Saturday February 19th 2000
Remy C. Report
Grant Morrison - Disinfo Lecture
I find it hard these days to mingle with people who modulate their awareness with powerful chemicals, more powerful than good food or drink. Their consciousness and their confusion are contagious. Osmosis makes it hard for me to adapt. I’m a bit of an empath, and as I get older, it gets more difficult for me to withstand the crushing energy generated by people leaking karma. I get overwhelmed, so I keep a safe distance from the madness of crowds. But I could not miss this for the world. It was a chance for me to meet a lot of folks I knew only through email, like Kenn Thomas, Adam Parfrey, and others.
If it had not been for a small article in the local Fairfield County Weekly in the Connecticut suburbs where I live, writing about an upcoming conspiracy conference in New York City, I would have never known about it in time to make it. I had lost touch with Disinfo.com. Websites are like that. You go to them once when you discover their existence, spend some time there for a little while, and then forget they even existed. There is seldom a reason to go back. That’s what happened to me with disinfo.com last year. I guess I wasn’t ready for its radical transformation from a simple online zine into a full-blown multimedia station!
There is just so much on the Net to keep up with, so if you’re going to stay informed, you tend to plow ahead, seldom really attaching yourself to any one news source. That’s the next step for online journalism. Unlike print, cyber pages are not inked in stone. So why not take advantage of the opportunity. Yet, editors still use the medium the same way, by posting articles, dating them, and forgetting about them. I’d like to see editors give writers the chance to just update their articles whenever new developments occur; new angles surface, resolutions and solutions come to light. Turn their text into a “flexible” and “flowing” form, so that each time a surfer looks in on it, it actually reveals fresh insight on the topic. You’d have to label pieces as either set pieces or flow pieces, flow pieces meaning their authors would continuously return to the material to insert revisions and updates.
The people who make an effort to come to something like a conference on disinformation, are all well read and on the forefront of political science. They want to get to the bottom of things and won’t take anybody’s last word for it. Disinformation is synonymous with dissatisfaction and disillusion. The level of jaded cynicism in that room was evident. So it was interesting to see the organizers introduce as their first speaker Vyaas Houston, who enticed the audience into Sanskrit chants. The reluctance was evident. This wasn’t the usual “new age” crowd you find at the New York Open Center. Much to my surprise the poor man did manage a semblance of participation, if not too overly enthusiastic. The crowd reached a crescendo buzz, which was quickly annihilated as he walked off the stage and the house music came blaring back on.
A dozen multi-media screens hung around the Hammerstein Ballroom, continuously projecting bits and pieces of footage from old movies, 60’s media and forgotten TV shows for ambience. I didn’t do a head count, but I’d say about 1000 people half-filled the orchestra pit. It’s a big place, with three balconies, so there was a big sense of “space” around you, which played well for things to come, a foreboding sense of secret society meeting. The stage was adorned with a pedestal in guise of a speaker podium, a tall ivory tower capped with the horns of the Devil Girl emblem. At first it was a fun snipe at fascist political rallies, something right out of Mussolini’s wet fantasy or Nuremberg. But the joke wore thin as it quickly proved to become a boundary for the crowd. The us-and-them syndrome. Later in the day, a woman challenged the chauvinist symbolism of the logo and was hauled off by very uneasy security, which really didn’t know what to think of this gathering, surely something they’d never experienced before. I could see the organizers cooling down the muscle bound bouncers whose motto is well known” “If you don’t have fights, you don’t have good security!”
The theater was cool with it. Joe Coleman, a man who paints very disturbing visions, blew himself up on stage without a permit, throwing the first five rows into a panic of billowing smoke, scuttling photographers for cover, protecting their equipment. Joe made the cover of the arts section of the New York Times the following Monday for this antic, something most theater owners would use as an immediate excuse to shut down the show. Little mention was made of the horrendous autopsy footage playing at the time, showing a woman’s chest being sliced open and sown back together again.
