Good Griefers: Fortuny v. Crook

In the easily spoofed "reality" of the online griefing biz, it's difficult to know the difference between authentic actions and ones that are done merely for publicity, particularly when the publicity-seekers don't have a whole lot of regard for their own reputations.

Jason Fortuny and Michael Crook, who both conducted sex-baiting, privacy-killing pranks on CraigsList, are currently feeding what seems to be a new phase in the lifecycle of the meme. In the process, while trying to turn "bad attention" into revenue streams, they're throwing insults at one another, as well as taking considerable rebuke from various sources.



Fortuny had baited hapless doofuses by pretending to be a woman seeking rough sex. In a blustery online interview last month he taunted his victims, saying his detractors had failed to prove his prank was illegal, and crowing that "I'm still alive... No one's killed me, no one's tried to kill me..."

But last week on his blog he posted a scan of a beautifully handwritten letter, signed, "Mom."
You are my son, and I will always love you; but I don't respect the person you have become. You'll never get the chance to play us again. You're wrong, Jason, to play with people's minds or emotions; and don't push buttons.

I do wish you well.

Good Bye, Mom

Comments of condolence quickly turn to his September notoriety as well. ("Your mom ditched you in a letter?" "Maybe she thought an email would get published on the net and it was safer.") After an earlier post where Fortuny noted he'd been unable to identify his biological father, someone suggested he simply post an ad on CraigsList looking for one. One poster even suggests that the letter itself was another prank. ("Jason has already proven he will do anything for attention," another commenter adds.)

But Fortuny continues to bait his critics. In a mock advice column to future CraigsList prankers, he writes, "Don't worry about lawsuits. They won't happen. Don't worry about getting stalked or beaten. Not gonna happen." Fortuny published what he says are hate mails in response to his prank, including one scolding email from a lawyer in New Jersey. Another blogger claims to have contacted Seattle's prosecuting attorney, and received a response that, "there is no violation of our state criminal code involved here, yet."

Fortuny identifies the experience as "the peace corps of attention whoring: the toughest spotlight you'll ever love."



Meanwhile, Fortuny found himself sharing the spotlight with second-string sex-baiter, Michael Crook. Word of Fortuny's prank had reached Crook in upstate New York, inspiring him to also post fake ads on CraigsList forums two weeks later, again pretending to be a young woman seeking casual sex. By last Sunday the Las Vegas Sun had apparently confirmed Crook's aggressive coaxing of emails and photographs from his victims, including from one married man in Las Vegas. According to the paper, Crook then made taunting phone calls to the man's wife, and to managers and the CEO at the company where he worked. For his antics, Crook was served with an injunction in late September, according to the newspaper, and within days Crook had taken down his site.

Crook's own blog had gloated instead that he'd sold the domain (CraigsList-perverts.org), and he'd added sassily that it meant "the guys that were on there were literally bought and sold." The domain's registration did change — to a fake phone number in New Jersey belonging to a TV station, and a fake address belonging to a group of physicians. A Yahoo.com email address associated with the domain belongs to "Nightshadow Productions," though when contacted they'd claimed plans for "the same busts, as well as the results from at least 15 new busts, some of which are currently going on." Suspiciously, CraigsList-Perverts.org still shows links only to Michael Crook's own sites, and it still appears on a list of domains which Crook himself has for sale. (Its listing says craigslist-perverts.org will be offered free of charge to anyone purchasing CLPervs.org, for an asking price of $250.) Crook's boastful blog has been taken offline, though — replaced with instructions to search engines not to archive it. In an online forum he writes instead that, "It's difficult to get advertisers behind such a website, which is the primary reason I pulled out..." He says that he'd considered putting the site on a server outside the U.S., but, "It's just not worth it to me if I can't bring in the bucks."

CraigsList got involved, according to the Sun article, citing court documents where the popular web site alleges trademark infringement and harassment and threatens legal action against Crook unless he will "formally apologize" to each CraigsList victim. They also interviewed another of Crook's victims, a single 34-year-old homeowner who said he felt violated - and is "considering" hiring a lawyer. A spokeswoman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation even tells the newspaper that online pranksters "may be overconfident thinking that they might not go to court."

Crook responds on his web site, arguing he's too poor to be sued. "Judgments aren't a good thing, but when there's nothing to judge, i.e. nothing to legally put a lien on or seize, it's really a non-issue." He gloats that in any trial he'd use the sexy conversations as evidence, accomplishing "the very same thing these guys want to avoid... [E]verything would become public record, and it would likely wind up in the media, or at the very least under public scrutiny. "

He also bickers with Fortuny over which of them has kept more of their web material online, and argues that he's not ugly, but Fortuny is.

Into the drama comes a third character named "Mr Piss On Ya," a domain registered in Louisville, Kentucky which also matches the name of a Louisville "band" on a Garageband.com page. (Though two of their four tracks are recorded prank phone calls.) The "Mr Piss On Ya" domain shows only a picture of Michael Crook over a supposed transcript of Crook himself being baited into giving his phone number to a pretend online female. ("but what if my wife answers?") The transcript dates back to 2005, and was originally hosted on the fan site for a band called "Flaw" — also from Louisville.

There's no guarantee of its authenticity, and the content seems unusually damning and improbable. (At one point it has Crook saying his penis is "pretty small," and adding later that "I've been in 3 porn films...petite fuckers 1, 2, 3.") Crook had made himself a target for online revenge that spring, moving from an argument that America's soldiers were overpaid to incendiary comments like "Let 'em die in combat — we don't need their ilk in this country!" It's impossible to tell whether the revenge took the form of enticing a sexy chat transcript, or simply fabricating it.

But Tuesday night a tipster calling himself "[email protected]" gleefully forwarded the URL for the year-old web page to 10zenMonkeys, commenting that Crook "seems to have engaged in the same behavior he's calling himself a martyr by trying to expose." Three minutes later, someone calling themself "Michael Crook is a fraud" posted the same URL — in a comment on Jason Fortuny's blog.

Another comment appeared — less than an hour later — responding that the transcript "was long ago proven to be a forgery," and adding, "Fortuny doesn't care about facts, now does he?"



There certainly appears to be a private feud between the two online sex prankers. Fortuny linked to an article about copycat Crook, then made fun of Crook's hair. Someone calling himself "Michael Crook" then appeared in the comments, saying "you can crack wise and insult all you like, but you're the one who was molested as a child (by your own admission), and you're the one who posted about BDSM." (Adding: "And if you're going to insult my hair, get out of that glass house of yours. You're so ugly that my dog wouldn't barf on you.")

Perhaps it's a fitting end to the story: Two online griefers uncomfortably co-habiting the same meme, locked in endless arguments over their respective self-destructing reputations and posturing defensively for an imagined audience of fans and detractors. Or, God save us all, maybe this meme will simply never go away!

See Also:
The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
In the Company of Jerkoffs
Jason Fortuny Speaks
Craigslist Troll Gets Sued

What the F*ck is Wrong With the Japanese? (Nose Abuse Fetish)

Nose Suffocation

I'm not the first person to say this, but there's an open letter I have to get off my chest:

Dear Japan,

Please stop experimenting with your sexuality in public. It's starting to freak us out.

Love,
America


It's not that I think there's anything categorically wrong with Japanese people or their sexuality. I don't. In fact, I have a hard time saying there's anything right or wrong about fetishes or an individual's sexualization of anything. I don't think there's a "normal" when it comes to sex. And for the record, I don't think Americans are any less bizarre with our sexual fetishes. (You're soaking in it.)

But I have to admit, sometimes things I find on some obscure Japanese fetish sex sites make me want to jack off to horror films (more than usual, anyway).



Take for instance my most recent discovery of yet another deeply obsessed, overly specific Japanese sexualization of something I'd never thought of: closed nose fetish.

The site is ugly and the language barrier makes navigation confusing but let me take you by the nose hand with this overly, singularly, amazingly specific fetish, where women's noses are squeezed shut by their own hands or others, their noses are held under water in bathtubs, their noses are held shut with devices, and screengrabs from Japanese TV capture women mid-nose-closure, even if just for a second.
* Bathtub and water submersion nose-holding galleries.

* Big-tit, dick-sucking *nose holding* manga galleries.

* Japanese TV nose-squeezing screengrabs.

Dig a little deeper into the slightly disturbing recesses of this site and images emerge that make The Ring look like Jenna Jameson's latest girl-girl, fake-a-rama, feel-good film. And unlike other fetish sites I've come across in researching my Fetish Sex book, like one lovingly compiled head shaving image collection where there's nary an exposed titty in sight, there's no mistake that nose holding -- "nasal suffocation" -- is being sexualized here.

I supppose we should keep in mind that anything which turns someone on that's not in any typical catalog of things we culturally find "hot," is going to seem weird to some outsiders somewhere, like a freakish cabinet of throbbing curiosities. The hand of Darwin, when it comes to doling out what's arousing, tends to be a blind hand, sweeping some of us into panty-sniffing categories, or turning us into spanking enthusiasts.

On the one hand, no childhood accidents can ever be accurately tied to sexual fetishization -- it's all theory, mostly contrived by sex-negative people who want fetishists to feel bad about masturbating with stuffed animals. On the other hand, however, I just can't help but wonder upon finding sites like G-Nose, if Japan somehow didn't actually have some kind of painful sexual experience with their nose -- as a nation -- to become so into facial bondage. Did something bad happen to Japan's nose as a kid? What tickles a nation's collective ID in a particular way, to want to jack off to the contents of an entire office supply closet being applied to a pretty girl's face? Or drippy, stressful tentacle-nasal penetration scenes that don't really look like they're bringing the girls to... orgasm? I mean, perhaps the language barrier is preventing me from understanding that it's like Deep Throat and instead of the g-spot being pornologically located in the throat, it's really just up past a deviated septum, to the left or right -- don't worry, the tentacle will find it.

