Who Still Believes in 911 Conspiracies?

Who Still Believes in 911 Conspiracies?

Ever since 11 September 2001, there have been claims the US government played a central role in the attacks on the World Trade Center complex. Few mainstream political figures want anything to do with the idea, yet its presence dominates the Internet and some of the most frequently viewed websites and posted videos concern this idea.

Discussions of who believes in 911 conspiracy theories have generally been left to speculation. One major empirical examination focused on a 2006 random sample of Americans. The results pointed to media exposure, as well as political involvement as important factors in acceptance of 911 conspiracy theories. While drawing no firm conclusions about implications, the authors speculated a larger role for belief in conspiracy as a part of mainstream American politics. They conclude that 911 conspiracy is, “…aligned with mainstream political party divisions [providing] evidence that conspiracy thinking is now a normal part of mainstream political conflict in the United States” .

The data for this study, however, was gathered in 2006 when 911 conspiracy was seen as a protest against the Bush Administration. Since the 2008 election of President Obama, much support for this idea among Democrats has disappeared. Similarly, other signs of public support related to 911 conspiracies have dwindled.
Demonstrations held by 911 conspiracy theorists each year at Ground Zero in New York City peaked in 2006 and, while still held, are only sparsely attended. As a result, the question of who still believes in 911 conspiracies remains open.

This paper reports on an exploratory study of membership in a group that promotes 911 conspiracies. Using the Internet social networking system Facebook, the aim of this paper is to provide an empirical examination of people who have publicly ascribed to belief in 911 conspiracy theories.

We Are Change
We Are Change (WAC) is a grassroots Internet-based organization that promotes a series of vague secular beliefs about government control over the world. Websites and Facebook pages of the organization often refer to some form of global control they term the New World Order (NWO). WAC members and chapters advocate a series of beliefs about the involvement of the US government in the 911 attacks. Foremost among these is the idea that the US government was responsible for controlled demolitions that destroyed World Trade Center (WTC) buildings 1, 2, and 7. Mention is frequently given to use of thermite and arguments that imply a vast coordinated effort between shadowy unnamed characters . WAC also opposes explanations that no airline jets were crashed into the WTC – the so-called “no planer” theories. Individuals who promote these ideas are referred to as “disinfo”, and there is much speculation they work for shadowy government-affiliated groups to discredit ‘legitimate’ Truth groups.

WAC claims many chapters both in the USA and around the world. It is widely believed among membership and supporters it is one of the largest and most influential 911 Truth groups. The true extent of membership and support is difficult to gauge. WAC is very active on the Internet social networking system Facebook. Each official group is required to have a website, and virtually every group uses Facebook for this purpose. While WAC Facebook groups sometimes list more than 1000 members, it is not clear what these numbers means. Involvement in Facebook groups entails low-commitment. As such, these membership counts are a poor indicator of support for WAC claims about 911.

Outside of the Internet, however, We Are Change is by far the most active 911 conspiracy group. WAC is responsible for almost every 911 conspiracy-related street demonstration and rally in the USA and elsewhere. Every year around September 11, there is a demonstration held at Ground Zero in New York City protesting what they claim was official government involvement in the 911 attacks. In recent demonstrations, almost all participants appear to be members of WAC with no other organization playing a significant role in the planning and execution.

The Study
This study used information obtained through publicly available Facebook accounts to build a profile of individuals who believe in 911 conspiracy theories. Given the low threshold necessary for Facebook affiliation, this study compared a high commitment and a low commitment group of 911 conspiracy theorists. Low commitment believers are represented by members of a Facebook WAC group. High commitment believers are represented by participants in major public 911 Truth demonstrations.

The profiles of low commitment (LC) believers were obtained from a sample of one of the largest WAC Facebook groups. Beginning in February 2010, I obtained a convenience sample of 60 members of a major WAC Facebook group. Total membership of the group fluctuates regularly. On July 31, 2010, when this portion of the study was finalized, membership was 508. Members were not sampled in any systematic fashion and these 60 names represent those who appeared at the top of the membership menu when it was requested from Facebook. Of these, 58 useful Facebook profiles were obtained.

The high commitment (HC) conspiracy believers are members of WAC who took part in a series of 911-related demonstrations in New York City held in 2009. The first of these was the 911 memorial demonstration held to commemorate the September 11 attacks. The second demonstration held on September 27, 2009 was organized to draw attention to a petition the group supported calling for a new investigation into the 911 attacks. The petition is referred to as NYCCAN .

Both these demonstrations were recorded at the time, and many photos and videos of the event were posted on individual Facebook accounts and on Youtube. WAC videos of the memorial demonstration were taken in a way that made counting attendance very difficult. My estimate of the clearest videos, which are no longer available on Youtube, was that slightly more than 100 people attended. The NYCCAN demonstration was filmed by a member of James Randi Educational Forum and posted on Youtube. While it is difficult to distinguish protestors from pedestrians, I have counted the demonstration several times and arrived at approximately the same number as I obtained for the 911 memorial demonstration, slightly more than 100.

In addition, Facebook accounts of participants have featured photographs from the two events with the names of other participants labeled. By comparing the labeled names found on different Facebook accounts, I was able to recover a total of 53 names for people who attended the two events. Fifty-two (52) of these names appeared in photos of both demonstrations. Only one person appeared in a photo of the NYCCAN demonstration but not a photo of the 911 memorial demonstration leading me to belief that participation was almost identical. I was then able to gather publicly available background information from the Facebook accounts of these participants.

