SURVEYING THE COUNTERCULTURE By Clayton Purdom
They weren't picking on the Conde Nast men's magazine pointlessly. Its staff had recently held a high-profile 10th anniversary celebration that felt incongruous against the publisher's recent shuttering of titles like Domino and Gourmet. Why, the musing went, did Details deserve to continue, especially when the publisher already had a top-tier men's magazine like GQ in its stable?
The answer, as the New York Observer reports, comes down to advertising market politics. But when even the glitziest publisher in the world suffers an existential crisis, it begs the question of how more fringe and counter-culture publications have fared throughout the media's turbulent past decade.
Like all other media, the democratization of access afforded by the Internet has had major repercussions. "The barriers to the creation of alternative content have come way down, which is great," Al Hidell, co-editor of the conspiracy theory compendium Paranoia: The Conspiracy Reader, says. "Every conspiracy theorist can have their own Web site, their own blog, their own podcast, their own YouTube video, and their own print-on-demand book, all without having to spend thousands of dollars."
His magazine features a diverse cross-section of left- and right-wing ideas ranging from extraterrestrial cover-ups to the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden. The collective aim of this editorial is to jar readers out of staid modes of thinking. But, as Hidell notes, this panoply of ideas is reflected readily and inherently by the Internet, which wasn't so available when he launched the magazine in 1992. People today, he says, can "Google terms like 'conspiracy theories,' '9/11,' 'JKF,' 'new world order,' and 'UFOs'" to be exposed to that same cross-section.
Thus, the combination of the publishing power of the Internet browser and the industry-wide advertising fall-off has led Paranoia to change the way it operates, just as it has within the most entrenched spheres of media. What began in 1992 as a ‘zine fueled more by shared enthusiasm than any publishing know-how has now transitioned to a book format. Paranoia: The Conspiracy Reader, Volume 1 hits bookstore shelves this week, according to Hidell.
Other publications that exist outside the mainstream have survived the decade differently. The Chicago-based Lumpen recalls in its editorial the glory days of West coast counter-culture, commingling alternative comics with sardonic politics and arts coverage. It posts every issue online for free and maintains a Web-friendly blog, but also asserts from its Web site, "We think print is an analog media that is beautiful to touch and lovely to read and we will continue to provide a physical outlet for you to enjoy."
It's worth noting that several relevant publications did not reply to our attempts for comment for this story, a telling note on how intensely they guard the independence of their editorial. The ramifications of compromising such "outsider" visions can be severe, after all. To pick two historical examples, one can merely look at the infamous drug culture magazine High Times, which has often flirted with celebrity throughout its long history, or the onetime revolutionary magazine Rolling Stone, whose engagements with celebrity have slipped from flirtation to outright betrothal. Both have risked alienating their core audience in so doing but have, one could surmise, helped ensure their longevity.
For his part, Hidell says he can envision a future resurgence in interest in print publications, similar to the recent upswing in sales for vinyl records. Print media will always have its maven, those who cherish the authenticity of its tactility. But beyond such aesthetic preferences, there may be a bigger reason why counter-culture publications benefited from an ink-based media.
"There's still been nothing quite like the feeling I would have going into a Barnes & Noble and seeing the Paranoias amongst the Newsweeks," he says. "In that sense, the newsstands are still the most level playing field for alternative viewpoints. The shelf that Newsweek is on does not get millions of more passerby than the shelf that Paranoia is on."
But waning interest in print media and continually shuttering bookstores endanger the livelihood of this important walk-by traffic. Hidell says Paranoia has stayed afloat by staying small--a direct contrast to a magazine like Details, which the Observer reports is still around merely because it doesn't actively lose money. "We have never become too big to fail," Hidell says of his magazine. "I think that has been one key to our success."
Paranoia: The Conspiracy Reader
PO Box 1041
Al Hidell, co-editor
What's New with My Subject?
Have you seen the latest issue of Paranoia magazine?
[The Magazine Reader
Paranoid? Don't Worry; It's All Under Control
By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 19, 2008; Page C01
Have you seen the latest issue of Paranoia magazine?
No? Well, that's not surprising, is it? There's a very good reason why
you haven't seen it: They don't want you to see it. They know that
Paranoia exposes them and their secret conspiracies to control every
aspect of human life.
Who are they? Good question. That's exactly what they don't want you
to know. And it's exactly what Paranoia reveals in every issue. They
are the secret government. They are the Freemasons, the CIA, the
Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Group, the New World
Order, the Secret Council of Ten. They are the people who killed JFK,
who covered up the truth about UFOs, who plotted the attacks of 9/11.
They control the world and everything in it, including your mind
unless you've got a tinfoil hat like the one I'm wearing right now to
prevent them from bombarding my brain with secret mind-control rays.
Wait a minute . . . where was I? Oh, right, Paranoia magazine. It's an
incredible magazine, founded in 1992, circulation 15,000, published
three times a year and packed with the kind of information that the
mainstream media won't tell you because they are part of them.
