The truth hurts. Only problem is, it's getting harder and harder to determine what makes up the proverbial pain bringer. Facts used to be the foundation of all truth, but over the course of time, the reliance on what really happened to jazz up the truth was shoved aside for more creative certification methods. Like a mass media game of Telephone, our current journalistic integrity is awash in plagiarism, falsehood, and purple monkey dishwasher spin. Now, this is not a new ideal. From Hearst's infamous yellow coverage to Murdoch's multinational 24-hour cable corporate con job, the news is not so much a reflection of truth (itself already removed from reality) but instead centers almost exclusively on what sells. This eon's old battle between accuracy and advertising caused Mark Twain to cajole such verity-warping practices. "Get your facts first", he wrote, "then you can distort them as you please". Today, infotainment merely does away with the accuracy middleman and serves up the second-hand speculation in more and more magical, indoctrinating ways. Media guru Marshall McLuhan is famous for his prophetic "the medium is the message" quote. But even that savvy savant couldn't have foreseen a time when non-events like the Scott Peterson murder case would receive non-stop pre-determination from round-the-clock pundit powered programming.
So it comes as no surprise that when it was finally viewed by the Head Honchos at USA Networks, Inc. (owners of the woefully mislabeled Sci-Fi Channel) the UK TV series Disinformation formed a tight tension headache around their controversy free-coffers that had to have taken several showers, a gaggle of high priced shysters and a gross of sedatives to eliminate. The conglomerate had purchased the program, hoping to add a bit o' British irreverence and silly social satire to their 'too cool for school' self-concept. What they got instead was an enigma; one that acted like a television newsmagazine pumped up with enough alternative counter culture propaganda to resurrect the Weather Underground.
This masterpiece of a DVD presentation consists of two discs. The first contains the four original shows in the series, all culled from the British version and revamped and reconfigured for American television. The second disc is a four-hour overview of the 2/19/2000 Disinfo.Con held at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. Like a no-nonsense news magazine, a typical 50 minute episode of Disinformation contains several "stories", the subject matter of which can be viewed in this individual breakdown of the installments:
Show 1: Best of Both Worlds (She-Male Porn)/ Joe Coleman/ Outsider Music/ "In Canada" Music Video/ Brice Taylor/ Uncle Goddamn/ Salvador Dali Alka Seltzer Commercial/ Brother Theodore
Show 2: Satanism/ Paul Laffoley/ Brother Theodore 2/ The Fetish Ball/ Surveillance Camera Players/ Uncle Goddamn 2/ The Montauk Project
Show 3: Kembra Pfahler/ Rocket Boy/ Grant Morrison/ Brother Theodore 3/ Radionics – Duncan Laurie/ Paul Laffoley – Thanaton III/ Uncle Goddamn 3/ The Sex Lives of Robots
Show 4: Extreme Pornography/ Miser Awesome/ Genesis P-Orridge/ Norbert Kox/ Uncle Goddamn 4/ Brother Theodore 4
On Disc 2, the speakers featured at the Disinfo.Con are as follows:
Richard Metzger/ Douglas Rushkoff/ Grant Morrison/ Adam Parfrey/ Kenneth Anger/ Marilyn Manson/ Joe Coleman/ Kembra Pfahler and the Girls of Karen Black/ Robert Anton Wilson
Disinformation, the media-blitzing brainchild of writer and cultural critic Robert Metzger was ripe with bodice-ripping confrontation from the very beginning. It dared to un-closet Satanism, de-mystify vast international conspiracies, and championed the worlds of both she-male and extreme pornography. Artists with severe visions were allowed to vent their hallucinogenic private Hells, complete with graphic depictions of their psychotic skills. It even out Knoxville'd Johnny by featuring film clips from a domestic cassette atrocity, the funniest home video as snuff film known as Uncle Goddamn. Between in-depth discussions of religious iconography and the popularity of "outsider" music, it was a series that never understood the boundaries of cultural significance. For every intelligent, philosophical entity that espoused their beliefs, a bunch of inbred hillbillies would be shown lighting their drunken Uncle on fire. Let's face it; any show, which believed that former Late Night with David Letterman ranter Brother Theodore needed his own Andy Rooney routine was probably living dangerously and needed to be silenced.
