Alex Jones and the Problem of Historic Speculation

While Alex Jones has faced widespread condemnation for promoting wild theories, Hollywood continues to embrace filmmakers who peddle fake history.

Texas-based conspiracy theorist Alex Jones recently appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience after the two alternative media personalities’ longtime friendship threatened to very publicly implode. Jones, whose accounts have been banned from multiple social media platforms, has found himself under attack from all sides, including a messy divorce. The Rogan podcast garnered over 7.5 million views in a few days.

Jones was incredibly forthright and honest during the interview’s first hour, admitting he had been wrong in the past, and that he had, basically, sold the rope his critics are using to hang him. His investigation into true conspiracies, like Operation Northwoods and the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, led him to believe everything is a conspiracy.

Conspiracies do happen, but conspiracy theorists take this concept to the extreme, alleging “false flag” operations and government coverups behind every major current event. Conspiracy theories are attractive because they often contain grains of truth, which when put together, the theorist uses to come to an incredible (and often incredibly false) conclusion.

For example, over the course of Rogan’s epic 280-minute long interview, Jones ranged from claims about morally dubious scientific studies, which actually took place, to allegations that “global elites” are in contact with (or at least believe they are in contact with) interdimensional beings who demand blood sacrifices in exchange for advanced technology.

That’s a pretty big leap.

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The Edge of Seventeen Revisited

This film’s protagonist is definitely not a “typical teen” dealing with the pains of becoming an adult.

I decided to revisit writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s 2016 film The Edge of Seventeen, since it appeared on Netflix earlier this year. My review of The Edge of Seventeen is one of my most popular, for reasons I don’t fully understand. Then again, I think I missed the point of this movie as well, since it has near-universally high ratings from both critics and audiences, and I thought it was eye-rollingly cliche and annoying.

What I suspect draws people to my review is my theory that the main character, Nadine, is suffering from borderline personality disorder. It seems fairly obvious, and I wonder whether this was intentional. Since writing my review, I’ve received feedback from readers who are familiar with BPD and share my suspicions.

In case you haven’t seen the film, The Edge of Seventeen is about an awkward teenage girl, Nadine Byrd (Hailee Steinfeld), who experiences a crisis when her best friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), starts dating her brother, Darian (Blake Jenner). Her relationship with her mother, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick), deteriorates as Nadine vents her frustration on friends, family, and even her cynical history teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson). The cloud has a silver lining when she meets a similarly awkward young man, Erwin (Hayden Szeto).

I’ve read several interviews with writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig in which she explains her film is about authentically capturing teenage angst and relationships (I’ll explain why this doesn’t hold water later), but I suspect there’s something she’s not telling us.

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Was Sony Brave When it Made its 2016 Ghostbusters Reboot?

Director Jason Reitman found himself in some hot water recently (with who, I wonder?) when he said on a podcast his new Ghostbusters sequel will “hand the movie back to the fans.” I, for one, read this and thought, yes, thank you! As a huge fan of the original 1984 Ghostbusters, I’m excited to see the son of its original director continuing the franchise.

But after facing criticism for his comments (again, from who?), Reitman backtracked in the most cringe-inducing way by groveling on Twitter and making this ridiculous statement:

“Wo, that came out wrong! I have nothing but admiration for Paul and Leslie and Kate and Melissa and Kristen and the bravery with which they made Ghostbusters 2016. They expanded the universe and made an amazing movie!”

Jason Reitman, @JasonReitman, Feb 20, 2019

Um, what? Whether or not the 2016 Sony Ghostbusters film was amazing or not is a subjective opinion, but was it brave to make that film. Brave? How was it brave to take elements from an ’80s franchise and repackage them to make a quick buck? I don’t think Sony, Director Paul Feig, or its cast were anticipating the massive fan backlash. That happened after they already started making the movie.

