Posts Tagged ‘TED talks’

I recently was able to watch the new Netflix true-crime docuseries “The Sons of Sam.” For those of you who haven’t seen it, the docuseries follows how a man named Maury Terry became convinced in the wake of the arrest, conviction, and incarceration of David Berkowitz, AKA the Son of Sam Killer, that Berkowitz didn’t commit all the murders and was in fact part of a Satanic cult. Berkowitz himself claimed to be part of such a cult, naming the sons of Sam Carr, the man who owned the demon dog (and who, by the way, were both dead and unable to defend themselves at the time of the allegations), as members.

Now, I’m not here to argue whether or not Berkowitz was the lone killer. Most historians and investigators agree anyway that the claims of a cult are unlikely for a number of reasons. Berkowitz himself has been diagnosed as antisocial and seems to enjoy the attention, so he would say anything to stay in the spotlight/keep up the image he’s built for himself since first getting arrested.

What I’m here to talk about is the true horror of the docuseries. It’s not how terrifying Berkowitz and his crimes were, though that is scary too. Nor is it the idea of a nationwide Satanic cult that Berkowitz may have been part of (and which, given how often it keeps cropping up in American history, feels more silly than scary nowadays). It’s the price of obsession. Of becoming so sure of an idea or a hidden truth, that you look for anything that could be considered evidence and end up linking things that might not be evidence at all. You may even lose sight of objective reality and the truth, as well as the respect of your peers and relationships with your loved ones, just to find what you are looking for.

The doucseries revolves around the conspiracy theory that David Berkowitz did not commit the Son of Sam murders alone.

And quite often, what you’ve been looking for has been right in front of you all along. You just refused to see it.

We see this play out with Maurice Terry in “Sons of Sam.” After Berkowitz is arrested and sent to jail, Terry believes that Berkowitz may not have committed all the murders or acted alone because most of the police sketches don’t resemble him or because one or two people saw Berkowitz far from the site of a Son of Sam murder minutes before it happened. Rather than chalking it up to disguises, the noted unreliability of police sketches, or that all these sightings took place at night under low visibility settings, Terry believes there may have been multiple people involved in the shootings.

This leads to him looking into Berkowitz’s hometown and alleged Satanic rituals occurring near Berkowitz’s home, which leads to conversations with people who claim to have belonged to the cult or know people who were, including the Carr brothers mentioned above. He goes on to link the Manson murders, the murder of a woman at Stanford University, and the deaths of a billionaire and a filmmaker to the cult, the last two being members who were allegedly killed to silence them.

And sometimes it seems convincing. Mutilated German shepherds were found in the park near Berkowitz’s home, as well as Satanic graffiti. Charles Manson was likely influenced by belief systems such as Christianity, Satanism, and Scientology, just to name a few. Some of the people who knew or met the Carr brothers say they were interested in the occult and at least one of them was afraid of being followed. And Berkowitz, as we stated above, has said he was part of a cult, though he refuses to name names other than the dead.

The problem is, none of these can be definitively proven as being Satanic. Yes, dogs were mutilated near the park, but there’s no way to prove that it was Satanic or Berkowitz was linked. Satanic graffiti can be found all over the place (I saw plenty in the college bathrooms at Ohio State), and doesn’t mean Satanists are at work. Manson and his followers never claimed to be linked to any other group, though they’ve at times claimed that Manson was God, Jesus and the Devil all at once. The Carr brothers aren’t around to defend themselves, and we don’t have enough information to know if they suffered from mental illness or if their alleged interest in the occult was serious. A couple of the murdered people Terry linked to the cult have since been solved and have mundane, if horrible, explanations.

And Berkowitz, as noted, is likely a psychopath who enjoys the attention. He would say anything if it keeps him in the spotlight.

The horror of consipracy theories is that, while they seem plausible and preferable, they hide the truth and can destroy so much in the lives of believers.

We especially see this in the interviews Terry has with Berkowitz. A lot of the questions Terry asks Berkowitz seem leading, and he seems less concerned with getting to the truth than with confirming what he already believes. Berkowitz himself doesn’t give any new information that can be investigated, like a name for an active member of the cult or where proof like member logs or photographs can be found. But Terry believes it, because he wants to believe.

And that’s the horror. Terry has woven a spider web of possible links and maybe connections around himself. And it’s so tightly and thickly woven with “facts” that he’s unable to see anything that might disprove this theories. He, and those who believe like him, only see the idea of the cult that they say committed the Son of Sam murders. In the process, Terry drives away many people close to him, ruins his credibility as a journalist, and suffers from health issues while searching for his truth. And in the end, he dies still pursuing his truth.