I guess ultimately it all means that I really should be more sex-positive, or open minded, about nose fucking. We all should.



See also: Sex for Memes' Sake.

Dan the Automator Remixes the Blue Angels

Dan The Automator
The unassuming young man in our San Francisco home studio, admiring the view and wearing the basketball clinic t-shirt, was none other than Dan The Automator Nakamura, possibly the coolest and most creative hip hop producer around today. Nakamura is simply responsible for the most surreal, humorous, eclectic, sci-fi, beat-driven music being produced these days. Some compare his contemporary position to the place Brian Eno held for so many of us in the 1970s and '80s, and the comparison is deserved although, as he tells us, he's still working on and refining his technique.

He produced The Gorillaz' first album, and he was the driving force behind Dr. Octagon with Kool Keith; Del Tha Funkee Homosapien; and he produced Cibo Matto's Stereo Type A — that's just for starters.

It was Fleet Week in San Francisco (yes, America's most un-American city does celebrate our military at least once a year), and The Blue Angels tried to shock and awe us with their aerobatics, buzzing MondoGlobo's hilltop studio and nearly strangling the sound repeatedly as we recorded the show. But after a while, we just thought of it as part of the mix.



Lisa Rein joined me as co-host for the show, and got Dan The Automator to talk about his participation in the Creative Commons; and Producer Jeff Diehl also contributed to that discussion.
To listen the the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: As somebody who watches some MTV, I've been wondering: Why do you think Damon Albarn is so happy about having sunshine in a bag?

DAN THE AUTOMATOR: You know, I'm not really sure exactly. That was an interesting one. With that particular song, we had gone through a whole slew of various lyrics to get there. The way we would work is, we'd create melodics and timing, and then words would come last. He's a really brilliant songwriter.

RU: And Del is a brilliant rapper.

DAN: Absolutely, Del's my favorite. Actually, there's a new Deltron record coming. We're probably gonna be done recording it by the end of December... So some time next year.

RU: All along you've been working with almost infinite options, in terms of the sounds that you might use; like you might have some really corny bit of advertising and you mix in avant garde jazz and classical and hard rock and everything else. Is there some method that you have for figuring out what's appropriate to a particular artist or a particular song? Is it entirely intuitive?

DAN: I'm a big fan of all the types of music you've mentioned. I'm not so much into modern R&B and modern country and modern jazz, but everything else — old country, old R&B, old jazz and even pop music from the old days through now — I'm a big fan of all that stuff. And I've followed people that don't pay much attention to categorizing music, who are eclectic about their influences. So when it comes to making records for myself, I don't look at it so much as "This is a jazz kind of thing," or "This is rock," or whatever. I just go, "This'll sound good."



RU: You were in some ways right on the forefront of this change. Before, everybody was oriented towards genres. Everything had to fit a genre. And at a certain point, people started mixing them all up, which was a great relief, because it gets tiresome.

DAN: I agree. I was influenced by the early stages of hip-hop. In hip hop, you have guys like Run DMC rhyming over rock beats or really electronic beats. Or you have another group like A Tribe Called Quest rhyming over jazz beats. That's how hip hop was, originally.

RU: It's really true that hip hop was sort of the first form that was very liberal about its use of all kinds of other things and putting it into the mix.

DAN: Just with Run-DMC, they had stuff over old Monkees records, over The Knack, Aerosmith...

LISA REIN: You donated a track to the Creative Commons — Relaxation Spa Treatment.

DAN: First of all, the Creative Commons thing — the whole idea was to give music that people could freely use and license. Part of what's going on right now in music, sampling — taking little bits of songs — it's become a very expensive endeavor. I don't mind the fact that it's expensive because if you're using someone else's work, you should pay for it. That's my personal opinion. If they don't want you to use it, that's their business. That's okay.

But on the other side, I worked with (DJ) Shadow — we made really interesting recordings. And it's like Musique Concrete, which you could never do at this juncture in time because it's too expensive. It can't exist. You're losing a form of music. So I felt like I would like to at least contribute to the side of things where — if people do want to use something, or chop it up, they can do that. The thought that goes into that kind of stuff can bring out new ideas. And that will bring about more different kinds of music. I'd hate to see that whole thing go away.

JEFF DIEHL: Don't most artists sympathize with that view? Isn't the copyright law now mostly protecting the record companies or labels; isn't it the corporations who want to protect this stuff?

DAN: Well, it's a little bit of everything. Ultimately, like I said, if you made it and you didn't want someone else using it, that's your business. You know what I mean? It's a very fundamental principle to me. I respect that.

JEFF: But that's kind of an old school mentality, right?

RU: I would say, as a writer, if somebody quotes a couple of paragraphs of mine in the context of something larger, then I don't really have the right to say anything about it. All literature and all writing is built on that.

LISA: But you might want attribution for it.

RU: If they pretended it was their own? I suppose you could have a point.

DAN: When it's a recording, it could be the guy's voice. Maybe he doesn't want to lend his voice to this project, so I respect that side of it. I have to say that I regret that you won't see records introduced like the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, because it's become too expensive to do. I'd like to see people contribute with things that people can use, chop up and change around.

When people sample me, sometimes I can't just clear it myself because it's through a label. But I always clear my side of it, because I feel like it's the same thing if you're using music in advertising. I don't really want to, say, advertise cigarettes or something like that, but pretty much anything else, I feel like it's okay because they're still bringing music out. And I feel the same way about someone using the music in a song. In general, I want people to have the ability to do something like that.

RU: In this context, what do you think about mashups? Have you had any of your songs used in mashups?

DAN: I've heard a few things hear and there. I come from a DJ background. Before we were making records, we were doing that all the time. I'm from San Francisco. We've been mixing all sorts of different music for years. It was part of the background that allowed me to get familiar with different kinds of music. So I don't find it to be refreshingly new, if you understand what I'm saying. But I'm glad people do it. But I also think the way some people do it; it's more for the idea of doing it than the sound... what comes out of it. I don't really enjoy those so much.

JEFF: The gimmick of taking two song titles that have the same word and then mashing them together...

DAN: Exactly.

RU: You seem to work entirely in terms of projects. Have you ever thought of trying to develop a solo career or forming a band?

DAN: There's one big flaw in that theory. I can't sing, I can't rhyme, and I like vocals.



RU: Do you relate yourself in any way to the idea of the great producer? There was Phil Spector and then Brian Eno.

DAN: I think they're operating on a higher level than I am, so far.

RU: Do you have trouble listening to the stuff that you've done in the past because you feel like it could've been better?

DAN: Well, I always feel like everything could've been better, but there's another thing involved — the ability to let go. I feel like records, movies, whatever — they're a snapshot in your development and in your life. I could still be working on Doctor Octogon right now. But some time, it has to go out there and live its life.

JEFF: Because theoretically, you could just continue to work on a project forever...

DAN: Exactly.

JEFF: Like software, you could release versions.

DAN: That's a little strange, but yeah. I feel like the edges are what make things interesting. If you listen to some of these bigger budget bands, it gets more polished as time goes on. And maybe you like the more polished version, but maybe you like the rawer versions.

RU: You choose some great surrealistic lyricists. Did you always have an affinity towards that?

DAN: I work with a lot of people who have, I should say, "alternate ways of thinking." And they find the most profound and most interesting ways of putting together lyrics. That's really enjoyable to me.

RU: You list your influences on your Myspace page. I wanted to just throw out a couple of them, because they were amusing and interesting. The BeeGees! Say what you love about the BeeGees.

DAN: Well, I was a little young when Saturday Night Fever came out. People kind of looked down on them for a couple of reasons — it was disco and there's a lot of falsetto involved. (Laughter all around.) I'm telling it like it is. But as far as songwriting goes, they put a stamp on the whole seventies partly because they were great songs that just keep going time after time.

RU: RZA.

DAN: The Wu Tang Clan is just really brilliant. I'm a fan of people who take their whole thing and put it into a concept. I love the music, but even more I just like them conceptually, and the attitude it takes to go make that.

RU: It's like people who develop mythologies around their band and have a whole cosmology, and that sort of started with P-Funk.

DAN: RZA is also an organizer. With Wu Tang Clan, there wasn't actually a group — it was a bunch of different people that he kind of brought together to be a group. And if you understand, you get nine ghetto cats together and you can organize and make that happen, you're on some shit. You've really got a focus there, you know? I give him credit for the whole concept, the strength of it.

RU: Tell us about the CD you brought with you.

DAN: NBA 2k7 is a soundtrack for the NBA's new videogame. And what I did with this was I picked various artists that represent various styles of hip hop and various styles of regional rap to do this — everything from Pop New York to underground New York: to the South; the Midwest; West Coast, Backpack, Real Flossy. I wanted to show the variation, the eclectic nature of the United States.



Neil Gaiman has Lost His Clothes

Neil Gaiman & RU SiriusNeil Gaiman didn't arrive naked when he graced our MondoGlobo studio on Sunday, October 1. But according to a post on his website, he had lost most of his clothes. "What are the odds that, if I was sent a box of clean clothes to wear, a box that was waiting for me in New York, I would somehow manage to pack most of the clothes that were inside back up in the box along with the awards and books and CDs I'd been given, not to mention the already-worn UK-trip clothes, and then send that box with my clean clothes in it home, and that I would only discover the awful reason why my suitcase was so light on a Sunday morning in San Francisco?"



Rest assured, Mr. Gaiman didn't smell like several days sweat, and he looked pretty much like you'd expect a comic writer and fantastical novelist to look: all in black, including the leather jacket. And if he felt like he was in the middle of one of the most common types of nightmares, he didn't seem disoriented.

