Revisiting the X-Files, Part 2: The Second Encounter

It’s often the case that the first season of a television show involves a certain amount of workshopping to get the central concept polished and refined, before the series really hits its stride in a subsequent season. To an extent, this is true of The X-Files, which spent most of season 1 establishing the show’s status quo and then started really delivering on that concept’s promise in season 2- but at the same time, there’s a decent chunk at the start of the season where it looks like they might be rethinking the entire concept.

As of the start of season 2 of The X-Files, the X-Files division has been shut down, Agent Mulder’s stuck in a stultifying post listening to wiretap evidence, and Scully’s teaching trainees at Quantico how to unpack corpses. In the series opener, Little Green Men – another excellent episode from the star writing team of Glen Morgan and James Wong – Mulder isn’t even sure he believes in the old crusade any more, and ponders whether his memories of his sister’s abduction are really all they’re cracked up to be. Scully, for her part, seems to want to see where the chase takes them regardless of the reality or otherwise of Mulder’s memories – working on the basis that it doesn’t necessarily matter whether the inspiration for a project is rational or not if leads you to an interesting and illuminating end result.

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Connecting the (Demonic) Dots

Toyne Newton’s 1987 The Demonic Connection isn’t quite a psychic questing book along the lines of those written by Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman or Andrew Collins, but it’s regularly cited in Collins’ early work and has much the same atmosphere about it, largely because both The Demonic Collection and the various questing books have similar preoccupations with occult conspiracies at work in the English countryside.

The major difference in approach is that whilst the likes of Phillips or Collins’ questing books go into detail about the little adventures the authors and their colleagues have as they go using the powers of the mind to uncover various mysteries, Newton is much less interested in reporting methodology; with some exceptions, he just dumps the results of his research on the reader, which means it’s unclear to what extent psychic or other unconventional research methods figured into his work.

However, what The Demonic Connection lacks in adventure, it more than makes up for in the sheer scope of its theories. Another commonality it has with the psychic questing books is this tendency to take some local landmark in the English countryside, investigate its alleged mysteries, and thereby spin a yarn which puts that otherwise nondescript locale at the heart of a cosmic conflict.

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Vallée of Mystery

Of all the big names in UFOlogy in the late 20th Century, Jacques Vallée might be the most interesting. A physicist and computer scientist by training, he believed that there was some form of physical reality behind UFOs, but was reluctant to jump to the conclusion that they were necessarily nuts-and-bolts spacecraft from other worlds. In the late 1960s, his classic Passport To Magonia aired his personal theory that if there was any truth to stories of extraterrestrial visitors at all, they seemed more consistent with visits from other dimensions than from distant space – and that the phenomenon had direct parallels with folkloric encounters with angels, fairies and similar.

1979’s Messengers of Deception came about after Vallée decided to turn his attention from the witnessed aerial phenomena themselves to the people who claim to have witnessed them – and, in particular, those who insist they have met the occupants of interplanetary craft. His initial reason for doing so was a hypothesis that UFOs are a real physical phenomenon which has psychological or neurological effects on witnesses, and so by looking to said witnesses it might be possible to find evidence of this.

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Shake Hands With Danger

Stephen Knight’s career was cut short by brain cancer in 1985, but he’ll forever be remembered for two books. The first is 1976’s Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution, in which he aired a unique theory that the Ripper murders were carried out not by a single individual but by a trio of assassins acting, they believed, in the best interest of the British Crown and of Freemasonry. The second is 1984’s The Brotherhood, an investigation into the level of undue influence exercised in particular professions and social institutions by Freemasonry and Freemasons.

Specifying “Freemasonry and Freemasons” is important to Knight’s thesis, because he is careful to draw a distinction between Freemasonry as an institution and Freemasons as the people who occupy that institution. The great majority of anti-Masonic literature over the years has concentrated on attacking the institution of Freemasonry itself, alleging that it is purposefully and deliberately designed as a sinister edifice of corruption.

To an extent, The Final Solution fell into this trap a little – giving credibility to the nonsense garbage conspiracy theories promulgated by Leo Taxil in the 19th Century, before he gave a speech exposing all of his anti-Masonic work as a hoax, a prank played on the (predominantly Catholic) anti-Masonic conspiracy theory underground which went further than Taxil ever expected, simply because the conspiracy theorists were so credulous that Taxil simply couldn’t dream up a claim so absurd that they wouldn’t swallow it. In fact, Knight went so far as to make the claim that the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion – a document which has been comprehensively debunked over and over again – was actually a credible internal document from the global conspiracy, just disguised a little so that all the crimes of the Freemasons would end up being blamed on the Jewish people if it got out.

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Revisiting the X-Files, Part 1: The First Step Into the Shadows

So, we’re dealing with an iconic 1990s TV series here, in the pilot episode of which (Pilot) we have a young woman showing up dead on the outskirts of a small woodland town in the Pacific Northwest of the US. Thanks to parallels with a number of deaths elsewhere, the FBI become involved, represented in part by a handsome agent who reveals slightly eccentric habits and even more eccentric beliefs. The death turns out to be part of a web of local intrigue that belies the bucolic charm of the town, and there’s frequent hints than higher powers are involved in all this.

