As my paternity leave continues, I shall pass along the following communication from Chapka, one among your number. Chapka is the editor-in-chief of Mousehold Words, a free web project that allows subscribers to experience nineteenth century novels in their original, serial format. Readers receive the novels' serial parts via periodic emails--it's rather cool and worth checking out.
Dear Holy Prepuce,
Congratulations on your recent event, and I hope you're enjoying your well-deserved bloggeregnum. While you're out, I've been forced to surf the internet without your expert guidance, and I thought you and your readers might be interested in a few of the stranger things I've run across.
Here's a pop quiz. Which of the organizations listed below have established a web presence?
a) The Prohibition Party, founded in 1867 with a platform of banning alcohol sales in the United States;
b) The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, founded in 1873 and most famous for marching on saloons in the nineteenth-century run-up to Prohibition;
c) The Universal Zetetic Society, founded in the 1880s to promote the ideas of Samuel Birley Rowbotham, who believed, according to Wikipedia, that "the earth is a flat disk centered at the North Pole and bounded along its southern edge by a wall of ice, with the sun, moon, planets, and stars only a few hundred miles above the surface of the earth";
d) The Catholic Legion of Decency (CLOD), founded in 1933 to achieve "the purification of the cinema" and which effectively censored film production through the 1950s by persuading theaters not to show films which received its "C" rating;
e) The Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, founded in 1542 to supervise the trial and execution of heretics; or
f) The Theosophical Society, founded in 1875 by self-declared psychic Madame Blavatsky to promote the study of Aryan scriptures and the belief in reincarnation, Atlantis, universal consciousness, and the idea that the number seven controls the universe in various odd ways, but most famous for sparking the Victorian interest in table-rapping, ectoplasm, spirit writing, trance experiences, and the séance as we know it today?
The answer is, of course: All of the above. Not even the wing nuts and lost causes of the past ever really disappear; they’re out there, and now, like everybody else, they're on the web as well.
a) The Prohibition Party not only maintains a web presence, but by their own report have actually elected candidates as recently as the 2004 elections (although at least some of these were elected in officially nonpartisan elections). Their 2004 platform calls for the abolition of the income tax and the Federal Reserve system, a universal voucher system for schools, and a return to the gold standard (really!). It also calls for a complete ban on the production or sale of tobacco and continuing the current ban on marijuana. However, oddly enough, it does not call for--well--prohibition. Instead, the Prohibition Party's official platform states that:
Until the liquor traffic is eradicated, we call for the alcoholic beverage industry and its products to be placed under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration . . . We favor maintaining the nation-wide legal drinking age of 21, and we favor establishing a level of taxes on alcohol equal to the social costs of repairing the damage caused by alcohol. Our program of leadership, legislation, and education . . . will result in a change in societal attitudes toward supporting prohibition of the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverage products.
At least they noticed that without "a change in societal attitudes," things didn’t work out so well the last time.
b) The WCTU has also moved into the twenty-first century with the establishment of their web presence; they’ve also expanded their horizons beyond demonizing Demon Rum. Their web site now includes sections condemning tobacco, gambling, pornography, and gay marriage, as well as alcohol and illegal drugs--including separate entries for "marijuana" and "hemp," the latter of which warns:
The drug legalization lobby is currently targeting farmers, such as tobacco growers, in an attempt to persuade them to grow hemp, a crop which would not be profitable. This is a cruel hoax similar to the legalizers' efforts to persuade sick patients to smoke marijuana as a "medicine."
The web site also features "fun rooms," which sound promising but are in fact composed entirely of allegedly "fun" facts for children about how drinking a beer will KILL YOU. There's also an essay contest: grades 4, 5, and 6 are encouraged to write about how they should "Always Avoid Alcohol," while grades 7, 8, and 9 get the wishy-washier "Be Aware of Club Drugs." If they weren't already, I’m sure they will be by the time they finish researching their essays.
c) Having gone through several incarnations and a few periods of inactivity, the Universal Zetetic Society was revived in the twentieth century as the Flat Earth Society. The FAQ at the web site explains that the Flat Earth theories haven’t been proven yet because "The government prevents people from getting close enough to the Ice Wall [that surrounds the south 'pole'] to take a picture" of it. However, there's a touching underlying optimism in the idea, also mooted in the FAQ, that "all the world governments . . . only appear to be disorganized to make the conspiracy seem implausible."
In the Zetetic world, the sun and moon are each giant spotlights, 32 miles in diameter. The spotlight effect explains why some parts of the earth are light and some are dark at the same time…because if a spotlight isn’t shining right at you, of course, you can’t see it. Sad to say, the forums are very active, and several users appear to be perfectly serious; one recent topic ("Footballer Arrested to Hide Fake Moonwalk") claimed that O.J. Simpson’s legal troubles were engineered by the government as retaliation for his appearance in the 1978 Mars-landing-hoax film Capricorn One. No doubt co-star Sam Waterston will be arraigned for murder himself any day now. Waterston’s trial will then, of course, form the basis for an upcoming episode of Law & Order.
d) The organization once known as CLOD has now been subsumed into the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Film and Broadcasting. They have an archive of over 8,000 film reviews, with information about whether each one is "troubling" or "offensive." As the former CLOD lost the leverage over the industry it had in its heyday, it became less and less radical, and its advice became milder. However, the archive includes films rated all the way back to 1933; although some of the original ratings appear to have been softened, this still leads to some odd juxtapositions. For example, the original 1967 film The Producers gets an "O" rating for "offensive," but the 2005 musical remake merely gets an A-III "adults only" rating, and is even described as "perhaps acceptable for older adolescents."
e) Another renamed but not forgotten Catholic organization, the Inquisition is now known as the "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith," and rarely sets even the most inflammatory heretics on fire anymore. Its most famous Prefect in recent years has of course been Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI. The Inquisition's official web site is, sadly, kind of boring. Their current mission apparently involves "promot[ing] in a collegial fashion encounters and initiatives to spread sound doctrine and defend those points of Christian tradition which seem in danger because of new and unacceptable doctrines," which is in my opinion an improvement over the old "let’s expel the Jews and execute the Protestants."
f) The Theosophical Society splintered into a number of competing groups after the death of Madame Blavatsky. The original highest-profile branch, led by nineteenth-century birth control activist Annie Besant, has a web site at www.ts-adyar.org. However, the American branch, the Theosophical Society in America, has the slickest web site. The web site takes the Scientology approach, focusing on the "duty of altruism" and the importance of helping your neighbor, rather than the history of Atlantis and Lemuria and the other more esoteric aspects of Madame Blavatsky’s historical-philosophical worldview. However, the crazy stuff is still there if you dig a little further into the site’s "online study materials":
The second root race . . . existed during the Oligocene epoch, some 34 million years ago. . . . In terms of consciousness, this race concentrated on activity, beginning to organize its bodies into vehicles of active expression by which to influence its environment. This race is said to have been androgynous, combining male and female characteristics, and to have reproduced by a process called "sweating." Partway through the third root race, about 18 million years ago, when human bodies had become fully physical, the sexes were separated. The evolutionary purpose of this third race was the development of emotion. It lived a life of impulse, with mind at first incipient but not developed. The mind was activated and given structure, but was still relatively quiescent. (From Theosophy: An Introductory Study Course [warning: large PDF], by John Algeo.)Crazy, yes, but still a lot more fun than anything in the WCTU’s alleged "fun rooms."
Sadly, there do not appear to be any current web sites for the Levellers, the Bull Moose Party, or the Hanseatic League. But I’m still looking…