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Pranksters, Deviants and SoCal Satanists

A couple of years ago Richard Metzger, co-founder of the crank clearinghouse Web page disinformation®, was given the opportunity to translate the site’s idiosyncratic parallel universe reportage into a prime-time television show for Channel 4 in the U.K. Assembling a patchwork of material that alternated roughly between profiles of and interviews with outsider scientists, artists and philosophers and somewhat more transgressive footage of L.A.‘s fetish ball, gonzo porn production, and drunken rednecks setting each other on fire, Metzger’s witty, subversive ”deprogram“ caused a sensation.

When the Sci-Fi Channel paid to repackage the show, it looked as if worthy candidates like Robert Anton Wilson, Kembra Pfahler and Joe Coleman would finally be getting the mass audience they deserved. But early this year -- only 12 days before the first episode was scheduled to air -- Sci-Fi backed out. Metzger‘s response was to release the series on DVD (with a bonus disc of footage from 2000’s notorious Disinfo.Con in NYC) and edit a selection of the source interviews into a glossy, self-published paperback.

Following the surprise success of disinformation®‘s two Russ Kick--edited anthologies of dissident thought-styling (You Are Being Lied To and Everything You Know Is Wrong), Disinformation: The Interviews shifts the emphasis from trenchant political commentary on the machinations of corporate media (and the stories we suppress) by Chomsky, Zinn, et al., to the somewhat hairier realm of late-psychedelic (as in Burning Man) cultural studies. This encompasses an entertaining range of topics including serial-killer fetishism, time travel (and other borderline technology), apocalyptic philosophical speculations on cyberspace, alien abduction, anarchist comic books and sex magick.

Aleister Crowleyan magick is a predominant theme throughout: from the opening testimony of old-school crank R.A. Wilson, whose ’70s sci-fi paranoia classic The Illuminatus! Trilogy awakened the minds of countless suburban geeks to the joys of freemasonry, occult sexual rituals and LSD, to the extensive closing remarks by COUM TransmissionsThrobbing GristleThee Temple Ov Psychick Youth front man Genesis P-Orridge. This emphasis on the magical alteration of reality through force of will may seem whimsical at first glance, but points up an essential aspect of the disinformation® agenda. Where dissection of propaganda and exploration of alternative theories awaken individuals to the web of fictions that surrounds them, the examples of pranksters and deviants empower them to put their own, competing fictions into play. This is William Burroughs--style magic, exploiting whatever current technology works best -- culture jamming, ad busting, or hacking a hole in the prevailing consensus.

Burroughs, who constantly used his improbable position in the literary establishment to promote radical political and social causes and to disseminate fringe intelligence and technology, is another character whose spirit hovers over Metzger‘s projects. It’s no surprise that Metzger describes experiencing a formative epiphany when he stumbled across RESearch #45, the issue of that post-punk perfect-bound paperback magazine that devoted equal portions to Burroughs, his cutup sidekick Brion Gysin and industrial-music pioneers Throbbing Gristle. Like Illuminatus!, the RESearch books were (and continue to be) important flotation devices for isolated young adults who were gripped by the idea that things are not what they seem. Metzger‘s book, in fact, seems to slot very neatly into the lineage of such primers, which certainly must include the Loompanics catalogs, Stuart Swezey’s AMOK Journal, Semiotexte‘s USA issue, innumerable zines and (most especially) Adam Parfrey’s Apocalypse Culture books.

The book‘s main flaw, in fact, is how very pleased with himself Metzger is to find himself in such company. He prattles happily through his introductions, and considers most of his subjects as personal friends. He claims as historical fact that his disinformation® program was ”the most uncompromising fucked-up TV show of all time,“ which is unlikely to be ”surpassed in the high-weirdness sweepstakes any time soon.“ Boy needs to tune in some cable access. Ultimately though, Metzger’s tone is disarmingly ingenuous and his enthusiasm infectious -- it isn‘t really his show, but an all-star revue of peripheral cultural heroes for which he acts as genial, chatty host. RESearch’s Vale & Juno‘s often flat-footed interrogation techniques never detracted much from the coolness of their informants, after all.

Unfortunately, the transcripts included in Disinformation: The Interviews aren’t going to infect as many impressionable minds as the actual TV show would have, and some of the most subversive material -- the deadpan interviews with SoCal Satanists and CIA mind-control sex slave Brice Taylor -- is only included on the video. But the printed interviews are considerably expanded from their broadcast versions, and the book itself is beautiful -- particularly the numerous gorgeously printed reproductions of art by Joe Coleman (gnarly, obsessive lowbrow portraits), Norbert H. Kox (gnarly, obsessive, anti-Catholic allegories) and Paul Laffoley (intricate, obsessive spiritualoutsider scientific diagrams); and given the peculiar life-unto-itself of this strain of heterodox thought, it will undoubtedly find its way into the right hands before the coming Apocalypse.

DISINFORMATION: THE INTERVIEWS | By RICHARD METZGER | The Disinformation Company Ltd. | 176 pages $20 paperback | www.disinfo.com