Much like John Carpenter's underrated cautionary tale, 1998's They Live, Metzger and his merry band of cyber slicks saw the media monster plastering the planet with its predetermined pus and decided to fashion an antidote for mass marketed mediocrity. They did this by simultaneously celebrating and deconstructing the very notion of what truth is, and how it can be easily manufactured and manipulating. Using an ideological foundation forged outside of the normal boundaries, it molded the teachings of Alistair Crowley, the cult of Genesis P-Orridge, insane redneck hi-jinx and Devo's theories on de-evolution into hour-long episodes of wild eccentricity. From its upfront rally cries ("Everything You Know Is Wrong" and "You Are Being Lied To") to the reliance on radical thinkers (and their thoughts) as the foundation of their policies, Disinformation is determined to disregard the rules of the game in order to rewrite the guidebook on media manipulation and responsibility. And it does so magnificently.
Cracking open the two-disc DVD set, one learns that Disinformation is a lot like reading a copy of the Weekly World News as written by James Randi and the staff of The Skeptical Enquirer. It's an incredibly entertaining and enlightening six-hour mindf*ck that hopes to show you how all the news is not fit to print...and how some of the most important never gets printed at all. It does so by featuring some of the most brain-changing, cortex cracking tall tales to not be referred to as urban legends. A good example of Disinformation's raison d'Etre can be summed up in the Brice Taylor installment from Show 1. Ms. Taylor claims to have been a sex slave for the CIA, under the pimping auspices of Bob Hope. While servicing the sexual needs of leaders worldwide, she was asked to have Ronald Regan's genetically engineered love child. Why? Because Queen Elizabeth plotted with the US government to forge such a double helix superbaby. Presented in a matter of fact, "I am not insane" fashion, you are at first drawn in by the Jerry Springer meets Lyndon Larouche nature of her allegations. Then a former FBI "agent" is interviewed and he confirms her story. The doubts suddenly start to ebb. You sense her sincerity and even begin to ponder the possibilities that there...maybe...some truth...to what she is speaking of. And then the segment is over. No punchline. No knowing nod or wink to the audience to indicate if it was all a joke or not. As Metzger says during the shows introduction, "If you don't wonder if we're making this stuff up, then we're not doing our job". Such an ambiguous, multi-layered statement sounds more like a threat than a promise. But that is Disinformation in a nutcase shell.
There are other installments here that also initiate the borderline balderdash warning systems. The self-proclaimed "craziest conspiracy theory ever" known as The Montauk Project, is described in great detail by the unsettling Preston Nichols. Montauk refers to a now-defunct Long Island military base that supposedly housed experiments in time travel. The "system" used a sexually aroused psychic as a means of splitting the space/time continuum. With the possibilities portal opened, government spies were sent to literally screw with history. One temporal agent was even sent back across the epoch's to pilfer the blood from a dying Jesus in order to clone him. The resolute seriousness with which these events are explained is surreality at its best. Then there is Duncan Laurie and his droning, near incoherent explanations of his "illegal" experiments in Radionics, a science that is supposed to channel the vital energy patterns of all living things to, somehow, do man's bidding. Laurie believes that by listening to plants and how they "speak" to each other, we can somehow explain crop circles (!?) and make nature our slave. We are even taken ringside to the on-going power struggle between modern Satanists. Mafia-style, the five reigning 'families' in Beelzebub's business of Bad are infighting and splintering over, of all things, morality. Certain factions want to reach out to "Christians" to help them see the errors of their fundamentalist ways and convert to corruption. Others want no part of God's goodness as it messes with their pro-damnation message.
The fact that Montauk may just be a cover for Nichols "de-programming" techniques - which require him to touch young naked men - or that the disagreeing Devil worshippers act like Goth kids who didn't get tickets to the Bauhaus reunion tour means that there must be an underlying agenda to Disinformation's reporting. But if it has one, the show and its host never really let on. In this series, everything presented is factual and accurate. It is also so insane as to scream scam. And this may just be Metzeger's point about the media in general. After all, if he can make a man who believes that the next housing boom will be domiciles we can grow from seeds -- and this was information given to him by visiting aliens...and he's drawn architecturally-sound schematics for such a dwelling -- seem like a right sensible bloke, then why can't the official press make the War on Drugs into an international imperative? Metzger understands the old idea that the more times you tell a lie, adding layers of "proof" and professionalism to the fib, the more readily the rube will believe in it, even if 'it' is describing a masturbating mentalist that can send DNA detectives back in time to cross Christ's chromosomes.
