Vincible GooFiness

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.

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  • hapax

    Mrs Harris, the word translated as “carpenter” was “tekton”, which means something more like “builder / engineer” — or possibly “contractor.” The part of northern Israel where Jesus supposedly grew up is known more for its stone quarries than for its lumber. In addition, there are a number of references to stonemasonry, bricklaying, etc. in the extent parables, and hardly any to woodworking. (Of course, if that last were definitive evidence, one would conclude that Jesus was a vintner…)
    Nothing absolute, of course, but there is far more evidence pointing to the “stonemason” or “builder” translation than to the more traditional “carpenter.”
    Jason; I’m Episcopal so no swaying for me either.
    I’m Episcopalian too, but our organist has an unfortunate tendency to play EVERYTHING in a weird dirge-like waltz tempo, which causes me and my daughter to occasionally start an exagerrated slam-swaying in the pews (with the added benefit of thoroughly embarrassing the male representatives of the family)

  • Tonio

    At the risk of stating the obvious, the Just World Fallacy seems to me to be a subconscious denial of the reality that humans have no control over the universe. I couldn’t watch “Grey’s Anatomy” after the train wreck episode where two passengers were poleaxed alive, because I kept imagining myself in that situation while the episode was on. JWF could also be a form of survivors’ guilt.
    Every other JP album I’ve heard is strewn with corpses, and I love them all, and have noticed that there is a positive correlation between body count and goodness of album.
    I should add a caveat to my earlier agreement with that statement. Although the lyrics on the two Ripper Owens albums have brutally high body counts, musically the albums are the Priest version of white chocolate. The songs are mostly slow and plodding, with too many changes in tempo. I’m not a fan of tuned-down guitars because it seems to weaken the pick attack. (That’s even more obvious from the versions of the Priest classics on the Metal Meltdown live album.) Have you hear Halford’s solo albums Resurrection and Crucible, which were recorded at the same time? The first is in the classic metal mold although some of the songs were repetitive – he could have trimmed it down to an EP. Crucible is the stronger album overall, sounding a bit like Fight.

  • Not Really Here

    @The Other Jim- One of the reasons that traditionalist Catholics (Buchanan, Keyes, etc.) and evangelicals make such weird bedfellows is that the traditionalists believe that the Vatican II Mass is undignified. Particularly, the Sign of Peace is the Worst. Thing. EVAH. Yet, this is positiviely tame compared to what happens in a lot of evangelical churches.
    I’m cool with the sign of peace. But I’m Byzantine Catholic, going to a Latin Rite parish (where I’ve just signed on as a catechist, BTW) and two things bother me.
    The first is, in the Eastern Rite, the entire liturgy is chanted/sung (and consists mainly of litanies, so it’s continual call-and-response), except for the Communion Prayer. I’ve been to Latin Rite parishes where a good-sized portion of the Mass was done in Gregorian chant, and felt quite comfortable there, (especially chanting the Agnus Dei in Latin). My current parish, it’s all spoken, and I’m a bit bugged by the fact that we don’t do the Confeitor or the Agnus Dei (just doesn’t seem kosher), even after going there for nearly a year, I find it jarring when the priest starts off by saying “Good Morning” (um, hi?) and really really jarring at the end when he says, “The Mass is ended, go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Have a nice day.”
    OTOH, I find going to confession at this parish to be a much better experience, the priests I’ve confessed to thus far make excellent counsellors, especially the Hatian dude, who’ll spend an hour with you if there’s nobody else waiting in the chapel. In Vegas, the attitude seemed to be “hurry up and spit out your sins so I can give you penance and absolve you. NEXT!”
    I guess it’s a trade-off.
    I know there are non- and ex- Catholic Slacktivites who find the whole Confession experience uncomfortable or even downright squicky, but I find it to be very healing (and it is considered a Sacrament of Healing).

  • Leum

    @NRH: Hi! Sorry about sparking that flamewar on the other page, I didn’t expect it to get out of hand like that.
    Anyhoo, I actually *like* the idea of Confession. Quite a lot, actually. I’d like to be able to go someone I considered a moral authority and talk about my failings and how to improve, especially with the whole seal over the whole thing. The only part that might be freaky would be seeing the confessor outside the confessional; that seems kind of awkward. I dunno, maybe I’d go to a more distant parish or something.
    Oh, and I’d be kind of scared of having a confessor who wasn’t really trustworthy, but that’s a risk of psychologists and teachers, too.

  • Not Really Here

    Leum- running into your confessor outside the confessional isn’t really a problem for me, although back in Vegas I would go to another parish to avoid it. I’ve even done face-to-face with my own pastor.
    I figure 99% of your sins are probably things that 99% of the other people in the parish are doing anyway. I just kind of mumble through certain ones that I’m embarrassed about, but know just about everybody probably does, then get to the big stuff that I actually need a bit of pastoral advice/counselling with.
    And I’d be a lot less worried about having an untrustworthy confessor than an untrustworthy psychologist or teacher. The latter two aren’t bound by the sanctity of the confessional. I have also had the experience of being flat out abandoned by a therapist.
    And don’t worry about the flame war. I’ve gotten used to the fact that there are a certain number of people who aren’t interested in trying to understand, they’re just looking to find fault and snark you into silence.
    Such is life.