The overwhelming majority of both groups are male. Seventy-nine percent of the LC (n=45) and 75% of HC (n=40) were male. Age could be identified for 49 of the LC and 28 of the HC believers. The mean age of participants was 27.4 years and 28.0 years, respectively. The median age was not substantially different.

Employment information for the LC group was obtained for 21 members. Six members of the LC group identified themselves as students. Three are currently still in high school. At least one appears to be a part-time student. Two members described themselves as self-employed. Only 3 of the surveyed members reported clearly professional occupations, identifying themselves as teacher, pharmacist and lab manager. The remainder of members appeared to be marginally employed, reporting such jobs as drivers, clerks, phone bank operators, or simply, “have 5 part-time jobs”.

Employment was rarely reported for members of the HC group, although they did claim a substantial level of education. Two HC members reported graduate degrees and several stated having graduated from top-ranked schools. Results from the HC point to a significant level of computer sophistication. One member identified himself as the owner of a computer store. Three others reported education and employment in computer related fields. This may explain the large number of high quality videos the group is able to place on the Internet.

Four members of the LC group stated their religion as Muslim. It’s not clear if this reflects a larger pattern of belief in 911 conspiracies or WAC membership, or is the result of the influence of a prominent member of the group who also claims to be Muslim. Identified religious affiliation of the HC group was almost completely Christian. The only identified Muslim in the HC group is also a member of the LC group. In fact, the degree of Christian affiliation claimed by the HC group was substantial. Seven of the HC group either endorsed a Christian-themed Facebook group or identified themselves as Christians. Three others are members of the Constitution Party, which has as its platform to “restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations” . One member of the HC group has run for public office with the Constitution Party.

While Facebook does not require members to post political information, many members of LC group did so. In my sample, I was able to recover information about the political affiliation of 7 members. The labels used by members include “Constitutionalist”, “Christian Constitutional Party”, “member of the Tea Party”. One member who identified himself as a “libertarian Mormon” had pictures of himself using firearms posted in his profile. No surveyed member identified themselves with a mainstream political party or a moderate political philosophy, such as liberal or conservative. The HC group was much more likely to identify a political direction or affiliation. By far the strongest affiliation was with the libertarian Ron Paul. Twenty-two (22) members of the HC group belonged to Facebook groups that support Ron Paul, including a substantial number who had photographs of themselves with Ron Paul posted in their Facebook account. Two addition members described themselves as “paleo-conservative”. Two (2) identified themselves as “tea party members” and 1 as a “birther”. As mentioned above, 3 HC group members belong to the Constitution Party which, in addition to its position on separation of Church and State, opposes gun control, public health insurance, and advocates an isolationist political position. Almost every HC group member belonged to groups that support 2 members of WAC who are Libertarian Party candidates in New York.

The Facebook profiles of many HC group members identified many other political causes and affiliation. These included pro-gun groups, the John Birch Society, or pro-life groups. Only one member of the HC group described herself as “liberal”, making her the only person in the total 111 surveyed members to do so.

One unexpected result of this study was the attrition rate of members. The complete study covered almost an entire year. During this time, some members dropped out of the groups. While verifying some of the profiles, I discovered that several members whose profiles I had surveyed earlier in the year had removed their Facebook profiles. In the LC group, I was able to confirm that one professionally employed member and another who worked in a high profile company had removed their membership, not just from WAC, but completely from Facebook. The HC group showed much stronger stability. Two members of the HC group have also become impossible to reach through Facebook, although I believe they are still active in WAC. An additional member, who was recently married, has become much more actively involved in the political campaign of Ron Paul and subsequently less involved in WAC 911 conspiracy activities.

This paper reports on a study of member in a group that advocates 911 conspiracy. It examined members who demonstrated different levels of commitment to the belief. A low commitment group was only marginally involved in promoting the idea, having only joined a Facebook group. A high commitment group, on the other hand, was composed of members involved in a public demonstration of this belief. Despite the differences in their level of commitment to the idea, both groups were very similar in composition.

Both groups were overwhelmingly young males. The low commitment group contained many marginally employed members. Members with better jobs seemed to be drifting away. The highly committed group contained more well-educated members and, in this group, drifting away seemed connected to growing family commitments. It is not clear from this analysis if levels of education reflect characteristics of believers in 911 conspiracies or differences between followers and their leadership. Both groups were largely affiliated with a formalized organization that has a name (We Are Change) and leadership positions with titles. The deeper involvement of a more educated group may be a result of qualification and preparation for this kind of role.

The more significant results pertained to political affiliations. Earlier research on 911 conspiracies has described the belief as appealing to supporters of the Democratic Party. In addition, discussions I have seen on such venues as the James Randi Educational Forum describe 911 conspiracy as a non-partisan issue with no specific appeal to either the left or right. This was not confirmed by my samples. The individuals surveyed here were overwhelmingly involved in right-wing politics, particularly with Ron Paul the Constitution Party and the Libertarian Party.

Much of this confusion about political affiliation may stem from an orientation that falls outside the traditional bipartisan political structure of the United States. None of the surveyed individuals, either in the high- or the –commitment group, reported affiliation with one of the two traditional parties. Many reported seeing little difference between the two because both were clearly involved in the secret New World Order and subsequently, the government conspiracy that destroyed the World Trade Center buildings.

