The Trouble with Witty Flights: Who’s Matheny?
Anyone who knew anything about the lives and deaths of Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan could readily see the parallels between them and the unfinished novel, The Last Statue. Looking at it on just a superficial level, one sees numerous references to the lyrics of Steely Dan songs, one of which, “Rose Darling” seemed to have had a special meaning for her.* Also, the story examines a Hollywood steeped in occult beliefs that guide its business decisions. And at the core of this is an entrenched 4-Pi presence throughout the industry. Compare that to Duncan’s suspicion that her work ran up against the power of the Church of Scientology, of which 4-Pi is an offshoot of an offshoot, and you can infer why a script such as Alice Underground might not have ever seen the greenlight of day, despite the hopes that studio execs had for it.
The Last Statue’s introduction to various forums caused a stir when many posters saw it as an intrusive alternative reality game, as demonstrated by the brouhaha within the “UR Doin It Wrong” thread. Many of the posters reacting on that forum made clear their opinions that alternative reality gaming (ARGs) had an insidious purpose: namely to confuse the facts of conspiracy research with fictional memes introduced by various sock-puppets, controlled by a puppet-master.
In this case, the puppet-master had a name. He also had a reputation.
When discussing the ARG-like qualities of the Blake and Duncan story, there were a number of insinuations, and sometimes outright accusations, that those promoting The Last Statute were either the various secret identities of one Joseph Matheny, or someone acting on his behalf (wittingly or not). The association of an individual netizen to that particular name often invoked said netizen to set the record straight as quick as possible. In a 26 July 2007 Rigorous Intuition thread titled “Theresa Duncan,” for example, Wombaticus Rex replied to dreamsend’s initial post with a single word, “Matheny?”
In his next post, dreamsend answered, “No...Matheny is not working with me...is that what you mean?”
That’s not what Wombaticus meant. As he explained in his next post, “No, I was asking if Matheny was one of the people you were referring to,.”
Speaking of Wombaticus, in the “UR Doin It Wrong” thread, the poster known as compared2what? hinted that he might have been dreamsend, and thus Matheny’s dupe because he commented on both of their blogs:
There's an ‘Uncle Humpasaur’ on...I think Joseph Matheny's blog comments from about a century ago, who might be [dreamsend] and might be our I-ain't-admittin'-nothin Wombat friend, assuming that they're two different people. And seriously, I don't have the tools to prove whether they are or aren't. Nor do I care. I see their actions. Which are stupid, dull, and destructive.**
A Unifiction poster going by the handle teri lee shunned any association with Matheny. In a forum titled “[Trailhead?] The Last Statue,” she wrote:***
They concerned the fact that you [SteganosaurusRex] seem convinced that The Last Statue is yet another Matheny project, which is something that would be of great value to know, a relevant and important thing to know in the context of the ongoing discussion, that would be a reasonable and entirely appropriate item of discussion between two parties who have had a sustained information- sharing dialogue for some time prior to this current thread,Added our friend Birdmadgirl:
The authors wish me to convey as plainly as possible, that this is NOT a Matheny project, and in some ways could be regarded as the antithesis of such.
My point is–[The Last Statue] is in direct opposition to Matheny's effort to deflate/deflect any serious inquiry into the Process Church and its offshoots [e.g., 4-Pi] by ridiculing/misleading those who do take the occult seriously (not necessarily the woo-woo of occult belief, but the influence the occult may have had on less savory aspects of American culture and history). When one takes a long, hard (and yes, skeptical) look at the Process and other like movement/organizations, there may be more to it than a bunch of woebegone cultists who wore crazy black robes and owned a lot of dogs.
Of course, one of the charms of AR gaming is the tendency to deny that a game is even taking place. That prompted Mark R to post, “‘I am not Matheny’ sounds almost as sincere as ‘This is not a game’ and the new hit single ‘This is not an ARG.’”
To which teri lee facetiously replied, ““everything's a meme. everybody's Matheny”
In this I’m-Matheny-you’re-Matheny-she’s-Matheny-we’re-Matheny-wouldn’t-you-like-to-be-Matheny-too environment, the presence of Joseph Matheny loomed large in discussion of the Theremy phenomenon, even (or especially) when his actual participation was not clearly evident. To this end, many were accused of representing Matheny in discussion of the topic. Consequently, this led to a situation where many were on the hunt, trying to find out who, among their fellow posters was Matheny.
And that’s a real question Who’s Matheny?
Looking him up on Wikipedia, one can learn that he is both a writer (screenplays, technology, sci-fi) and an originator of such things as behavioral analysis algorithms and software. Yet, Matheny’s primarily known around cyberspace for his pioneering contributions to alternative reality games, which were actually more like interactive fiction–kinda like Chop Suey The Next Generation. In this case, the story unfolds across numerous media–from pre-Web bulletin boards to xeroxed hard copies, CD-ROMs, radio and TV, and eventually to the Internet as we know it–with players uncovering myriad layers or facets of the story the more they delve into the subject matter. Meticulously researched, the projects often blur the comfortable distinctions between fact and fiction.
