“In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons . . . who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.” ―Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda
Fast & Loose with the Facts (David Fincher’s Zodiac)
“People try to make it feel like, ‘back off man we’re doctors,’ that it’s all some sort of scientific experiment, the Apollo space program. And it’s just not. It just isn’t. It requires involuntary acts of inspiration.” —David Fincher
Recently, I spent time listening to DVD commentaries by directors such as Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, David Cronenberg, Michael Mann, and David Fincher. Among them were commentaries for Fincher’s Fight Club and Se7en, with the director and Brad Pitt. I have a special fondness for both these movies, and while enjoying the commentaries, I found myself struggling to reconcile what I was hearing—talented filmmakers enthusiastically and playfully discussing their work—with what I have come to believe about Hollywood. The film critic in me was virulently at odds with the conspiracy researcher.
From the film critic’s point of view, Brad Pitt has probably done more standout movies than any other actor of his generation. After bit parts and TV work, he had his breakthrough with (the slightly execrable) Thelma and Louise in 1991, followed by a series of mediocre films before he hit his stride with Se7en, after which came a run of outstanding and seemingly subversive movies like Twelve Monkeys, Fight Club, Killing Them Softly, The Counselor, Moneyball, and The Big Short, as well as—probably my personal favorite work of the 21st century so far—The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. As an as-yet unrehabilitated movie addict, I dig Brad Pitt and find him a consistently charismatic screen presence.
For his part, David Fincher is one of the most talented directors of his generation, who, after training in TV commercials and music videos, made the seemingly cutting edge works Se7en and Fight Club, as well as Social Network, Gone Girl, House of Cards, and Mindhunter. On the commentary track to Se7en, Fincher remarks how he feels that all filmmakers should make their thesis clear and that his thesis statement with Se7en (and in general) was to never use violence in a purely exploitative fashion, as an easy substitute for dramatic action (i.e., to titillate or excite).
Fincher is an intelligent, articulate, and thoughtful guy, and listening to him, I found I almost believed him—about Se7en and Fight Club, that is. But I also knew that Fincher went on to make Panic Room, a violent piece of pulp melodrama; Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a vacuous and repellent piece of S & M titillation under the guise of “edgy,” “socially conscientious” misandrist agitprop; and Gone Girl, a massively entertaining but extremely violent pulp melodrama. Fincher has most recently reunited with Brad Pitt for the sequel to the zombie apocalypse thriller, World War Z. All of this renders his anti-exploitation thesis resoundingly hollow, perhaps indicating the sort of high-level denial that’s both de rigueur and almost entirely unconscious—invisible to insiders—in Hollywood. On the other hand, maybe it’s not unconscious at all?
If we look at Fincher’s career a little more closely, we discover that his father, Howard Kelly Fincher, worked as a bureau chief (also referred to as chief editor) for Life magazine, under the name Jack Fincher. (Life magazine—along with Time—was one of the major organs of the CIA’s afore-mentioned “Operation Mockingbird,” as exposed by Carl Bernstein in 1977.) On top of this, Fincher Sr. was a screenwriter who wrote a biopic on Howard Hughes, an alleged CIA affiliate (as previously mentioned). Unto this manor born, all doors were open wide for young Fincher: when he was two, his family moved to San Anselmo, California, where he had George Lucas for a neighbor. Inspired by the countercultural kitsch Western and vanity piece, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, young Fincher began making movies at the age of eight.
At twenty-one, he got a job at George Lucas’s Industrial Lights and Magic and worked on Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as assistant cameraman. His breakthrough came via “Smoking Fetus,” a commercial for the American Cancer Society that stirred up controversy and got him his first music video gig, for Rick Springfield. Shortly after (reports vary), Fincher co-founded a video-production company called Propaganda Films (get it?) with mass-destruction maestro Michael Bay. Fincher made TV commercials for Levis, Converse, Nike, Pepsi, Revlon, Sony, Coca-Cola, Chanel, and music videos for (among others) Madonna and Michael Jackson. His primary influences in this period were Tony and Ridley Scott (more on Tony later). He also made a commercial with then-undiscovered model-actress, and future Mrs. Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, daughter of Jon Voight.