The patterns found in this data do not support the contention that affiliation with the Democratic Party predicts belief in 911 conspiracy theories . While it is understandable that Democrats would have supported a conspiracy theory that placed a Republican president at the center, with a Democratic president, this is less likely. In addition, these researchers suggested a growing normalcy of conspiracy in contemporary political thinking. My findings are not consistent with this position. 911 conspiracy theories do not seem to hold widespread appeal and are instead as part of a larger system of beliefs about the political structure of the United States. Even relatively low commitment to 911 conspiracies is associated with affiliations to groups and individuals with extreme right-wing political beliefs falling outside the traditional spectrum of American politics. Greater commitment found a correspondingly larger affiliation to these ideas with no meaningful exception to this pattern. It would appear that patterns of belief in 911 conspiracies have changed dramatically with the political landscape of America and now, belief is localized almost exclusively among right-wing supporters of parties that fall outside the traditional bipartisan landscape of American politics.
Notes & References
1. Stempel, C., T. Hargrove, and G. H. Stempel III. 2007. Media Use, Social Structure and Belief in 9/11 Conspiracy Theories. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 84: 353- 372.
2. Ibid p. 1
3.Jacobson, M. The Ground Zero Grassy Knoll New York
March 19, 2006 Available at http://nymag.com/news/features/16464/, see also
Mole, P. 2006. 9/11 Truth Movement in Perspective. The Skeptic. Available at http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/06-09-11/
4. NYCCAN Vote for Accountability. Available at http://www.nyccan.org/
5. NYCCAN March Sep 27, 2009 – The smallest protest in NYC, ever. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwjKDmA7Gi4
6. Constitution Party Platform. Available at http://www.constitutionparty.com/party_platform.php#Preamble
7. Stempel, Hargrove and Stempel. Ibid.


Who is Scott Sommers?

I am currently a doctoral candidate in the Chinese-taught program in Educational Psychology at National Taiwan Normal University and instructor in the English Language Center at Ming Chuan University in Taipei, Taiwan. I have lived in Taiwan since 1996, and before this, taught at a variety of universities, colleges and high schools in Japan and South Korea.

My research interests cover a wide range of topics. The research undertaken for my doctoral work is a technical examination of rating scales and the way in which multiple ratings can affect rating outcomes. It is a practical study with applications in test development and design. In addition to this, I have published work on Taiwan history and also political aspects of conspiracy theory in the USA.

I have been awarded a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu by Tommy Hsieh, who at the time was the highest ranking BJJ coach in Taiwan. I am also one of only a handful of foreign residents, and the first Canadian ever, to be awarded a black belt in Judo by the ROC Judo Federation. On 28 November 2008, I was a member of the five-man over-40 team from Shuang Yuan Judo that won a gold medal at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Cup (national championships). I played rugby union for many years in Canada, Japan and South Korea for such teams as the Taipei Baboons. I consider the Seoul Survivors Rugby Football Club to be my spiritual guardians.

I am married and live with my wife and daughter. We have a cat. Anyone is invited to see pictures of all this on my Facebook.

What’s a Conspiracy Theory

I wrote this piece a couple of years ago, but it seems a fitting time to post it here.

I was recently exposed to the idea that the Denver International Aiport is part of an intergalactic plot to take over the world. You can find a summary of these ideas here on Wikepedia. I know this sounds bizarre, but the idea is that when the airport was constructed, a secret base for aliens was built under the airport that you and I see. For some strange reason, the aliens constructors of what is called the New World Order left all sorts of clues they had taken over the world and are using the DIA as their base. If I haven’t already lost your interest, you can read more about this here and here.

Of course I think this is hogwash, but that’s not what I want to talk about. Instead, I want to address the issue of what all of this says about what a conspiracy theory is and how one gets spread. My contention is that conspiracy theories are just bad journalism. If the investigation is done correctly and the conspiracy is real, the conspiracy disappears and becomes real news. When a conspiracy theory exists for more than a little while, it is because the logical investigative leads that should be followed have not been. Let’s look at what’s being said about the Denver International Airport and try to get my meaning.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Denver International Airport is its murals. The airport provides this information on the murals, and here are some pictures of the more controversial portions. I’m not sure what the mural evidence is supposed to prove, but they are a part of the theory that attracts a great deal of attention. While I agree they are “pretty freaky”, I also think their role in a conspiracy of any sort could be handled by talking to the people who painted them. I’ve had it suggested to me that investigators have attempted this and the painters had been impossible to find. This is not true. In fact, based solely on the names provided by the airport and an Internet search, I was able to find extensive information about all of the painters, and I’ll send it to anyone interested.

The most controversial aspect of the murals involves figures that appear as stormtroopers. This mural was painted by Leo Tanguma. Mr. Tanguma is a well-known artist in the Colorado area. He has taught at School of Education and the Wisconsin Center for Education. A number of websites describe him as a “professor” at the University of Northern Colorado, although I looked through the school’s site and could not find him listed. There are a many photos of him on the Internet. Interestingly, the racist organization Stormfront has not commented on Mr. Tanguma’s alien connections, but members of its forum have expressed their outrage at the anti-White statement’s of his murals.

The point of this is that if someone wanted to find out why Leo Taguma painted what he did, it would be easy. I bet that if you really wanted to talk to him, all you’d have to do is walk into a high school anywhere in Denver and ask one of the art teachers where you could find him.

Another problem is this claim by Steve Snyder who is Public Affairs Office at the Denver  International Airport. Steve states that,

It is important to keep in mind that this airport was the largest, most scrutinized Public Works project in American history. There were cameras and reporters here documenting every single inch of dirt ever moved. If something strange was going on out here, hundreds of media outlets would have been all over it by now.

This is problematic because the interview published on this website states

AC: Well, we think that area is one that leads to deeper levels underground at the airport. But, it is surrounded by a chain-link fence and you can’t get in there. We think this is the area that one of the electricians kind of stumbled into that went down about six levels below the fourth level, and ran into some really weird stuff. He won’t talk about any of it now.

