Watergate, The Night Stalker, the Church Committee, Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery,” the Pascagoula Abduction and the Jonestown Massacre: this was my 1970s youth. My mom, who recalls taking pro-communist flyers from Lee Harvey Oswald outside the downtown New Orleans building where she worked as a secretary, once lifted a tobacco pipe left behind by Jim Garrison at a cocktail party, and kept it in a place of honor. My dad would occasionally reference the mysterious classified part of his job at NASA in Texas, on the team that prepared the Eagle lunar lander for Apollo 11. Ghost stories and monster hurricane reports got jumbled up in my head with hysterical local news reports on the energy crisis, serial killers, and waves of UFO sightings. Psychics were routinely on network television at night, warning of the world’s impending doom. For several years, in dentist offices and neighbors’ houses, I would find the same 1972 issue of Time Magazine with a terrifying illustration of the Devil on the cover. It is impossible to overstate the weirdness of the 1970s.
The last two television shows I followed were “Twin Peaks” and “The X-Files.” They made perfect sense in the 1990s. (They still make perfect sense.) When the daily newspaper where I worked hired a psychic to find a missing little girl, it seemed right for the times. When the psychic gave warnings by phone of what would happen on a particular day — from the name of the obscure California Indian reservation where the child’s skull was eventually found to a detailed description of the man who would aim a shotgun at my own skull — I listened without prejudice. Life was weird. Is weird.
My comfort stations on the Internet are places of shadow and mystery. I return to them the way religious people return to their Bibles, the way the sex freak returns to the porn underworlds defined by Rule 34.
Conspiracy theory is of no interest to me; I don’t need some slob in a tract home yelling into a webcam about how he figured out there’s an owl statue at Bohemian Grove. It’s the “high weirdness” that appeals, the combination of synchronicity and the sinister that keeps life interesting beyond the daylight pursuits of career, money, mating, family, retirement accounts, death.
From FidoNet and Usenet to Compuserve and GEnie, there was plenty of Paranoid and Paranormal America to be found online in the pre-Web days. And there were many 1990s spooky sites that I’ve loved, from the text-based information dumps of Xenu.net to the text-based information dumps archived mailing-list material like the insane Krill Papers. But it wasn’t until the Age of Blogging that writers and editors emerged with their own cultivated corners of the Internet. It was necessary, too, as spam ruined Usenet and illiterate Web forums took Usenet’s place.
The golden era for this particular Web niche was the Bush Regime, with its stolen election and its dark clouds of millennial depression and intense paranoia created by the competing theologies of terrorism and technology. An economist would note that the widening chasm between rich and poor and the rotting safety net of American life created the atmosphere of distrust and frayed nerves where conspiracies breed, just as the panics and recessions of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s replaced Cold War suspicions with doubt about our own leaders and institutions. Political scientists might note that the Far Right dominates conspiracy theory during Democratic administrations, while the Far Left takes over when the Republicans are in charge. But I am simply fascinated and terrified by everything that seems to be going on below the surface. And in this year of lower-than-average presidential election melodrama, the Weird Web again provided intrigue and mist.
So what would you find in my cabinet of curiosities, which is really just a bookmark list passed on from browser to browser and computer to computer, the many dead URLs like lacuna in a gnostic codex? You might click on Professor Hex, the “Scholar of the Strange and Mysterious.” has been posting a clever assortment weird material since the mid-2000s. You know you’re in good hands from his standing art alone: a gloomy underwater statue opposite a delightful black-and-white portrait of L. Ron Hubbard and Jack Parsons’ “Scarlet Woman,” Marjorie Cameron. Then there’s the Cryptogon, maintained by a southern Californian now living on remote farm in New Zealand, with a selection that occasionally and exactly hits my particular bag of strange. The Daily Grail and Fortean Times offer the mix of esoteric headlines and features you might expect from the alternate universe version of cable news, while both Rigorous Intuition and The Secret Sun excel at the longreads of this underworld. To say anything else would be to shine light on things that are best experienced at night, when you are alone and ready to be possessed. The exorcism of daylight and skepticism can return in the morning, if that’s what it takes to get you out the door.
But there’s no coming back all the way, that’s the final warning about this particular hallway of the Internet. You can dismiss 90% of it and still be haunted by the remainder. Why is your phone making those clicking sounds, anyway? Do mobiles even do that? Who keeps taking your mixed paper before the recycling truck arrives? Did that tense-faced guy in a bland four-door sedan really follow you on three random errands by chance?
Previously in series: The Delights Of ‘Diamond Joe Biden: Vice Presidential Jams’