Disinfo.com was run like a rock show, not so much a conference. Speakers came on, delivered their message, and disappeared backstage in the green room. A few of them ventured downstairs to sign books or exchange thoughts with their, dare I call them, “fans”. Disinfo.con was a hybrid. Part comic book, part X-files convention. And frankly, they pulled it off. Walls were erected between speaker and audience but they were paper tigers, never enforced. Although there was never a conscious effort on the part of the organizers to instigate study groups, you could see people huddle around fervently discussing strategy and the future of what has yes, become a “movement” these last few years.
It didn’t start with Fox and Scully. But it started when Chris Carter found a copy of the Whole Earth Review’s book Fringes of Reason and used every chapter to write his first season. It didn’t start with Mel Gibson’s Conspiracy Theory or Oliver Stone’s JFK, but it started with little conspiracy zines popping up like mushrooms all over the place in the late 80’s spurred on by the Church of the Subgenius’s Rev. Ivan Stang’s book High Weirdness by Mail and Factsheet Five, hooking up a dissident network and drafting the blueprint for the information revolution on the Internet. Before then, conspiracy writers and thinkers were confined to how far editors were willing to go to print “theories” and “speculations”. There was no room to grow for conjecture so journalists could actually get to the bottom of the stories. Look what Randolph Hearst did to Orson Wells. The zine revolution and the Internet broad-sided the Powers That Be and now they are scurrying to regroup with mega-mergers like AOL-Warner just so they can re-establish dominance on the medium. But it’s a bit too late…
That’s where Disinfo.com grabbed the ball and ran with it while nobody was paying close attention. Paranoia magazine had been invited by AOL to establish an online presence on the HUB in the mid-90’s, and worked for a year with them. But then AOL pulled the plug on the HUB, and left the state of online conspiracy journalism in disarray. In the meantime all the other conspiracy zines, like Steamshovel Press, were investing in computer hardware and software and launching their own sites. Disinfo started like that. Small! But they didn’t stay small for very long. It seems Richard Metzger’s New York City lifestyle hobnobbing with the fashion crowd positioned him a lot better than most other caged in conspiracy kook hiding in the woods of Montana, and he managed to raise considerable money from upstart .com services, like Razorfish, Pseudo and Scient to transform his website into a veritable online television station, peppered with interesting characters and correspondents. People who found out about the fun to be had, tuned in, and stayed tuned. Now Disinfo is a “real” TV show in Europe, and at the rate it’s growing, surely an America cable channel will make Richard an offer he won’t refuse.
What this means for conspiracy journalism is daunting. Because up until now, most if not all TV news shows that dealt with these kinds of issues, like suppressed technologies and UFOs, took on a position of disassociated tongue-in-cheek skepticism, never really investigating anything beyond the “goffo” factor. That’s what struck me Saturday, that this could really be the start of something new. Your average UFO community leaders did not organize this event. Neither did your average new age community leaders. Outsiders did, folks who usually spend their time listening to In Slaughter Natives and Art Zoyd instead of Kitaro and Yanni, but probably still think Britney Spears is OK, just cause she’s so butch! People from the New York dress-in-black, I want to look like Louise Brooks, school! Bettie Page bondage worshippers! Folks who feel industrial hemp “is” the solution to environmental problems, period! People who for years were too paranoid and cautious of each other to ever band together into a unified front. Still today there is extreme resistance and criticism of Disinfo to warrant undue premature excitement.
The backlash when something that has been lurking into the shadows becomes cool, and hip for downtown trendsetters to latch on to, as the next “marketable” ploy for mallrat t-shirts, is that old timers resent their sudden fame and exposure. Excuses are found not to lend new kids on the block credibility and support. Sure, there were few women on the stage, and half of them were butt naked in a parody the Doppler effect. But over a third of the audience was female, or “other”. Sure there was hardly any black faces to be found. Why? The entire African-American community is rife with conspiracy theory. Because of the "digital divide", there isn't one computer store on 125 Street! But a quick walk around the Apollo Theater, there are dozens of street vendors selling conspiracy books. So where are all these black writers hiding? There’s always been a dichotomy between white and black youth outside nightclub life. If there’s ever been an environment where this gap could be bridged, it’s in the context of something like Disinfo.con.
