April 1997
s m u g
by Leslie Harpold

Lost In Space

Let me tell you, if I had to wait for a 38k graphic and a Java applet to load every time I opened my home page, I'd kill myself too. This is not about design, however, or the internet or computers for that matter. This is classic cult stuff. When the Hare Krishnas do something wacky, no one contacts FTD because they sell flowers in airports to generate revenue.

Higher Source web site

The web design picture gets even more bleak on the San Diego Polo Club Home Page where a 61k graphic grabs your machine and gives you enough time to grab a Pepsi and light a smoke before proceeding, providing you have the patience to wait that long. I took that graphic to GifWizard and got it down to 22k with no image quality compromise, and as a compressed .jpeg, got it to 11k before it got all weird and smudgy looking.

Approximately 30 people a day in the United States commit suicide, but when they all do it in the same room, it apparently is cause for great media hype. So it goes for the "employees" at Highersource - staffed by people who followed cult leader Martin Applewhite, a whole web design and programming firm bid us adieu on March 27th.

Like everyone else, I was compelled, however, to visit their web site, to see what they were all about. The name of the cult's design arm was "Higher Source" - to me a clear indication that the source code of their pages is where I would find the real story. To understand the conspiracists, I decided, I had to think like them. I looked at the HTML source code on their manifesto and organization information looking for clues or comment tags that might point me in he direction of some sort of secret info. I figure, hey, if you're going to have a cult on the internet, why not build some sort of secret communiqué out of meta tags?

My search was disappointing however, the source is pretty standard stuff. No whispery comments or messages to God, Aliens or Elvis. My personal favorite is their image of the higher incarnation - straight out of Close Encounters.

the higher incarnation

WWWitch Hunt

Yet this is being hailed in the headlines as having much to do with the internet, and while there are some compelling reasons to make that association, this is by no means a reason to blame new media. Even on their web site they noted they placed newspaper ads to enhance their membership drive. They also had a satellite broadcast, distributed fliers, held seminars, and wrote a book.

If you haven't been paying attention, this is straight up old media. This is the first mass suicide where the participants have a web presence. Timothy Leary didn't live long enough to do his one man show on the same topic, and these people, by the time it was time to go had the savvy to know television would be the preferred medium to dispense information, leaving video tapes for the paparazzi to glom onto - a web site does not good television make, as the opiate of the masses is still the fastest and most thorough way to disseminate information.

If the Internet had been what it is today, I assure you Jim Jones would have had a web site. All the best cults, and even some of the crappy ones do nowadays. Now you can deliver your message in a multiplatform environment. Nothing different about this one, except that they have cool names for things like "shedding their containers" and that their vision of God was swiped from L. Ron Hubbard. The late leaders of the cult "Do" and "Ti" met in the early 70s in an asylum where he was a patient and she was a nurse. Sound enough like a James Taylor song for you? Well, you may remember them from their old cult H.I.M. in the 70s, Human Individual Metamorphosis, advocating a similar doctrine of UFOs and aliens and how they were higher beings in earthly shells doing "research" here on earth. Kids, none of this is new, and nothing is really unique. They had a groovy pad and a definite fashion statement, and that's good, I always advocate good shoes for important media and social events, but this is a little much, even for me.

Geeks will be geeks though, and it only took a half hour before the web was abuzz with speculation about the cult. Less than 24 hours later, a spoof site appeared. Jokes and rumors abounded, but no one seems to be laughing at what I think is the funniest thing. They all got new shoes for the event. In preparation to leave their earthly trappings behind, they got new shoes, and all were carrying five bucks and some quarters. To pay the intergalactic toll perhaps? Nope. It probably was mad money. Let me assure you that if I were joining some intergalactic convoy I just ain't a gonna pay no toll.

I know that in the area formerly known as the Soviet Union, American currency is one of the most desirable things a person can have, but I can't see the good of five bucks and change for the phone in outer space. Maybe they thought that the mother ship that would carry them "home" would stop at some sort of currency exchange so they wouldn't have to travel unprepared. I'd have used travelers checks, myself. Never leave my container without 'em.

Reading the manifesto of Higher Source, the wacky bunch of computer consultants and web designers who checked out of Hotel California so they could return to their alien higher life form origins is no different than any other cult behavior. They make a plea to the misunderstood neo-schizophrenic who has been misunderstood, and advocate not getting laid not as a social failure, but a path to enlightenment. Usually in cults, you're allowed to sleep with the master, but it seems in this case - as far as we know, even he kept the snake in the garden, and many of the male members had voluntarily submitted to castration to keep their minds pure.

I'm waiting for the only other computer professional based cult I know of to try to outdo them. Freddy Lenz and company could easily beat thirty-nine members without even batting an eyelash, as their membership is much larger. They even have a better website.. Meanwhile, I'm just going to wait to read the vodka/phenobabritol cocktail recipe in Wired.

Join Us?

I was thinking of starting the Cult of SMUG, encouraging people to achieve a perfect state of smugosity. Hell, we're charismatic enough to pull it off, we know where to get the best deals on great shoes. But the thing is, although I understand image compression, I'm not willing to get a haircut and and shrouds aren't slimming even in ceremonial purple.


back to the junk drawer

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