseless or strange events and situations. They're thus not inclined to look much more deeply into them -- assuming they actually have the time, energy and wherewithal to do so. Yet, there are some who aren't satisfied for whatever reason. Perhaps they've been burned or shafted by political or industrial power. Perhaps they have weird lives full of anomalies that they can't explain through the informational limitations of official or authoritative sources. Perhaps they have political or spiritual creeds that morally bind them to oppose abuses of power.
In any case, one can hardly expect such an individual or organization to accept at face value the talking-point responses often doled by established channels -- especially when they deny, downplay or just plain dismiss glaring inconsistencies as "conspiracy theory." One might also expect said individuals or organizations to collate the information that they have and make the best guesses that they can.
To put this bluntly: so-called "conspiracy theory" exists for a number of reasons. Some of them are legitimate. Some are not. But in either instance, the curt dismissal of a conspiracy explanation becomes very similar to the sudden and irrevocable acceptance of same by true believers. Neither side cares to do the gruntwork of investigation. Neither addresses the valid objections raised by the other. Neither acknowledges their own prejudices (if they are indeed aware of them, or subjects them to any challenge.
Hard to believe that it's been ten years to the day since the first post. Truth was, I thought I'd have the blog five years or so.
As I've slowed down the rate of posts over the past two years, I thought I'd go ahead and post a series that I thought would end the blog. I pictured ending it with some commentary about the nature of conspiracy, its vices and virtues and so on. But since I was in the middle of researching several other topics, I took the opportunity to put the series up a bit earlier than expected.
I planned to write something more in-depth, since there's been a lot brewing from older series, here. But something's come up within the last twenty-four hours. Until that resolves, I'm not going to have any time to post anything. I'm hoping to hear some good news within the next five hours or so.
Haven’t had much time lately, to research and write. So this month I’m posting a few humorous observations on the subject of conspiracy.
I hate conspiracy theorists. I'm sure they're all working together somehow to bring down society.
Remember that voice on AOL that said 'you've got mail'? Turns out it was the NSA.
Ever since the government's spying scandal was exposed, sales of the novel 1984 have jumped 6,000 percent on Amazon. Yeah, 1984 shows how scary it would be if society tracked everything you do. And if you want to read it, just buy it on a website that tracks everything you do.
The CIA now has a Twitter account. Don't bother checking, they're already following you.
I was going to become a conspiracy theorist, until I heard what the government and their secret aliens do to conspiracy theorists.
--Hugh Jerection, Sickipedia.org:
I disapprove of every conspiracy of which I am not a part.
Under the headline “USA Denies Torture,” a CIA spokesperson explained, “You say water boarding. We say Ice Bucket Challenge!”
NSA leaker Edward Snowden somehow managed to get out of the U.S. with all their information. Now where is he? He's in Russia now, going to be in Ecuador or wherever. He remains at large. Now what are the odds out of 350 million Americans, the only one the government wasn't watching was him?
It's that time of year again when all the conspiracy nuts are online with their batshit crazy 9/11 theories. My personal favourite is the one about 19 Muslim blokes finding the wherewithal to launch a coordinated terrorist attack on a national level.
So this is Christmas, And what have you done? Another year over, And a new one just begun.
–John Lennon, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”
I know this is gonna sound like a refrain as tired as the “Hallelujah Chorus,” but I really had no intention of posting any more Beatles-related material on this blog.
And I wouldn’t have, except that our friend Bluejay Young recently alerted me to the White Feather Foundation, a nonprofit charity founded by Julian Lennon in 2009.* It’s mission, as stated on its homepage, is to “...embrace environmental and humanitarian issues and in conjunction with partners from around the world... raise funds for the betterment of all life.” Among these partners are Hart House, which provides respite care for disabled Gambian children; St. Thomas’ Lupus Trust, which raises awareness of Lupus, provides copious information about the disease on its website, and sponsors research carried out at St. Thomas’ & Guys Hospital; ForestNation, a “social business” that plants trees in developing nations for every tree-kit purchased by Western consumers; and other noble causes.
On its “About Us” page, Lennon explained the genesis of the foundation:
Dad once said to me, that should he pass away, if there was some way of letting me know he was going to be ok – that we were all going to be ok – the message would come to me in the form of a White Feather. Then something happened to me, whilst on tour with the album, Photograph Smile, in Australia. I was presented with a White Feather by an Aboriginal tribal elder, from The Mirning people, which definitely took my breath away.