This is not, despite all of the above, Twin Peaks; instead we’re dealing with the start of The X-Files, lovingly crafted by Chris Carter, though he’s letting his Peaks fan flag fly here. The first episode sets the formula for most of the series’ “mythology” episodes: Mulder and Scully zoot about uncovering evidence of creepy alien activity, Mulder buys into the supernatural interpretation of events, Scully resists it but increasingly finds herself coming around to Mulder’s point of view step by baby step, they discover some incontrovertible evidence that something outright fuckabooie is going on but the sinister government conspiracy as represented by the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) manages to destroy the evidence yet again.

That’s a formula we’ll see repeated over and over during the run of the series, with incremental bits of additional motifs and recurring thingamuffins creeping in here and there to give the impression that we’re getting somewhere, but a quarter-century later and we all know goddamn well that it isn’t really going anywhere impressive – and with Gillian Anderson comprehensively fed up of the whole thing and no longer willing to come back after the mytharc episodes in 2018’s season 11 bombed, it looks like short of a full reboot we’ve had all the X-Files we’re ever going to get. (Conveniently, nice blu-ray sets of the TV episodes are widely available at a reasonable price, and the HD-remastered episodes are available on iTunes and other platforms at that.)

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Apocalypse Culture

No book provides a more complete one-stop summation of the Feral House publishing company’s ethos than Apocalypse Culture: criminality, avant-garde art, dark musical subcultures, fetishes which range from the unusual-but-consensual to the taboo-and-definitely-not-consensual, extreme politics of all stripes, secret societies, conspiracy theories and cultural meditations all sit cheek-by-jowl in this collection of essays edited by the late Adam Parfrey, founder of Feral House itself.

For Parfrey, it was all about freedom of speech and giving a platform to anyone, no matter how offensive or controversial – if anything, the controversy helped. As Eric Bischoff coined the phrase, “controversy creates cash”, and it’s notable that Feral House’s boom period in the 1990s coincided with an era in which this was never more true. Parfrey’s decisions about what to publish would occasionally spark controversy; Feral House got a tidal wave of condemnation when it put out The Gates of Janus, a meditation on serial killers by Ian Brady, and Parfrey’s pre-Feral publishing venture, Amok Press, put out an English translation of Michael, a novel by Joseph Goebbels.

Apocalypse Culture doesn’t quite include any full articles by authors on Goebbels or Boyd’s level (though Parfrey does quote Hitler at one point), but the material here is pretty extreme. That said, whilst Parfrey himself seems to have particular obsessions and points of focus, at the same time the sheer range of extremist opinion offered here is incredible. You wouldn’t expect many of the authors in here to see eye-to-eye on much, except perhaps a certain disregard both for societal norms (as they existed in the late 1980s/early 1990s) and the centre ground which tends to reinforce them. Indeed, the title of the book comes from Parfrey’s contention that the centre cannot hold, and an apocalypse of bizarre and aberrant behaviours is just around the corner.

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Not Secret, Just Ignored; Not Suppressed, Just Obnoxious

Published books have always been the mere tip of the iceberg when it comes to the conspiracy theory scene, which has historically thrived more on rumour, hastily-photocopied pamphlets and cheaply self-published samizdat. The creation of the Internet has only made this all the more true. Whereas stumbling across hastily-scrawled essays which no reputable publisher would touch (whether they’re afraid of the libel laws or simply don’t want to publish illucid nonsense) used to be a matter of browsing the right second-hand bookshop at the right time, now anyone and everyone has all the platforms they want to publish whatever they like, and by golly they do exactly that.

That being the case, Secret & Suppressed is fascinating less because of any of the merits of its contents – indeed, some of the stuff in here is outright terrible – and more because of it capturing a particular point in time. Published in 1993 by Feral House, Secret & Suppressed was a collection of essays compiled from various sources by conspiracy theorist Jim Keith, who was in a position to do this thanks to his contacts made as editor of underground zine Dharma Combat. Though in effect the idea wasn’t enormously original – it’s basically a more conspiracy-focused version of Apocalypse Culture, edited by Feral House head honcho Adam Parfrey – I think it’s notable simply because 1993 was right towards the end of an era when a book like this represented a worthwhile endeavour.

The Internet was just about a thing at this point in time, with newsgroups and BBSs and gopher sites and the like storing a range of text files on various conspiracy-adjacent subjects, but it had not yet become ubiquitous. These days, anyone writing a piece like those featured here is likely to plaster it all over the Internet for free, rather than offering it up for a book like this. Secret and Suppressed came out in that narrow band of time when the Internet was accessible enough to aid Jim Keith in his research and help Feral House reach a wider audience, but still obscure enough that it hadn’t completely changed the conspiracy theory landscape.

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