It’s unfortunately an all-too common story. Since time immemorial, mankind has spun spiderwebs of conspiracy theories around themselves and others, refusing to see the truth because it doesn’t fit with their worldview or beliefs. In the US alone, we’ve seen it time and time again with a variety of boogeymen and alleged cover ups. Since 1692, the idea of Satanists operating in the US has been especially prevalent, most recently gaining new life in the 1980s with the Satanic Panic (which Terry unintentionally contributed to trying to convince people of his beliefs) and with today’s QAnon conspiracy.

The result is not just the actual truth being ignored or denied by many people. It can lead to lost relationships, ordinary people being misled, the ruination of reputations, laws being broken, and day-to-day life being severely disrupted. Occasionally, lives are even lost.

And all because someone sees something, may not like or understand what it means, and an alternative presents itself that seems to make more sense. To an outsider, it can seem impossible and extraordinary when so many different and unrelated people, events or things are connected or enlisted to “support” the central idea of the theory. But to the believer, it’s all so simple, and if the connections out of left field help to make the core idea make sense or more believable, or if powerful figures back it up for whatever reason, all the better.

It’s preferable to admitting that a sick and twisted individual work alone and takes lives for their own sheer pleasure. Or that some people have never liked a former President because of what he said/stood for and enough came out and voted against him to keep him from a second term. Or that horrible stuff happens, and there isn’t some grand, simple, good-vs-evil reason behind it.

And to admitting you might’ve been fooled and gone through so much just to be wrong.


If you want to check out “The Sons of Sam” docuseries on Netflix, by all means go ahead. I’m not saying you shouldn’t. Just go in with quite a bit of salt. It may make what you’re watching feel more psychologically difficult, because it’ll feel like you’re watching someone fall down a bottomless pit of conspiracy and experiencing the fallout of it. But it’s a fascinating watch nonetheless, and it might deepen your understanding of the allure and journey into conspiracy.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Thanks for reading through my entire TED talk. I just wanted to discuss what I’d watched and how it made me feel. I had no idea it would get this long. Hopefully, I made it interesting enough.

Anyway, I plan to have a shorter but just as exciting post out before too long. Until then, you know me. I’ll be busy writing stories and trying to find them homes, as well as experiencing (and in some cases, causing) all the terrifying phenomena I can. Should be fun.

Also, ParaPsyCon is only two weeks away. This is the biggest convention of authors, ghost hunters, mediums, psychics and more around, and it’ll be held on May 22nd and 23rd at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, OH. Cost of admission is just purchasing a self-guided tour of the former prison, about $25. I’ll be there as well, so I hope you’ll stop by and say hi. You can get more information by checking out the website here.

Until next time, Followers of Fear, stay safe, have a good weekend, and pleasant nightmares.

Queen Victoria and her grandchildren by her daughter Princess Alice, mourning their mother and sister Princess Marie.

Yes, this is another Victorian England post. Don’t worry, it’s going to be relevant to horror and to the stories I write, believe me.

During my research into the era, I found that the Victorians really had a thing for mourning. In fact, they made ritualized mourning into something of a fine art or a pseudo-religious practice (hence why I call it a cult). You know how during a funeral, it’s tradition to wear black? Victorians took that to extremes: when someone you know died, you were required to mix black into your clothing, how much depending on your level of closeness to the deceased. A widow would have to wear full black clothes, usually made from crepe fabric; a child would wear black with white cuffs and frills; and servants would wear black bands around their arms (maids could also wear one around their caps or bonnets, or fully black caps and bonnets).

Also depending on the closeness to the deceased would determine the length of the initial mourning period. Yeah, you read that right: initial mourning period. For the Victorians, there were stages of mourning, particularly for close relatives. For widows, for example, the initial mourning stage could last up to two years, during which time they could only wear black clothes and black jewelry; black clothes was hung on mirrors and windows; and they were to refuse all socializing. Any letters they sent out had black borders, and it was encouraged for them to forget the outside world to focus on the deaths of their husband.

Of course, this was slanted very much towards women: men were allowed to wear only a black armband and go out because they were typically breadwinners. They could also remarry or enter the social scene sooner, because men were expected to have wives to take care of them and a mother for any children.

Furthermore, only women from the middle or upper classes took part in the full mourning ritual. Women from the lower classes, while still wearing black, would have to go out to earn a living. If one could be earned, of course; I’m not entirely sure, but I think I read that women could have difficulty finding work during mourning, if they previously weren’t working. In fact, many women and families went into debt or became homeless by observing mourning rituals.

Why did they do all this? Part of the reason may have been Queen Victoria herself: when her husband Albert, Prince Consort, died, she went into lifelong mourning for him, wearing black for the rest of her life and refusing to remarry. For a time, she even retreated from her royal duties. This inspired the cult of mourning and its associated rituals.