When their gimmicky reboot came under fire for ignoring the original films and being generally terrible and unfunny, its apologists blamed “misogyny” and “toxic fandom.” And here, in this article on TheWeek’s website, the writer repeats this slander of the fans by saying Reitman “made it sound like the 2016 all-female reboot had taken the series away from devotees, or that the misogynistic trolls who were so violently opposed to it were the true fans.”

Yes, the only reason anyone could possibly have for thinking Ghostbusters 2016 was a piece of hot garbage was “misogyny”. Not because it was unfunny, gross, over-saturated, didn’t respect the previous two films, or maybe even that the viewer didn’t like its style of improvised comedy. The only reason you didn’t like their film is because you’re a terrible human being. How dare you.

I wonder why Jason Reitman felt the need to grovel and pay lip service to these charming defenders of the 2016 film. He wants to make a movie that will pay homage to the originals, that fans of the original films will love (hopefully). There’s nothing wrong with that, and he certainly has nothing to apologize for.

The ‘Burbs Turns 30

This quintessential Suburban Gothic tale lampooned middle class fears in the 1980s, but remains refreshingly relevant.

Yesterday, my favorite comedy horror film from the 1980s, The ‘Burbs, turned 30. It premiered in theaters on February 17, 1989 and grossed $11 million in its opening weekend, ultimately raking in over $36 million. Though panned by clueless critics who couldn’t see past its campy premise, The ‘Burbs has since become something of a cult classic.

This film had a profound effect on me as a kid. While on the surface a lighthearted satire of ’80s horror, The ‘Burbs delved deep into the American psyche. It stars Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, and Rick Ducommun as three friends who suspect an eccentric and reclusive family is up to no good in their neighborhood. Carrie Fisher and Corey Feldman also play prominent roles.

The ‘Burbs was written by Dana Olsen and directed by Joe Dante. Olsen, who is usually known for sillier comedies like George of the Jungle (1997) and Inspector Gadget (1999), was inspired to write the script after hearing about gruesome crimes in his own hometown. Joe Dante directed Gremlins (1984), Gremlins 2 (1990), and the TV series Eerie, Indiana (1991-1992), Witches of East End (2013-2014), and Salem (2015-2016). Eerie, Indiana was also about the strange and unusual underbelly of a quaint, unassuming town.

Welcome to Mayfield Place

Ray and Carol Peterson (Hanks and Fisher) live in a picturesque home on Mayfield Place, a cul-de-sac in suburban Hinkley Hills with their son, Dave (Cory Danziger) and their dog, Vince. The Petersons live next door to a dilapidated house owned by a reclusive family named the Klopeks. Dr. Werner Klopek (Henry Gibson), his son, Hans (Courtney Gains), and his brother, Reuben (Brother Theodore), quietly moved into the old Victorian home, which used to be owned by Mr. and Mrs. Knapp.

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Details Emerge in Camp Napowan Story

I rescued the following post from my old website, Mysterious Heartland, and decided to re-post it here in case I have any readers interested in Wisconsin folklore or who went to Camp Napowan as a Boy Scout. Enjoy!

After posting an edited transcription of the legend of Boot Hill from Napowan Scout Camp in central Wisconsin (read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), a reader contacted me with his own insight into the story. In addition to more information about how an audio version of the tale became available, he reveals that a tragic accident in the early 2000s may have squelched its retelling. Here are his remarks:

Hi Michael,

I came across your transcription of the Story of Boot Hill on Mysterious Heartland, and I wanted to give you my recollection. I visited Napowan as a Boy Scout from 1993 to 1999. The first year I went, one of the camp staff was invited to our site to tell the story of Boot Hill. I think he was the camp director at the time, or he became camp director several years later, and I want to say his name was Eric. There were a few additional details that were added to the story in future tellings, as well as a few omissions.

I can only remember one omission regarding the event from 1992. A special needs scout from the Little City sponsored troop (which I believe is also out of Des Planes) got lost, wandered off camp property, and recalled seeing black cats with white paws when he was found. The troop is comprised of mentally challenged adults who were still in attendance during the years I visited camp Napowan. I think the lost scout was an African American guy who went by the name Horse.