The White Feather Foundation was created for the purpose of giving a voice and support to those who cannot be heard. The tribal elders asked for my help, as I could bring awareness to their plight and to others who were suffering the same. Having had the White Feather bestowed upon me, I knew this endeavour was to be part of my destiny. One thing for sure is that the White Feather has always represented peace to me, as well as communication.
In the previous Beatles series, I came to the opinion that the individual members, their business partners and families embarked upon a continuing endeavor to foster a more positive culture. What struck me about the White Feather Foundation was how neatly it fit into that vibe. I was also struck by the seemingly magical story behind its creation. As you probably know by now, I’m not really big on matters spiritual as much as I am the psychological processes that lead us to such. But I will concede a certain magical quality to the Yuletide. Consequently, the ambition and beneficence of WFF, coming when it did, struck a (ahem!) chord with me.
I’m hoping it strikes a chord with you too. At this time of year, we’re in the habit of tossing a few coins in the kettle of our local Salvation Army chapter, or donating to other worthy causes. Perhaps you can add WFF to your shortlist of honorable organizations worth giving to. I’ve dropped in a few coins myself (only a slight understatement), and plan to do more once the freelance checks start coming in. (Actually, it’s a direct deposit, but you get the drift, right?)
Feel free to match my tuppence with your own donation. To screw up an old folk tune, one man’s hands might not be able to take a prison down. But when one and one and fifty make a million, we might see how far these feathers can fly.
And happy Xmas to you all.
*Official statement: “The White Feather Foundation is established under the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), a charitable trust registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales under number: 268369. “
On 21 November 1963, only hours before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy set off a firestorm of conspiracy accusations, one professor kick-started a rapidly growing anti-conspiracy movement.
On that date, Dr. Richard Hofstadter (History, Columbia University) gave a lecture at England’s prestigious University of Oxford. He would later publish it as an article titled “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”* In this essay, he examined the degree to which irrational beliefs caused some special interest groups to accuse their political opposition of scheming to gain power, or otherwise get their way.
Not surprisingly, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” became an important document for self-described cynics, skeptics and anti-conspiracists. I have read very few anti-conspiracy books or tracts that don’t give it some mention, if not an in-depth review. While many anti-conspiracy works have some mild criticism or disagreement with Dr. Hofstadter, they reverentially depict him as an intellectual grandfather for a school of thought that’s highly critical of conspiracism and conspiracy researchers.
By now, you’re probably waiting for me to trash “Paranoid Style,” or Dr. Hofstadter in the way I did “Conspiracy Theories” by Professors Adam Vermeule and Cass Sunstein. Truth is, I have no such inclination. As shocking as it might sound, I have tremendous respect for this paper. I think it’s f-ing brilliant. While I obviously disagree with some of what Hofstadter says (here and in other works), I would say that most of it is so spot-on as to be prescient. I highly recommend taking ten minutes out of your life and reading it.
Since my disagreements with “Paranoid style” are in large part minor, I’ll shove them aside for now, and maybe get back to them in a later post. My actual point of contention isn’t with the article per se, but rather the context in which anti-conspiracists cite and present it. In looking at this work, one has to keep in mind not only the actual content, but the circumstances that compelled Dr. Hofstadter to write it.
If you haven’t clicked on the above link, I’ll summarize “Paranoid Style” as briefly as I can. In the introduction, Hofstadter immediately took pains to define what he meant by “paranoia.” He stressed he wasn’t speaking in a medical sense, but in a metaphoric one. This is important because, as he posits, if we were merely looking at actual mental illness, than conspiracism in and of itself wouldn’t be much of an issue.
I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics. In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.