Perhaps the most surprising thing to me about Fincher’s career arc was that he went back to directing commercials, not only after his fiasco with Alien 3 (for which the studios gave him little creative control and which he abandoned pre-editing), but also after Panic Room, in 2002. So the man who made Fight Club in 1999 spent half the following decade making commercials for Coca-Cola, Nike, Motorola, and Heineken (with Brad Pitt!)?! What’s wrong with this picture?
“Advertising is the greatest art form of the 20th century,” Marshall McLuhan said back in 1976. Edward Bernays would probably have agreed. For his part, Fincher makes no bones about his aspiration, while being savvy enough to speak in code: “It takes all of those pieces of technology to deliver the thing and you want it all in service of that moment,” he said in 2017. “Cinema is when you put an idea in somebody else’s head, where you put an idea into seven hundred people’s head, at the same time.”
Perhaps the difference between movies, advertising, and propaganda was never anything but academic?
The Thin End of Hollywood Hypocrisy
“Among businesses in general, the CIA has long had a special relationship with the entertainment industry, devoting considerable attention to fostering relationships with Hollywood movers and shakers—studio executives, producers, directors, and big-name actors. . . . These are people who have made a lot of money basically creating make-believe stuff. A lot of them, at least the smarter and more self-aware ones, realize what they do makes them ridiculously rich but also ephemeral and meaningless in the larger scheme of things. So they’re receptive to helping the CIA in any way they can, probably in equal parts because they are sincerely patriotic and because it gives them a taste of real-life intrigue and excitement.” —John Rizzo, Company Man (p. 63-4, emphasis added)
Apparently, there is not a subversive bone in Fincher’s body and he is little more than a gifted errand boy for the Man, all the way to his Coke-soaked internal organs. Seen in this context, Fight Club—that searing denunciation of consumer culture—would seem likewise possessed of a split-personality. It implies there is nary a subversive frame in the whole film—not even subliminally—but only a simulation of subversion, a controlled opposition. While posing as edgy art, it doubles as an invitation to counterfeit consumer revolt and pseudo-awakening, offering “false models of revolution to local revolutionaries” (Guy Debord).
As a spectacle constructed with many layers of sophistication, beneath them all, perhaps, lurks an advertisement for itself, the people who made it, and the system that produced it. Like a calling card to get past the defenses of the cynical, alienated youth psyche, it serves to thereby place its products—those hooks and levers—on our insides. Is there anything more pernicious than that, I find myself wondering, while still loving the film as it plays in my memory?
Talk about split personality. Movies make Tylers of us all?
Arguably, there was even more perniciousness to come. In 2007, after five years pimping for Coke and Nike, Fincher made Zodiac, about the San Francisco serial killings of the late 1960s. Zodiac is based on two books by Robert Graysmith that purport to solve the Zodiac killings. (Graysmith is played in the movie by Jake Gyllenhaal, another movie star whose charms I am helpless to resist.) Fincher said this to the New York Times about the project: “I won’t use anything in this book that we don’t have a police report for.” He then added: “It was an extremely difficult thing to make a movie that posthumously convicts somebody.”
The somebody in question was Arthur Leigh Allen (played in the film by John Carroll Lynch), and Fincher and his cast and crew certainly did a stand-up job of convicting him. I left the film (all four times I saw it) with my own conviction—that of his guilt. Though I should have known better, I was partially persuaded the film was a reasonably faithful historical recreation of the events. It turns out that Fincher’s two statements to the New York Times were inversely related: It was extremely difficult for him to make a movie that posthumously convicted Allen, while still being able to claim, somewhat plausibly, that he stuck strictly to police reports.
The truth is, what he stuck to was Robert Graysmith’s pet theory that implicates Allen, records be damned. Dig a little deeper (as only one in a hundred viewers ever will) and it turns out that “many experts on the case have thoroughly dismantled Graysmith’s book, exposing it as a mixture of myths, half-truths, and inventions concocted to present a non-existent case against an innocent man. [Nonetheless] many of his basic assumptions about the case are still widely accepted as correct by most theorists and investigators.”