  • Not Really Here

    Oh, and Tonio, haven’t heard much the stuff Rob Halford did during the JP interregnum, but the few songs I have heard are kinda scary, actually, and very much my cup of tea. I’m guessing that it was stuff he recorded while he was still in the closet, because it displays the distinctly unhealthy attitude toward sex/romantic relationships that I heard in a lot of Judas Priest song (“Last Rose of Summer” being a notable, and quite lovely exception).
    If I wanted to hear sex/romance portrayed as a positive, healthy thing, I’d be listening to… um, I don’t what the hell I’d be listening to, but it wouldn’t be Judas Priest.

  • Jason

    So if you’re Catholic how *much* detail is required in this confession? Because often certain thoughts can be considered a sin……and if my parish considers them sinful, I have some thoughts that I REALLY REALLY REALLY don’t want to share with anyone, especially my priest! There’s lots of stuff that floating around in my head that I don’t desire to share with anyone.

  • lonespark

    Howdy, NRH, and everyone else. This thread seems like a pleasant oasis from the wacky almost-flamewar on the other one.
    Now my son won’t fall asleep unless I sing “Joe Hill.” I suppose that’s some sort of victory for the cause.

  • Not Really Here

    “I’ve had impure thoughts” usually covers it. I’ve never had a priest ask for details.

  • Not Really Here

    lonespark, yeah, I’ve been taking refuge here when I realize I’ve just been snarked down. There is no reasonable argument to counter snark, and it’s very relaxing to come here, discuss whackadoodles who quote musicians’ comments and lyrics out of context, analyze heavy metal lyrics, and talk about our varying mileage when it comes to whether going to confession is beneficial or not.

  • lonespark

    Confessional is rather appealing. I don’t really believe in sin like Christians do. But it would be nice to have some kind of way to ritually diffuse some of the shame. I think that might make it easier to apologize and make restitution.

  • Not Really Here

    lonespark- yeah, it is. I actually think it helps me to not repeat certain sins (or at least repeat them waaaayyyyy less often), and it is a great guilt remover for things you feel really, really bad about but there’s really no way you *can* make restitution. I consider it a “Catholic perk”, and pretty early on when I first came home to the Church, I actually asked my parish priest when I could start exercising my confessional rights. There are certain ways in which it’s more effective than therapy.
    I posted a few months back that I felt sorry for Protestants because they don’t have the confessional available to them. I get pictures of them praying “Oh, God, please forgive me, I promise I’ll never look at porn on the Internet again (or whatever)”, then the next day, they’re looking at porn on the Internet (or whatever) again, because they don’t have that outlet to confess what they’ve done, hear the words “I absolve you”, and know that once they’ve done their penance, they have tabula rasa as far as their sin is concerned. I really think that the guilt/shame contributes to people thinking of themselves as bad and sinful, and therefore feeding into them doing bad and sinful things.
    But then a few people posted that they found the whole idea of having to go and actually confess your sins to someone else to be degrading and somehow kinda squicky. I can respect that, and if you’re the kind of believer for whom going to confession brings on feelings of badness, and you can just confess your sins to God, feel the forgiveness, and go and sin no more, then more power to you.

  • Mleczak

    While I’m not a catholic I was trying to be one( giving it a chance) until I decided it’s not for me, so if anybody knows better correct me. Firstly you must consider it a sin, because if you do not, you cannot feel remorse for it, which is one of requirements for absolution. So it doesn’t matter if your parish considers it sinfull, if you at your heart don’t consider it a sin. Of course you should examine yourself, and think if this is the case, should you go to a confession (It is one of reasons I’m not a catholic, I disagree too much with the doctrine about what should be consider sinfull and what shouldn’t). Second while a priest may ask you additional questions, he shouldn’t ask questions that would break the bond of trust beetween you two (Like if you have impure thoughts of physical nature, he shouldn’t ask about details, or about whom exactly are they. Generally it’s not his business). Third, if you would talk to a good catholic priest, he would probably tell you that what is said at the confessional stays there. It’s why the sanctity of confessional is so important. For some it can be a problem, for other it’s just a part of being a priest. So the way I see it you shouldn’t be ashamed of what you said there, because technically you were speaking to god, and the priest was just the instrument. It’s the theory, in reality it may be different but I newer had a negative experience.