Part of it may have also been (and this is just my hypothesis, but I could be onto something) the resurrection men, grave robbers who stole bodies and sold them to medical schools for anatomy lessons. Back then, there was a huge demand for bodies at medical schools, but never enough supply, so resurrection men would step in to meet the demand (as well as be paid handsomely for it).* And because not everyone could afford safeguards to keep their coffins from being raided and stealing a body technically wasn’t a crime yet, all resurrection men had to worry about was getting caught by an angry mob.

Ad for Black Peter Robinson’s Mourning Warehouse, and the image that inspired my current story.

Regardless of what caused it, the cult of mourning existed, and everyone was expected to obey, especially married women. To fail or to opt out was to be accused of never having truly loved or been family with the deceased, or to be cold and cruel.

And where there is devotion, there is money to make off it: while poorer families would dye their clothes black or got them secondhand, those who could bought them from specialized “mourning warehouses,” department stores that sold mourning wear, as well as coffins and items associated with mourning. Some even rented out hearses and horses for their clients! Some of the biggest were the London General Mourning Warehouse, or Jay’s, and the Black Peter Robinson Mourning Warehouse.

But wait, there’s more! Post-mortem photography was also popular during this period. Photography was a lengthy and expensive process, so many families would only get photographs of their loved ones when they’d just passed. They would then be posed and prepared to look like they were sleeping, often next to living family members. Rather than morbid, this was seen as a good way to remember the dead and help with grief.

A post-mortem photograph. Because of course I would include one.

Of course, a lot of this fell out of fashion in the early twentieth century, first among the upper classes and then trickling down to the lower. Cheaper funeral practices became preferred, and post-mortem photography became unnecessary as getting a photograph became easier and more affordable. Today, only characters in books and neo-Victorians still practice any of these (yes, that’s a thing, but for another post).

And yes, resurrection men are largely a thing of the past.

Why do I bring this up? Well, besides being interesting, the story I’m writing now focuses on Victorian mourning to an extent, and doing some further research into Victorian mourning practices made me want to blog about them. So thank you for coming to my TED talk (I love making that joke).

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m sure I’ll be back soon with more to rant or gush about. In the meantime, thanks for enabling my love of the Victorian era. And until next time, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!

*H.H. Holmes, one of America’s first recorded serial killers, did this with his victims, which leads me to think he was more interested in making easy money than in killing.

This past week at work, I’ve been taking a class on giving an effective presentation, with and without PowerPoint. As part of that class, we were to give a seven to ten minute presentation on any subject of our choosing. You can guess what I did mine about. That’s right, I did mine on horror. Specifically, on what makes for a good horror story.

Don’t you just love it when life hands you opportunities tailor-made for you?

And while working on my presentation, I realized that I could record it and maybe post it on YouTube. After all, I don’t get many opportunities off the blog to expound on what makes for good horror, and wouldn’t I want to make sure as many people as possible were able to see it? So I gave one of my classmates my phone right before I began, and he started recording. The result is below. The video does cut out before the presentation is finished, but you get the gist of it.

If you’re wondering what my example of a bad horror story was, it was 2016’s The Boy, which I hate. I would’ve used the Friday the 13th remake, but I thought doing an original film would drive the point across better. Afterwards, while the lights were out, I went to the next slide, which was all black, and gave a quote from Kill Creek, the Gothic novel I mentioned in the video (and which I really do recommend):

If I were to lead you into a dark room, and someone were to leap out and shout, “Boo,” you’d be startled for maybe a moment. If, however, I were to lead you to that dark room and tell you that someone died in that room, that their spirit haunts it, and that they sometimes reach out and touch people, and then I left you locked in that room, for hours on end, in the dark…that is horror.

That’s about as exact a quote I can give when I only have my memory of the audio book and no hard copy to look up the quote prior to the presentation.

I finished by thanking everyone for coming to my TED talk (apparently that’s something people say when trying to be academic nowadays, so I thought I’d use it), and wished the all pleasant nightmares before asking if anyone had any questions (someone asked me what my favorite horror movie is. I couldn’t think of one). And after the presentation, I got some really great feedback from my classmates. One or two even told me they’d never thought of horror like that before, and it was really eye-opening.

To which I bowed and said, “My job here is done.”

When I got home, I immediately went to upload the video onto YouTube. Took about an hour, as it was nearly two gigs worth of data, but it’s up there, and it’s not half-bad. So if you do get a chance, I’d really appreciate you checking it out and letting me know what you think. Was my argument convincing? Were there counter-points you’d like to make? And will I get sued by any companies for using their images, specifically Warner Bros. for using footage from the trailer for The Nun? Let’s discuss!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll be going to see Glass this weekend, so you should hear from me again then. Until next time, thanks for reading/watching and pleasant nightmares!