When it's not in the self-referential zone of the zany, Disinformation is still a fascinating look at the almost-famous. Not everything here is hearsay horsesh*t shoveled up to the viewer's nostrils for a nice strong whiff. Mixed in with the 'lost-in-their-own-cosmos' crackpots are such hilarious highlights as an exposé on outsider music (public access performers proving that rhythm, song craft and musical skill are not universal) and the sad, pathetic fame-seeking life of Roy "Mr. Awesome' Shildt. This self-created "superhero' whose clinging claim to celebrity is the fact that he is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest score ever on the video game Missile Command, just won't realize that, not only are his fifteen minutes of fame up and over, but he never really had any allotted time to begin with. Performance artists like Kembra Pfahler (famous for the self-esteem saving act of sewing up her vagina) and Joe Coleman get a chance to explain their aggressive, angry expressions of identity. Along with graphic design demons like Grant Morrison (whose comic book The Invisibles becomes an instant must-read) and Paul Laffoley (using an abduction in a UFO as a guide to his architectural anarchy) Disinformation gives individuals without a mainstream platform to voice their underground grumblings. Perhaps the most profound and prophetic individual featured is artist Norbert Kox, who creates Apocalypse-themed oil-based tantrums that directly challenge Christianity's teachings. A devote believer, Kox turns tradition on its head by morphing the classical image of Jesus into joking, jester images of the Antichrist.
Yet the mind-blowing best is yet to come. The most enigmatic episodes focus on a hillbilly hi-jinx tape entitled Uncle Goddamn. Think of it as Jackass Daniels: a sick, vicious slapstick of the soil, completely devoid of slacker irony and loaded with bad taste moments of Appalachian sadism, and you just begin to scratch the surface of this genuine jaw-dropper. Uncle Goddamn is basically the videotaped journals of a pack of white trash trailer park alcoholics who wait until their uncle, their father or their friends get drunk. Then they light the inebriates on fire. Usually on the head or groin. Over and over again. Flammable fluid in hand and camcorder at the ready, this revolting, revolutionary video concurrently repulses as it realigns the entertainment universe single-handled. Uncle Goddamn is a test, a means of monitoring whether our Warhol-based fame society is ready for bumpkins committing near-fatal random acts of arson on each other for the sake of a supposed laugh. Like a car crash accented with dead puppies, this is must-not-see TV for the videodrome generation. Call it Mondo Moonshine or Faces of Dorks, but this is the true essence of reality TV taken to its most logical, ludicrous ends.
Not everything here is so outrageous, engaging or easily entertaining. The intense amount of ideological monologuing in Disinformation can be daunting, especially on Disc Two (though technically a "bonus" to The Complete Series DVD, it is too important to be separated from the show itself). Featuring four and one-half hours out of an 11-hour 'cyber-palooza' organized by Metzger, we are suddenly center stage at the longest, most non-linear lecture series ever attempted. After the first two hours, you can literally feel the synapses in your brain disconnecting. It's not because what the speakers have to say is so foreign or anti-consciousness raising. Just call it the 'captive audience' syndrome. The Disinformation-sponsored preachers plan to give the pre-paid customers their untold hours worth of sermonizing. Frequently, the need for an editor (either personal or cinematic) is painfully clear. Douglas Rushkoff has some very interesting and profound things to say regarding the battle between the establishment and the counterculture (he is declaring reluctant revolutionary victory), but his start-stop rambling incoherence nearly derails the rally cry. The same can be said for conference "headliner" Robert Anton Wilson (author of one of Disinformation's main treatises, Cosmic Trigger). His speech is filled with the kind of plain talk profundity, all 'us vs. them' endemics that absolutely mesmerizes you. But then he constantly wonders off-script, unable to keep his head out of his pants as he constantly obsesses on blowjobs (this material dates from the height of Monica-gate). Even elusive Hollywood Babylonian Kenneth Anger is here. But anyone hoping for analysis of his unusual body of film will be gravely disappointed. He has a pro-Crowley stance to sermonize about (as does most everyone here) and that's about all he wants to discuss.
