Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Hidden Hysteria

Journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger was set to be in Santa Fe next week for a speaking engagement and the U.S. premier of his latest film, The War You Don’t See. - photo courtesy carlton television

My, my, my. Sometimes I regret getting the high speed internet here in New Mexico. When we only had dialup, it hardly mattered what was going on among the internet denizens, since I couldn't visit very many sites -- given slow loading and all -- and I couldn't fret too much over this or that, either.

But after the old laptop died, I decided to have Qwest do their thing, and sure enough, at the appointed hour the newer wireless enabled laptop -- that I can take all over the house and outside and everything -- fired right up and with only the slightest jiggling, connected to the now "blazing fast" internet. Oh. Dear. Now I could go pretty much anywhere on the WWW, just as fast as I pleased, and I could even see streaming videos for the first time at this house. (Needless to say, I had to watch local Albuquerque boy Neil Patrick Harris host the Tonys... Somehow I know that show business bug will never leave me...)

While that's pleasing, what I notice is that I spend way too much time surfing the internet now that it goes fast, compared to the very limited time I spent (mostly emailing; old-fashioned, right?) on dial up. So I run into all sorts of things that get me more or less annoyed, astonished or OUTRAGED!!!!™.

Such as for example the psyops video I posted yesterday. I wouldn't have seen it at all if it hadn't been posted at Willyloman's Place (much as I would not have seen the recent Adam Curtis series if "Willy" (Scott) hadn't posted them.) But if I didn't have the high-speed, I couldn't have watched them.

And then I got to thinking: what has been gained now that I have watched them? They confirmed what I either already knew or believed on the one hand, and they expanded on those core beliefs on the other, throwing new information or additional information into the mix. On one level, this is good. On another, I'm not so sure.

The question I ask is, "What can you do now that you know?" That's always the dilemma, isn't it?

Willy (Scott) has been going on about the recent psyops use of straight male bloggers (somehow this relates to Neil Patrick Harris's opening number for the Tony's but I won't go there yet) to impersonate lesbian female bloggers being abused horribly by the Dastardly Syrian Regime. This has to be one of the more bizarre uses of sockpuppetry in recent times, but it should be clear to anyone by now that "sockpuppet armies" are deployed all over the internet.

False identities are as much a feature of the internet as cute cats, porn and racy stuff of all kinds, and endless argument over trivia. Sockpuppetry is supposed to be one of the worst things internet users can engage in, and yet it is so common as to be routine, and it should be expected.

I myself have a number of identities on the internet, though I tend to use only one pseudonym at each site. I cannot think offhand of any site at all where I have used more than one at a time, and for the most part, I've consolidated other identities under the Ché Pasa banner and use it consistently. Of course it is not my real name, but on the internet that hardly matters. By using a consistent pseudonym, one is essentially establishing an internet identity that is as solid as almost anything you'd establish with a bank or utility company, or, for that matter, among friends and relations.

But a pseudonym and a sockpuppet are hardly the same thing. There are sites I'm familiar with where the "discussion" -- such as it is -- is primarily a factor of perhaps half a dozen or fewer people "and their armies of sockpuppets" holding forth, picking at one another's scabs and arguing endlessly over nothing. And getting nowhere. Of course, when it is the same person using different sockpuppet identities the "argument" is really a pretense. There is no real argument, in other words. And of course there are the plants, whether from political parties or from other unnamed shadowy interests, who attempt to hijack or "guide" discussion in preferred ways or simply state the Talking Points of the day. It's just a fact of life in internet fora, as it has been for ages. You deal with it -- or not as the case may be. You reach the point where it doesn't really matter, because in this country, at any rate, the internet is primarily a matter of entertainment, not action or even education.

Most entertaining to me are the posters on "lefty" political sites who insist that they "will never vote for a Democrat again!!!!111" "I'm so mad at these damn, dirty, Dems, I'm going to vote straight Republican ticket this time!" Sure, right. The whole point of this kind of post -- the only point, really -- is to plant the seed in otherwise loyalist Dems and relatively swayable Indies that the answer to their disappointment with the Dems (and who isn't disappointed except the Dem consultants?) is to vote R. That'll show 'em! I laugh to scorn.

Obviously it works sometimes, such as the 2010 elections when Dems and Indies stayed home in droves rather than vote for the ever-so-disappointing Dems, thus ensuring a rather spectacular R victory in election after election.

This is all routine online political psyops. It's done all the time.