They were giving away chocolate downstairs by the mouthful. The sandwiches were expensive but they tasted good. People were having a fun. The atmosphere was loose and friendly. What more could you ask for? Richard, Peter Giblin, and all those who put on Disinfo.con did it because they wanted to offer something different that reflected their own questions about the world. They wanted to pick up where all these other shows left off, taking it for granted all the people who paid $100 to attend already knew just as much as they did. There was no condescendence or patronizing. The podium may have been high, but it was ridiculous, and everybody was in on the joke. The punk beehive mentality prevailed without the mosh pit. This felt like reflection after the storm. It’s like we’re here, now what? Let’s entertain each other but not lose track of why we came.
What will the ripple effect be? There was so much press there. How will this transcend into the mainstream? Will they feel threatened? A week before the event 60 Minutes 2 did an expose on all the e-commerce .com millionaires making it in Chelsea’s silicon alley. These are the folks who helped bankroll Disinfo.con . On 60 Minutes they came off as snide and superfluous, having no social conscience. But that’s how 60 Minutes portrayed them. The truth is always a lot more complicated. They are young, “hungry” for change, on a mission, and arrogant. They made money quickly having focused on one thing, and one thing only. Now they are thinking outside the box and starting to ask a lot of questions. Who better to ask questions from than Robert Anton Wilson?
Sure there was nobody in the audience walking around the room with a microphone like on the Phil Donahue show instigating participation. But it didn’t stop people from speaking up when they felt like it. The Disinfo Folks are not like Joe Firmage. His approach has been like being at a banquet, picking at dishes to formulate his own disparate Christ-complex vision of the world, and barely saying thank you on the way out. But at Disinfo.con we were all in on the joke, and nobody more than Grant Morrison got that point across.
I read comic books for the pictures. I rarely have time to actually read them. Who’s got time for fiction? So I didn’t know who Grant Morrison was. When he was introduced as the creator of The Invisibles, I confused him with the character in Transmetropolitan because he looks just like him! I was wondering when he would put on his red and green glasses. He jumped on the podium and screamed at the top of his lungs, piercing everybody’s eardrums, a really uncool thing to do. But he was quickly forgiven. He set the tone for the whole day by bringing everyone to everyone else’s level. We were all transfixed by this man’s rap, his thick Glasgow accent, his trip to Katmandu to meet the aliens, his assurance that we had already won, that nuclear bombs were natural, that the rich’s hierarchy of exchange and barter was the better system… For a minute frozen in time, it was all going to be OK, with no church to join.
Yesterday I asked my local comic book store about him and they gave me an article from the March 2000 issue of Wizard magazine saying Grant was quitting comics forever, saying DC treated him like “bacteria”. Well, if all else fails, he’s got a future as a motivational speaker. But something tells me he displayed a moment of inspiration spurred on by a critical transition in his life, and we were all mighty lucky to be there to witness Grant unload all his frustrations on us. He’s too cool to fancy himself the next Ron Hubbard! So don’t expect a repeat anytime soon. He’s more like Ken Wilber. Buy the videotape! The first compilation of The Invisibles in 1996 was subtitled: “Say You Want A Revolution”. I can’t wait to catch up on the whole series. Lord knows how many cosmic triggers he has hidden there waiting to be tripped.
