Image Source: Pedopolis.
Today's conspiracy theories revisit 18th, 19th and early-to-mid 20th century superstitions, Penny Dreadful tales, malicious gossip about royalty and aristocrats, and prejudices. Our updated versions of yesterday's chatter include wild rumours about Princess Diana, Freemasons, Illuminati, Bilderbergers and the like. These rumours are part of a popular culture which as become ever more sinister since the Second World War. Clearly, many wartime propaganda techniques developed by the Nazis and Allies were absorbed by the marketing industry in the post-war period.
The shock of that war, how it transformed and twisted our sensibilities, is still little understood. But there is much evidence suggesting that the horror of World War II was subconsciously absorbed into mainstream society and became instrumentalized within pop culture's institutions.
Lindsay Lohan in 2012. In 2010, the actress posed for Tyler Shields to create blood-spattered murder scene fashion photos, see here, reminiscent of The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978). In 2012, she posed for Terry Richardson in a series of gun suicide photos, here. Image Source: Terry Richardson via Rumorfix.
My posts here, here, here and here discuss some of the historical background behind mass marketing and the entertainment industry over the past seventy years. With the advent of the Internet and computerized media manipulation, the flood of occult and toxic imagery has accelerated and intensified. That flood inspires distraction and cognitive dissonance at best.
You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to see why conspiracy theorists endlessly talk about creepy subliminal images embedded everywhere in consumer culture. You can see typical fears that celebrities and politicians are tools of industrial mass marketing here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Theorists argue that advertising and popular culture were built upon a monstrous post-war CIA project, Project MKUltra.
Retrospective on Project MKUltra. Video Source: Youtube.
One could argue simply that malevolent mass marketing has gotten out of control on a piecemeal basis. But for theorists, a seeming conspiracy gives that toxic context direction and purpose. When celebrities break down under the pressure of fame (as: here) or when terrible crimes occur (as: here) the toxic symbolic context, already present all around us, seems a causal factor.
Does that mean there is a conspiracy? No. But the ubiquitous use of nasty messages and covertly threatening mystic symbols to influence people to buy things is well known. Most of these messages revolve around sex, death and transformation. Masks. Keyholes. Mirrors. Clocks. Pyramids. Chessboards. Butterflies.
For a blatant example of repeated use of creepy imagery, see the Disney Channel's Gravity Falls, which debuted in 2012. There are conspiracy discussions on its insidious slap dash occult cryptics, here, here and here.
These images have now been seamlessly absorbed by the mass media and global marketing. But once upon a time, they were not sublimated or internalized. Disturbing narratives and symbols were recognized as external forces. For a glimpse at the critical turning point where the external became internal, have a look at Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), a seminal surreal film made by Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid. It is one of director David Lynch's favourite movies. Wiki: "The film was the product of Deren's and Hammid's desire to create an avant garde personal film that dealt with devastating psychological problems, like the French surrealist films of the 1920s such as Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel's Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L'Age d'Or (1930)." J. Hoberman claimed that the film literally depicted the internal workings of the human subconscious:
Deren became interested in Haitian possession - a loss of individual personality and the creation of a worldly personality. She wrote:"This film is concerned with the interior experiences of an individual. It does not record an event which could be witnessed by other persons. Rather, it reproduces the way in which the subconscious of an individual will develop, interpret and elaborate an apparently simple and casual incident into a critical emotional experience."
This idea now has dark connotations as far as celebrities' performing personae are concerned; it even chimes with the creation of micro-celebrities on social networks. Nevertheless, in Deren's film's depiction (below) of emotional trauma and disturbance, the film at this point is an artifact which is external to our experience. Today, we, like the celebrities and politicians whom we are supposed to admire and emulate, constantly absorb those harrowing nightmares and conflicting messages in the name of profit and entertainment. Where surrealism was once embodied in, say, a painting on a wall in a gallery, it now designates the basic quality of everyday life. No wonder one of the dominant political and artistic themes in the new Millennium is freedom, or, more precisely, the lack of it."The ritualistic form treats the human being not as the source of the dramatic action, but as a somewhat depersonalized element in a dramatic whole. The intent of such depersonalization is not the deconstruction of the individual; on the contrary, it enlarges him beyond the personal dimension and frees him from the specializations and confines of personality. He becomes part of a dynamic whole which, like all such creative relationships, in turn, endow its parts with a measure of its larger meaning."
Meshes in the Afternoon (1943). Video Source: Youtube.