But this should be pretty easy to solve. The airport is really big and it would have taken a large number of people to construct and maintain the underground (alien) portion. Either that, or it was constructed and maintained by alien workers, and then a lack of accountable maintenance would be just as suspicious.

Returning back to the letter from Public Affairs Officer Steve Snyder, Steve claims another one of aspects of the airport’s construction that attracts attention is just a coincidence. Why is the airport called “New World” if it’s not part of the alien-run New World Order? Steve tell us that,

As for the “new world” designation, the New World Airport Commission was simply a group consisting of local business and political leaders who sponsored and organized a number of pre-opening events at Denver International Airport. The airport was to usher in a new era making Denver a world-class city, thus the New World name.

Is this true, though? It should be easy enough to confirm. All we need to do is – once again – locate those businessmen and ask them what’s going on. And since they’re local Denver guys, I figure that’d be pretty easy.

In fact, there should be vast numbers of people with little pieces to this puzzle. The hundreds of baggage workers who Steve claims work down in the tunnels should have seen something. They should know there are areas no one has ever been in; they should know all kinds of strange things about the deeper levels of the airport just by having been around there. For example, has anyone ever died or disappeared?

And it’s just not good enough to say that people keep quiet. Groom Lake and Area 51 are other installations rumoured to be associated with space aliens. I doubt this is true and believe that the area is a test facility for new military aircraft. Regardless, I can still tell you all kinds of stuff. The Internet is full of photos of the place. I know the names of some of the civilian contractors who have worked there because they have tried to sue the US Air Force. Investigators have followed civilian contractors and identified all kinds of interesting things about them. Code names for the flights they take to and from the base have been identified and are regularly watched. I even recall reading news naming the hotels stayed at by Groom Lake contractors. While there is something going on at Groom Lake that I don’t know anything about, at least I know who’s doing it.

So let’s compare this with the Denver International Airport. I also know the names of countless officials and artists associated with the place. I know how to find them if I wanted to. I know an endless amount of information about the layout and organization and official story about the airport. On the other hand, I have not seen one piece of real evidence that would suggest there is anything out of the ordinary going on there. All I see is pictures of strange art in the airport waiting areas. No one knows anything about the aliens. I do not know the name of anyone who has reported strange things at the airport. I do not know any of the strange things that anonymous people have reported. That’s it.

There are real voices that should be speaking about this and they could be easily identified, yet no one who says there’s a conspiracy even seems to know their names. Great reporting that is. And just think about how powerful the claim is – aliens right in downtown Denver. Wouldn’t you want to be the reporter breaking that one?

But then, think of what the real claim is, because it’s not just about aliens. The real claim is about what you need to do to find out what’s really going on, to find the news that’s affecting your life. It doesn’t matter that the Republicans mismanaged Hurricane Katrina. It doesn’t matter that almost half of all Americans have no health insurance. In fact, it doesn’t matter where you live or who you vote for. No sir, you don’t need to excuse the fact that you’re lazy and would rather surf porn than read the news. The real stories aren’t in the news. The real news is badly researched, two-bit claims that no one can verify. And so little is know about them that it takes about 5 minutes to read everything there is about the most important news ever written.

Wow, the world really is simple, isn’t it. And that’s what a conspiracy theory is.

The Right Man in the Right Place at the Right Time

The other night I was watching The Poseidon Adventure with my wife. You know, it’s that movie where a luxury cruiseship gets hit by a rouge wave and flips upside down.

Defying captain’s orders, a band of hardy adventurers make their way to the bottom of the capsized ship to reach safety. At one point, the team is forced to ask a young boy to reach through a vent and unscrew a bolt. He is successful, but only because his fingers are small enough fingers to fit through the vent. My wife’s response to this was…”They’re lucky they had the boy with them”. But of course they were. It’s America, the home of the system that puts the right man (or person, in this case) in the right place just when they’re needed.

I first realized this about America in 1988 while I was flying back to school during the Christmas Break. I was reading the The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancey. It’s ideal for airplane travel. You can skip 200 pages and not miss a beat in the plot. At the end of the novel, Arab terrorists have detonated a nuclear device murdering the president of the United States, and the vice-president is on the verge of launching a retaliatory nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. It’s then that CIA analyst Jack Ryan, in the words of the source of all things true,

The crisis is averted when Jack Ryan, after receiving forensic evidence that the bomb originates from the U.S., gains access to the Hot Line and manages to defuse the situation by communicating directly with the Soviet president and helping to engineer a stand-down in Berlin.

But what is this mysterious “forensic evidence” that Mr. Ryan produces? It is the radioactive signature of the plutonium used in the bomb exploded at the president’s assassination. And how is this arcane evidence interpreted to gain access to the Hot Line? As it turns out, the Marine officer guarding the access to the phone has a graduate degree in nuclear physics and by chance did his graduate work at the very same reactor where this plutonium came from. With this highly specialized knowledge, he is able to tell that the plutonium in this particular bomb was American and not Soviet.

Amazing? Not in the slightest. In the world of Tom Clancey, there are highly competent scientists and engineers everywhere. The Soviets are in no sense devoid of talent; Clancey is clear on that. The difference is that, in their command economy, scientist and engineers are not where they want to be. As a result, while there is technical competence, it is never the the person who should be there when they are needed.