The case against Graysmith’s case against Allen is laid out in a painstaking online analysis of the film vs. the facts by long-time researcher Michael Butterfield, who argues, convincingly, that “the foundation of distortions and falsehood” in Zodiac was designed “to manipulate the audience opinion regarding [Allen’s] possible guilt.” Fincher and co. “made every effort to ignore and gloss over the evidence” that undermined Graysmith’s pet theory. (For example, the evidence that key witness Don Cheney invented his stories to implicate Allen in the crimes; that the “thirteen points” cited by Graysmith in Zodiac did not implicate Allen; and that the “lynchpins” of Graysmith’s theory—the phone calls on the night Darlene was killed, the terrifying “Lee,” and the “birthday” call to Melvin Belli on Allen’s date of birth—“were easily refuted by the known facts.”)
Fincher claimed Zodiac drew exclusively on police reports, and today the film is regarded as a classic police procedural movie. But, if Butterfield is to be believed, it is closer to a tissue of lies. Butterfield even listened to the same DVD commentary I did, albeit with a far more trained ear:
Nowhere during his commentary does Fincher make any effort to correct the historical record on any matters of real importance, and he only vaguely refers to problems with Graysmith’s revisionist account of the case. At one point, Fincher refers to the Belli Birthday Call as Graysmith’s “December 18 obsession,” but the director does not inform his viewers that he and the filmmakers knew that the obsession had no basis in fact.
Suspension of disbelief is the business Hollywood is in, and Zodiac proceeds as an artful deception that creates the atmosphere of a serious, conscientious work that would never deliberately distort facts for dramatic purposes, much less dishonorable ones. The same might be said of Fincher himself.
Yet if Zodiac is a tissue of lies, with Fincher at the heart and center of it, you would never know it from how the film was received. In a 2012 article called “Zodiac shows all the vital signs of historical accuracy,” The Guardian described Fincher’s movie as “a perfect example of how a historical film can be accurate, balanced in opinion, and a gripping thriller—all at the same time.”
Somebody sure wanted us to think so.
Making Movie Myths around Organized Crime
“Every executive learns eventually, of course, that power in Hollywood can be as ambiguous, elusive, and ephemeral as the acclaim that leads to it. The power can even be mystical, just like the institutions of Hollywood itself. Hollywood—its mores, its modus operandi, even its raison d’être—has been shrouded in myth since movies began and remains so today. And anyone who has held power for very long has found it necessary to fathom the truths behind the myths. They have had to learn where real power resides and where it does not. And they have had to accept and accommodate those aspects of the institution of Hollywood that are eternally mysterious and impenetrable by computer analysis.” —David McClintick, Indecent Exposure (emphasis added)
The narrative around the Zodiac killings was created by a combination of the killings themselves, letters and phone calls from the supposed killer, police investigations, newspaper articles, extensive TV coverage, Robert Graysmith’s books, and movies like Dirty Harry. With the codes, ciphers, and cat-and-mouse games, the weird overlaps with popular fiction, the occult references, murders timed with equinox dates, and the multimedia propagation of all these elements, the Zodiac killings have all the earmarks of a domestic psyop—or shall we say, what a domestic psyop might look like if such a thing existed.
The “Zodiac killer” (there’s plenty of reason to suspect more than one person was involved) was believed to have been inspired by the movie The Most Dangerous Game, a 1932 pre-Code adaptation of the 1924 short story by Richard Connell, also published as “The Hounds of Zaroff.” The story and film is about a big-game hunter from New York stranded on an island in the Caribbean who is hunted by a Russian aristocrat. The “Zodiac” killings (as reported by the mainstream media at least) “inspired” the 1971 Don Siegel movie Dirty Harry, with Clint Eastwood as a San Francisco cop who hunts and executes a serial killer, Scorpio (Andy Robinson). Critic Pauline Kael called that movie “an almost perfect piece of propaganda for para-legal police power.” (Deeper into Movies, p. 387. Emphasis added.) The movie is referenced in Fincher’s Zodiac, when the police detective played by Mark Ruffalo attends a 1972 screening of the film, and walks out in distaste.