What a contrast from Marilyn Manson appearing live direct from California who came off like Giant Head in Third Rock From The Sun. He sounded half-asleep, groggy, still hung up and pontificating about the Columbines debacle. I don’t think he had a clue what kind of audience he was addressing himself to. Had he been in the room with us he would have sung a whole different tune. Maybe he wasn’t listening when he was briefed about what kind of event Disinfo.con was all about. He was lit from just one side of his face, looking like the character Frank Gorshin played in the Let That Be Your Last Battlefield episode of Star Trek. I loved his new video about the JFK assassination, but he missed the boat when he didn’t have actress-girlfriend Rose McCowan playing Jackie crawl after the pieces of JFK’s brain bouncing off the trunk of the limo. I mean if you’re going to do it, do it right. His only memorable quote was: “Is entertainment killing our teenagers, or does killing our teenagers become entertainment?” which he said was on his website.
Psychic TV is a band I never had the opportunity to see live, so I didn’t have a clue who Genesis P. Orridge was before Saturday. What a “strange” human, sporting a full set of metal teeth. What a persona, half Georges Sand, half Oscar Wilde, cultivating hermaphrodite androgyny. I was too embarrassed to ask if this was indeed a man or a woman, and decided to relish in my confusion, turning Genesis’s entire rant into a surreal extension of Pat from Saturday Night Live.
The evening ended with just about everyone resurfacing from whatever little corner of the theater they had been hiding in to pay homage to the old Illuminati master himself, Robert Anton Wilson. July 23, 1973, the day he was visited by Sirius ETs, is also Monica Lewinsky's birthday! He made no bones about the onset of his fledging senility and how his mind was starting to play tricks on him. Leary and Burroughs are gone. McKenna is quietly slipping away in Hawaii. RAW is one of the last psychedelic thinkers of his generation. The subculture has few heroes because heroes cannot surface without media. The Excluded Middle is the title of a popular “conspiracy” zine. There are a dozen others worth reading on a regular basis, written by people who think seriously about getting to the bottom of life and political mysteries. Without heroes there can be no media focus, no investigative journalism, no resolution. Maybe Disinfo.con will provide a new beacon we can rally around without feeling exploited, so the excluded middle can finally have its own voice.
Paul Laffoley, who spoke about how Frank Lloyd Wright, inspired by Gurdjieff, designed Klatu’s saucer in The Day The Earth Stood Still, was staying in the room Nikola Tesla died in at the New Yorker Hotel: room 3327, on the 33rd floor. I wanted to take a picture of Paul inside the room, but we could not find a spare minute. How could we when the whole day we were being transfixed by antics not even The Daily Show or Tom Green would dare with, like a video of a guy dressed up as Ronald McDonald, doing a barfing routine in front of children, then getting arrested by the cops. A video of these retards setting their drunken uncle on fire with lighter fluid. Then there was the Montauk video about Preston Nichols, who Richard Metzger says looks just like Java De Hutt from Star Wars, luring teenagers to his broken down school bus for “Tantric” deprogramming. The whole day went from the sublime to the ridiculous.
I remember one scene from a silent movie showing in the background while a speaker had the stage. It was Joan D’Arc* burning at the stake, surely dating from before the moral code, with her face and her lips thrown back in a pornographic trance. She was in sexual ecstasy as the flames consumed her body. The peasants and clergymen looked on in lurid abandon. I hope it doesn’t come to this. (*Renee Falconetti in Carl Dreyer's 1928 La Passion De Jeanne D'Arc.)
I hope we don’t return to the days when the only way we can get our jollies is blood sacrifices! The miracle of Disinfo.con is that it was a celebration of extremes, and of our ability to sense fact from fiction, fantasy from reality. Disinfo.con was about looking at things straight on, without avoiding them, and come up with a strategy to make room for a new generation questioning authority, not just “make believe” non-conformity for TV commercials. It's ABC NO RIO, the experimental poetry theater surviving in alphabet city, gone upscale and uptown.
After eleven hours of full frontal mental assault, the crowd disappeared back into the night. Did something really new and fresh seed itself? Will there be reverberations? Or was it all just for “entertainment” purposes only. With a bit of luck, there surely will be another Disinfo.con next year. We’ll be able to assess the damage then.
Official Disinfo.con website:
250 out of the 830 were "guests"