Now the significance of this was not lost on me. As it turned, during 1987-8, I ate lunch almost every day with the graduate students in the Physics Department. By one of those Tom Clancey flucks of luck, my high school Physics partner had done an undergraduate degree in Engineering-Physics and then gone on to do a PhD in nuclear physics at the very same school as I. So it was that I ate lunch with him and his classmates almost every day. After reading how the marvels of nuclear physics had saved the world, I asked them about the reality of this. The verdict was that none of them would be able to do such a thing, ever my friend who had written programs that describe nuclear explosions. It seems this knowledge was far too distant even for these doctoral candidates.

I can understand. Afterall, we are Canadians and the threat of nuclear war far away even for our military. But then, really, isn’t all this just what you would expect in the system that puts the right man (or person) in the right place at the right time? And that’s what made America great.

Whatever Happened to Annabel Chong?

Does anybody even remember Annabel Chong? She’s the one that Cliff was referring to when he said, “Everybody knows her.” She was the ‘actress’ whose career was documented in that famous documentary “Sex: The Annabel Chong Story”. You must remember her now? She stared in that cultural breakthrough, “The World’s Biggest Gangbang”. But then in 2003 when a Vancouver porn dealer told me that he couldn’t help me find the movie because there were so many different movies with the same name, I had to clear this one up. Annabel Chong was the star of the very first one of the movies by this name: the first movie called the World’s Biggest Gangbang. That’s right, this means she started it all.

Grace Quek (That’s her real name) started this all with what now seems like a tiny number. She claimed only 251 men, having been forced to stop when she cut herself. More recent attempts at her record quote huge numbers. Within months, Jasmine St. Claire was claiming 300 men. Now even that seems paltry. Hundreds more are claimed now; 400, 500, the minds spins at the thought. It took Grace 10 hours to do her 251 guys, how can anyone do 500?

It’s all in how they did it. If you watch Annabel Chong, it’s a free-for-all. It’s no surprise that she never got paid or that the producers didn’t keep their promise about protecting her from AIDS. It looks more like a party with a motorcycle gang than a movie. If you compare it with any of the other movies, they look like well choreographed dances. The difference is that Grace Quek did get gangbanged. She got treated like the town slut. There was no movie: 251 guys passed her around, and there was a camera running.

But what’s she doing now? After she got gangbanged, she did a host of interviews for alternative magazines. And then, following an appearance on the Jerry Springer Show, she was involved in a documentary about her life. The one thing that sticks out in her appearances is the repeated claim that porn stars have an intellectual side — or at least some of them — like her, I guess. After all, she did graduate from the University of Southern California and study in a whole bunch of other places. The documentary has her speaking at the Cambridge University Debating Club. All of this was years ago. The documentary was released in 1999, and the ‘event’ itself happened in 1995. What’s Grace been doing since then to demonstrate to us that she is more than just a messed young girl who let a lot of guys bang her while a camera was running?

The answer to this is not so clear—at least not from the Internet. Typing her name into the Internet was very revealing. When I first did this search back in 2005, I found several commercial sites using her name to sponsor products. Some sites took me through a catalog of her movies. It is not altogether clear whether Grace got any benefit from this though. I found bio information that has her being born in China, which is incorrect. Another site claimed to be the“official web site”. Interestingly, this site began with the question, “Whatever happened to Annabel Chong?” It stated that Annabel is bored with the porn industry and now works as a “web developer and consultant”. It claimed she makes “a pretty decent living” doing this sort of work and quoted major American literary figures to show that talent and genius is found in all kinds of unexpected places. There was even a link to a page that allowed you to order an autographed version of her now infamous movie.

I looked at all this and I thought to myself, why isn’t she writing books? Why didn’t she get that doctorate that she once claimed she wanted? Why is she hiding behind an anonymous website working in the newest of home industries? She could be keeping the promise she made to her mother in Singapore as the cameras whirled to leave the porn industry.

And then again, she may have been just one screwed girl who couldn’t tell the difference between being wild and being crazy. I’d have to say that I’ve read a lot of interviews with her, and even though she’s fond of quoting French philosophers, I was never impressed with her intellect. Maybe porn is the only thing she really knows how to do, but now that she’s a bit older and a bit wiser, she knows that she wasn’t just being wild and that everyone else thinks she’s crazy.

So let’s go back to the original question that brought me here in the first place. What is Annabel Chong doing these days? The answer appears to be that she is doing nothing. Or at least nothing that anyone else couldn’t do. While it may prove F. Scott Fitzgerald wrong, it’s still no demonstration that intellectuals can be found in all kinds of strange places—including the porn industry.

An Afterthought

Here we are a year and a half later. Annabel Chong has sunk into obscurity, even in the porn world. This post has moved way, to the fifteenth page of a Google search for her name. Perhaps, as the porn-intellectual’ Pete said in a comment to the original posting of this article, she has just found the anonymity that she seems to want.

Oh…and anyone looking for a more recent photo of her might want to check out this site.

Readers might be interested in this related blog post.

What I Think about the Book ‘Fight Club’

If you’ve ever watched Back to the Future, one of the key points of the plot is that Marty McFly hates being called ‘chicken’. The easiest way to get him into a fight is to call him this. Well…I have the same issues with my temper. The surest way to drag me into a fight is to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. And that’s what’s happened over on my other post about the movie Fight Club. So sure enough, just like Marty McFly, I rushed out and got the book that the movie is based on because I’d been dared to. And you know what I found? The book – it’s OK. It’s worth reading. But only for about a day. Looking at the remaining 20 or so pages that I have to finish, I’m not sure I can do it. After all, it’s only OK and I have work to do.

The book itself is very short. My copy published by Henry Holt and Company is 208 pages long, but the text of the story doesn’t begin until page 11. Much of the text is quotation, so many of the pages are really filled with only half a page of printing. I read over 100 pages the first day I got it and could probably finish the book in a day if I had more time to read. My guess is that there’s not more than a 120 pages of full text in the whole volume.