In fact, he didn't even tell us about his travails and he pretty much carried the interview (along with my co-host, Diana Brown), while your humble host (that's me) was in something of a somnambulant fog brought on by that day's health issues (I'll spare you.)

And then there was the presence of Paul McEnery, who had interviewed Gaiman for Mondo 2000 back in the mid-1990s. "We broke him in America," he assured me. I had ignored his pleas to participate in the program, not wanting to crowd the show with too many cooks, but there he was, and so he was invited to kibbutz.

All in all, it worked. This is a damned fine Neil Gaiman interview.

Gaiman, noted for his Sandman comics, the novels American Gods and Anansi Boys, and so much more, has been touring America promoting his new collection, Fragile Things: Short Fiction and Wonders.
To listen to the interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: His New York Times bestselling novel American Gods was awarded the Hugo, Nebula, Locus and Bram Stroker...errr. How 'bout that? The Bram Stoker award.

NEIL GAIMAN: The horror people actually call them the Strokers.

RU: What do they give you? I'm imagining a bucket of viscous red fluid.

NG: That would be wonderful. Actually, it's one of the prettiest awards. It's a little sort of haunted house designed by Gahan Wilson. You open the door and the name of what's won the award is behind the little door. It's kind of cool. It's much prettier than most.

RU: That's real effort. Do they have a ceremony?

NG: I think they did try to have a reasonably good ceremony. The trouble was, I'd logged on to their website that morning and their webmaster had been overly enthusiastic and put up the results. At nine in the morning, I discovered that I'd won. And then I had to go through the rest of the day pretending that I hadn't. People would come over to me and say, "Good luck!" and through gritted teeth I would say, "Thank You."

RU: One of the things I love in your work is the importance of the figure of the trickster or the rascal that runs through pretty much everything. It's like this figure Mr. Nancy, who appears in the last two novels. And it seems like this may be the sort of person who can bring magic into our world and it's perhaps the sort of person that we don't have room for any more in America.

NG: Oh, I think there are tricksters in America. I think they hang around the edges, which is, I think, the place where tricksters ought to be. You don't want a trickster at the center of your life because they will...

RU: ...or as President.

NG: You definitely don't want a trickster as President, although you'd have a really interesting country for 4 years, or perhaps for 3 or 4 weeks until he absconds with the money from the treasury.



RU: Do you think that fiction is the best way to express the value of that sort of character? You can't as easily write prose justifying the trickster as you can fiction.

NG: I think evoking the trickster is best done at short length. Mr. Nancy, one of the best things you can say for him is that he does die on page one. And then he hangs around the novel refusing to go away.

I always loved trickster stories. My favorites; obviously the Anansi stories are wonderful; the Coyote stories are marvelous. You run into these stories where Coyote will get into an argument with a rock...and lose.

RU: That's happened to me.

NG: The thing I think I love best about tricksters is that they lose from time to time. Gods and heroes win. Tricksters are just like the rest of us. They win sometimes; they lose sometimes. They screw up every bit as often as people do, only with more style.

RU: The comedy of that fucking-up comes across in Anansi Boys

NG: I think Anansi Boys is pretty much a comedy of embarrassment.

RU: Particularly your main character.

NG: Which is why I wanted to do a character that was English. Because the English do embarrassment better. We have raised it to some kind of slightly awkward apologetic art form. American's understand the concept of embarrassment...

RU: ...we just don't engage in it.

NG: I was talking to an American friend who told me that she was in England making out with an Englishman in a parking lot in the rain. He got very scared and upset and wouldn't continue making out with her. She asked me, why not? And I told her, "Basically, it's because you are an American. You were making out in the parking lot in a car in the rain and your attitude is 'Anybody walking past, I don't know these people. What the hell? This is my life. Go away.' Whereas his was the profound certainty that the moment that things went any further, not only would somebody knock upon the window; if he rolled the window down, it would be someone he knew and standing just behind him would be everyone else he'd ever met and they would all be staring disapprovingly." That's just how the English are built.

RU: A sense of propriety still exists.

NG: And a wonderful magical sense; a sort of conviction that the world is designed to make you slightly embarrassed and slightly ill at ease. But I actually like that.

The lead character in Anansi Boys is divided up into Fat Charlie, our hero, who is very English and very embarrassed; and his brother Spider, who is semi-fictional and God-like and for whom the world just sits up and begs and does more or less whatever he wants it to do.

RU: The sense I get is that neither is complete without the other. Charlie is perfect neurosis and the other is perfect pathology.

NG: Psychosis.

Terry Gilliam has loved Good Omens for years. He recently came to us and said, "What is it going to cost me to get the option for myself?" Terry Pratchett and I put our heads together and thought: we want this to be a Terry Gilliam film. We don't want this to be an anybody-else film. We've said no to lots of people who want to make it into a cool big commercial film. So we decided that it should cost him a groat.


DIANA BROWN: I was struck by the title of your new collection, Fragile Things, and your take on the title. And I'm quoting you: "The peculiarity of most things we think of as fragile are how tough they really are." And you talk about eggshells and butterfly wings and hearts and dreams. And the line I like best there: "Even dreams, the most delicate and intangible of things can prove remarkably difficult to kill." So what was your impetus to put this collection together and name it Fragile Things?

NG: The only thing that makes me feel like it's OK to write short fiction and take the time away that I could otherwise spend on a novel is the idea that every eight years or so, I can put it all together and I will have something book-like. It was eight years. I had enough stories. It was time to put them all together in one place and see what they did. Which is something very cool for a writer because the themes take you by surprise -- you put all these stories together and they have something huge in common. Things repeat. When I was reading it aloud for the audio book I would discover that even certain phrases would repeat themselves from story to story. And I thought, "Should I take them out?" But I rather like the fact that they repeat.

What gets harder is: what order do they go in? I couldn't figure out how to do it. So eventually I turned to my editor and I said, "I have no idea what order I want these things to go in. Would you do me a list?" So she sent me her list. And I looked at it and I said, "That's not right" and promptly put them into the right order. I really needed somebody to send me a list so I could go, "What are you thinking of, woman."

The original title that I had in my head was "These People Should Know Who We Are and Know That We Were Here." It's a quote from "Little Nemo." It was all going to be first person narratives and unreliable narrators talking about their lives. But then I kept coming up with stories that couldn't follow that pattern. And then I kept telling people that the title was going to be "These People Should Know Who We Are and Know That We Were Here." And everybody I would tell that title to would look at me and tell me, "Oh nice title. A bit Dave Eggers-y isn't it?"

And then finally, I'd written a song from a dream. It was one of the very few occasions where you wake up from a dream with words in your head. You write them down and they seem to be lyrics. And there's a band called One Ring Zero who did a wonderful album where they came to a bunch of authors and asked for words. And I gave them these lyrics, which we called "On The Wall." And there was this line in there: "think that I would rather recollect a life misspent on fragile things than spent avoiding moral debt." That line started haunting me. And I thought, "I wonder what those fragile things could be?" So I started thinking about the nature of fragility and people and hearts and stories and all of the things we think of as fragile. And suddenly I realized that was the title of this collection.



DB: Do you find yourself working within a particular construct of a story and the story insists on going in a different direction?

NG: Definitely. You write the story wherever it will go and sometimes you'll run into enormous trouble if you have an idea of where a story is supposed to go and it's not going there. I was about halfway through Anansi Boys. It was going completely on track. I knew where the plot was going. I knew everything about it. I'm writing away very happily. I've got a character going up in an elevator to see another character, and I thought: Hang on, if you go up to see him. And you have the conversation with him that I think you're going to have; he's going to kill you. That's not part of the plot. That's not even where I thought this story was going. That makes it much darker and derails everything. And suddenly these characters who I thought of as wallpaper, came up and started doing things.

RU: I loved that character, Mr. Coats (the murderer). I feel as though I've met that guy and maybe you have too.

NG: I loved writing him. I took enormous joy in writing a character who was everything that I could hate. He's every crooked agent that I have ever encountered.

I've had very good agents. But every once in awhile, you see a friend of yours winding up with a rotten apple. Poor Douglas Adams. I remember going to see Douglas once, and he looked very down in the dumps. So I asked him what was wrong. And he said, "I've just discovered that my accountant who has just advised me to by a new house and told me I was fine, had actually cleaned out my bank account, and having been caught, just killed himself."

DB: You start the book with "A Study in Emeralds", a fabulous literary mashup in which Sherlock Holmes meets the world of H.P. Lovecraft. What is your favorite Lovecraft story?

NG: My favorite Lovecraft at exactly this moment that you happened to ask me is probably "The Outsider." It was the first, and I had no idea of what to expect. And suddenly I'm climbing up in the darkness with somebody who has been down in this dark place, and he's climbing up and up and up and up and he finally comes into the sunlight and comes out and everybody who sees him starts screaming. And we realize he's a horrible creature and he goes back down. It's an incredibly simple plot idea and it completely took me by surprise and told me that I was with an author who would take me to strange places and whom I trusted. And for whom everything was atmosphere. The joy of Lovecraft is not plot. You don't read Lovecraft for those brilliant twists and turns.

DB: You're immersed in it.

NG: You are. You're adrift on this clotted adjectival froth that floats on top of the story and it carries you away.

PAUL MCENERY: I wanted to ask you about the theme: Gods who have fallen on hard times. That's what is really going on in American Gods and Anansi Boys. And you're revisiting it with a comic book that is coming out right now, The Eternals. Is that why you went back to The Eternals?

