Ong’s Hat WAS a place set deep in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. The 17th-century town was more of an outpost with just a few buildings. It was known as a rowdy place. The town got its name from a man named Jacob Ong who after a fight with a woman threw his beloved hat up in the air. It become stuck in a tree and he never retrieved it. But Ong’s Hat may have served a different purpose in more modern times, it may have been a place where fringe scientists and cultist gathered to travel into other dimensions.
Nod to David Metcalfe for alerting me to this.
New Jersey is quite a strange place in America. Especially in the Pine Flats area where a nuclear spill nearby a place known as Ong’s Hat. This is probably the most egg heavy episode you will ever get. Prepare for intense science theory and a surprise ending with this episode.
This weekend we reflect on Q Anon & the corporate state; Ong’s Hat: The Early Internet Conspiracy Game That Got Too Real. “On a sunny morning in early 2000, Joseph Matheny woke up to find conspiracy theorists camped out on his lawn again. He was making coffee when he noticed a face peering in a ground-floor window of the small, three-story building he rented in Santa Cruz. Past the peeper, there were three other men in their early 20s loitering awkwardly. Matheny sighed and stepped outside. He already knew what they wanted. They wanted to know the truth about Ong’s Hat. They wanted the secret to interdimensional travel.” https://gizmodo.com/ongs-hat-the-earl…
Chrissy Teigen is well-known for her Twitter presence and witty tweets but now the model has blocked over a million Twitter users, made her account private and deleted over 60,000 of her own tweets after conspiracy theories connected her to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein https://globalnews.ca/news/7188815/ch…
Online Conspiracy Groups Are a Lot Like Cults. Inside these closed online communities, outside voices are discredited and dissent is often met with hostility, doxing, and harassment. Sound familiar? https://www.wired.com/story/online-co…
What are the similarities between an Italian novel from the ’90s and the QAnon conspiracy theory that’s resulting in armed standoffs with police in the US? “Dispatches signed ‘Q’ allegedly coming from some dark meanders of top state power, exactly like in our book.” They also pointed to the fact that the Q from the QAnon community is described almost exactly like Luther Blissett used to be described, “an entity of about 10 people that have high security clearance.” https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/…
Is the QAnon Conspiracy the Work of Artist-Activist Pranksters? The Evidence for (And Against) a Dangerous Hypothesis. The history of “Luther Blissett,” the Italian media jamming movement, is suddenly relevant to the US political discussion. https://news.artnet.com/opinion/q-ano…
Some Q followers break away when they recognize the content of the theories is not self-consistent, or they see that some of the content is directly aimed at getting donations from a specific audience, such as evangelical or conservative Christians. This then “breaks the spell” the conspiracies had over them. Others start watching Q-debunking videos. Disillusionment can also come from the failure of the theories’ predictions. Q had predicted Republican success in the 2018 US midterm elections & claimed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was involved in secret work for Trump, with apparent tensions between them a cover. When Democrats made significant gains & Trump fired Sessions, there was disillusionment among many in the Q community. Further disillusionment came when the predicted Dec 5 mass arrest & imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay detention camp of enemies of Trump did not occur, nor did the dismissal of charges against former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn. For some, these failures began the process of separation from the QAnon cult, while others urged direct action in the form of an insurrection against the government. Such a response to a failed prophecy is not unusual: apocalyptic cults such as Heaven’s Gate, the People’s Temple, the Manson Family, and Aum Shinrikyo resorted to mass suicide/murder when their expectations for revelations or the fulfillment of their prophecies did not come about. Psychologist Robert Lifton calls it “forcing the end”. This phenomenon is being seen among some QAnon believers. Travis View echoes the concern that disillusioned QAnon believers might take matters into their own hands as Pizzagate believer Edgar Maddison Welch did in 2016, Matthew Phillip Wright did at Hoover Dam in 2018 & Anthony Comello did in 2019 when he murdered Mafia boss Frank Cali. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QAnon#A…
This week Ken sits down with our old buddy Joseph Matheny.
Joe is an innovator in the ARG space and is well known for his Ong’s Hat mythology, he also used to rub shoulders with some pretty impressive people, including Robert Anton Wilson and Christopher Hyatt.
This week we discuss: Conspiracy theory, ARG, that flu thing going around, and much more.
