Drew Burns

If I had to choose one glaring, inescapably infuriating aspect of the mindset of conspiracy theorists today (not the cool conspiracists like me, pre-9/11), it’s the absolute metaphorical violence they exact upon popular culture. The history, or what I could conceivably stitch together, of the media reterritorialization conspirative thinkers engage in is one of paradox and, at times, immanently tangible absurdity.

Paradox is not an unintentional phrasing. Paradoxers, as Augustus De Morgan dubbed them in his posthumously published Budget of Paradoxes, were crackpot pseudo-mathematicians seeking to “square the circle” and using various forms of shoddy logic to prove the veracity of their claims. In the 1872 text, De Morgan’s ghost distinguishes between paradoxes, claims with no proofs or insufficient evidence, to the fictions he also considered important. One such fiction, Hannah More’s widely popular Cheap Repository Tracts, were moral tales designed to shame transgressive lifestyles and politics. The schism between the two, paradoxes and fictions, would eventually refuse. Tracts went from moralist tales to religious doctrinal messaging and later a tool for religious conversion. Despite this transition, tracts were still wholly fiction. Paradoxes, convexly, remain inaccurate, yet earnest attempts to arrive at demonstrable laws of nature.

In his K-Punk blog, Mark Fisher wrote on capitalist realism and the nature of paradoxes. Fisher, discussing the intersection of politics and popular culture, his statements fit the purpose of understanding the conspiracist media consumer:

Paradox is also opportunity – someone, I don’t recall who, said that paradoxes are emissaries from another world where things work differently. If popular modernism’s attempts to resolve the paradox of political commitment and consumer pleasure now seem hopelessly naive, that’s more a testament to the disavowed depressive conditions of our current moment than a dispassionate assessment of the possibilities. In our world, so it would seem, popular culture’s embrace of consumerism leads ineluctably to the decomposition of class consciousness and the arrival of capitalist realism.

Connecting the concept of capitalist realism, whereby no other alternative system is conceivable, with the current iteration of conspiracist media creations provides the amalgam: the system is corrupt, but with class consciousness fully unrealizable, the only conceivable culprit must be that which is most visible.

Interlude: I click on a link that a conspiracist posts in a Jade Helm 15 Truth Facebook group in early 2016. The video is a masterful manipulation of the senses: jouissance, full bore. The sound, echoic minor chords slowed to an odd warble still slower than the ear could stand. The video: slash cuts of Lil’ Wayne, Jay Z, Bey, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, dancing, sticking out their tongues and covering one eye, juxtaposed with the suggestive text describing the real existing satanism it belies. Repeating the same three to five-second clip of a Lil’ Wayne video, sometimes rewinding and sometimes intercutting an enhanced close-up image to produce the proof that there be Illuminati in the squared circle of popular media. The belief that there are no accidents, a mantra among the conspiracist intelligencia, has both the Paradoxer’s insistence of a fully observable non-Newtonian universe, and the call-to-action to uncover the dastardly plot hidden in plain sight –  part of the Illuminati’s internal dictum to announce their plans, all too conveniently, within popular media imagery. The all-seeing eye of Providence comes into view as an image of Jay-Z making a triangle with his thumbs and index fingers gains opacity. Video blends Katy Perry and the Sigil of Baphomet so fluidly, you could swear it was intentional. The photo montage of the one-eyed celebrities fuels the eerie shuddering thought that it all might be true. They learned the golden rule of evocative audiovisual persuasion, the very one I barely glommed onto after four years in film school: show, don’t tell.

Similarly, the writing of these historico-poltical paradoxers follows a nomadic sensibility. Though it may seem formulaic: current-event-plus-cherry-picked-Bible-verse-equals-Antichrist has evolved into a Golden Age of rhetorical loose association Bingo. The interconnections of homonyms, spectres of samizdat, and Cold War implications meld metaphor and meaning until mitosis, forming the Illuminati’s ouroboros. All media is processed through the conspirative decoder to further solidify the totalization of all things into the Illuminati metanarrative.