NG: Not really, although thematically it does seem to be an odd sort of fit with these things. It was definitely a theme that began in Sandman. I can point to "Calliope" in Sandman 17 about a muse who has been kept prisoner. Most of the Gods in Sandman are Gods who are no longer believed in, no longer worshipped and no longer anywhere near as powerful as they would like to be. And then in The Kindly Ones, I wrote this sort of weird rant that Loki has as he's killing a young lady. He does this rant about the new Gods: the gods of mortuary and ambulance and the gods of freeway and television. So I thought, "There's something here that I'm trying to say." And that all stewed, until one day I was in Iceland for a 24 hour plane stopover. So I had this plan to keep going until it got dark. And I didn't realize that on June 23 in Iceland, you don't get any dark. So I've been awake for 36 hours. And I'm in a little tourist office looking at the little maps of the Viking incursions into Newfoundland and back, and I think, "I wonder if they left their Gods behind"?

So I walked back to my hotel and I started typing out an outline. I wrote "American Gods" at the top. I was thinking, I could do a road trip. I can talk about the America that has been fascinating me. And I can talk about the fact that there are things that are missing -- spiritually missing -- in America. It's the weirdness of the American predilection towards giant roadside attractions.

DB: The Enormous Ball of Twine.

NG: The Enormous Ball of Twine. The House on the Rock. All of those kinds of things that seemed to fulfill the same kind of place in the soul that the holy places in Europe and Asia...

RU: They're not quite Stonehenge.

NG: Yes. They're not quite Stonehenge. So when all that was done, I really wanted to tell the Anansi Boys story. That is much less a story of Gods falling on hard times and more a story of how your family is embarrassing. And Gods seemed like a lovely way of super-charging that. Giving it more weight and more power. That's one of the things that Gods do. It's the great thing about Gods in stories and in our collective consciousness. They embody something. So Nancy as the trickster; as a God of storytelling; as a God who would go out and pick up loose women; as a God who would come home drunk -- this was somebody I wanted in my story.

RU: Two Englishmen, Grant Morrison and Alan Moore, both are very outspoken about their beliefs in the occult and psychedelic drugs and all kinds of weirdness...

NG: Alan worships an imaginary Roman snake god. I remember the day. I was sitting at home and the phone rang and it was Alan, who had always been a devout rationalist -- a man who would have made Penn and Teller feel that they were superstitious. So Alan called me up and said [Cockney accent], "Neil. It's my 40th birthday next week and I've decided to get me midlife crisis over with, so I'm becoming a warlock and I'm going to be worshiping an imaginary Roman snake god. Just thought you'd like to know mate. Alright?"

Unfortunately, him having done that, growing a really long beard, I think, wouldn't it be great to grow a really long beard. But Alan's already done it. So I can't imagine myself -- if I became a sort-of psychedelic warlock, people would say, "Oh, he's just doing Alan Moore."

RU: Has it surprised you that so much weirdness has managed to leak its way into the world of comics?

NG: No, not at all. We are wonderfully weird people. It's a pity really that it isn't as true these days. I'll always meet people who will explain to me that they're going into comics as a career move. Which is like somebody telling me that they're going to live in Belgium as a career move. It's just wrong.

Those of us who got into comics, at least before the early 90s, most of us got into comics because it was a really cool, strange, odd place that nobody was watching.

RU: That's what I was thinking, but to a certain extent, still nobody is watching. It's like a really big cult.

NG: I don't think it's a cult any more. I think it's hit the stage of religion. It may fall back to cult. Comics is in this weird world now where all the places that are reviewing stuff will just cheerfully review comics alongside everything else. This is what we were fighting for 25 years ago -- to be sold in bookshops. As far as the likes of me and Alan and Grant and the rest of us are concerned, we are now living in the Golden Age. This is utopia. There are zeppelins and flying cars and a cure for cancer in this perfect future. This is what we dreamed would happen. Back in '86, nobody was reading comics. I remember the sheer amazed befuddled joy when we in England discovered that Kathy Acker read comics for pleasure. And it was magic. It was so cool. She was this weird figure, but almost part of the literary establishment...

RU: Almost a legitimate intellectual. She would love to hear that.

NG: It's true. She was almost legitimate and she read Love And Rockets. And she got into line to get her copy of Dark Knight signed by Frank Miller at a signing. The reason it was so cool was that this had never happened -- somebody from that world coming into our world. These days, everybody reads comics. I go to a big author event or book expo or something like that and all these authors sort of sidle over and ask me how they can get into the business. You want to say, "Go away you latecomers! We want none of you! We spurn you."

RU: I guess anybody who's anybody has to do a graphic novel now.

NG: Exactly. It is kind of true. I actually kind of like it. I love the fact that we live in a world where you can get Michael Chabon and Will Eisner collaborating on a comic. That's magic. I'm glad we're living in a world where Art Spiegelman is taken absolutely as seriously as anybody else in American letters. But it's so easy to forget the way things were.



RU: You're doing something with Terry Gilliam, who is absolutely one of my favorite directors.

NG: Bless! I hope that it happens. Terry has been working for many years on Good Omens, which is the novel that Terry Pratchett and I co-wrote about the end of the world...

DB: It has just been re-released.

NG: Absolutely. Terry Gilliam has loved the book for years. He has been working on it for awhile. He recently came to us and said, "OK. I'm going to get the rights back to the script that I wrote with this guy called Tony Brusconi a few years ago. What is it going to cost me to get the option for myself?" Terry Pratchett and I put our heads together and thought; well, we really want Terry Gilliam to make it. We want this to be a Terry Gilliam film. We don't want this to be an anybody-else film. We've said no to lots of people who want to make it into a cool big commercial film. We like the idea of it being a Terry Gilliam film. So we put our heads together and we decided that it should cost him a groat. And I don't believe they've actually made groats, which is an old English coin worth about four pence since about the 1780s. Which means he is going to have to go to EBay.

RU: He's going to have to do some searching... a magical quest.

NG: They're cheap. I mean frankly they're really cheap. We figured out we were going to need Farthings to pay the agents -- the agent commission on a groat. I went to EBay and picked up a farthing for practically nothing.

The Perversions of Perverted-Justice

Von Erck"To Catch a Predator" on Dateline introduced sex baiting to the popular mind. Fortuny and Crook may have adapted it to their own psychological obsessions, but clearly, NBC's relationship with "Perverted-Justice.com" is the established and refined model for the freelance bad-guy sting.

On Friday, NBC ran the fifth installment of the pedophile-trapping news segment. The stings are choreographed by a community college drop-out and his group of "trained citizen contributors" who have, in the name of protecting society from its most reviled deviants, also aimed their vigilante arsenal at rival web sites, personal enemies, and even Google and Wikipedia.



It's got to be a little heady these days for Xavier Von Erck, the Director of Operations for Perverted-Justice.com. In an online essay, he talks about growing up with a mother who "worked everything from Taco Bell to gas station jobs to warehouse jobs to parts delivery jobs." His group now rakes in over a hundred grand for each episode it's involved with.

A recent New York Daily News article cited another article on RadarOnline identifying him as a 27-year-old Oregon community college dropout. But when the article linked to his blog, Von Erck redirected it to his original emails to the magazine's reporter. "I completed some college before what I would call a 'productive internet addiction' ruined my studies," he'd commented, "which I were not all that interested in anyways."

There are people who oppose Perverted-Justice.com's methods. There's even an opposing site that calls itself Corrupted-Justice.com. ("Number of INNOCENT people harassed and terrorized by volunteer vigilantes...with no police involvement since January 2003: 2704.") This in turn spawned a counter-counter site called Corrupted-Justice.net whose sole function is to criticize Corrupted-Justice.com.

It all culminated in a bizarre incident involving an Arkansas pilot — a married man (and non-pedophile) who still vehemently opposed the group. He'd threatened everything from online computer attacks to investigations from the IRS. The response? Erck says his group lured the married man into an online romance by pretending to be a sympathetic female and then continued the online relationship for several months, leading to the collection of thousands of lines of chat containing personal information used to out the straying man to his wife.


Fighting pedophiles has brought with it still more enemies. For instance, they have a problem with Google. Their site argues that pedophiles "have infiltrated legitimate businesses to try to spread their pro-pedo message to the masses" — if by "infiltrated legitimate businesses," you mean "posted on a blog." Google is their #1 target for its ownership of Blogspot, which is guilty of not removing sites advocating sex with children. Perverted-Justice concedes that "We love Google," yet the company is #1 in their "Corporate Sex Offender registry" for failing to remove pedophilia-advocating blogs, including two blogs by a user named Rookiee.

Both Google and Libsyn.com (Rookiee's podcast host) are listed as "aggressive corporate sex offenders" on Perverted-Justice for giving Rookiee a platform. The first name on their list of passive corporate sex offenders is Wikipedia, which it describes as the "'wild west' of encyclopedias" with "a vast pedophile cabal seeking to undermine it." Their main objection was that Wikipedia's articles could be accessed and edited by Rookiee. (Although not any more. Last week his Wikipedia account was blocked from updating the site's articles, though not without some spirited discussion.) "We've left Wikipedia in the 'passive' category," Perverted-Justice states, "because they still have not taken a clear and unambiguous stance disavowing pedophile advocates from editing 'encyclopedic' pedophile articles."

This Saturday they added a new name at the top of their corporate offenders list: Verizon/MCI Worldcom. (Perverted-Justice argues that an obscure Canadian hosting company named Epifora hosts dozens of sites advocating sex with minors — and is getting its internet connectivity from Verizon's pipes.)

So who do they like? Well, there's YouTube — for removing Rookiee's account; Xanga — for pulling Rookie's web site; and CafePress — for pulling Rookiee's online store. (They're now listed as "the Rehabilitated.") In fact, elsewhere on the Perverted-Justice site they write that entire list was created because "Rookiee made the mistake of attacking our organization online." That was enough to get him their attention, along with the companies enabling him to speak. Perverted-Justice argues that the writings of Rookiee offer a "snapshot" into the online pedophile world.