Art inspires life inspires art inspires life—isn’t that the essence of psyop?
One thing Zodiac does get right is that the killings suggested military or ex-military involvement (and the two main suspects in the film are ex-Navy men). One of Brad Pitt’s earliest movies was Spy Game, with Robert Redford, for director Tony Scott (Scott also gave Pitt one of his first roles in True Romance). The filmmaker Alex Cox named Scott as a CIA asset at his blog, which lists actors, directors, writers, producers and studio execs with links to the CIA, including Tony Scott. Scott died under somewhat mysterious circumstances in 2010, his death ruled a suicide.
Like other Scott movies (most notably Top Gun), Spy Game is a fairly obvious piece of US propaganda in which Pitt plays a sniper-assassin in Vietnam, trained as part of the Phoenix program. The Phoenix program was a US military program which frequently recruited from Navy Seals and was designed to identify and destroy the Viet Cong via infiltration, capture, counter-terrorism, torture, and assassination. In The Phoenix Program: America’s Use of Terror in Vietnam, journalist Douglas Valentine claimed that, “Central to Phoenix is the fact that it targeted civilians, not soldiers.”
As far as I know, Valentine isn’t implying here that the Phoenix program extended into domestic warfare, or that the civilians included US citizens. But it’s not such a leap to allow for something of the sort, especially if we consider how many of the Phoenix-trained assassins wound up back in the US after the war was over (and movies have certainly milked this idea, from Taxi Driver to First Blood and beyond).
In Programmed to Kill: The Politics of Serial Murder, Dave McGowan wrote convincingly on the many links between the spate of “serial killers” beginning in the 1960s to US military involvement, and specifically to the Phoenix program (Henry Lee Lucas had especially strong links, and his death sentence was mysteriously commuted by then-governor of Texas, George W. Bush). Needless to say, none of this is referenced in Spy Game or Zodiac. Or in Fincher’s ongoing Netflix series about serial killer profiling, Mindhunter.
If we consider the evidence suggesting that Hollywood and the entertainment industry is linked to organized crime, which itself is inextricably bound up with intelligence programs, covert military operations, child, sex, and drug trafficking, then the way in which the entertainment industry depicts organized crime takes on an entirely new significance. It becomes a key element in understanding our incapacity to understand—or even perceive—the interlinking of only seemingly disparate worlds. Every criminal conspiracy includes developing sophisticated means to cover its traces; in the case of organized crime and entertainment, one obvious reason for criminals to want to take control of Hollywood might be just this: to create myths that obscure the truth around their own activities. Think Jimmy Savile, expanded outward to include an entire “pop” culture.
The first series of Fincher’s Netflix show Mindhunter featured Ed Kemper, as the principle serial killer being profiled. The show was brilliantly done and much of its tension was created simply by depicting three men in a room, two FBI agents and Kemper, probing into the mind of a “serial killer.” The scenes were based on filmed and recorded interviews with Kemper, and many of the lines given to the fictional Kemper were accurate, sometimes word for word. The impression, as with Zodiac, was one of painstaking accuracy of detail, in these scenes at least (much of the show is obviously fictionalized). But a fictional representation of a historical case—just like a court testimony—is characterized not only by what it includes but what it leaves out. And one thing that Mindhunter leaves out—like almost all representations of serial killers—is context, or deep (state) background.
In Programmed to Kill, Dave McGowan writes that “no fewer than six serial killers/mass murderers” (Charles Manson, Stanley Baker, Edmund Kemper, Herbert Mullin, John Findley Frazier, and the Zodiac) were operational within the Santa Cruz/San Francisco metropolitan area “in a span of just over four years.” This was also the time the term “serial killer” entered the vernacular (probably in 1974, though its first use has been traced all the way back to 1930).