Paradoxers, in this aesthetic and literary context, are bricoleurs. Juxtaposition is not simply an aesthetic maneuver but an ideological one as well. The conspirative mindset has variably attracted an uneven rotation of ideologies. The tune of the paradoxer is awash with contradictions; from the sometimes-somber tones of transhumanist techno accelerationism to the screech of the chord change on the acoustic guitar of the guy that came to the bonfire to talk about Satan’s immanence. Many a well-meaning truther wook, entranced by the cyclonic motion from Zeitgeist to InfoWars, swirled and swayed to the tones of the ideological dark forest as 9/11 conspiracies shifted from utopianism to a decidedly alt-right timbre. Caught far out to sea, capsized, they found themselves gasping, dragged by fellow travelers swimming to Arizona Bay to escape their own fanged Ænima.

Fiction is no longer fiction but woeful tidings of future skullduggery. Where normative decoding sees a product, at worst, and wholesome faire at best, the paradox view is the hidden messaging that may be gleaned, if you squint your third eye. The initial message, the author’s encoding, rarely melds with the conspiracist decoding. At their apogee, the normative and transgressive decoding is so obviously disjointed that the latter is skeletally transparent – say, for instance, the future-proves-past conspiracy theory that Lilo & Stitch referenced PizzaGate. Sometimes, however, an embattled normative worldview meets transgression with a keen eye and the tenacity of a global elite siphoning money offshore. When this happens, it becomes a fight to the death. Here the transgressive reigns supreme, for it is not bound by mortal logics: it is immortal, omniscient, and omnipresent, capable of rewriting the laws of physics, and more importantly, able to traverse time and space to circumvent even the original intentions of the author of a text. They Live is a documentary. The Matrix is “the world, that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

There are seventeen commas in the preceding paragraph. The seventeenth letter of the alphabet is Q. There are no coincidences.

John Carpenter encoded They Live as an updated body snatcher flick, affixing Cold War paranoia to Reagan Era fauxtopian greed. The idea that the film would be folded into the worldview of Neoconservatism’s ideological grandchildren most likely never crossed his mind: being fully an intentional allegory of that very ethos.

Truly the more astounding reterritorialization, however, is of The Matrix. Only recently did Lilly Wachowski address the uncovered trans allegory of the Matrix films. Hidden in plain sight, one might say, considering characters such as Switch; “a man in the real world, and a woman in The Matrix,” according to Lilly. Writing on the topic for Netflix Films on Twitter, Andrea Long Chu explains; “Neo has dysphoria. The Matrix is the gender binary. The agents are transphobia. You get it.”

Every word of the paragraph above is anathema to the masculine hegemony of alt-Right, anti-trans, traditionalist conspiracists who, paradoxically, refer to their transition into the fascistic simulacra of “freethinking” wokeness as being #redpilled. The red pill was the conspiracist metaphor to launch a thousand (well, three or four at least) malapropisms; such as its antithetic #bluepill, the suicidal #blackpill, and the #Qpill denoting initiation into the Qanon conspiracy meta-theory.

Back in 2012, perhaps the best year to be a conspiracy theorist (the first 350 days or so anyway), I was only beginning my several year’s long conversion from avid 9/11 Truther and believer in a narrow swath of narrative greenspace that the movement claimed as its territory. Secretive as I am, I kept the fullness and bouquet of my conspiracist bloom a secret to those who had yet to take that particular phrenic path. At the time, the rhizome of loose conspirative associations was in existence, but its formation was threadbare and scant; comprised of hand-me-down threads from the last generation’s conspiracy theory fodder; JFK’s assassination, the Tuskegee syphilis study, COINTELPRO, MK Ultra, and the patchwork of Cold War anxiety and the paranoid style of American politics. The latter, once the basis for a hand-sewn backstitch forming the seams but now turned inside out to reveal the basting straight stitch that comes apart when you pull at the ends.