The second thing that Hofstadter does in the intro is to give several brief examples of paranoid political thought: McCarthyism of the 1950s, the gold conspiracy of the 1890s, and anti-Catholicism of the 1850s. Although he mentioned in passing that the political left occasionally engaged in the same specious reasoning (e.g, the US slave conspiracy of the mid-1800s), he saw more systematic, widespread and dangerous use of the paranoid style persisting in the hardliner-right wing faction of American politics.**
In the next two sections, Dr. Hofstadter illustrated political paranoia and subsequent actions with examples of several venerable conspiracy pariahs: the Illuminati, the Freemasons, and the Roman Catholic Church. Each of these, he points out, contain a specific narrative in which Americans presently have some unspecified power that a shadowy outside force wants to take away from them. For example, some Americans saw Illuminism, an historic attempt within Freemasonry to reform itself in accordance to rationalist principles developed during the Enlightenment, as an attempt to replace religion with science. In this instance, religion is already the establishment, and its trying to protect itself from what it considers a foreign influence, coming directly from Europe via the ultra-liberal heathens inhabiting the northern East Coast.
Similarly, the vast majority of Americans were Protestant. In fact, to this day, JFK remains the only non-Protestant US President. But from the Nineteenth Century up to Kennedy’s election in 1960, the fear remained that the Church wanted to control the world through one universal government headed by the Papacy. The church would wield this control through puppet leaders, as it allegedly did during the days of the Holy Roman Empire. This fear of a Vatican Candidate, openly expressed by such notables as Norman Vincent Peale and Rev. Billy Graham, forced Kennedy to bend over backwards to show that his allegiance was to the established American government, not to a foreign outside party that wanted to take it away.
The next two sections, IMHO, are the most important. In describing how paranoia influences contemporary politics (i.e., the 1950s and early-1960s), he noted an historical shift in the overriding conspiracy narrative that began after World War II. The new story held that Americans used to have power, but have now lost it to some hostile party. In this vein, Sen. Joseph McCarthy would claim that forty-nine (or 100, or seventy-seven, or whatever) communists had infiltrated the US State Department. In this tale, we have an institution of power (State Department, US Army, FBI, CIA, Hollywood, etc.) that once did the bidding of the American people. But now, after infiltration by hostile agents, these institutions were now corrupt and behaving atrociously. Hence, there’s a certain “Take Back Our Country” attitude among those who adhere to this philosophy.
The remaining part of the paper is arguably the weakest, and its vitriol in some measure undermines some very valid criticisms of conspiracism that I have mentioned before. Again, I would prefer to look at those issues later, and focus on its strengths.***
Before examining “Paranoid Style’s” content further, we have to understand the context of Dr. Hofstadter and his times. Born in 1916, he became intimately involved with leftist politics at an early age, joining the Communist Party of the USA in 1938. He left CPUSA the following year, realizing he could never adjust to the party’s insistence on orthodoxy. He realized that going in. But, as he explained, “I join without enthusiasm but with a sense of obligation... my fundamental reason for joining is that I don't like capitalism and want to get rid of it.”
Thus, it’s no surprise that he levels his criticism in “Paranoid Style” almost exclusively at the far-right of American politics. This paper was specifically a reaction against what he saw in McCarthyism and later in the emergence of the John Birch Society, which by 1964 had seriously radicalized the right-wing faction of the GOP.
And this leads to another issue: namely the applicability of Dr. Hofstadter’s observations to what we have come to know now as “conspiracy theory.”
You see, Hofstadter really does talk about paranoia in the same way that most of us would understand the term applying to "conspiracy theories," but only to a limited degree. That’s by no means the primary focus of this paper. For the most part, he isn’t talking about an outre “parapolitcal” movement on the part of those with limited means to propagate a cause–a political fringe, so to speak. Rather, he’s talking about a mainstream point of view, that has ample access to public attention and elected officials.
In other words, what Dr. Hofstadter described in “Paranoid Style” wasn’t so indicative of the work exemplified by Mae Brussell. Rather, we can see it more readily in such commentators as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Matt Drudge, and others populating the talent pool of Fox News. Here, we have a similar narrative concerning the dispossession of power by so-called “liberal elites” that have somehow co-opted the nation in an ill-defined way.
That Dr. Hofstadter is making this observation specifically about mainstream right-wing politics is not lost on political pundits, who aren’t shy about criticizing him and/or “Paranoid Style.” As George Will wrote in a Washington Post op-ed piece dated 15 April 2008:
The iconic public intellectual of liberal condescension was Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter, who died in 1970 but whose spirit still permeated that school when Obama matriculated there in 1981. Hofstadter pioneered the rhetorical tactic that Obama has revived with his diagnosis of working-class Democrats as victims -- the indispensable category in liberal theory. The tactic is to dismiss rather than refute those with whom you disagree....