What’s more, the serial murders occurring during the period McGowan cites weren’t even restricted to these men’s (alleged) crimes:
the bodies of at least fourteen young women and girls were found, nude and with their belongings missing, in Northern California between December 1969 and December 1973. In the immediate vicinity of each of the bodies “was found an elaborate witchcraft symbol of twigs and rocks.” Remarkably enough, the crimes collectively attributed to these men did not even account for all the ritualized homicides that occurred in the Bay area during that time. (McGowan, p. 136.)
McGowan goes on to describe the brutal 1974 Santa Cruz murder (at Stanford University) of Arliss Perry, whose body was found in Stanford Memorial Church, arranged into the sort of grisly ritualistic “artwork” that has now become a trope of serial killer movies and TV shows—including Fincher’s Se7en and the immensely popular first season of True Detective. The prime suspect in the murder, Bill Mentzer (according to McGowan), was a known associate of Charles Manson, as well as knowing one of the victims of the Manson killings, Abigail Folger. Later, Mentzer was connected to the (alleged) “Son of Sam” killer, David Berkowitz. He was also eventually convicted of the infamous Cotton Club murder of Roy Radin.
McGowan reports another rash of “serial killings” that began in nearby Sacramento, California, in 1977, eventually attributed to Richard Chase, colloquially known as the “Vampire of Sacramento” and “The Dracula Killer.” (Oddly enough, the disgraced production head of Columbia pictures, David Begelman, was at the time his crimes came to light developing a film version around a similar case, that of Vaughn Greenwood the “Skid Row Slasher” of Southern California, who cut his victim’s throats from ear to ear and allegedly drank their blood. See Indecent Exposure p. 165. More on Begelman later, perhaps.)
These killers—Chase, Manson, Kemper, Mullin, the Zodiac, Frazier and Baker—heralded the dawn of a new era that soon had established “serial killers” as an ever-present part of the American landscape. Before 1960, fewer than two serial killers a year were reported nationwide. By 1970, the number had climbed to six per year; by 1980, to nearly twenty per year. By 1990, nearly three-dozen serial killers a year were being reported across the country. The years covered by the occult bloodbath in Northern California, 1967 through 1973, correspond precisely to the years that the Phoenix Program in Vietnam was in full operation (although similar programs, under different names, existed prior to 1967). In September 1973, the head of the Phoenix operation, William Colby, was appointed as the new Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Phoenix had officially come home (p. 137).
“[Movie celebrities’] power and international celebrity can be valuable—it gives them entrée to people and places abroad. Heads of state want to meet and get cozy with them. Their film crews are given free reign everywhere, even in places where the US government doesn’t normally have it. And they can be the voice of a US message that will have impact with foreign audiences so long as the audience doesn’t know it is coming from the US government.” —John Rizzo, Company Man (p. 63-4)
Coming back to Mindhunter and Ed Kemper: a couple of details Team Fincher left out of their “re-creation”: prior to Kemper’s arrest, there was media speculation that the murders were connected to a devil-worshiping cult. On trial, Kemper “testified that the killings arose from fantasies that began to build in his head during his confinement at Atascadero.” Attorney Jackson confirmed this when he testified that Kemper “had told California Youth Authority officials of ‘evil forces within him which tried to control his behavior’” (McGowan, p. 156-7).
All this indicates—to me at least—the kind of multilayered, high-level sociopolitical complexity which David Fincher’s talents were recruited to help “simplify” and streamline into an official narrative, for both Zodiac and Mindhunter—the second season of which covers the Atlanta child murders.
Regarding this latter, in a recent podcast series, Atlanta Monster, several journalists collectively state that—despite the conviction of Wayne Williams—“this wasn’t the work of one monster” but “a larger pyramid of players,” a pyramid connected to a pedophile ring that operated out of several houses which many of the victims (both child and adult) frequented. They cite police inspector Vincent Hill, who went on record about “a real connection” between these houses and the murders. (There was also an occult ritual element to some of the crimes, but more on that later.) In the book Mindhunter is based on, author and FBI profiler John E. Douglas states his belief that the murders were never fully solved and that they were not committed by a single perpetrator. Even so, it was his profile of Williams that helped get him convicted—just as Zodiac aimed to posthumously convict Allen.