Don’t let me slide on past the 9/11 Truth ideology, or that trademark American paranoia, without mentioning anti-Semitism. Centuries before the founding of American jingoism, the European continent was awash in scapegoating the otherized. The blood libel, accusing Jews of using the blood of Christian children for ritualistic purposes, is still a readymade outrage generating trope; subsequently deployed upon Catholics, Muslims, and now the Elite Cabal (themselves a pastiche of everyone the #redpilled dislike). The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion; a hoax document purported to be the minutes of a Jewish cabal plotting to take over the world. By now, it should come as no surprise that “The Protocols,” which were cited as justification for the Holocaust, was itself a patchwork of plagiarized documents.

Now, all these textures and fabrics form a vast counterpane, the conspiracist’s patchwork map, rendered from whole cloth, embroidered with inverted decodings, transposed truths, and lined with ancient abominations that ruffle and flounce to obscure the fear that holds the garment together at the seams.

In another world, the mirror world outside of capitalist realism, the paradoxers’ squared circles reveal only truth. Concerned citizens confront corrupt systems directly rather than demonizing their pop star proxies, racial and ethnic minorities, and the euphemized stock of readymade scapegoats. A world where corporations are not people, immortal, also cannibals. What might the parallax reveal in the difference between our two worlds?

This, paradoxically, is the world simulated in the clear-cut denouement of nearly every action-adventure movie, whether it’s the buddy cop, lone crusader, or team-of-misfits-that-comes-together-in-the-end variety. Precisely what does not happen at the end of They Live, when the mask comes off the polite Neoconservative societal veneer revealing the alien grotesquery beneath. With no resolution, the viewer is left to imagine the future as the credits roll. Does humanity revolt against their extraterrestrial Illuminati overlords, or get back to work and pull themselves up by their bootstraps after the initial shock subsides? A third option, more sinister than the alternatives, is the one I see today: humanity is prismatized; one faction fighting a losing battle against the inhumane, another siding with their overlords while proclaiming that “the other side” is the real cabal, a third begging for unity between the two, and so on. Each with their own set of glasses, collimating; variably blocking spherical and chromatic aberrations and enhancing others.

John Nada (the non-name given for Roddy Piper’s character in They Live) is the personification of masculinity; simultaneously toxic and heroic, his character arc taking him from homeless drifter to savior of all humanity. Neo, according to co-creator Lilly Wachowski, is transgender and the struggle with the matrix is one of gender dysphoria. Both complete the messianic rite of self-sacrifice, each to save their conception of humanity. Both are also choice fodder for conspiracist bricolage; albeit after they are stripped of such ideological impurities as authorial intent. Nada, the singular hero refusing to obey. Neo (One), experiences a spiritual transition while in Mobil (Limbo) Ave. before choosing to return to the matrix propositioning the Deus Ex Machina after flying into Machine City on a hovercraft dubbed Logos. Here are all the elements of pastiche again; language games, references pregnant with multiple contradictory meanings, anagrams and historical references hiding truths that they might be seen with minimal effort. Still, while it might be perfectly clear that there are hidden meanings, those meanings are open to interpretation.

Thus, like the post-trilogy MMORPG The Matrix Online, one might view Neo’s sacrifice as an opportunity for primitive freedom from the matrix and cause for acceleration, such as the implicit goal of the E Pluribus Neo faction. Another group, the Cypherites, enraged by Neo’s terrorism, bitterly seeks a return to cybernetic bliss. The combatants both view their path as the universal true freedom, and wholeheartedly seek to impose their will upon all others. Whether or not this massive multiplayer war without end is rendered apocryphal by the release of the fourth Matrix movie, it may well be taken as another invitation to decode hidden meanings in popular media. Is this the post-Capitalist future? Should we expect the war of all against all: with the key players being the anarcho-primitivists and the Neo-neocons? At the very least, this is outside of the author’s stated message. Of course, that never stopped anybody.