In their own bizarre form of exploitation, every page of the site now also includes an ad for their official store, which offers to give visitors a chance to raise awareness of the growing problem of online pedophilia "by shopping." The store sells merchandise bearing the site's logo, including underwear, women's thongs, and a baby doll t-shirt. There's also coffee mugs and beer steins. For the t-shirts they've even come up with catchy pedophilia-busting slogans.

"See you later masturbator, after a while, pedophile."
"Squeeze no child's behind"
"a/s/l"
"Coast to coast, we make predators toast"




Publicizing their pushback against online predators may or may not offer another way of discouraging online predators — but it's ultimately bringing its own set of challenges. The article in Radar cited a controversial blog post Von Erck made over two years ago, arguing a hostage who signaled his weakness to an al Qaeda captor failed to understand that "Arab culture is quite sick in many respects.... Spinelessness and negotiation only encourage Arabs to attack and harass western society further." Von Erck's emailed responses to Radar's reporter also hint at other criticisms he's faced. ("[W]e have not posted the log of anyone prior to conviction in almost over nine months now.") He's angry about the way the article portrayed him and rationalizes any personal flaws by citing his site's victories in the war on pedophiles:
One was a doctor and a vice-president of a biotech firm. One was a software developer for Apple. Two were guys in IT (who likely could have figured out how to log into Yahoo chat on a Mac) And yet another had a very successful job running a fairly successful business

He may be a community college drop-out — but for the fifth time he's also busted pedophiles on television. It's worth noting, though, that before he ever dreamed of hooking up with Dateline, he posed as children in chat rooms and chatted sexually with adults. He hasn't admitted that it's one he entertains himself, but this is an established role-playing fetish in itself.

In any case, we once again have a self-congratulating sex baiter who rains righteous anger down on everyone — except himself.

See Also:
Web Fight: Wikipedia, YouTube vs. Perverted Justice
Sex Panic: An Interview with Debbie Nathan

Adopt an African Hottie’s Clitoris!

Clitoraid
Rael is back.

A few years ago, the "UFO cult" leader claimed to have cloned human beings, and was widely dismissed as a crass self-publicizer and hoaxster.

"Once we can clone exact replicas of ourselves," he says on the Clonaid website, "the next step will be to transfer our memories and personality into our newly cloned brains, which will allow us to truly live forever."



His latest achievement is only slightly less ambitious. He has undertaken to single-handedly restore the clitorises (clitori?) of African women disfigured by the tribal ritual of clitoral excision. Rael is passionate in this cause, since the beneficiaries "now have the possibility to regain sexual pleasure and be whole once again."

There is, of course, a website, and the first impression given is that, wow, there are a lot of hot, genitally-disfigured African women out there!

One testimonial on the website reads:
I am XXX, a 23 year old Somali refugee now residing in America. I was circumcised as a young girl while still residing in Somalia. Even until very recently i was made to beleive that it was 'good' to be circumcised and as i result i had never fully understood the consequences of this evil practice. Recently i started my university education and have moved out of my parents' house. As a result of this new found freedom i started exploring my sexuality. I thought sex was supposed to be this amazing experience but for me it was extremely uncomfortable and unsatisfactory.

Desirable women in the marketing materials must make it easier for possible donors to pony up; after all, denying these smiling, bright-eyed specimens the capacity for clitoral pleasure is certainly a waste! (And let's face it, if you're a cult leader, it can't hurt your image to literally bestow blessings upon the genitalia of nubile females.)

The Raelians are notorious for using sex as a major inducement into their movement. According to this web page, former Raelian Pete Cooke was recruited into the cult by a dancer in Montreal's Kit Kat strip bar.

"I didn't like all the opening of genitals or all the focusing on the anus," he says.

I may be reaching here, but guys, if you find yourself in a nightclub and a hot chick with an African accent approaches you and starts telling you about how alien scientists incubated life on Earth, you might want to clench your butt cheeks and walk quickly in the opposite direction.

See also: California Cults 2006

California Cults 2006

Cults of California!

In his fascinating new book (with photos by Michael Rauner) Visionary State: A Journey Through California's Spiritual Landscape, Erik Davis writes, "When the United States seized the territory from Mexico in 1848 California became the stage for a strange and steady parade of utopian sects, bohemian mystics, cult leaders, psychospiritual healers, holy poets, sex magicians, fringe Christians, and psychedelic warriors."



Visionary State documents an eclectic mix of these magical, mystical scenes from across Californian history, ranging from loose, anarchic configurations of independent seekers who reject doctrine; to authoritarian fringe cults that cobble together their own strange doctrinaire cosmologies based on the possibly schizophrenic revelations and prophecies of their visionary leaders and gurus.  Theosophists, nature mystics, Zen Buddhists, 19th Century spiritual snake oil hustlers, various Hindu sects, the Merry Pranksters, Scientologists, Mansonoids, Burning Man Burners — all are enclosed in Davis' rich spiritual gumbo.



His intention is not to judge. "California consciousness", he writes, is "an imaginative, experimental, and hedonistic quest for human transformation by any means necessary." Davis rightfully suggests that California's "theme park of the gods", in all its chaos and contradiction, is so fecund that it is inherently valuable. Our spiritual nuts, fruits and flakes are, he says, an important part of the richness of California's dynamic psycho-social, economic, and even physical landscape.

Doubtless, California's relative tolerance for deviation from the conventional and the mainstream provides opportunities for both liberatory, free-thinking self-experimentation; and for pathological, neo-conformist head-fucking. The presence of trippy and sometimes destructive fringe cults across California history might be thought of as an inevitable side-effect of the state's position as post-modernism's early adopter.



But while weird cults may be inevitable, very few of them could be considered benign. And though the depredations of the Manson Family, the horrors of Jonestown, and the pathetic futility of Heaven's Gate's attempt to hitch themselves to a comet may have afforded our culture a series of black humor bonanzas, nobody really wants to see their friends and family get sucked into the orbit of the latest power-mad cult leader. 

So, for your edification and amusement, and as a warning, I am here presenting a very brief guide to some contemporary California cults:

Miracle Of Love

Miracle of Love is an ambitious Marin County based cult that, according to a March 2006 expose by Jill Kramer for The Pacific Sun, has plans to expand to Seattle, Vancouver, Sacramento, San Diego, Colorado, Australia and South America. Around 1995, their leader, "Kalindi" (real name: Carol Seidman) declared herself "the voice of the latest incarnation of God." (Actually, God originally started speaking through her husband, but he died, and rather than except the obvious implication — "God is dead" — Seidman caught the spirit.)

In a six-day long session called "The Intensive," the group employs classic techniques employed by brainwashers and kidnappers everywhere (famously adopted by Werner Erhard's est group in the ''70s and ''80s). Attendees are deprived of sleep, forced to dredge up psychic pains, verbally abused and embarrassed, and then finally given a warm, comforting love bath to cement their attachment to the group. What's the attraction? Apparently, there is a kind of high associated with completing this type of ordeal, and cult members get their targets to associate this feeling with "God's energy" and that old cult standby: "unconditional love."

For those who become members, classic cult brainwashing techniques continue. To the greatest extent possible, members are isolated from family and other non-believers and give complete control of their lives to cult leaders. According to Kramer, "Devotees are given new names. They're told when to wake, when to meditate, when to do service work for the mission, how much time to allot for chores, what time to go to bed. Everything is dictated, down to which toilet paper to buy."

"Kalinda" and her cohorts seem to be largely motivated by financial gain. Kramer reports that followers are told they can "come home to God within this lifetime" by "letting go of attachments to the material world — the world of illusion. The handiest way to let go of their attachments to money is, of course, to donate it to the Miracle of Love mission."



On the back cover of her book, Ultimate Freedom: Union With God, Kalindi/Seidman poses provocatively in a thong and fishnet stockings. Underneath the picture, are the words "Don't you want to break free?" Spot the irony?

Oneness Movement

Guru Sri Bhagavan and his partner, Sri Amma are the founders of the Oneness University, which is centered in India, but has a growing California following, particularly in Los Angeles and San Francisco.  They claim that the "solution to humanity's suffering can only be found through our awakening to Oneness." And, of course, there is a particular one who can lead us toward that oneness. Bhagavan offers followers the opportunity to experience "Deeksha," "a transfer of divine energy" that produces enlightenment. The group aims to enlighten 64,000 people and thus transform the world by — you guessed it — 2012.

According to a private correspondence published by Guruphiliac, "this cult is pressurizing its INDIAN devotees to donate large sums of wealth, if they want to remain in the good books of the disciples (dasas) who run the show, and progress further. We have even been asked to take loans (the last case was Rs 100,000 [$2,220.50 US] which is a large amount), and donate, if we don't have the money. We have been told that we can repay the loans over a few years!

"From the day we join we are pressurized to bring in new people and send them for the initial 3-day deeksha (costing Rs 5000 [$110 US])." A 21-day workshop, according to the Guruphiliac correspondent, costs $5,500.

The guru and his followers also use pseudo-scientific flim flam to claim that they have been able to measure neurological changes that result from the "deeksha" experience. Guruphiliac quotes someone they call "a major university neuroscience researcher," saying this about the gurus claims: "The most questionable aspect" is the author's claim that he has tested alterations in neurotransmitters, hormones, and receptors via electromagnetic signature testing. There is no scientific data to support that this technique is viable."

