Always open for a good mind-expanding, Judge Bill Gibron thoroughly enjoyed this walk through the weird world of Disinformation and its like-minded minions.
Everything you know is wrong!
It was supposed to be the first of what would eventually be an annual metaphysical happening. Outsider scholars from around the world, thinkers with eclectic opinions like Robert Anton Wilson and Doug Rushkoff would be buttressed by performance artists like Joe Coleman and Kembra Pfahler. Then they, too, would be accessorized by pop-scene creatures like Marilyn Manson and Grant Morrison, all there to deliver an exposé on truth, expression, and the manipulative power of the media. In addition, special guests like Kenneth Anger would drop their usual hermetical façade to speak about a favorite subject or cause (in the legendary underground filmmaker's case, it was Aleister Crowley). Lead by Disinformation mastermind Richard Metzger and lasting for nearly six surreal hours, the counterculture event was labeled a "cyberpalooza" by The New York Times. Sadly, the promise of future installments seems to have gone the way of that once famous rock-and-roll road show led by Perry Farrell. There has yet to be a repeat performance of the 2000 experience, even though Metzger and his new band of merry pranksters continue to push the fringes of legitimate journalism to bring the public their conspiracy theories, alien architecture, and stories suppressed by the frequently flawed Fourth Estate.
Originally offered as part of a DVD release of Metzger's failed Disinformation TV series (bought by USA Network for the Sci-Fi Channel, only to be dropped once the controversial content was discovered), Disinfo.con consists of the bonus disc only from that previous two-disc set. The same set up. The same speaker selection. Practically the same cover art and liner notes, for that matter. Though it makes perfect sense to take a pair of titles that really have little relation to each other (the series did feature some of the convention guests) and sell them separately, there's an unpleasant undercurrent of exploitation going on here, a feeling that somehow Metzger and Co. are milking the same cash cow over and over again. Not that this material doesn't warrant its own release. It does. But when you can have the stellar series as well, why bother with just a convention souvenir? Indeed, one of the least effective elements of Disinfo.con is the lack of completeness. We learn that there were several more speakers on the bill, individuals like Genesis P-Orridge who really deserve a chance at the spotlight. Similarly, some of the inclusions reek of retail viability. Marilyn Manson, dressed to the deadly nines, is rather rote in his "us vs. them" free-speech sermon, sounding less convincing as his time with the audience drags on.
Still, these are very minor quibbles in what remains a total brain-bending experience. Metzger's main objective with both Disinfo.con and his Disinformation Company is crystal clear. He wants to muck up one's perception, opening up a media-manufactured mind to the potential alternative truths in the world. Not everything we see or hear is a fact. Not every idea or policy is perfect. Indeed, what Disinformation does best is cast doubt on the party line, to foster debate by deconstructing issues down to their major motivations. It's like the line delivered by Donald Sutherland in JFK: Metzger wants to examine the "why," the motive behind certain constructs and cultural divides, wondering who has the power to produce the propaganda and what they seek to gain from creating it. It's the theme behind his opening remarks, an introduction that sets the tone for the entire Disinfo.con DVD. What many of the speakers want to address is how the mainstream manipulates and borrows the best parts of the outsider arena, twisting them into a socially acceptable—and readily marketable—state. It's the point of Rushkoff's "we've won" remarks (the "we" being the pejorative counterculture) and scattered throughout Grant Morrison's and Robert Anton Wilson's screeds. For some, the focus is more individualized. Aleister Crowley, noted occultist and "magickian" is name-checked quite a lot. It makes up the majority of Kenneth Anger's focus and is inserted into several other discussions. It's both delightful and daunting.
As a matter of fact, without a working knowledge of many of these thinkers, Disinfo.con can come across like a stage version of Gödel, Escher, Bach. There are times when the ideas are crashing into each other in ways so random and resolute that you can barely bend a brain cell around them. Then there are instances where something sounds so insane (Morrison's travels with space aliens) that you wonder if this is an elaborate hoax. After all, the program is called Disinfo.CON—the hint couldn't be more obvious. Yet the overall tone, one of non-smug seriousness and genuine interest, avoids accusations of a philosophical flim-flam. Anyone who has seen Wilson or avant-garde Grim Reaper Joe Coleman in other settings knows these men are more solicitous than scam artist. About the only unnerving element here is something called "The Wall of Vagina." A notorious performance piece by Kembra Pfahler and her group The Girls of Karen Black, the purpose behind the puerile display is questionable at best. With their private parts painted various primary colors and Pfahler dressed like a kabuki businesswoman, the bottomless women lay on top of each other, each one exposing their Britney to the audience. Then Pfahler produces a turkey baster and…well, you get the idea. While some may see the connection between humanism, the conspiracy of artificial intelligence, and naked crotches, most will be left slightly baffled. In fact, that's a good way to sum up Disinfo.con—pleasantly perplexing.
Captured by three professional video cameras and offered in a 1.33:1 full-screen image, the technical specifications of this release are excellent. Granted, we miss much of the presentation's "multimedia" aspects, images and illustrations playing behind the speakers that the framing and composition more or less avoid. In addition, the Dolby Digital Stereo is not rendered directly from the soundboard, but is more a mix of the mike and the auditorium PA. The ever-present echo may bother the more particular tech geek. Unfortunately, there are no bonus features offered. No contextual breakdown of who these individuals are, or why they are important to the Disinfo.con dialect. While such substance would aid in our understanding, one imagines that Metzger and his gang would prefer we do the necessary research ourselves.
Honestly, the best advice this material delivers is the concept of becoming an active investigator of the culture. Sitting back passively as corporations set the social agenda via advertising and marketing is a mistake. While belief in a 19th Century mystic may not answer life's impossible questions, it will go a long way in breaking the cycle of lies than permeate the present. Come to think of it, maybe Metzger didn't need another convention to get this point across. The 2000 Disinfo.con does a good job all by itself.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Disinformation Company
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