  • Not Really Here

    @Mleczak-Firstly you must consider it a sin, because if you do not, you cannot feel remorse for it, which is one of requirements for absolution. Well, sort of. Technically, you must *know* it’s a sin, and feel remorse for it. If you don’t know it’s a sin, you’re off the hook. If you don’t feel remorse for it (because, oh, say, you don’t believe in your heart of hearts that it really is a sin), then even if you confess to it, the confession isn’t valid, therefore, no absolution. That’s actually why I quit confessing about my cannabis use. I knew that technically, it was a sin, because I was breaking the law and when I was living in Nevada- where they have medical cannabis, but the process to get a license for it (the patient has to get a license from the state) is expensive and convoluted, and it’s extremely difficult to find a doctor who will prescribe it, or do the paperwork to tell the state that you do in fact have a medical condition that cannabis would help. I suffer from chronic pain, which cannabis helps with, severe anxiety and depression, which cannabis also helps with, and I’ve also been diagnosed with Bipolar II (a milder form of bipolar disorder, but still causes me problems) and I’ve found that cannabis helps keep me on more of an even keel- the hypomanic episodes aren’t as manic, and the depressive episodes are “I feel really bummed out” instead of “I want to slit my wrists.”
    Also, we’re called upon to obey just laws, and I know too much about the history of cannabis prohibition to believe that the law is anything but completely, utterly unjust.
    Also, I think that making such a useful, beneficial, and, relative to a lot of the stuff is legal, harmless (I don’t think it’s completely harmless- smoke is bad for the lungs) is a direct insult to God.

  • hapax

    @lonespark — I’ve been to confession once or twice in my life (yes, Episcopalians have it, called “The Sacrament of Reconciliation”) when I’ve really struggled with a particular problem and been caught in the loop of my own thoughts and feelings — it is helpful to have an outside impartial figure who you trust with the authority to cut that Gordian knot for you.
    Generally, however, I prefer a ritual more akin to the custom of tashlikh. Except I do it at the beginning of Advent and Lent (the chief penitential seasons), and instead of “casting bread upon the waters”, prefer to burn notes and pictures.
    Either way, it’s a symbolic purification ritual that is a great assist in letting things go.

  • Lori

    And I’d be a lot less worried about having an untrustworthy confessor than an untrustworthy psychologist or teacher. The latter two aren’t bound by the sanctity of the confessional. I have also had the experience of being flat out abandoned by a therapist.

    @NRH: I’m sorry you had that experience with a therapist. That sucks.
    However, in case other people don’t realize I feel like I need to point out something about confidentiality. Unless one considers the sanctity of the confessional to have some sort of mystical power, priests are no more or less trustworthy than psychiatrists or psychologists. The later have confidentiality rules too and most of them take those rules very, very seriously. For example, violating them can result in a therapist losing his/her license to practice. Legally they are in the exact same position as priests—they have a duty to report certain things and can not be forced to reveal others.

  • The Other Jim

    @NRH–I hear Tridentine masses ocassionally. It’s a beatiful service, especially if done well. I actually prefer it to the new Mass and regret that it’s the focus of reaction in the Church to Vatican II. Still, there are problems with the Tridentine Mass, the main one is lack of participation by the laity in the service.
    “I’ve had impure thoughts” usually covers it. I’ve never had a priest ask for details.
    Anyone else see Detroit Rock City?
    On a more serious note, I’ve never had a bad experience in confession. Really.

  • jmaccabeus

    I actually sing every week in a Tridentine Mass choir. The “lack of participation” doesn’t bother me quite so much – I see it as something like the audience to a play or the like, who watch, listen to the epistle / gospel readings and the sermon; ideally, the participation comes afterwards when they act out the moral principles stated during those sections. There’s also the imparting of divine grace in the Eucharist, which is participation in a sense, though of course it doesn’t appear very much as such.
    That, I suppose, is why I like having both the old and new masses at the same time – for those for whom one works better than the other at getting the important points across, they’re both available. I just happen to react well to emotion and aesthetics, which is where the Tridentine Mass with the traditional Gregorian music shines for me (as I also have an acquired ear for medieval-style music in general).

  • (Waaaaah, you’re all leaving me behind!)
    I was very unsure at first about going to Evensong at the Minster, because the congregation weren’t expected to participate (except on – I think it was – Thursday, when we had a hymn) and I didn’t think I’d like it. I ended up attending at least 3 times a week until I left.
    Our vicar starts the service by saying “good morning!” to which we are all expected to respond (“goooood mooooor-ning Miss-iss John-son” – I am so tempted). She’ll then say something like “a very warm welcome to you all on this lovely/rainy/beautiful/chilly Sunday morning. The Lord be with you.” Jenny the ex-curate (we have two stipendiaries and a non-, all three female. Weird… in a good way…) walks in and says “the Lord be with you” – sooooo much better.

  • Jeff

    [[the Hatian dude, who’ll spend an hour with you if there’s nobody else waiting in the chapel.]]
    Actually, he’s just replaced your memories to make you think that. (cf Heros, “The Haitian”)

  • My fathers has a sister who is a high priestess in a satanic cult. She got mad at him and went to his house with some kind of oil or liquid and placed above his doorways. What exactly does this mean? What specific curses do they use when they curse your house? Any info would be appreciated.