But while I was checking out various sites this morning I came across something that struck me as pernicious (not that the psyops just described isn't also pernicious.)

It was a reference to "censorship" by the Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe for the cancellation of John Pilger's appearance (scheduled for today) to discuss media and war, and to premier his new film "The War You Don't See."

Pilger himself went into full hysterical mode in an Open Letter to Noam Chomsky -- that'll get the civil liberties base riled, ne? -- over the shocking treatment he had endured:

What is deeply disturbing about the ban is that it happened so suddenly and inexplicably: 48 hours before David Barsamian and I were both due to depart for Santa Fe I received a brief email with a 'sorry for the inconvenience' from a Lannan official who had been telling me just a few days earlier what a 'great honor' it was to have the US premiere of my film at Lannan, with myself in attendance.

And then he goes on:

Neither David Barsamian nor I have been given a word of explanation. All my messages to Lannan have gone unanswered; my calls calls are not returned; my flights were cancelled summarily. At the urging of the New Mexican newspaper, Patrick Lannan has issued a one-sentence statement offering his regrets to the Lannan-supporting 'community' in Santa Fe. Again, he gives no reason for the ban. I have spoken to the manager of the Santa Fe cinema where 'The War You Don't See' was to be screened. He received a late-night call. Again, no reason for the ban was forthcoming, giving him barely time to cancel advertising in The New Mexican, which was forced to drop a major feature.

There is a compelling symbol of our extraordinary times in all of this. A rich and powerful individual and organization, espousing freedom of speech, has moved ruthlessly and unaccountably to crush it.

Oh. Well. I see.

The issue is not the cancellation. The issue is the lack of an explanation. There is apparently not even the courtesy of letting Pilger know sotto voce why his appearance is being canceled.

This would be considered somewhat irregular in a show business context: usually the reason for the cancellation of an appearance or a show is noted somewhere by someone, if not necessarily publicised. That the featured individual has just gone back to rehab, for example, may not be stated, nor may the fact that some mucky-muck behind the scenes had a spat with the featured individual be made clear, or so on and so forth, but a reason of some sort is usually provided. In this case, there was apparently nothing at all forthcoming from Lannan, just: "Bye!" No show, no story. Nothing.

According to Pilger's Open Letter, not even the local paper could get a reason out of Lannan.

All very odd. And so Pilger, who claims to be friends with Patrick Lannan -- who ordered the cancellation personally -- went into hysterics, which in turn caused mass hysteria among observers, over what they saw as and thought was "censorship."

The absence of any explanation at all from Lannan was the unresolved issue. So yesterday, Patrick Lannan issued a rather snotty statement that explained that after months of promotion, the Foundation had only sold 152 tickets to the event at the Lensic, and the Foundation (ie: Patrick Lannan) did not believe it was worthwhile to present the event to so few people. Canceling Pilger's appearance at the Lensic meant canceling the American film premier at another venue in Santa Fe as well. Too. Bad. Harrumph. "The Foundation will have no further comment on this issue." Good. Bye.

Having been presented with this sort of dilemma myself on occasion when I was a producer of events and shows, and having canceled a couple of them for similar reasons, I'm nevertheless stunned at Lannan's apparent venom and lack of any explanation to the talent, let alone to the public, until long after all hell had broken loose.

WTF? Lannan has been in the presenting business for a long time and should know the basics of how you handle problems like this positively and productively. If it had been me, assuming I was contractually obligated to pay the talent no matter what (which appears to be the case here), I would have gone ahead with the presentation, no matter how few tickets were sold, and I would have eaten any losses (which in this case are substantially more than just the talent fees), because I believe the event was more important than sales, and I would have papered the house if I had to. To cancel based on lack of sales, for something like this, is really very strange. And to do so without any explanation at all is truly bizarre.

Is this a case of official interference? I have no way of knowing. Is Pilger's hysteria warranted? That's hard to say. The failure is Lannan's, for not explaining anything at all until long after the damage was done. And then only explaining partially and publicly, and still apparently not to Pilger personally and directly.

This is just not how you do these things.

So while it may not warrant hysteria, it is a mystery that needs some further exploration.

Nevertheless, apparently these sorts of things are common enough on the "controversial speaker" circuit that one really does have to wonder about the Hidden Hysteria of suppression of ideas and speech by The Powers That Be.

If this were the Soviet Union, in other words, one would assume official interference. But it's not. So what is really going on?

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