Unless you are in tune with the whole pro-Wilson, viva la Alistair ideological chant, Disinformation can occasionally feel like a mental costume party that someone forgot to tell you was a masquerade. Metzger never plays down to the audience. He expects viewers to pull themselves up by their medulla oblongata and immediately get into it. Sometimes, it can be as easy to grasp as a truck driver's love handles. Other times, you feel like you're sitting through a fourth, unsuccessful re-read of Godel, Escher, Bach. And there is the sinking suspicion that Disinformation, for all its high-minded middle fingering of the media establishment is just shilling in the same manner as the big boys. McLuhan noted, "In the name of progress, our official culture (strives) to force the new media to do the work of the old." Perhaps Disinformation buys into this dogma, hoping to push product (books, DVDs, websites, etc.) by using the same old sales tactics. After all, the pornography sequences feature explicit material (everyone knows sex rules retail) and the aforementioned affinity with Uncle Goddamn comes straight out of the culture's love of unbridled visualizations of violence. Once again the uncertainty here is ethos-straining and the eventual cerebral mobius strip created (real to fake to mainstream to rebellion) can turn your psyche upback downways.
Bright, commercial and as colorful as a pop art poem, Disinformation is a visual feast with so many fascinating elements that it's hard to pinpoint just one. The image is rich and the transfer is direct from digital video flawless. The creative use of footage, computerized graphics, clear cut design ideas and "found" objects means that this is one show that has as much going for it optically as intellectually. Though there is a heavy concentration on stark image juxtapositions and super-saturated hues, the 1.33:1 full screen transfer never falters. This is an outstanding production that looks great on DVD.
Again, this is a magnificent aural offering. The Dolby Digital Stereo captures the conversations and interviews perfectly and the use of inventive bumper music helps add to the sci-fi atmosphere of the show. Even when dealing with elements of varying quality (Uncle Goddamn is as homemade as they come, while some of the "outside" music gives the conditions in local cable access a very mediocre name) the mix is never muddled.
Since the bonus disc is really a necessary part to the overall Disinformation experience, it becomes a fantastic contextual extra. But there are also a couple of additional clips provided to flesh out just what made up the original Channel 4 offering. An amazing interview with Howard Bloom, author of The Lucifer Principle highlights what Disinformation does so brilliantly. A founder of Circus Magazine and music business executive (he worked with Prince, Bob Marley and a certain Michael Jackson, to name a few) Bloom believes in some higher order of consciousness, moving all organisms, from bacteria to human, en masse, toward some greater purpose. Listening to him explain his ideas while laying in bed (he is a long sufferer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) is pure informational bliss. Equally engaging is the other added sequence on this DVD set, a McTime segment with "disinformant" John Safran. Basically a boldfaced attack on McDonalds and its multi-national image, Safran's sentiments may be obvious, but the way he goes about them are pure Disinformation-style propaganda.
It is obvious then that Disinformation as a concept, as a entity encompassing its website (http://www.disinfo.com), its publications, its digital entertainment and its informational happenings, wants to be at the forefront of the coming 21st century future shock, to help educate those who Alvin Toffler resolved would be "illiterate", not because they "cannot read and write", but because they cannot "learn, unlearn and relearn". Metzger and his new world media messiahs see the cabal of truth as an ongoing struggle between creationist and Darwinist, the tech savvy and the luddite. He recognizes the stagnation in the system and proposes a new way of clearing the pipes. So understand that everything you know is wrong. Realize that modern television is brainwashing – after all, why do you think they call it programming. Its influence is universal and according to Disinformation, based on the sinister conspiracy of selective journalism. McLuhan warned that "(E)lectric technology is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing us to reconsider and re-evaluate practically every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted. Everything is changing: you, your family, your education, your neighborhood, your job, your government, your relation to the others. And they're changing dramatically." There is a profound experience to be had at the core of Disinformation, something life shifting, mind altering and belief busting. It may all just be selling you a new pair of rose-colored glasses, but the confusion within the modern media cosmos looks so much better through Metzger's miscreant lens.
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