Adidam

This is the religion that was formed by Adi Da. Da was born Franklin Jones and later changed his name to Bubba Free John and then Da Free John. I must confess to a soft spot (probably it's just my fontanelle) for Da. He's witty and smart and seems like he might be in on the cosmic joke, assuming that there is in fact a cosmic joke. Imagine if Alan Watts decided to declare himself "the complete manifestation of the divine in human form" and you've sort of got the picture. A 1985 San Francisco Examiner article by Don Lattin reported on secret "drunken sex orgies and luxurious lifestyles among the guru's inner circle in Hawaii and their Fijian island of Naitauba," and quotes one former follower as saying, "We took peyote, psilocybin, marijuana and an unbelievable amount of alcohol. The two of us would sit down and drink two bottles of whiskey. A lot of the people who came in were young women, and he'd loosen them up with alcohol and drugs."

So, what's the problem here? Jody Radzik at Guruphiliac writes, "We've always wanted to like Adi Da. First because Ken Wilber liked him, and then because he was so out in the open with his craziness. Gurus, drugs and group sex just get us so hot! But once he started with his 'world teacher' shtick, he went from being a tantric engine of transformation to just another wackadoo guru."

And, of course, like all of our other gurus, Da scams as much money from his followers to keep the party going. I wouldn't want to be one of Da's followers, but Oh to be Da.

The Helzer Brothers Transform America

The Helzer Brothers' activities were a tawdry and pallid expression of Manson family values. After being excommunicated from the Mormon Church for taking drugs, Glenn Helzer, from Contra Costa County (a San Francisco suburb) decided to form a self-awareness group to stop Satan and hasten the return of Jesus. He got himself two members, his own brother Justin and a young woman named Dawn Goldman. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Glenn Helzer's plans "included a bizarre plot to train Brazilian orphans to slaughter the leaders of the Mormon Church so he could become its prophet; and 'Transform America,' a self-help group to foster 'a state of peace and joy.'"

In order to raise money, the Helzer's sold ecstasy and Glenn got his onetime girlfriend, Keri Mendoza, to pose for Playboy. (She appeared as Kerissa Fare, Miss September 2000). But when drugs and sex didn't produce enough money fast enough, Helzer's mind turned towards robbery and murder. The group extorted $100,000 from an elderly couple, Ivan and Annette Stineman, and then killed them, returning the next day to dismember them. (Peace and joy can be such hard work!)



Helzer next planned to incorporate his friend, Selina Bishop (daughter of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop) into his plot by getting her to cash the check.  But he decided that she knew too much, so he and his brother bludgeoned her to death and then eviscerated her body.  Fearing that Bishop's stepfather and mother would finger him as a suspect in the murder of their daughter, Helzer dispatched them the following day.  On August 7, 2000 the three conspirators were arrested.  Glenn Helzer received five death sentences. Brother Justin got only one and Dawn Godman was sentenced to 38 years-to-life.

Addendum

As someone who socializes at times on the periphery of "new age" circles, it is my personal observation that most spiritual seekers stopped giving themselves up to charismatic leaders and gurus by the end of the 1980s.  But it is clear that there are still enough lost souls out there to fulfill the financial needs and psychopathic fantasies of cult leaders for years to come. My advice: If you feel a need to be part of a group, join a bowling league.

Jason Fortuny Speaks



Jason Fortuny

He's not sorry, he'd do it again, and he's buying a gun.

Jason Fortuny became notorious after posting nearly 150 explicit photos he'd received for a fake sex ad on Craig's List. Three weeks later he discusses the aftermath in a 29-minute online interview.



But is he really as cocky as he pretends to be? A close look at the footage reveals that behind the bravado is genuine fear. Although he remains unapologetic and bemused, his internet infamy has left him worrying about an unseen army of invisible enemies.

At one point they even have to stop the filming, because they'd inadvertently said someone's name.

"If you don't know who's stalking you," says Fortuny, "you don't know who's going to come after you in the middle of the night and, uh, kill you."

FEAR AND FIREARMS

"The internet is serious business," the cameraman jokes, noting later that the web page received over one million visits in two and a half weeks.

When reminded that there's a new Jet Li movie called Fearless," Fortuny admits it's "something that I am not."

"How many people told you to kill yourself?"

"I lost count after, like, 20."

A friend even asked an FBI contact about Jason's situation. "What's my recourse here, if I am being stalked, if I am being harassed. What can we proactively do to protect me?" He says their answer was that he could call 911.

"So when are you getting your gun?"

"Probably this weekend."



Fortuny concedes he's never taken a gun class, "but I had a Nintendo for a while so I got pretty good... I need everyone who's going to come kill me to please dress up as an 8-bit duck."

Some people genuinely wondered if he had a deathwish, "because some people are under the impression that if you piss off the BDSM crowd, they'll kill you." Instead he jokes that the BDSM crowd is probably more about consensual pain — then playfully slaps the thigh of the woman next to him.


REACTING TO REACTIONS

"So how many pizzas did you get delivered to your home?"

"I wasn't at home when it happened," he answers, although he does an impression of a pizza deliveryman's voicemail, then promises more updates on his web page. "Eventually I'll get all the hate mail up that I've received."

He claims he also got a few women offering him tail, "and I got lots of people who told me I would be getting some after going to jail. Which — how am I going to go to jail over this?"

The cameraman offers to film Fortuny turning himself in at the police station. But the truth is, no one has gone after him.

"I'm still waiting for a cease and desist letter to arrive — or an actual lawsuit!"

He remembers a blustery comment on his LiveJournal page claiming to have hired a lawyer. But so far all it's generated is a prank by another poster, who described leaving a taunting sign on that lawyer's office which read "ON UR CREGZLST POSTIN UR N00DZ!!!" under a drawing of the LiveJournal icon. (The poster added that while delivering the sign, "I spotted at least three Mexican transsexual prostitutes!")

Fortuny also laughs at the 20 "internet lawyers" who aren't actual lawyers, but "play them on the internets."

"If you're out there and you're making the whole 'illegal' judgment thing, just cite some law. I know some of you out there have gone after the whole privacy and 'intentional infliction of emotional distress', but even that's a little murky."

At one point he even seems to bait the online audience. When jokingly asked if he could swap some of the naked pictures he received, he stares starkly at the camera and replies "Considering that it's my property now, what the hell!"

But later he concedes that "If some good privacy law came from this, I'd actually be really pleased."


MORE VICTIMS?

The woman next to him adds an interesting observation from a Seattle blog. "Despite all the publicity about your ad, there were still all sorts of people posting all sorts of no-strings-attached sex ads with sometimes personal information and pictures right in the ad... So I don't think even you can stop people from trying to get their rocks off."

When asked about future experiments, he smiles. "I think it's only fair we go after women — and I should get what, two replies?"

He discusses the idea of posting an equally too-good-to-be-true ad aimed at women — maybe one pretending to be a sugar daddy. But Fortuny doubts it would have the same impact.

"Women don't reply to ads. What would be very telling would be to get replies from women to an ad like that and watch that none of them put up personally identifiable information or any of their photos or anything like that. Or if they do put up a photo, it's something that's going to be hard to identify."

But even he was surprised by the copycat prankster who lures victims into additional online conversations and researches their lives before publishing all their embarrasing details.

"I didn't even verify that the information is real," Fortuny notes.

"For all I know it could be the joke of the universe on me."

Also surprising were some of the positive reactions he received. "There's a feminist out there who went absolutely nuts, thinks I'm some kind of hero, exposing all these perverts who want to beat up women."

"Did you invite her over for a spanking?" his female companion jokes. "You should have."



Earlier this week syndicated columnist Dan Savage argued that the only villain was Fortuny himself. The men who responded "were doing the decent, responsible thing" - assuring a woman who was seeking a connection based on a trust, Savage writes. "They shouldn't be punished for doing the right and honorable thing."

Fortuny also had some responses that were just plain awkward. His parents laughed, he says, but he also had to explain his notoriety to the men he'd identified in a search for his biological father. What would he have done if a paternity test candidate had answered the ad? "Oh god," he groans. "See? I have my limits."


FINAL WORDS

The interview takes place during a rambly conversationally while eating noodles at a Pho restaurant in Seattle's university district. But all conversations ultimately lead back to Jason's stunt of September 4.

"Why do my noodles hate me?" the woman next to him asks.

"Because you're not treating them nicely. You're stringing them along and teasing them. Which is what you and all women do... Which fully justifies me posting as a woman... I strung them along. Teased them."

"So basically you gave them the same experience they would've gotten anyways."

"Yeah, pretty much. I teased their cocks."

He deep throats his spring roll. The camera zooms in, as he mock-viciously bites off the end. He points at the viewer, then the roll, and then makes a "think about it" gesture. Then continues eating.

"We'll put this on a DVD, mail it as a free consolation gift to everyone who participated."

By the end of the interview, he's taunting his online viewers. "I'm still alive... No one's killed me, no one's tried to kill me.

"If pizzas are the best you can do," he jokes, "oh my, this is sad. I got on the BBC, and the best you can do is pizzas?!"

See Also:
Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued
Dear Internet, I'm Sorry
The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
In The Company of Jerkoffs

In the Company of Jerkoffs

Note: The above screen capture is from a 2005 Fox News Channel appearance. The image has been re-inserted on November 15th, 10 business days after filing a counter-notice (pdf) in response to a DMCA takedown notice filed by Michael Crook which forced its removal soon after it was originally published.

As little as we like to encourage these guys, yet another sad member of the "griefer community," Michael Crook, is ambushing men with fake sex ads on Craig's List. Like past incidents, the story ultimately reveals a lot about the man behind it. In this case, he's not only pathetic, but a pathetic copycat.

If sex pranker Jason Fortuny is similar to the "Chad" character from Neil LaBute's In the Company of Men, then Crook is the asshole wannabe, "Howard." Not only is his imagination lacking, capable only of putting a slight spin on his hero's methods, but he also possesses a pathological moralism that seems entirely out of place and hypocritical for the behavior he's engaged in.