When all this started, I imagined a huge grassroots cult of white, middle-class, American kids out there worshiping Tyler Durden and his fight club. Now, more than ever, I just see it as a white, middle-class, American cult. While the film grossed over $100 million (that’s 15 million tickets at $6 a pop), I no longer see the Fight Club cult as huge. In fact, the largest source of writing on the book is, by far and away, the market of pre-written term papers for university undergraduates. It is shocking to see the number of such papers available for a fee. My point is that while there have been many, many reviews of the movie staring Brad Pitt and a host of names Hollywood says you should know, almost everything about the book is aimed at undergraduate students – students willing to pay for those words so they can claim them as their own and hand them in for grades.

This point is significant because it means there has only been a very poor understanding of the story developed. For example, I have been unable to find any exploration of its literary roots or inspirations. There is little in the way of deep analysis available. There is no interpretation in a comparative perspective. There is nothing but a bunch of undergraduates and movie critics spinning of-the-cuff ideas about a very abstract story. And here I am responding to it like a Marty McFly clone.

Much of the style of the writing does not seem original to me. I am not extremely widely-read, but I do read a lot and taught essay writing for many years. Most of what I read now is non-fiction, essays, technical material, and that sort of thing. I used to read a lot of fiction and theatre, but these days I am more interested in the presentation of the factual world and the description of personal experience. And in this context, the words that appear on the pages of Fight Club seem borrowed from some place else. For example, Fight Club tells us, “Which is worse: Hell or nothing?” andIf you could be God’s worst enemy or nothing, which would you choose?” But this seems remarkably similar to the 1667 classic Paradise Lost where we are told it is, “better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.Fight Club teaches us that, “On a long enough timeline. The survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” But economist John Maynard Keynes once said, In the long run, we’re all dead.Fight Club tells us that, “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” James Dickey, the authour of the 1970 novel Deliverance, tells us,  “Sometimes you have to lose yourself before you can find anything.” And then the mother of all ripped off quotes, from Fight Club

I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need, blah, blah, blah…

and from perhaps the greatest poem of modern times,

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix

Aside from having many of the same quotable bits as other famous literature, Fight Club is written in a style I have seen previously in hard-boiled detective novels. It is very punchy and fast moving. In hard-boiled detective novels, there is a reason for this that lies in the kind of story being told. I am not certain of the history that took this style from its original genre for use in a story like Fight Club. Evidently no one else is either because there has been almost no scholarly discussion of the book.

The story itself is not hard to follow and, as I have said, could be read in its entirety on a long bus ride. This does not mean it’s a simple or straightforward story. The meaning is not at all obvious, nor is it clear there is an intended meaning. It is punchy and full of quotable lines with moral lessons, but in this way, it reminds me of The Bible. In fact, like The Bible, it appears to be so full of symbols and hidden meanings you could interpret it pretty much any way you want.  Certainly authour Chuck Palanhuik himself contributed nothing to answering this debate when he stated the book “…is entertainment first.

None of this has stopped our intrepid undergraduate experts from espousing their authority. Comments posted to my original review of the film scolded me that the story is “more or less an existential look at current trends in post-modernism and feminism,” although I’m not sure what this means. It appears to be ripped off from an essay published in many different Net locations comparing Fight Club with the comic series Calvin & Hobbes. This essay tells us that, “it depicts what happens when you take someone weaned on dreams and limitless possibilities and jam him into a cramped cage confined by rules and regulations.” Perhaps related to these is the interpretation that tells us, “The book is a modern horror story about how populist fascism can flourish here, and about why this is the perfect time for it.” The blog Kulterblog tells us that really, “despite its name and its singular popularity among men, this movie is really just another sentimental chick flick.” Lateral Action thinks the meaning of the story is that, “At its core, Fight Club is about living the life you truly want to live, and the hard path to getting there.” One of the true scholarly interpretations of the book by sociologist Adrienne Redd entitled Masculine Identity in the Service Class: An Analysis of Fight Club tells us that “Fight Club is really about what it is to be a man who serves others (as women have traditionally) and how such men construct identity and meaning in their lives.”

Another scholarly analysis appeared in the journal Postmodern Culture (Volume 13, Number 3, May 2003) entitled, A Generation of Men Without History: Fight Club, Masculinity, and the Historical Symptom. I have not been able to read it, but since it was published in 2003, I can only assume it was really inspired by the film rather than the book. But as I have said, the vast majority of writing about the book appears to be ready-made term papers for undergraduates and I have no interest in paying Top Term Papers for more half-baked analysis.

On a slightly more serious note, the most noticeable point for me regarding the book was how it contrast with the film. While it is true the film pretty much reflected the content of the book, they in some sense vary significantly. The fighting activity of the actual fight club is a small almost insignificant aspect of the book. There couldn’t be more than 5 pages of actual description of fights. This stands in sharp contrast to the film in which some portion approaching one-quarter or one-third depicts fights. In fact, the book is written in such a way that you could keep faithful to it and still tell the story many different ways. It is not written in a way that is straightforward or obvious. It is full of metaphor and parables. It’s entertaining, but it is not clear which parts of the story are ‘important’. As such, the parts of the story that were chosen for the movie’s ‘accurate depiction’ tell us much about the message 20th Century Fox wanted to convey in their script; one of which evidently is that Brad Pitt can be a tough-guy action hero, too.

