I truly hate who we are these days.
No, you haven't accidentally stumbled onto my last column here, the one having to do with small-time news doof A.J. Clemente. This, believe it or not, is an entirely different piece, but unfortunately the overarching feeling I get when discussing the subject I'm about to get into is pretty much the same: It's a frustrating and occasionally infuriating belief that something in our culture might be damaged beyond repair, that we may have reached a point of no return when it comes to our ability to combine stupidity with arrogance and then to transmit it worldwide so that it can seek out the likeminded and create a kind of hive-mind of crazy.
Over the weekend, I watched a movie that's both endlessly fascinating and more than a little disturbing. It's called Room 237 and it details just a few of the various theories surrounding the making and meaning of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 classic, The Shining. The film is a documentary and features a series of interviews with five people you hear from but never actually see, each of whom has a different take on the movie and the supposed subtext he or she believes Kubrick was intentionally trying to get across within its story.
The whole thing starts off innocently enough, with a couple of silly but harmless one-sided discussions casting The Shining as a possible allegory for the Holocaust or as sly symbolism for the ways in which humans can't seem to escape the past. But as things proceed, the theories and speculation unleashed by the unseen speakers become more and more outlandish; it all goes farther and farther down the rabbit hole until, eventually, you begin to realize that at least one of the guys being interviewed firmly believes that, through The Shining, Kubrick was trying to tell the world that he had been involved in the faking of the moon landing. The details within the movie that lead him to this hypothesis and then confirm it over and over again are, needless to say, the kind of thing most people would look at and either not see at all or would dismiss outright. But this guy gets it. He sees what you don't. He knows what it all means. And he's sure the government is now afraid of him because he knows.
Yeah, completely fucking nuts.
Here's the thing, though: Somebody made a movie about this guy, a movie that allowed him to broadcast his baseless paranoia to the world and I guarantee that it'll only rally the equally delusional to his cause, or at the very least provide a kind of psychic safe harbor to those who embrace and espouse his particular conspiracy theory (and no doubt others like it). Now, years ago this wouldn't have been anything worth fretting over; there have always been dumb, gullible people intent on dismissing reality in favor of some carefully crafted fantasy that they or somebody else pulled out of the clouds and spun into something that sounds plausible enough to be true. Years ago, the majority of the people who saw Room 237 would've been rightly laughing out loud at, or at least feeling sorry for, the man who watched The Shining and immediately knew in his heart that Stanley Kubrick was trying to confess to his role in perpetrating the biggest cover-up in human history. And I have no doubt that most people, even now, react to moon-landing guy exactly that way.
But it seems more and more like we've entered an age in which the beliefs of the paranoid are finding not necessarily greater acceptance but certainly wider dissemination within our culture. This is due mostly to the fracturing and democratization of media, which has created a niche press that's often devoid of the kind of oversight and sense of responsibility that used to keep the information we received at the very least somewhat tethered to reality. Basically, anybody can say anything these days and beam it out to the world; if they've got enough bucks or enough bandwidth, the voices from the fringe can be as loud as those who actually give a crap about being respectable broadcasters. This is a problem. But it becomes a real problem when the fringe idiots -- or worse, the hucksters who've learned to exploit the fringe idiots -- are allowed to hijack the mainstream conversation.
A couple of weeks ago, professional lunatic asshole Alex Jones turned the vital question-and-answer portion of a news conference immediately following the Boston Marathon bombing into a farce when a dipshit pretend reporter from his InfoWars website -- a site which acts as a clearing house for every kind of conspiracy theory imaginable -- started bombarding the governor of Massachusetts with accusations of "false flag" terrorism and claims that the bombing was a government plot to take away our civil liberties. It was the breakthrough, I'm sure, that Jones had been waiting for: when he hit the big time by subverting a mainstream news event; when he got to see his microphone receiving equal placement alongside all the reputable press outlets in America. It was, however, for the rest of us, a moment that held a different kind of significance, a much darker one. Glenn Beck had already made a fortune and gotten himself on the cover of Time magazine by ranting like a mental patient night after night on national television and during his radio show, playing the role of the schizophrenic conspiracist. Jones, though, was and is something altogether different. He seems to truly believe the horseshit he's shoveling and his audience isn't made up merely of elderly white Christians, resentful of the successes of "others" and terrified of the changes they see in the world around them. His audience is those people and more, not just the outraged right-wing Christians but the nihilistic hipsters, the heavily armed preppers, the pompous outcasts, the strident and insufferable libertarians, even, occasionally, the boy-crazy tween crowd. They all, it seems, hang onto this idiot's every word. And they're so batshit crazy that they cannot be reasoned with.