Ong’s Hat, drew inspiration from conspiracy research, most notably from Project Montauk In this story, Ivy League scientists descend upon the ghost town of Ong’s Hat, NJ in order to conduct secret research on chaos and quantum theory. Their work eventually leads to a theory of time travel utilizing a device called the EGG.
In a September 2007 interview with P. Emerson Williams (Milford Connolly), Matheny expounded on his use of conspiracy ideas in his fictional work:
I like to play with the name [Illuminati] with a lot of other things, because I consider that to be a very crucial element to modern American mythology–is conspiracy theory. All things–basically all the stuff you would hear on Art Bell–are kind of the things in the past that I like to play with as themes for fiction because I do consider that and comic books to be, like, probably the only two real American mythology that’s floating around these days.Part of the problem that conspiracy researchers had with Ong’s Hat was its tendency to utilize venues ordinarily used for conspiracy research in order to propel the story line (e.g., a noted piece penned by Chica Bruce for Disinfo). Many saw this as an intrusive dissemination of memes that compromised earnest conspiracy research because it confused understanding between what was known, what could be speculated or inferred, and what was now purely fictional. Those relying on Disinfo and similar sites for information about such topics as Montauk subsequently suspected an active misinformation campaign in new revelations about any subject.
If those within conspiracy research circles grew to have severe animosity toward Matheny, then the feeling seemed mutual. In the previously cited interview with Williams, he made clear his disdain for some online conspiracy communities, accusing them of neglecting real-life problems and issues in order to go off the deep end:
[Matheny]: My opinion on the MONARCH and MARIONETTE mythos is that the reality–having right after or right around the time I was kind of pushing Ong’s Hat very heavily, and, you know, a lot of people, for some reason, a lot of people attached themselves to that mythos, that seemed to think that I was, that there was something in this story that was talking about mind control. And in fact, what the story of Ong’s Hat, one element of the story in Ong’s Hat was talking about in training yourself to get into a meditative state so you could do dimensional travel. But not this victimization/mind control crap that I hear these days.
[Williams] See, it, I–
[Matheny]: But, but, now just listen. So, I came into contact with some people, who I’m not gonna name. But if I did name the names you would know the names. They’re very prominent names from the mind control conspiracy community. And I observed these people basically convincing people who had obviously had psychological problems of one sort or another convincing them that their problems were caused by MONARCH and MARIONETTE mind control. Implantation and, you know, all this [unintelligble] stuff And that inevitably, what followed that was that they were the deprogrammers that could help them. Right? This, to me, looked and smelled, and eventually I figured out, it was cult behavior. Cult induction behavior. Nothing less than that is what it was. Right? And these people were basically what they were doing is they were doing the same thing a cult does, which is to convince you that you’re helpless, that you have problems, and that your problems can only be solved by the cult or the cult leader. Right? I don’t see any difference in what’s going on between the MONARCH programming thing that goes on right now and those–and that kind of behavior. That, I would call it a cult. I would call those people cults.
If you study psychology, what you discover is that in order to be a paranoid schizophrenic there’s a necessary precursor condition which is called ‘primary narcissism,’ which if you think about it makes sense, which is in order to actually be so paranoid that you believe that they are out to get you, you have to first believe that you are important enough for them to be out to get you.These statements illustrate a number of things, among them a belief very similar to that of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. Although Matheny did not say that those who “obviously had psychological problems” actually remembered being inducted into MONARCH or similar programs, he did express the opinion that they had been coerced into a belief system similar to that of cults. Moreover, like cults these beliefs were quite rigorous and orthodox.
Of course, many who approach such boards would say that they already had anomalous experiences, and that they found such online communities in order to find out if anyone else had undergone something similar, or were looking for support among sympathetic persons who would not automatically dismiss them as crazy. And if we assumed that one of the communities in question were, say, the one hovering around Rigorous Intuition, then his statement could naturally seem like an indictment of them personally, and against its host Jeff Wells.
Perhaps more problematic is the equation of online conspiracy networking to cults–beyond the pejorative connotation of that term. They really don’t seem to operate in similar ways. People often disagree with each other in these forums, unlike in a cult where internalizing the catechisms handed down by leadership becomes so mandatory that members are always in constant agreement. Moreover, I’m not aware of any of the participants of Rigorous Intuition and similar forums “tithing” 10-70% of their income, or being subject to food/water deprivation, drugs, or forced isolation: behaviors many cults engage in. True, the pursuit of conspiracy information could alienate some family members. Yet, I don’t recall Wells, Eleanor White or anyone else fitting that description ordering those on the forum to sever family ties and so forth, lest they risk suffering severe consequences--which they actually plan to carry out if not obeyed.
As for ‘primary narcissism,’ it’s a concept coined and advanced by Dr. Sigmund Freud in his 1914 paper “On Narcissism: An Introduction.” Freud characterized it as the normal, libidinous self-awareness that complemented the non-sexual energy of egoism. As such, he considered it to be a necessary component of any healthy organism, and something that should be present by the end of early childhood (about six years). Matheny’s therefore technically correct in citing it as a necessary precursor condition to paranoid schizophrenia. By the same measure, it would also be a necessary precursor for the blues, a case of the sniffles, a broken toe, or a flat tire on the Interstate.