I would still not recommend that anyone see the movie, especially if you have not read the book. But the book itself is short, inexpensive, and easy to read. It is good for a long bus ride or a day when you’re trapped at home by bad weather.

Other links about Fight Club

What I Think about the Movie Fight Club

What I Think about Chuck Palahnuik

I also highly recommend this piece from the film review blog Bright Lights.

What I Think about Chuck Palahniuk

Starting back in the 1980s, youth humor took a turn. I’m not saying a turn for the worse, but I am saying it took a different direction. Jokes about bathroom behavior and scatology became very much a part of the mainstream. Flatulence become funny and significant portions of a film became orchestrated around the flatulence of a protagonist, the same way that in the past a star might have burst into song or dance. In addition, films contained jokes about forbidden sexual acts created by the pornography industry to market their products. Talking about forbidden subjects became – not only OK – but funny. Keep in mind that none of this has made such behaviours appropriate for polite company, even among its fans, the same way that curse words had became acceptable by their overuse in the media. It was still forbidden, yet delivered in a very particular way it is supposed to symbolize a place where you laughed and claimed enjoyment, even liberation. But it was still rude and inappropriate and certainly not the sort of conversation or behaviour you would allow around your parents or grandmother. And it is in this world of jokes about flatulence and normalized pornography that Chuck Palahniuk is a pioneer.

Palahnuik is the authour of the story that led to the well-known Hollywood blockbuster Fight Club. The film stars Brad Pitt, Edward Albert Norton, and a host of others whose names Hollywood has taught us to recognize as excellence. I wrote a review of the film a while back. A number of comments left on the post urged me to find out more about the book it was based on and the controversy surrounding it. One of the things I found was that Chuck Palanhuik is the figurehead of a cult following of his writings. In addition to Fight Club, he has published a number of other controversial stories. He is also a very accessible celebrity and the Net has made available a large number of interviews and readings of his work at books stores and other authour events.

The work of Palahnuik is taken very seriously by its fans. It has inspired university-hosted conferences, university-level courses, fan-based websites, and on-the-street-level clubs of men who hit each other as an intellectual experience. I was moved by all the emotion being spilled out onto my blog and so, in homage of this fan effort to inform me of the missed brilliance, I went out and got the book Fight Club. I have posted here about my experience reading it. But in addition to reading the book and watching the film, something else happened along the way. I learned all about Chuck Palahnuik. It is very hard to understand what Fight Club is about without ending up immersed in a world dominated by Chuck Palahnuik. In fact, I would say that the fame of Fight Club or his other books is not about the stories per say. I doubt they would have attracted nearly as much attention if they were not all written by the same authour and that authour was not able to connect to his fans personally in the way that Palahnuik does. The phenomena is not Fight Club or any other book he has been involved with. The phenomena is Chuck Palanhuik himself.

And what do I think of Chuck? I think of him as that college professor we all wish we had. He’s hip and in touch with the minds of youth. He can effortlessly help you explore all those embarrassing things young people want to know but feel uncomfortable talking about in the highly middle-class world of their families. He’s edgy enough for you to expect a serial killer, but with his soft features and quite voice, he can spin this into the feeling of cool. I suspect young naive students find him very sexy. He’s the sort of college professor you’d expect to see at the center of a house party attended by professionals in a small working-class town where almost everyone is on welfare.

Certainly I can understand why some find Palahniuk enticing. He brings elements of pornography and other forms of marginal literature to the mainstream. This must seem incredibly daring, but I suspect those who find him daring are overwhelmingly young, naive and middle-class. His writing is very American. It is very young, very inexperienced, and – most of all – very, very White. It is not a coincidence that everyone associated with Palanhuik is White – absolutely everyone – in the audiences of lectures, book signings and authour events, or in fan videos commenting on his books – absolutely everyone is White. I have watched dozens of videos associated with Palahnuik lecturing in classes and videos of fans reading his books; while I have seen a few women, I have not seen even one person who is not White – not even one. The actors and actresses portraying his novels are almost all White. Understandably so; I can not see his writing generating much interest among cosmopolitan students from India or Europe or even in the black community of the USA. He is very much a phenomena among the young White men and women of America.

But it is not all White people to whom this world of normalized bathroom humour appeals. It is a special kind of person created by the modern world. It is that group I once referred to in conversation with the term ‘downwardly mobile middle-class’. While this is frequently used to describe Black Americans, it could also be used to accurately describe segments of White society. There is a whole class of White kids from successful working-class lineage whose parents toiled to send them to college. While they now have the literacy skills and qualification to enter the professional workplace, they lack that collection of skills sociologist Pierre Bourdieu referred to as habitus. They’re that kind of person who just feels out of place in the world of suits and ties. They are that kid with a master’s degree working in a warehouse or as a waiter somewhere. It’s the guy who sits during break time reading his book and not talking with the other guys or who never joins in after work when everyone else goes for a beer. It is this group I suspect that finds cultivation in Chuck Palahnuik.

But don’t take my word for it. Dennis Widmyer, who runs http://www.chuckpalahniuk.net, has this to say on the topic,

The typical Cult member is a teenager…”They’re young, they’re naive, and their first dose of literature, real literature, is a guy like Chuck. And it’s very liberating for them, and almost turns into a religion.

Karen Valby, who writes for Entertainment Weekly and attended one of Palahnuik’s authour events, described them this way,

His fans — many of whom are young men, unemployed, or making do on minimum wage, tattooed and pierced, with black Sharpie pen on their nails and cut-off Dickies and red laces through their Chuck Taylors

Wikipedia, the source of all things true, tells us the film of the book Fight Club was viewed by an overwhelmingly young and male audience.