The problem is that we now live in a country where fame is its own reward and the ability to draw attention, for many, automatically implies that there's something there that deserves having attention drawn to it. Last week, Matt Drudge, who himself traffics in nonsense, proclaimed this "the year of Alex Jones." Meanwhile, even though they don't always stoop to citing him by name, our state and national lawmakers often push the same kind of crap Jones does. It may have no basis in reality whatsoever, but the politically cynical on the right know full well that an expertly promoted conspiracy theory can score huge political points with the base, which is both clueless and terrified enough to believe anything. Even Glenn Beck is back from relative obscurity to take a shot at wresting his old Mad Prophet of the Airwaves crown away from Jones, a guy he considers his archenemy. And none of this is even taking into consideration the giant fountain of crap that is Facebook and Twitter; there's no better means of disseminating ludicrous alternative theories of everything to likeminded losers than through social media.
So what's the result of all this groundless conjecture, this paranoid insanity passed off as information that truly deserves to be taken seriously? The world of the conspiracy theorist, the place where ignorance and arrogance meet, since there's no bigger idiot than a guy who believes that the Boston Marathon bombing never happened, and that guy ironically always thinks he's the smartest person in the room -- what happens when that begins bleeding into the real world? Well, for some, it truly does become tough to tell what's real and what isn't anymore. It's not the government, with its supposed secret machinations and subservience to the Illuminati or whatever-the-hell, that winds up clouding reality and leaving those who only skim the news trying to figure out what's up and what's down; it's the sensational, irrational bullshit dispensed by Alex Jones and his mentally unhinged shock-troops.
And good luck arguing with them. Trying to make someone see reason who considers it a point of pride that he's unwilling to believe anything his eyes see and his ears hear is like trying to explain how the Large Hadron Collider works to a four-year-old. If you honestly think that chem trails are for real and that 9/11 was in inside job, there's just no hope for you. Debunking your views one-by-one would be useless, since the beauty of a conspiracy theory is that it's a self-reinforcing delusion. Best to just laugh at you or call you a fucking idiot to your face and be done with it.
It really does feel like we're living in a new golden age of conspiracy theory, but if you're not someone who buys into this nonsense, then all hope isn't lost; it's just going to require a tenacious and muscular push-back from the rest of us, the sane ones, against the tide of blatant crazy. If you think virtuoso liars like Alex Jones, professional hucksters like Glenn Beck, and that poor, dumb, InfoWars meme-circulating friend of yours on Facebook are speaking the truth, then you're probably already too far gone. But if not, then congratulations, you've officially been drafted into the Army of Reason.
Your country needs you. We need you. Somebody has to fight back in the name of sanity -- and in the name of reality. Because maybe we haven't, in fact, reached the point of no return in our culture, that place where stupidity and lunacy have finally triumphed.
No, Stanley Kubrick didn't help fake the moon landing. No, he wasn't telling us he helped fake the moon landing in The Shining. No, the moon landing was never faked in the first place. Anyone who says otherwise is a moron, although not an offensive one. If you loudly proclaim that the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing were actors, some of whom were already missing limbs in order to make the whole supposed charade look convincing, then you're a moron and an offensive one and you should probably be forcibly locked in a room with the first Boston cops on-scene and the parents of eight-year-old Martin Richard.
Maybe that would teach you to finally believe what's right in front of your fucking face.