Eric took a break from staffing, but returned in the late ’90s. Since he was not there to tell the story, another staff member told the story for the entire camp in 1994 or 1995. His name was Brad Shuman, and he was the director of the Nature program area. He was a creepy guy to begin with, but he did a superb job telling the story. It genuinely scarred a lot of scouts who had to later walk back to their campsites, in the dark, through many of the locations mentioned in the story.

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Lizzie: A Lackluster Revisionist Thriller

Just four years after Lizzie Borden Took an Ax and the campy TV mini series it spawned, were audiences really clamoring for another Lizzie Borden film?

An uninspiring cast sleepwalks its way through this speculative take on an all-too-familiar story in Lizzie (2018), written by Bryce Kass and directed by Craig William Macneill. The film pits Lizzie Borden and the family’s live-in maid, Bridget Sullivan, against her tyrannical father and unsympathetic step mother in what co-producer and lead actress Chloë Sevigny described as an overtly feminist take.

The film opens in the aftermath of Andrew (Jamey Sheridan) and Abby (Fiona Shaw) Borden’s murder. An investigator asks their 32-year-old daughter, Lizzie (Chloë Sevigny), whether her father had any enemies. From there, the film rewinds to the family’s employment of a 25-year-old Irish maid named Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart). According to the filmmakers, that was the catalyst for the eventual double homicide, and the answer to the investigator’s question. There is never a question about Lizzie Borden’s involvement in her parent’s death. The obvious foil, and rival for Lizzie’s inheritance, her uncle John Morse (Denis O’Hare), serves as a flimsy red herring.

Lizzie’s central conflict is between Lizzie, Bridget, and her domineering father, who seeks to control all the women living under his roof. While Lizzie’s sister, Emma (Kim Dickens), fades into the background, Lizzie and Bridget find themselves in a compromising position, one that leads to her parents’ gruesome murder. Sevigny herself characterized this as a literal “smash the patriarchy” moment.

In real life, Andrew and Sarah Borden were found murdered in their Fall River, Massachusetts home on August 4, 1892. Their middle aged daughters, Lizzie and Emma, lived with them, along with their maid, Bridget Sullivan. There had been significant tension in the family leading up to the murders, and Lizzie gave conflicting alibis. Lizzie was arrested and put on trial. After 90 minutes of deliberation, the all-male jury acquitted her. Her trial was a national media sensation, but to this day, there are many competing theories about “whodunnit.”

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Desperate News Outlets Turn “Street” to Attract Younger Viewers

Members of the mainstream news media embrace celebrity tabloid culture in their race to the bottom.

A few days ago, I spotted two articles about U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi “throwing shade” (or “serious shade” in once instance) at New York Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal proposal. I guessed this meant Pelosi was dismissive of the proposal, but because I’m too lame and too white, I had to look it up.

According to UrbanDictionary, to “throw shade” means “to talk trash about a friend or aquaintance [sic], to publicly denounce or disrespect. When throwing shade it’s immediately obvious to on-lookers that the thrower, and not the throwee, is the bitcy [sic], uncool one.”

Both CNN’s Chris Cillizza and Fox News’ Adam Shaw used the slang expression, in an effort to identify with younger audiences and appear “hip”, I guess? Because, yes, I’m sure the 78-year-old Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was “throwing shade.” It would only be more perfect if she came out wearing dark sunglasses at the press conference.

Are these two articles supposed to be actual news and analysis? Or are they just click-bait designed to appeal to the celebrity gossip crowd? As if Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are involved in some kind of celebrity rivalry. At one point, Chris Cillizza even refers to Ocasio-Cortez as “one of the biggest stars in her party”. What?

That she’s only been in Congress for a month is besides the point. Referring to someone as a “star” suggests they are an entertainer with legions of adoring fans, a wealthy celebrity, or the object of a cult of personality. Is that really how we want to think of our politicians and public servants?

How are we supposed to take these news outlets seriously when they report on national politicians like they’re Taylor Swift and Katy Perry?