So if Fincher, Zodiac, and Mindhunter (and Douglas) are claiming one thing while doing the exact opposite—isn’t that a kind of undercover work? From an informed (some might say paranoid) perspective, it is perhaps not so simple as all that. Is David Fincher part of an ongoing organized crime/intelligence psyop or not? Insofar as Hollywood is an ongoing organized crime/intelligence psyop, then clearly he is part of it, as is anyone making films in Hollywood. But insofar as any hypothetical ongoing organized crime/intelligence psyop entails giving a degree of freedom for self-expression (creative autonomy) to its assets in order to reap the benefits of the acclaim they receive, then Fincher is also an autonomous artist working within the Hollywood system. It’s not a question of either/or, then, but both/and.
We can speculate that the US intelligence community wants its agents to maintain artistic credibility and lets them do some of their own projects (even when seemingly subversive) to ensure their subsequent assigned (propaganda) projects have the respectability of their “brand.” Or we can speculate that these artists are “rewarded” for their government work with the freedom to initiate their own projects, even when superficially (or deeply) subversive, as in the case of a Fight Club or a Counselor. But in either case, it’s really six of one and half a dozen of the other.
In the fascinating book about David Begelman’s long history of embezzlement at Columbia pictures, Indecent Exposure, David McClintick breaks it down thus:
Acclaim is as important to executives as it is to stars, for it is through acclaim that most show-business executives obtain and consolidate their power. The acclaim of making a successful movie or TV show, whether the executive deserves it or not, usually is accompanied by the power to make more movies and TV shows. The acclaim for making several successful movies or TV shows, whether the executive deserves the acclaim or not, often leads to the opportunity to run an entire studio or network. [This in turn] usually opens larger vistas. . . to play a major role in determining how the nation and indeed the world are entertained (p. 39-40, emphasis added).
In this simple equation, acclaim equals power and influence, ergo artistically prestigious projects are essential to the extension of State (and industry) propaganda’s reach.
This dual-perspective becomes harder to reconcile, however, when it comes to “Illuminati mind control,” organized pedophilia, Eyes Wide Shut-style sex parties, and the ritual abuse of children. It is very, very hard for me to believe, based on their public performance, that Pitt or Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Altman, or—choose your personal golden calf—could be knowingly involved in something so dark and destructive. Because, if they were, like Jimmy Savile with his connections to pedophile rings operating though child care-homes, this would effectively render all their public performances—both the artworks and the commentary upon them—as nothing but cover for secret predations. This is something I have not yet been able to persuade myself of—though not, I might add, through lack of trying. (And a case like Woody Allen or Kevin Spacey certainly goes some distance to persuading me.)
On the other hand, allegiance does as allegiance is. Movies and TV shows demonstrate how the highest intelligences, the geniuses, of our age, devote themselves to creating simulacra, or counterfeits of experience. This might be called—as Marshall McLuhan (a Catholic) said of the electronic age—a diabolic pursuit.
“The first duty of an underground worker” wrote infamous double agent Kim Philby, “is to perfect not only his cover story but his cover personality.” As high-level psychological operatives (ad-men) in Hollywood, Pitt and Fincher may be what researcher Joe Atwill called “lifetime actors.” It’s also possible—perhaps more likely—that they are only partially aware of what they are involved in, or only some of the time. Nor can the possibility be ruled out (though here we begin to enter Manchurian Candidate-territory) that some Hollywood players are psychologically fragmented to the degree they really don’t know what they are involved with, at least some of the time.
An important thing to consider when it comes to such speculations is that, like actors, intelligence operatives are, among other things, trained liars. This means they wouldn’t lie the way you or I do, with shifty “tells,” moral ambivalence, guilt, or discomfort. They would lie as if they were telling the truth, exactly as method actors do: because they believe the lies they are telling (that is, in the necessity of them).