The latest issue reveals a secret Pentagon plot to control the weather
with radio signals. It also reveals the secret connection between the
JFK assassination and "the contamination of the polio vaccine with
cancer-causing monkey viruses."
This issue of Paranoia also reveals that David Icke, the British
conspiracy theorist who disclosed in a previous issue of Paranoia that
the queen of England is really a shape-shifting Satanic reptile, is
himself funded by money that comes from the Rockefellers, who Icke had
previously identified as "reptilian full-bloods." It kinda makes you
wonder about Icke, doesn't it?
And that's not all. The new issue of Paranoia also has a story about
Lt. Col. Tom Bearden a "microphysics wizard" who has revealed that "1)
Nothing contains everything" and "2) we can get something for
nothing." Bearden is a genius who knows how to get unlimited free
energy but his knowledge is suppressed by what he calls "an agency
with a three letter acronym."
Now, I know you're thinking "that sounds crazy," but the article on
Bearden wasn't written by some nut. It was written by Iona Miller, who
is a "hypnotherapist" and "multimedia artist" who describes her work
as a combination of "new physics, biophysics, paramedia, philosophy,
cosmology, healing, creativity, qabalah, magick, metaphysics and
society." So obviously she knows her stuff.
But one thing bothers me: Why do the editors call their publication
Paranoia? Doesn't that sort of suggest that you'd have to be, you
know, crazy to believe the stuff they print?
I decided to ask the co-editors, Joan D'Arc and Al Hidell. I called
and Joan D'Arc answered. Well, I wasn't born yesterday so I knew that
name was fake -- a subtle reference to Joan of Arc. So I asked her:
"What's your real name?" She refused to tell me.
"You must surely realize that there are people out there who hate us
and would want to harm us."
She told me that editing Paranoia was not a full-time job so I asked
her what she did for a living.
"I'm not at liberty to discuss that," she said.
Apparently, when you're exposing the secret government you can't be
too careful. D'Arc told me that Paranoia was born in 1992 in
Providence, R.I., where she ran an alternative bookstore called
Newspeak, which hosted weekly meetings of the Providence Conspiracy
League. The league started collecting conspiracy information and
storing it in a big loose-leaf binder with a picture of Lee Harvey
Oswald on the cover. And the binder led to the magazine.
I asked her why the magazine is called Paranoia and she said that her
co-editor, Al Hidell, named it and I should talk to him. She added
that Al Hidell was not his real name.
I called Hidell, who confirmed that Al Hidell is a pseudonym that he
chose because it was one of Oswald's aliases. He also wouldn't reveal
his real name or his day job. "I work a nondescript office job," he
said, "but I can't say anymore."
So I asked why he gave the magazine a name that seems to cast doubt
on, you know, the sanity of its writers and the readers.
"I thought of it as a kind of preemptive war of words," he said. "I
knew that people would call us paranoid so I kind of embraced the
Are you paranoid? I asked him.
"I'd describe myself as a suspicious person," he said, "but not
paranoid in any clinical way."
Hidell and D'Arc represent different wings of the conspiracy theories
movement. "She's more into the speculative paranormal end of things,"
he said. "I'm more of a meat-and-potatoes politics, international
relations and secret societies kind of guy."
Together, they attempt to publish a "provocative, unpredictable mix"
of conspiracy theories. "We try not to have a house conspiracy style,"
Hidell admitted that he doesn't believe all the conspiracy theories
advanced in the pages of Paranoia. For instance, he's a little
skeptical of Icke's theory that the queen of England and the
Rockefellers are really shape-shifting Satanic reptiles from outer
space. But then he adds this about Icke: "For all we know, he's
putting all that in purposely so people think he's just a nut and he
can keep publishing."
Whoa! I never thought of that! Heavy, man!
Since he and D'Arc founded Paranoia 15 years ago, Hidell said, the
mainstream media has become very interested in conspiracy theories. He
mentioned the TV show "The X-Files" and the History Channel's
documentaries on secret societies, and, of course, "The Da Vinci
"Why are 'they' allowing conspiracy theories to go mainstream?" he
asked. "If there is a group that controls the world -- and I'm not
saying there is -- they're probably not going to allow movies to be
made about themselves, are they?"
He chuckled when he said that. But after I hung up, I got to thinking:
What if he's right? And if they don't want movies made about
themselves, they probably don't want to see their evil deeds exposed
in Paranoia either. Does that mean that Paranoia is . . . part of the
conspiracy? Could Paranoia be printing false conspiracy theories to
throw us all off the trail of the real conspiracies?
Oh, man, thinking about all this stuff makes my head hurt. I'm gonna
stop now and go put another layer of tinfoil in my hat, just in case.
I don't know what's going on at the Post, but they seem to be coming
around, .... Or maybe getting ready for a little bit of MB street