Conspiracy theorizing as alternate-reality game
“Many quotes from a long and enjoyable conversation I had with the author made it into this article. I hope you find it as enlightening and thought-provoking as I did.” -JM
READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT: https://reallifemag.com/this-is-not-a-game/
The alternate reality game began in the late 1980s, when multidisciplinary artist Joseph Matheny pioneered the format with Ong’s Hat, a transmedia narrative about an interdimensional cult run by Princeton scientists at an ashram in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Drawing on real people and places, Matheny crafted a series of documents as supposed evidence for the cult’s existence. He seeded them to the public through snail mail, posts on early internet bulletin boards (some of which can still be seen at alt.conspiracy and alt.illuminati), and Xerox copies planted inside independent weeklies and esoteric literature at libraries, book stores, and coffee shops. Over the course of a decade, the story’s media range grew to include CD-ROMs, books, video, and radio, including some interviews on the popular paranormal radio show Coast to Coast AM, which exposed Ong’s Hat to a wider audience of conspiracy enthusiasts.
Ong’s Hat was a unique hybrid of speculative history and speculative autobiography that participants could co-author by joining the investigation online. It was meant to be defamiliarizing and immersive; Matheny envisioned Ong’s Hat as a playground for experiencing synchronicities and then comparing them with other players’ — an exercise in intersubjectivity. But immersive storytelling and the intersubjectivity it constitutes can have a dark side, wherein communities can form around shared delusions that take on a momentum of their own. To Matheny’s surprise, some participants confused his fictional narrative with an actual conspiracy. When he broke character to remind them it was just a game, these true believers accused Matheny of being part of a disinformation campaign or running a mind-control experiment. He lost final say over the universe he invented.
Engaging in conspiracy culture is like playing a secret game based on insider knowledge, and it is this feeling that propels Q’s current popularity
When I spoke to Matheny, he partly attributed this reaction to the Coast to Coast segments attracting conspiracy-minded participants, to those who used Ong’s Hat to fulfill their X-Files-inspired “I want to believe” aspirations, and to proto-trolls looking for a pot to stir. Eventually these elements escalated their participation in Ong’s Hat to harassment, threats, and attempted home invasions, and Matheny was forced to discontinue the project in 2001. The term ARG, he says, began to be used on conspiracy and trolling forums around this time as a euphemism for gamified harassment campaigns. Matheny told me that he has since seen hardcore Ong’s Hat believers resurface in other conspiracy movements, including Weinergate, Gamergate, Pizzagate, QAnon, and the coronavirus cluster of 5G, vaccine, and quarantine paranoia. To Matheny, the 20th century U.S. tradition of conspiracy theories was “great folklore, great Americana,” to be taken figuratively. But he perceived this rightward and more serious turn in conspiracy circles at the turn of the century, with a crescendo in 2014, the year that some of his formerly left-leaning friends came out as neo-reactionary monarchists.
Matheny now refers to Pizzagate and QAnon as “dark ARGs,” signaling their family resemblance. “There was a bonding that happened, and probably a cooptation of troll culture into conspiracy circles,” he says. “This converged with fundamentalist people who were also doomsday preppers, and they had all adopted trolling behaviors, speaking in bad faith, giving circular arguments. All these weird subcultures have come together. How it happened was gradual. There wasn’t a puppeteer, but there are definitely people who took advantage of it. Breitbart, Bannon, Spencer.” This convergence of fundamentalism and trolling in conspiracy culture proved to be a toxic brew, facilitating zealous delusion and selective insincerity simultaneously. “The irony helps these people sidestep criticism,” Matheny says. “‘I’m just kidding, I’m just trolling.’ So I shouldn’t take anything you say seriously? Then they react with anger. And now there are movements being crafted to take advantage of this.” Irony serves as a gateway to belief as well as a source of plausible deniability, the same dynamic that can lead anti-PC trolls to become actual neo-Nazis. As George Orwell put it, “He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.”
READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT: https://reallifemag.com/this-is-not-a-game/
A rebuttal on the site josephmatheny.com regarding a recent podcast and article that ran on Skeptoid, by Brian Dunning.
There’s a podcast/website called The Skeptoid that is run by one Brian Dunning. The website seems to consist of a collection of transcriptions of the Skeptoid podcast, links to the podcast and a personal vita for Mr. Dunning. I learned that recently, Brian Dunningran an episode of the Skeptoid titled: Ong’s Hat, which was, predictably about the Ong’s Hat literary game.
Brian Dunning claims that his podcast, “Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena is an award-winning weekly science podcast. Since 2006, Skeptoid has been revealing the true science behind popular misinformation and urban legends.” His words.
While I haven’t sampled any of the other offerings on that Skeptoid website, I did read the text transcription of Mr. Dunning’s “investigation” into the Ong’s Hat urban legend and found it dismissive and misinformed in the following areas.
