Ron Rosenbaum

Theresa Duncan, Jeremy Blake:What Hath Blogmania Wrought?

People have asked me why I haven’t blogged further on Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake since the beginning of the month when I wrote about hearing one of Jeremy Blake’s last, pre-suicide voice-mails played over the phone. He was asking for “advice” from a friend he’d alienated with conspiracy theory allegations a year earlier. The friend got the message too late.

maybe it was the delayed shock of coming too close to things. I had started from a vast distance away, didn’t know either of them, only knew Theresa through her blog, barely knew Jeremy’s work at all. Suddenly because I’d done an admiring farewell blog post about Theresa I found myself being barraged by friends and foes I never would have met were it not that I wrote about her blog on my blog.

And haphazardly looking into things I was contacted by one of their friends who told an emblematic story about a friendship that ended abruptly with accusations (by Theresa and Jeremy) out of the blue that their friend was conspiring against them. And next thing I knew I was hearing a mild matter-of-fact voice asking his former friend for advice just before following his own inclination walking into the waves. Not waving but drwoning as the famous line (Stevie Smith?) has it. I was hearing the voice of the living dead.

But things kept getting uglier in the Theresa Duncan realm of the blogsophere. It was almost as if the virus of conspiracy theory anger had leapt from the dead to the living. All blogsopheric discussions seem to proceed toward the extreme I guess. Or as another poetm Yeats put it, “the best lack all conviction/the worst are filled with passionate intensity”.

Anyway now that the creeping vines of conspiracy theory have begun to overgrow the graves and obscure the legacies of Duncan and Blake maybe there’s a message–or messages–to be found beneath the tangled snakelike tendrils, perhaps too late as well. I’ve learned that once conspiracy theory starts growing, particularly in the blogosphere it can’t be stopped. It’s an incurable virus. It’s super rewarding! It gives people the feeling they’re really In the Know, and the invincibly smug sense of superiority over any one who doesn’t Get It that comes with it. It’s also, I should say, for some in a more understandable and forgivable way, a means of sublimated grieving.

Indeed it’s particularly ironic because from what I’ve seen and read (I’ve decided for various reasons not to quote from the angry e-mails I have that Theresa and Jeremy sent to friends accusing them of being part of a conspiracy against them), the immediate cause of death may have been sleeping pills [Tylenol PM] (in Theresa’s case) or drowning (in Jeremy’s) but the larger force behind the tragedy less likely to be a conspiracy, but conspiracy theory.

That’s my humble theory: They were strangled, driven mad by their own google abetted conspiracy madness. (all links are equal). And now their legacy is even more conspiracy theory about conspiracy theory.

Don’t get me wrong I believe conspiracies do exist, I don’t dismiss them in their entirety. What differentiates conspiracy theory from evidentiary theory, is, well, actual evidence. One proceeds from evidence to provisional conclusion. The other decides on a conclusion and declares everything it finds evidence of it.

I must admit feeling regret that I may have contributed to this myself, with my early reports that there had not yet been an official pronouncement of suicide as cause of death in the case. It seems to me that when something as unusual and unexplained as the Duncan/Blake deaths happen there should be a caution against a rush to judgment. But no evidence has surfaced to prove foul play and it’s equally bad to rush to judgment that it was murder, or, the latest, some preplanned prank where they’re still alive.

The Duncan/Blake phenomenon illustrates both sides of the blogsophere: there’s a value to a blogswarm ferreting out facts and details that the mainstream media ignores. But there’s a down side, a darkside to it; building conspiracy-haunted castles the air with no basis in fact, just an indiscriminate concatenation of google links interpreted in a uniformly sinister way. Alas not all links are created equal, not all have equal relevance, not all search engine connections are real clues.

What I don’t understand is the anger, the arrogance of those who think they know all the answers. The anger at Theresa and Jeremy, the anger at the reporters who sought to figure out what happened. Some feel that no one (but they?) has a right to be interested in the mystery of why two brilliant artists killed themselves, no one who merely admired their work should write about them unless they were really close to them. Or conversely, no one who knew them should write about them because…I can’t follow this line of reasoning but it’s out there.

It’s a fact of life, not necessarily terrible that people take an interest in the artists they admire, sometimes a trivializing gossipy interest, but sometimes because their work is inspiring in some way and one things one can learn from them as people. I always found some brilliant beautiful (and explicitly sourced) arcane literary references on Theresa’s blog which, along with its beauty and diversity kept me coming back. If she plagiarized some things, shame on her, it doesn’t take away the pleasure she brought by bringing to light those explicitly referenced writers, should it?

Her blog was a fascinating collage of text, images, genres; her voice, her persona, unique. Are writers supposed to write about the least interesting artists they know?

What began as tragedy is beginning to turn into farce with a large or at least vocal faction of the Duncan/Blake blogsophere now apparently believing they didn’t die, they’re still alive, it’s all some “Alternative Reality Game”.

Right. One begins to understand how religions start. And how religions are like conspiracy theories. They didn’t die: They Live! They’ve been resurrected, the hidden gods of art. The theory, like religion, is both a consolation for grief and a way for those “in the know” to think of themselves as superior, more righteous, holier than thou, than everyone else. In on a super duper secret.

I must admit it’s been a fascinating process to watch the way the blogosphere processes information, any fantasy can be real with no need to check it against facts. Remind me, again, of the evidence that the families of Theresa and Jeremy’s families were tricked into thinking they’d lost their children and the bodies they buried were…who again?

It’s all really sad. They hurt themselves, they hurt other people and now other people are hurting other people in their name. Makes me want to watch that Johnny Cash video cover of Nine Inch Nails “Hurt”. Or hear the great Elvis classic “Hurt”. maybe an all-hurt tribute album. Every Little bit hurts. Hurts So Bad. The Big Hurt.

It was Death Week at Graceland, earlier this moth. Have you ever been there? A lot of hurt people singing “Hurt”. I think of the evocative threatening phrase ” a world of hurt” that people use to scare each other. Gonna get yourself a world of hurt.

I think what hurts me is that I’ve seen it happen before and couldn’t help. A guy I used to know named Danny Casolaro an ambitious likable free lance reporter who thought he ‘d come upon the greatest all-purpose conspiracy theory ever; he was taken in by some con men who kept offering but withholding the proof. He never found it and he was found dead in a bathtub in a motel room in Martinsburg West Virginia with his wrists slit. I came to believe he killed himself in a way to make it seem like murder so at last–at very last–people would take the conspiracy theory he couldn’t prove more seriously.

In any case he’d called me a week or so before he left for Martinsburg. He was on the verge of nailing everything down he was telling everyone. If anything happens to me don’t believe it’s suicide. But I combed through his papers with a number of other reporters after his death. All he had were secondhand ex spy tall tales and conspiracy theory retread crapola.. You can read the story in The Secret Parts of Fortune on the left.) Which is maybe why I react the way I do to conspiracy theories these days. I knew someone killed not by a conspiracy, but by conspiracy theory.

I think it’s claimed two more victims.