Clearly following the [tag]Fortuny[/tag] script, Crook pretended to be a 19-year-old female student at Syracuse university with B-cup breasts, looking to hang out "and maybe enjoy a nice, safe sexual encounter." ("I don't care if you're married, single, engaged, whatever. Life is fun. Sex is natural. Friendship is great.") And naturally, when men responded, Michael published their pictures and emails on craigslist-perverts.org — a domain he created Wednesday.

He also visited the "Casual Encounter" listings for five other cities — Las Vegas, Dayton, South Jersey, Kansas City, and Anchorage — publishing variations on his original ad. ("I'm 19, 5'4, 108 lbs, brown hair and eyes, and B cup breasts.") And added the responses to his site.

But he also made the additional effort of replying to his respondents to extract even more-embarrassing emails, and sometimes even instant messaging them. He also did online research, looking up their phone numbers and often claiming to have deduced the identities of his victims. "Check out this magazine article from a couple years ago, where he is in a picture with his wife and the guy whose name he used..." He apparently conned the (possibly married) man into sending a photo of his erection — then sent him one last email asking why he was trolling for girls on the internet and cheating on his wife. "What do you think your wife and co-workers' reaction will be when they find out?" he asks. (Adding that their answers, "along with your pics, will be posted for all to see on craigslist-perverts.org.")

The extra cities were apparently necessary because his original prank generated less than 50 responses and received almost no attention. (Just two comments and one post in his forum.) He brags that the next day his fake ad got 15 more responses. (Possibly because no one actually reads his web site —-Ed.) He claims he's enjoying "exposing the perverts" and "pathetic men" responding to the ads. "I just wanted to see what kind of people would respond on a site like Craigslist, which is known for carrying ads from prostitutes," he writes. But he's also published the names of their wives, and in one case Googled the name of a respondent, then claimed it appeared on other dating sites "including fag sites."

So who is Michael Crook? His web site describes him as a former Mormon, disillusioned after a dispute about how religious programming was assigned spots on a local cable access show. (And the fact that a flirtatious weather guy was tapped to teach teenaged girls in his ward.) In 1999 he was too underweight to join the army, but even after bulking up was told he was medically unfit for service. Seven years later he composed an essay arguing that members of the military are overpaid. ("Financially speaking, it's the Pacific Avenue hooker of our economy.")

He weasled his way right onto TV in the spring of 2005 for creating a web site called "Forsake the troops," which called attention to his belief thatsoldiers are over-compensated. It also called soldiers "scumbags" and "pukes," asking "What idiots risk their life for a country...? Let 'em die in combat - we don't need their ilk in this country!" This led to an appearance on Fox News where Crook's deer-in-headlights performance drew a standard-issue beatdown from Sean Hannity. ("You're ignorant and you're a disgrace... You are heartless, you are soulless, you are mean and you are cruel....") His site later reported he was beaten to death by angry servicemen — though that was obviously a hoax. Instead Crook created related domains like opposethetroops, disownthetroops, and citizensagainstthetroops - although he was apparently trying to auction them off to cash in on their notoriety.

Recently he's registered two more domains — racismworks.com ("Coming soon, a website which will explain why racism is actually a good thing...") and crimmigrants.org ("dedicated to exposing and discussing illegal immigrants.") Both sites, though appear to be little more than their taglines, followed by the words "Coming soon!" But at least some of his anger appears sincere. One blogger claimed earlier Michael had cited anaffiliation with a group to "preserve the rights of white men and women." Recently Michael also created a web page criticizing a 17-year-old drunk driver who killed her friend in a car accident — including what he purports are her phone numbers and address.



But for all his online activity, Michael remains plagued by obscurity. He grew up in small-town Arizona, southern New Jersey, and Las Vegas, according to his web site, and ran a 300-member fan club for an obscure Dutch Eurodance group. He writes that he manages a sports-clothing store and is "pursuing" a criminal justice degree.

Ironically, just four weeks before his Craig's List prank, he'd sent a spate of letters complaining about copyright infringement. It's possible that this article may only further his goal of online infamy, though it remains to be seen whether he can make a career out of pissing people off.

In April a garage band called Permament Ascent uploaded a song about him to their MySpace page. Its lyrics?

"He's a dick. (He's a dick!) Fuck him! (Fuck him!) Asshole. (Asshole!) Fuck hi-i-m. Fuck Michael Crook!"

Perhaps Fortuny and Crook take solace in each other, from within the familiarity of their malicious community. I can foresee a day when this community of nihilistic pranksters hold its first convention, and they spend a week at the Marriott sneaking up on each other, flicking each other's ears and laughing until they drool.

See also:
Crook's Internet Club
EFF and 10 Zen Monkeys vs. Michael Crook
"Dear Internet, I'm Sorry"
Craigslist Troll Gets Sued

Downfall of “The Seducer”



Ross JeffriesWhat happens when an aging pickup artist of legendary proportions falls from grace and is supplanted by a younger crop of studs? And how does the elder Don Juan deal with seeing his classroom-centered “hypnosis” strategies made obsolete by the bolder, hacker-inspired models of the next generation?

Author Neil Strauss devotes part of his bestselling book, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists to just such a real-world changing of the guard. It’s amusing to read the latest in the world of Ross Jeffries, the original “speed seducer,” because I had personally crossed paths with the man back in 1999, and it made a lasting impression.



He’d invited me, as manager of the webzine GettingIt.com, to attend one of his weekend-long seminars teaching geeks and losers how to pick up women. It was as absurd and ridiculous as you would imagine such an event should be.

Later, after we published a negative article about the course and the man, he lashed out, threatened to sue, and then backed down. Just a year ago he returned to the comments section of the article and, in an effort to recover his reputation, questioned my journalistic objectivity.

Thanks, Ross, for allowing me to now expand upon my memorable time at your seminar.

I'd attended according to Jeffries' invite, which allowed two people, a male and a female, to sit in. So I brought the zine's sex editor, Cara Bruce, along. She later wrote about the experience here. Sadly for her, she was extremely tired from partying the night before, and soon after swallowing a questionable “wake me up” pill, she fell asleep during Ross' class. About 30 minutes later, he noticed and jarred her awake by screaming at her. When Cara awoke, she was tripping balls, eyes bugging wildly, and the sight of Ross' hideous mug barking in her face was enough to really freak her out. She grabbed my forearm for support and I led her into the hallway for reassurance before we returned to class.

But it was all the other stuff we saw that day that freaked me out. I expected a playful, if sexist presentation of half-baked pickup advice. But when Jeffries' hostility and aggression came whining to the surface, I became shocked that anyone would willingly sit through such treatment.

Nowadays, Ross is in a fight for his career and his relevance. The next generation of pickup artists, like author of “The Game,” Neil Strauss, who mentored under the best PUAs (including Jeffries) before ascending the ranks himself, are blowing Jeffries out of the water with field seminars where they take chumps into clubs, and proceed to demonstrate, guide, and tutor in the skills of macking (or rather, “FMAC”ing — Find, Meet, Attract, Close) on girls.

Indeed, all aspects of “seduction” (even this term has evolved — it’s called “sarging” now) have been profoundly affected by the Internet since the days of Jeffries' initial groundbreaking workshops that cost upwards of $800 per person. PUAs now openly share their best strategies with each other, and they deconstruct social dynamics like superstar computer hackers cracking code on crystal meth.

"Me personally, I’d never spend money on something I can persuade someone else to purchase for me," says nlpimp in the GettingIt.com article's comments. "And thank God for the Internet, because it allowed me to attain these skills ABSOLUTELY FREE."

But there are certain types of instruction you simply cannot get online (yet). For a price into the thousands, a peacock of a stud will snatch you from in front of that computer, whisk you off in a limo, and toss you into a thumping night club crawling with HBs (hot babes). They'll watch over your shoulder while you steal the show from the very same alpha males that have always taunted you and banged what should have been YOUR cooter.

Ross Jeffries, on the other hand, has a different focus. He's in his mid-40s, so he sticks mostly to the classroom, and teaches his students scripts to memorize and recite, like this "blow job pattern" found on the Internet:


Yeah well, do you like chocolate? (Or is there a food that when you see it you absolutely have to put it in your mouth?) … And then there’s that moment, that moment when the first molecule of chocolate touches your tongue and you know it’s inside your mouth and you just want to keep it there because it’s so rich and so good. And there’s that extra special warmth when you swallow that sweetness down.


If the above seems like it would not quite yield the speaker a blow job in the real world, keep in mind that Ross puts just as much effort into conquering the men he teaches as he does teaching them how to conquer their fears with women. He has built a cult that specializes in humiliating the guys who come to him, using his students' deep inward pain, and hypnotic suggestion. Ross’ sessions are insulated, intense, and very male-centric.

In Strauss' book (a great read even if you're not desperate to learn Lothario's trade secrets), the author, who was already an established writer of rock star biographies before becoming a pickup artist, tells the story of how he too was invited early on by Jeffries to attend a seminar for free. Strauss accepted but quickly became alarmed by Ross' obsessive need to get him to disparage other pickup artists and pledge exclusive allegiance to him.

"You are being led into the inner sanctum of power, my young apprentice," he said to Strauss, "and the price for betrayal is dark beyond measure of your mortal mind."

The darkness of Jeffries’ dominance-inspired methods often shows itself as dark comedy. At one point, Strauss is cajoled by Jeffries to take him to a Hollywood party so he can hit on "real celebrities." At the party, he initially pretends to be Strauss' gay lover, but ends up following Carmen Electra around on all fours, sniffing her ass as if he were a dog.

"I made a mental note," writes Strauss, "never again to take Ross anywhere cool. It was an embarrassment."



