Sunday, January 10, 2021

absurdities and atrocities

One of my favorite seasons of AHS was of course, Cult, and probably the most frightening one, although it is still to date the only one that has no supernatural elements in it at all.  (I would say my favorite is probably Hotel, though Murder House and Coven are up there, and the others emjoyable (all except the travesty that is Roanoke.)  While there are so many elements at play in other series--ghosts, vampires, demons, the apocalypse, serial killers, and more--the story of Cult is a simple one. Spuured by Trumps win, a young creepy, charismatic man somehow instills enough fear and influence to arrange a string of murders, blackmail local officials, and plan a massacre.  He is ultimately foiled by smart women, and I won't give it away, the final scene is one I sometimes return to as a catharsis to rage-filled men. He begins by making people afraid, then preys on it. 

I've always been a little fascinated by conspiracy theories, by the stories that take shape to impose order on the world and make it feel like net of carefully placed happenings and facts and not a chaotic swirling mass of randomness and chance  Alien autopsies, for example. Explanations for strange phenomena.  Untimley deaths and crazy historical coincidences.  They are fun to look at, less because I am seeking a pattern of order or cause/effect, but more that they are a way of understanding things, or at least the obsessions behind them.  A couple semesters ago, our Strange Fevers  Mass Delusions, Illusions, and Obsessions programming delved into this a little bit. 

I often think about how they go wrong.  Obviously the events of this past Weds. are a perfect example.  In my own work, the necessary violence series and the girls who tried to stab their friend based on Slenderman lore.  I think about these girls a lot when I think about politics. The mental illness in one girl who influenced another, and it's not hard to make the jump to political conspiracies and the inevitable bad outcomes.  These are everywhere and inscribed in our history long before the current ones--McCartthyism, the Satanic Panic of the 80's. All usually fueled by someone's agenda--the goverments, men who wanted working women to stay home and keep an eye on their kids. .  A lot of the mythmaking of these was believable..communist infiltrations of Hollywood and the media, missing housepets,  the rise of latch key kids getting up to god knows what in the off hours. Most not things one had to stretch their imagination too far into the absurd to get to, which made things all the more believable.

At some point, contemporary conspiracies got crazier.  Even alien abduction lore is easier to believe than a lot of what is floating out there.  Satanic politicians, baby eaters, lizard people.  I've watched over the past year as these things filtered into social media of the more mainstream-oriented people I know.  (My circle is mostly writers, artists, and academics, so much of what I see i, obviously,, liberally slanted and far more sane.  Every once in a while, things would filter through from relatives feeds.  The antifa busses during the BLM protests, discussions of democratic pedophile  rings (yesh, ignoring the very obvious out in the open  Eptsein one I'm pretty sure is holding a lot of puppet strings right now.)  Sometimes, the person who was posting it had no clue where these phrases and hashtags were coming from.  The smarter ones eventually learned to check their sources more carefully.  The others, not so much. 

In those moments I could see how misinformation spreads before you even kind of know it's there.  Rumor becomes fact, wild claims become theories.  I think it takes a certain kind of brain to succumb to these so easily, but maybe everyone is looking for that net of cause and effect and that is what makes it so dangerous when it goes awry.

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