Link to full article: https://josephmatheny.com/2019/03/18/corrections-to-brian-dunnings-skeptoid-podcast-about-ongs-hat/
The tl;dr version
Mail Culture and Historical notes
In the late 70s and early 80s a network culture emerged that pre-dated information exchange via BBS/Fidonet/Internet (Arpanet) type networks. This was known as the “Mail Culture”. Using the guerrilla tactics of information networking started by such underground movements as the radical underground of the American 30’s, 50’s and 60’s and the Soviet Block ‘Samisdat” culture, the “Mail Culture” used the postal systems of the world to tie together outposts of radical/fringe thought and art into a loosely affiliated info-network. (All of course paying homage to the “chapbook” and “Pamphlet” cultures that sparked so many revolutions, including the American and French)
It worked like this
In the very early 80’s I became aware of a anarchist art collective in the Madison Wisconsin area known as “Xexoxial Endarchy” which for all intents and purposes functioned as a jumping off point for “Mail Culture” activity. One could write to XE, include a SASE, and receive in return a catalog (Xeroxed of course!) of weird pamphlets, catalogs and audio tapes of “experimental” music/sound collages, from the fringe of society (and beyond in some cases). Also, a list of names, addresses, and requirements (send us one of your things, we’ll send you one of ours, or send a SASE, etc.) which you would then add names of places/individuals that you had collected (as well your own)in the mix, make copies, and distribute in kind. I was putting out a xerox zine at the time called SNARF and used that as my coin to trade with. Over the course of a few years my collection of crackpot literature from this source grew to encompass 3 bookshelves. It is apparent from anyone who has been in contact with this culture that the first iterations of the Inunabula catalog as we know it today came from/was tailored for this underground movement. I put a xeroxed copy of the original color , in circulation in 1990/91 or so and watched several iterations of xerox of xerox of xerox- sans illustrations, plus new illustrations, appear from time to time in fringe science and crackpot literature catalogs, sometimes “for sale.It is still unclear who circulated the original color version and for what purpose.
Later, several compendium books appeared (late eighties, early nineties) that were commercially available such as:
Thanks so much for this! I’ve compared these to the color edition I have in a safe deposit box, as well as several other iterations I’ve seen and collected over the years and have the following to report:
Document 1. Xerox of a Xerox made from the original color catalog. By comparing a few markings made by scratches on the now ancient (heck, even then it was kinda old!) machine, I can tell that this is a Xerox made from a Xerox of the color brochure which I gave to a friend at Aries Arts in Capitola and which was sold for $2.00 (copy, handling, and postage costs) through a conspiracy mail-order catalog that the owners husband ran in the back.
I have seen several different versions of copies made from that original before, with artwork added, subtracted, etc. The main difference here from the original color is the puzzling absence of the other 13 pages of illustrations that was included with the color version. The cover of this one however is definitely a copy of the original cover. I can also attest to the fact that the text sections are exact replicas of the original color (done on a sandstone vellum bond). Maybe they left out the 13 pages of illustrations for the purpose of saving paper. Who knows?
I plan to make a high quality color PDF copy of my one and only color copy available in a few months to coincide with the release of some other material. All in all, this is still a cool collectors piece and I’ll put the copy you gave me in a polybag and store it with the rest of my “iterations” collection.
Document 2. This is not the original brochure but in fact a Xerox copy of the 1988 Edge Detector article. Note that is says (as I have said time and again in public) PLW’s admonition that he was merley “passing it on”.
A few years ago, I talked to a ranger at the Lebanon State Forest Ranger Station (some kind of tourist welcome center) and a lady who worked there told me that in fact a brochure that fit the description of the one in my possession had been in the racks for a while, but she was unclear where they had come from. This would have been mid-eighties or so by her recollection.
Since then two other people (Parsifal on DP and another lady who claimed to have known the Ashram residents) have repeated a similar story. Again, when I scan the color catalog, I will scan and include the copy of the brochure that I have in my possession.
Originals-1 contains the Edge Detector version of the OH Brochure that is the origin of the “written by PLW” rumor, and on page 16 of the PDF, the illustration has a black and white reproduction of the actual cover of the brochure, bottom left of the page.
This is undoubtedly the version a certain psycho was passing around in the early nineties, with PLW’s name blacked out with a marker. I also remember him saying on the some long gone web-board that the “original” brochure had plans or a schematic inside. This is what he’s talking about, since he was obviously using the ED version. This “schematic” is an artisitic rendering, added by the publisher of Edge Detector and does not exist in the original brochure. Anyone who’s read the catalog and brochure would be able to recognize that this image in no way represents the vehicle described in those documents.