Later in the book, when Strauss' close friend and master PUA, Mystery, has a nervous breakdown and is feeling suicidal, he blubbers that he doesn't want be "another Ross Jeffries." In what can only be a painful irony for Jeffries, what he started as a kind of homoerotic fraternity for geeks has, in the hands of his successors, evolved into a valid toolbox for getting laid, leaving him largely alone, outdated, and struggling desperately to maintain even the moniker of "seducer."

The Cellphone Murders

Phone BashersThey're cathartic, anti-social, and absurdeach capturing a moment in time which ends with someone chasing two giant cellphones down a street. "Run!" a giant cellphone shouts. "Keep running!" These strange, exhiliarating film clips are rather disturbing if you don't know the back story. But the context shifts tremendously when you do.

Cellphones were a strange and alien technology in 1999, with an adoption rate of less than 45%. Talking loudly on your mysterio-techno device provoked annoyance, distrust, and hostility — or a Top 20 hit single.

Ian Aitch reported that weird development for GettingIt.com in 1999. The British acid house movement spawned a band called KLF whose rogue provacateur Jimmy Cauty later sampled the ubiquitous ring-tone with a British comedian/musician (and sometime Pink Floyd contributor) named Guy Pratt. They morphed the cellphone jangle into a disturbingly catchy dance track — though according to Wikipedia BBC 1 radio then refused to play it. It was that annoying.

The British are insane, of course - or, they recognize that pop music is essentially a disposable glitz that should be dismissed, de-constructed, re-constructed, and mocked. (The sample-happy track competed with a rival song sampling the Hamster Dance called — what else? — Cognoscenti vs. Intelligentsia.) But then pumped up cellphone bashers decided it wasn't just a song; it was a movement.



"We have been looking for a fiendish project to get our teeth into for the past six months," they confided maliciously on their web site. It tells the tale of stealing two human-sized cellphone costumes from the filming of the song's music video. "After an evening of heavy drinking a plan was hatched and all concerned decided that this was a cause worth fighting for."

In guerilla movies that are reactionary, subversive, and gloriously futile, we see our heroes — dressed in giant cellphone costumes — surprising British cellphone users by snatching their phones out of their hands. Then stomping the cellphones to bits on the sidewalk. And then running.

And what did the record company think, when their music video's costumes turned up in online cellphone-smashing videos? "They have not recognised our existence," the tribal pranksters at PhoneBashing.com complain. But — graciously — they added that "We have decided to link to them even though they don't explain the true meaning of the song. Not one mention of how shit mobile phones are." This hastily-constructed knock-off web page included a link to the song's official site run by some combination of Virgin Records/EMI. "Very corporate," the cellphone-bashers chide. "All bells and whistles."

But before you cheer, you might want to check the registration for the cellphone-basher's own web site. Its administrative contact is EMI limited, and the site is administered by virginmusic.com. This site knocking the corporate suits at Virgin Records is in fact owned, run, and incorporated by Virgin Records.



This lends an aura of calculation to the enterprise — but it can't be fully assessed without witnessing one last spectacle. Described as the site's "mission statement" (on a web page named kill.html), it shows an unidentified spokesman for this unique moment in time trying frantically to convey human debasement - theirs, ours, or society's at large. Whether it was underground pranksters, a desperate record company, or just the magical spirit of cellphone-bashers past — they've captured their rage in a powerful five-second clip.

A manic man in a cell phone costume and white ski mask shouts "KILL MOBILE PHONES! KILL MOBILE PHONES!"

Dana Plato, Porn Star

Dana PlatoDana Plato's soft-core porn feature, Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill... and Jill, is misunderstood. "Dana really wanted the lesbian thing to be real, not exploitative," remembers Diane Anderson-Minshall, who interviewed Plato about the film for the lesbian magazine Girlfriends. "She wanted it to be a statement, not just another career move everyone would make fun of." Unfortunately, the people at DanaPlato.Net are positioning it as "Plato's pussy videos" with the tagline "From child TV star to adult porn star fucking her way into your bedroom."

The video's cover promises a "steamy erotic love story," but is it? Porn lovers may be disappointed.

The film opens with Plato's female co-star, Landon Hall, watching the male lead play the piano. The camera pans slowly over his ringed hand and the sheet music to stop on Hall, in a blue bikini, leaning on the piano, trying to communicate something with her eyes. You quickly get the uneasy feeling this movie is going to have more plot than the usual porno.



The piano scene does lead to sex, but not with Dana Plato. Instead, there's R-rated footage of "Jack," who's a photographer, making love to Landon Hall. Dana arrives later, playing a New York art director who's come to help Jack in his next photo shoot. They've got an early shoot the next day, so in a typical porn plot device, Jack suggests, hey, "Why don't you spend the night?" But then he makes a fatal mistake. He leaves the two women alone. Wrong! Everyone knows what's going to happen next...

"You're not wearing a bathing suit!"

"Nah, I didn't pack one..."

There's a long shot of Dana diving into the pool naked. Then there are shots of her through ever-shifting prisms of water. Hundreds of frustrated men reach for their remotes to hit the frame-by-frame button. But a minute later, Plato stands up and reveals her breasts.

Landon stares, bites her lip, dives into the pool, says something generic like "Ooo, it's chilly," and then removes her bikini. Oboe and piano music begins, and, of course, a montage. But in a radical departure for a porn film -- nothing happens! (Say, that is arty!) Instead, the film shows Dana calling her lesbian lover in New York, who doesn't pick up the phone because, of course: She's busy with another lesbian!

Guess there's nothing left to do but... take a shower!

This seems like an obvious setup. Landon Hall is already taking a shower when suddenly, there's a knock on the door. Dana had been showering elsewhere in the house, but wouldn't you know it, there's no soap! She swings by (no pun intended) to pick some up (no pun intended) and a transparent conversation ensues.

"Oh, wow, this is a great shower. It's huge! I have a little bitty one back in New York."

"You know, if you want, there's plenty of room in here. You could join me."

"Oh, I'd love to. You wouldn't mind?"

More pause-button fun ensues, but little is revealed. Instead, there's another arty montage: mostly scenes from the pool, with one flash of a fantasy where Dana kisses Landon's breast.

Not to give away the plot, but let's just say the ladies' stars start lining up. Landon has a fight with her boyfriend, then runs into Dana, who asks "Would you mind dropping me off at my hotel?"

Landon's reply? "You're not going to stay in a hotel tonight. You're gonna come home with me."

Of course, they end up in bed together. There are candles all around, and they're both naked. "It feels good to cuddle like this, doesn't it?" Landon asks. Dana starts petting her hair... But this scene is disappointing, too. Landon runs her fingertip over Dana's arm. Dana drags her fingertips across her breasts. There's a kiss. Dana pets her hair again. Kiss. Kiss. Oboe. And that's it.

Then there's a jump to the next morning, when Dana's ass is sticking out from the covers. The complicated threesome depicted in the movie's promotional poster never occurs. Instead, the film cuts to the two women running with a picnic basket in the sun, the synthesizer switches to harpsichord sounds, and we're treated to a song written by the film's director.

I want to know, what you think of me

I want to know, what you're feeling

Maybe it's just me, but I thought this movie had more potential when they were naked in bed together.



Dana Plato told Girlfriends the movie was "The worst piece of work I've ever done." It could've been better, but the director was "not an actor's director." (His next film was Bikini Med School.) "When there is no chemistry, no consistency, it's hard to do a good scene."

But for all the notoriety the film caused her, it could be worse. Earlier this year, her former TV co-star Gary Coleman revealed to US magazine that he was still a virgin.

Click here to buy Dana Plato's video!


See Also:
Dana Plato and the Diff'rent Strokes Curse
Screech's Sex Tape Follies
Nancy Drew's Sexy Secrets
Why Sarah Palin's Sex Life Matters
Deep Throat, Big Brain
World Sex Laws

Journalism is Dead

Over the last several years, everybody has been decrying the tabloidization of the mainstream press. But I will not join the chorus of Cassandras shouting their warnings about journalism's loss of credibility. Feggedaboddit! Journalistic credibility has about as much chance of staging a comeback as John-John does of showing up at the Millennium Rave in Tonga. There have been other periods throughout American history when the tabloid sensibility has dominated the media. The Hearsts built their publishing empire around it. Eventually, the staid gray voice of presumed objectivity returned. But now the situation has changed. I won't bore you with a string of cliches about the Internet's democratization of media and the cognitive chaos that ensues. I've already done that for a decade. Suffice it to repeat the famous quote from journalist A.J. Liebling -- "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one" -- and point out that it now applies to anyone with Net access. Of course, the definable, containable world in which the day's events could be told without ambiguity and could even be punctuated by Walter Cronkite's famous statement of finality, "And that's the way it is," was always illusory anyway. Now, the whole notion of a shared social reality is decaying at a fever pitch. People raised on the Web will no more believe that the truth radiates from the pages of The New York Times than from the latest Eminem CD. This time there's no going back. Don't worry. Look at it this way: Matt Drudge -- who trusts his instincts and shoots from the hip -- seems to get the story right about 75 percent of the time. That's got to be at least twice as good as the Beltway press corps, which routinely accepts and disseminates "information" from the Clinton Administration and the Pentagon without investigation. Mainline pundits see most Net information sources as the lunatic fringe, a realm of capricious amusement from which people will surely turn away -- back toward the "established professionals" -- when they want validated news. They've got it ass-backwards. People increasingly turn to their favorite alternative sources, even for serious news and analysis. And they look at the daily paper for its entertainment value. It's my hope that we are fast approaching that bright day when the last journalists who claim a strangle hold on objective truth are rediscovered as an obscure weirdo subculture. Until that day, may the best tabloid version of reality reign supreme.