Hofstadter dismissed conservatives as victims of character flaws and psychological disorders -- a ‘paranoid style’ of politics rooted in ‘status anxiety,’ etc. Conservatism rose on a tide of votes cast by people irritated by the liberalism of condescension. ****
To say this paranoid style has nothing to do with “conspiracy theory” as we understand it would simply be dishonest. We can point to such conspiracists as Rayelan Allan, Alex Jones and Fritz Springmeier, and say that they completely embody the paranoid style described by Hofstadter. Yet, it’s not the paranoia of these individuals and their followers that set them apart in this regard, but rather their unabashed right-wing partisanship. Ironically, most of what such notables publish on their sites, or talk about in radio interviews, maintains and defends a power that Hofstadter and his friend, Dr. C. Wright Mills (Sociology, Columbia University), would call the “ruling class.” Looking closely, one can see the narrative spouted by such conspiracists as not that different than what is on Fox or other News Corp media in substance. The difference is not the core belief, but rather the extremity to which such a belief is taken.
Regarding the extent to which Dr. Hofstadter would see a similar thinking on the left, we could point to some of the commentators on MS-NBC, or the ill-fated Air-America. Hofstadter would probably agree with a substantial deal of their viewpoints. What would irk him about these two entities is their tendency to--like their right-wing counterparts-- demonize opponents as evil, dangerous, or at best completely clueless. Of course, one could point out that the polemic of right-wing media preceded more limited liberal expressions of this type in the mainstream. Consequently, liberal polemics were a reaction against this very iteration of the paranoid style. But Hofstadter, in other writings, stressed the need for consensus within a democracy. As the our-way-or-the-highway approach to determining public policy has shown, especially in recent years where government has literally shut down because of refusals to compromise, extremism and inflexibility keeps the public from exercising any power at all.
In hindsight, it would appear that Hofstadter’s main beef wasn’t really with conspiracism itself, but rather the utilization of conspiracism in fostering the type of extremism that threatened consensual government.
Conspiracism is probably as old as our species. At the very least, it’s as old as written history. We’re the creatures that we are, after all. We not only collude with each other for some type of misdeed/transgression, but we suspect that others might do that very thing to us (how dare they!).
On the other hand, anti-conspiracism is relatively new. Trust me. I think that this is coincidence and nothing more. But I do find it fascinatingly ironic that one of the most potent and seminal expressions of anti-conspiracism occurred less than twenty-four hours before arguably the grandest conspiracy in US history.
A conspiracy rooted in the same political paranoia described by Dr. Hofstadter.
*First published in the November 1964 edition of Harper’s magazine.
**Later during the 1960s, Dr. Hofstadter would accuse student anti-war activists of a similar simplistic mindset. While I believe he was somewhat short-sighted/narrow-minded/just-plain-wrong on this point, again, that’s perhaps a discussion for another time and place.
***Just a brief summary of that remaining part: after prudently and carefully refusing to ascribe psychological/sociological diagnoses to those involved with conspiracism, Hofstadter regrettably engages in a bit of armchair psychoanalysis and sociological theory that ascribes personality, intellectual, or moral defects and machinations among the politically paranoid. Chief among them is a description of what most of us now would recognize as Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
...Norman Cohn believed he found a persistent psychic complex that corresponds broadly with what I have been considering—a style made up of certain preoccupations and fantasies: “the megalomaniac view of oneself as the Elect, wholly good, abominably persecuted, yet assured of ultimate triumph; the attribution of gigantic and demonic powers to the adversary; the refusal to accept the ineluctable limitations and imperfections of human existence, such as transience, dissention, conflict, fallibility whether intellectual or moral; the obsession with inerrable prophecies…systematized misinterpretations, always gross and often grotesque.”
While I, and perhaps most of you, might feel some vindication or validation from these words, directed as they are to McCarthy and others of his ilk, we should note that this is a diatribe, and highly emotional. And that’s the source of their true appeal, I’m afraid.
****Interestingly, Will put the term “status anxiety” in quotes, as if this were the point of “Paranoid Style.” Hoftstadter actually used these terms together in other writings, but not here.