So we're not quite done yet with the GooFi videos.
These "exposés" of alleged Satanism in rock & roll are full of stupid, unbelievable assertions. This, sadly, makes them relevant for considering what has become one of the most urgent political issues of our time — the widespread embrace of stupid, unbelievable claims. The GooFi videos are helpful because they let us consider this phenomenon in a nonpartisan context without the complicating passions of politics.
I also think Good Fight Ministries makes for a good case study in that they fall somewhere in the middle of the vast bell curve of Idiot America. On one end you have the people who believe magnificently stupid things because they are, themselves, magnificently stupid. On the other end you have people who embrace such assertions without believing such things themselves — the cynical charlatans who make a living or accumulate power by manipulating the gullible and the foolish.
I could be wrong, but I don't think the GooFies fit comfortably into either one of those extreme categories. I don't find them to be wholly innocent rubes — the sort of invincibly ignorant simpletons who might completely and guilelessly believe all of the impossible and easily disproved or discredited things they assert in these videos. Nor do they seem to me to be wholly cynical con artists repeating what they know to be foolishness in order to separate fools from their money.
The GooFies strike me, rather, as falling somewhere into that vast gray middle-range — the realm of what Catholic philosophers call "vincible ignorance," where stupidity is embraced out of a kind of willing negligence. (The idea of vincible ignorance is what our mothers were getting at when they said, "You ought to know better.")
Yes, the GooFies say a lot of stupid things, but they're not otherwise stupid. They have, for example, managed to create a competent multimedia Web site, and many of the videos on it are technically well-executed. And they demonstrate a decent grasp of rock & roll history, as demonstrated by their including a video on seminal bluesman Robert Johnson.
That this video treats the Crossroads legend about Johnson as literal, historical truth seems like evidence against my claim that the GooFies aren't as stupid as the things they say make it seem. (Watching that video I kept expecting to see Ralph Macchio or Jensen Ackles, because to the GooFies Crossroads and Supernatural must seem like documentaries.) But you also have to appreciate that they're coming out of a subculture in which any distinction between creation myth and journalistic history is not permitted. This is a form of illiteracy they've inherited, but not one they invented. (Accepting that without subjecting it to the scrutiny it is unable to withstand would again be an example of vincible ignorance.)
One wonders if the GooFies would similarly treat the stories about Daniel Webster or Faust as literal accounts, but then, as we'll discuss in a moment, they don't seem to have ever heard of Faust.
I should take a moment here to commend Good Fight Ministries for something that's not present in their Johnson video or, that I have yet encountered, in any of their exposés. Their source material for the urban legends they assert as fact in many of these videos comes from earlier anti-rock preachers whose stock sermons were filled with transparent racism — diatribes against "race music" and condemnations of Elvis Presley for "betraying his heritage."* The GooFies — coming from Southern Californian Pentecostalism rather than from the gothic evangelicalism of the South — seem to have purged all of that. Good for them.
But note that this also demonstrates that they are, in fact, capable of critically evaluating this stuff, reinforcing that they are culpable for not doing so except in this one instance, and thus culpable for repeating so many easily refuted falsehoods, misrepresenting them as truth.
Anyway, let's finally return to GooFi's U2 video, the one I first watched thanks to a recommendation by the deliriously daffy Jan Markell. This video is filled with wretchedly obtuse misinterpretations which seem deliberate, but I want to highlight two examples of what I think are clearly, undeniably, deliberate distortions.
The first such example comes at the very beginning of the video, as we see footage of U2 playing the Beatles' "Helter Skelter." This, Breathless Stoner Dude says in his narration, can only mean that the band is "worshipping" mass-murderer Charles Manson.
For anyone at all familiar with U2's music, it's difficult to hear them play the opening chords of that song without also hearing a thickly accented Irish voice saying, audaciously, "This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We're stealin' it back."
David already covered this in comments to the first post here on Good Fight Ministries, so allow me once again to just reprint a big chunk of his writing here:
… to use the fact that U2 covered "Helter Skelter" in concert as evidence that they're promoting Charles Manson, you need to not just convince yourself that this is the case. This is counter to all rationality, but convincing yourself of it is perfectly possible. But after that, you need to take the additional step of carefully editing your presentation to remove the lead-in, "This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We're stealing it back." That shows that regardless of what you may personally have convinced yourself of, you are aware on some level that there are many pieces of evidence that don't add up, and you've chosen to deliberately conceal them while framing the remaining evidence in a way that suggests the other information doesn't exist. Or in other words, there is a part of you that still knows you are lying, and is hard at work filtering reality in order to maintain the tenability of that lie.