By incorrectly conflating the Freudian concept of primary narcissism with contemporary popular and clinical understandings of narcissism, Matheny seems here to not only vilify (at least some) conspiracy research as cultish, but to pathologize it as well. Perhaps Matheny was speaking ironically (although one would doubt it given the themes of such later works as El Centro).**** Likewise, those participating in the Rigorous Intuition and other forums might have similar animus against Matheny, with suspicions about him ranging from Anti-Christ to, worse yet, intelligence operator. Thus, when reading the “UR Doin’ It Wrong” thread and others we can see a certain leeriness and fear when it comes to Matheny, his actions, and his motivations even though there isn’t really good reason to suspect that he is participating (or for that matter aware) of the discussion.
Most important, in terms of Theremy, some in the conspiracy community were well aware that the story of Blake and Duncan had definitely come across Matheny’s radar: As he explained to Williams:*****
Well, you know, there’s the Theresa Duncan thing that’s going around these days, And I find–what I find interesting about that is that there’s been a smokescreen that’s kind of been thrown over that whole incident, which, you know, those two people committed suicide, that Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake. It was very tragic. Nobody really knows what the reason is. But I do know that before they both killed themselves they did claim that they were being harassed by Scientology. That doesn’t mean it’s true, but it doesn’t mean it’s not. Because it’s hard for me to scoff at Scientology harassment having experienced it firsthand. That’s all I’m going to say. I’m not going to go into–no, no, no–I’m not going to go into it because these guys have a policy called ‘Fair Game.’
Despite the fact that he gave mild credence to Blake and Duncan’s contention of Scientology harassment, the point, for many, was that he had apparently some interest in them, or in the Theremy phenomenon itself.
After visiting his Greylodge websites, listening to his podcasts, and watching him on YouTube, one begins to see Matheny as an interesting man, full of ideas, creativity, and self-assuredness that some might say crosses the line between confidence and hubris. Yet, I find one of his influences far more fascinating. He actually alludes to it in Ong’s Hat, and in other projects. While one could argue that he’s taking an artistic/literary tradition to a whole new level, the tradition itself has been part of mainstream culture for decades.
*Duncan quoted the lyrics of “Rose Darling,” in the Wit of the Staircase posts “Sur les toits de Detroit [On the Roofs of Detroit],” and “The Spore Is on the Wind Tonight,” Arguably a more poignant example of Duncan’s affinity for the band came during her funeral, when the lyrics of Donald Fagan’s “Walk between the Raindrops” were read at the grave site.
**As mentioned earlier, SteganosaurusRex was a handle used by a Unifiction forum poster who many at RigInt had identified as dreamsend. Also, in the “UR Doin It Wrong” thread and other places, Wombaticus Rex identified himself as Humpasaur. c2w’s accusation here probably links the identities of Wombaticus and dreamsend because of their alternative aliases, both of which spoof the names of dinosaurs.
***(Click here to see an episode of Project Camelot, where Matheny participated in an online discussion about time travel.
Ong's Hat also drew inspiration from the Moorish Orthodox Church, a sister faith of the Nation of Islam. The MOC evolved into an eclectic sect embracing other religions and technological advancement. Like the NoI, the MOC traces its roots to Timothy Drew, an American mystic active during the early part of the Twentieth Century.
****In the same interview, Matheny stated:
[The] El Centro [Project] was really my fuck-off and farewell to the conspiracy community. That’s how it was intended. And the way the whole thing–to give it away a little bit, I’m not going to give away too much because this thing is a book, you know, and I do want to try to get this out there, and have a little element of surprise to it-- but it, at the end of the day, the chapters that you can’t get to now really did show that the main character, Gil, who I think you read one of the chapters about him, ends up discovering that, you know, he’s not really mind-controlled. He’s been led to believe that he’s being programmed and mind-controlled by some rather nefarious newage characters (notice I said ‘newage,’ like ‘sewage’) who really are just, you know, out to do what I was talking about earlier with the whole MONARCH and mind-control and reptillian-alien bullshit that goes on out there. And really just trying to find people who are in a bad way, who are at a weak point in their life, or who are suffering from some sort of organic or mental distress of the brain, and take advantage of those people.
*****In another online forum, dreamsend quoted Matheny as saying:
If I have anything to add, it's this: Theresa and Blake are two tragic examples of the very thought patterns that I was trying to criticize in El Centro and not unprecedented in their final outcomes because of it. To those that have said, ‘They would appreciated what we're doing [i.e., researching their deaths as possible homicides]’ I counter with a comment written to me by someone who DID know them ‘They would run screaming from these people.’With the help of Birdmadgirl, I've been able to locate the source. These statements could really only be applied to Rigorous Intuition, which early on raised the question of assassination in a 24 July 2007 post titled “After the Ambulances Go.”