The gender mix of audiences for Fight Club, initially argued to be “the ultimate anti-date flick”, was 61% male and 39% female, with 58% of audiences below the age of 21.

Keep in mind, this is specifically not how the Palahnuik crowd views themselves. Their self-image describes someone edgy, daring, walking in the shadows of the truly dangerous. To quote Amy Dalton, the organizer of a Palahniuk conference at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania,

I’m a little bit afraid of some of these people [that would come to the conference]. I try to think that they’re just like me, and they’re interested in this writer. But they’re people on this other [online] message board who are really ‘fight clubbing’ it.

The reality of the conference was a little different, however. As Salon.com pointed out when they covered the event.

Among the attendees, mostly in their 20s, are obvious devotees of the self-destructive heroine of “Fight Club,” Marla Singer — goth girls in faded prom dresses, black boots or pink hair…mixed in with the Tylers and Marlas are people who look more like graduate students, as well as writers and literature buffs who’ve driven and flown from as far away as Arizona, Oklahoma, Michigan and Long Island, N.Y…there is a certain degree of geekishness that can’t be ignored…Most of the men in attendance look like they haven’t been in a fight since the schoolyard bully called their mother a bitch in the hall after science class.

Watching the fans talk about his work and listening to his readings, you can sense the feeling of young adventure out there trying to make sense of the pleasures they’re tempted by without really putting themselves in danger. Palahnuik is entertainment for inexperienced kids grown numb on video games and cinema that depict torture and suffering as a spectacle. Palanhuik is a roller coaster. He’s a zoo. He’s the pretentious pornography of Annabel Chong that he cites in this talk about his novel Snuff.

While writing, I was reminded of a party I once attended that was hosted by graduates of an elite East Coast liberal arts college. This was the crowd from the school rugby team and were supposed to be the edgy crowd. But their interpretation of edgy was pretty tame and generally limited to playing heavy rock and drinking far too much. In fact, they acted much like the high schools kids that I grew up with in – what was then – a very blue-collar logging town. But they weren’t. They were rich kids headed for a life of power and influence. There was no part of their life that would ever be blue-collar unless they pretended it to be. And that’s what all this Chuck Palahnuik stuff makes me think of; it’s a bunch of undergraduates from comfortable middle-class backgrounds pretending to be rough and edgy. It’s blue-collar humour dressed up as a book reading. It’s the sort of stuff that if you talked about without the trappings of high culture, your friends would tell you to shut up. It’s Bevis and Butthead read with the cadence reserved for poetry.

But the more I looked into this Chuck Palahuik phenomena, the more I came to think I’d seen this all before. In this interview, Palahniuk tells us that fiction is read almost exclusively by middle-aged women.

I was told that 85% of all fiction sells to older middle-age woman. 85%, my God! I just felt like I was really cutting my throat to write a book that wasn’t about an older middle-age woman to fall in love. Somehow I knew there wouldn’t be a market for it, but what else am I going to write. I think it’s more important to write something that brings men back to reading than it is to write for people who already read. There’s a reason men don’t read, and it’s because books don’t serve men. It’s time we produce books that serve men.

Could this possibly be true? Certainly it was one of the points that bothered me the most as I was researching this post. If it’s true, then no matter what else is, Palahniuk truly has been a revolution in reading.  But then I stumbled upon this page from the official Chuck Palahniuk site http://www.chuckpalahniuk.net. The site features reviews of books linking Palanhuik to ‘grindhouse‘ and ‘exploitation’ as a genre of fiction. Now if this is the fiction that Palanhuik is referring to that men don’t read anymore, then he is very much wrong. In fact, this page mentions reviews by the magazine Fangoria. Fangoria was around when I was in high school and Wikipedia, the source of all things true, tells us it was founded in 1979.

But let’s take a step back. Fangoria is only one example of a whole series of printed materials that deal with subjects almost exclusively read by men. This would include Conan and other superhero comic books, the books that these comics are based on, sports fiction, etc. In fact, I was a huge consumer of these when I was in high school. If this is to be considered the reading of fiction, then Palahniuk is simply wrong that fiction is consumed by middle-aged women. What I think he means to say is that books in bookstores are bought primarily by middle-aged women.

And if this is the case, then the Palahnuik phenomena is a whole different thing. The big scoop on Chuck Palahnuik is then that he has helped the commercial print industry bring the comic book market back into the bookstore. One of gravest crises that Capitalism faces in our time is the saturation of markets. In this battle, Chuck Palahnuik is a hero. He’s helped legitimize genre of print and forms of entertainment that previously were marginal and bring them into the same market as your mother and grandmother. He’s not a sell-out. He sincerely seems to believe what he’s saying and that he’s educating people about the evils of consumerism. I don’t doubt he means well. But he isn’t some revolutionary thinker. He’s not the Anti-Christ of literature. He’s a cog in a corporate machine being used to handle a crises of Capitalism. When he does battle with the big-time critics that newspapers and magazines tell you to read, it’s just a show put on to make you feel like there’s conflict. It’s a scam that big-money culture runs to make the rebellious buy their stuff. It’s no more a culture battle about principles than the cage matches of the UFC are duels over personal honour.

One of the great things about modern Capitalism is that ideology is so complex it’s hard to figure out where you really are. I have no doubt Palahnuik and his fans can continue to tell themselves stories about mixing it up with the forces of mainstream culture. But the truth hurts. And the truth here is that they’re all a bunch of dupes.

What I Think about the Movie ‘Fight Club’

What I Think about the Book ‘Fight Club

I also highly recommend this piece from the film review blog Bright Lights.