So, random people who are fully submerged in the fundamentalist bubble may well believe that these things are accurate presentations. But the people who actually lead these movements can't, because the arguments themselves show careful nuance about amazingly minute details while eliding huge swathes of information that overwhelmingly points in the other direction. It's impossible for the people who created these videos to be unaware of that countering evidence, and yet (well really, and therefore) they have chosen to behave as though it doesn't exist. (This is different from when a normal person presents a view and yet remains aware of opposing views and evidence even if they disagree.)
It's precisely this — being aware of the countering evidence but choosing to behave as though it doesn't exist — that makes the GooFi's something more and worse than naive or merely deceived. They are choosing. They are making a decision — an at least partly conscious decision. Such decisions are what distinguishes vincible from invincible.
This is where malice — intentional malice — enters the picture.
Another example of such a decision in the U2 video is in the GooFies' extended, befuddled treatment of Bono's "MacPhisto" character from the European leg of the band's Zoo TV tour. Here again we see that the poor GooFi's have apparently never heard of Faust. Much of the blame for that rests with the schools and with every teacher they've ever had, but they must also accept some responsibility themselves. Once you've run up against the name Mephistopheles, after all, you either need to f
orget it immediately and n
ever think of it again, or else you're bound to find yourself quickly elbow-deep in Marlowe and Goethe.
And if you're going to set yourself up as an expert on the meaning of Bono's ironic twist on the character — his fast-food, corporate lounge-lizard version of the tempter — then you've also got to accept the responsibility to make some effort to figure out what you're talking about. GooFi's failure to do that, at all, is in itself another instance of vincible ignorance — a negligence that makes them culpable.
But it's actually worse than that. MacPhisto was replaced here in the states with a character Bono called Mirror Ball Man, a Gantryesque parody of a money-grubbing televangelist. I doubt the irony-deficient GooFies would even know how to start making sense of such a character, but it's notable that they chose to omit him completely, filtering him out of all that concert footage they sifted through to get their MacPhisto clips.
They cut out the Mirror Ball Man because he did not fit. They could not have done so wholly unconsciously. They made a decision.
("I should really like to know," the king said, "why the persons who make so much noise about Moliere's comedy do not say a word about Scaramouche." And, according to Norton's anthology, the prince replied, "It is because the comedy of Scaramouche makes fun of Heaven and religion, which these gentlemen do not care about at all, but that of Moliere makes fun of them, and that is what they cannot bear.")
Anyway, here's where I try to wrap this up and attempt to glean some kind of broader lesson that might be applied to the dismal circus of fiercely declaimed nonsense that is rapidly replacing actual political debates or disagreements here in America.
Set aside the edges of the bell curve — the innocent fools and the diabolical Becks and Limbaughs and the rest of their kind. The vast, vincible middle is constituted of people who, like the GooFies, are to some degree simultaneously innocent victims and deliberate charlatans, simultaneously deceived and deceiver.
They don't know any better because they have decided not to know any better.
They ought to know better. And they need to know better.
What they require, in other words, is both liberation and repentance. The former must be extended to them. The latter must be demanded from them.
Which should come first? I don't know — I suppose it depends on the particular case or the particular person. I'm not terribly interested in sussing out that chicken-and-egg question because, as I've said before, I think soteriology is a red herring.
But they need both.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
* Let me share one example of the kind of racist content that is
usually standard in these anti-rock "ministries." Here is an urban
legend I heard told on three separate occasions by three different
speakers (two at my private Christian school and one on a church youth
A missionary in Africa had a teenage son who had been led astray
by the evils of secular music. One day the tribal elders heard him
playing a Beatles record and they spoke to his father, greatly
concerned. The drumming on that record, they told the missionary, was the very same drumming they had used in their former lives during occult rituals for the summoning of evil spirits!
Yes, I really heard this three times. And yes, they really had the audacity to suggest that Ringo's drumming sounded like African polyrhythms.