This would make trying to gauge whether a given Hollywood player was an operative (was lying) by observing their personal mannerisms, tone of voice, and so on, would be futile, because if they were, they would be trained to fool us via just such techniques. Like the magician with his sleight of hand, the more we look, the more we are deceived. And like magic, movies are all about directing our attention to suspend our disbelief.
This is from Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle:
In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation. . . . . Fragmented views of reality regroup themselves into a new unity as a separate pseudo-world that can only be looked at. The specialization of images of the world evolves into a world of autonomized images where even the deceivers are deceived. The spectacle is a concrete inversion of life, an autonomous movement of the nonliving. The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as society itself, as a part of society, and as a means of unification. As a part of society, it is the focal point of all vision and all consciousness. But due to the very fact that this sector is separate, it is in reality the domain of delusion and false consciousness: the unification it achieves is nothing but an official language of universal separation.
“The spectacle is not a collection of images,” Debord continues, but “a social relation between people that is mediated by images.” This spectacle is not “a mere visual excess produced by mass-media technologies,” but a materialized worldview, “a view of a world that has become objective.” Rather than being “mere decoration”—or entertainment—for the real world, it is “the very heart of this real society’s unreality.”
From the movie-spectacles we’ve seen, we know (or think we do) that undercover agents—to be effective—have to first become their cover. In a similar way, method actors may immerse themselves in their characters to the point they don’t know where their performance begins or ends; they mind-control themselves and become “autonomized images.” The nature of “psyop” is to persuade the Target Audience that the spectacle is reality, and the most effective way to communicate authenticity is to persuade oneself of it, to become the role—the deceivers deceived.
What counts perhaps most of all in this project is which values a given player or performance is transmitting via its work. Are the values ideologically compatible with overarching narratives and agendas—the separate pseudo-world—that the governing body wants to implement? To this degree, determining how much the governing body—Hollywood, CIA, Mafia, the US military, the State—supports and advances the careers of a given player—autonomizes their image—may be the surest gauge for said player’s complicity with the pseudo-world being pushed.
At first pass, this may seem like the circular reasoning of much “conspiracy theory.” But if we define State power as what always acts in its own interests, it stands to reason that any given power-structure would only be interested in advancing those players who are effective as carriers for the values that support and extend its hegemony.
The examples cited in this chapter may seem like small examples. They may seem par for the course in the entertainment industry—as indeed they are. But I think they are also symptomatic of the kind of deep-set, far-reaching cultural contagion which we are trying to get to the heart of—having little choice but to do so, because we are already so deeply infected by it.
And infected does seem to be the word—to the point that no amount of awareness of the toxic radiation emanating from the screen and into my flesh and bones has so far been sufficient for me to turn away from this grisly, garish spectacle.
Continued in Part 5
This series forms the basis of the upcoming 16 Maps of Hell: The Unravelling of Hollywood Superculture.
 Among Fincher’s films, The Strange Case of Benjamin Buttons, also with Brad Pitt, stands out like a sore thumb as being a Spielbergian fantasy romance. Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, its title character is born an old man and ages backwards. One consequence of this fantasy premise is that when he is physically eighty he falls in love with a seven-year-old. On the commentary track, Fincher remarks: “Some people take umbrage with the notion that an 80-year-old man should be underneath sheets with a 7-year-old girl, and my response is, that’s the fucking point of the scene!” (The sheets he refers to are of a makeshift children’s “castle,” not a bed; but even so.)
 The operation was only somewhat successful, however: while the movie has no doubt closed the book on the Zodiac killings for many people, there are over a dozen books on the subject currently available, many of which came out after the movie, and few if any of them point at Fincher’s and Graysmith’s chosen “patsy,” Arthur Leigh Allen. There is even a recent (mock?) conspiracy theory that presidential candidate Ted Cruz was the real killer!
 It has been regularly adapted (more or less loosely) for the screen (roughly once a decade) as Game of Death (1945), Run for the Sun (1956), Bloodlust (1961), The Woman Hunt (1971), John Woo’s Hard Target (1993), Surviving the Game (1994), The Eliminator (2004), and most recently the B-movie The Most Dangerous Game (2017).