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Tea’s Weird Week: Watch Out for the Phrase “Do Your Own Research”

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Let me tell you a little bit about Young Krulos– when I was 18, I graduated high school, then I moved out of mom and dad’s. I moved to Milwaukee’s east side into a house full of roommates, got a string of jobs like washing dishes, telemarketing, and cashiering. I lived a carefree life. I didn’t have much money or even wanted much… I dined on Ramen noodle packs, and frozen pizzas. Not having much money, I spent many days hanging out at the East and Central libraries. I would spend hours browsing and reading books, magazines, CDs, and videos.

A lot of times I’d be on some random kick– I’d be reading all the books I could find about comic book history or UFO case studies or famous gangsters of the 1920s…whatever struck my interest. I guess you could say I was “doing my own research,” so I understand the appeal.

“Do your own research.” That’s a phrase I ran into a lot while working on my book American Madness, which is about conspiracy theory culture, and it’s a term I’ve heard many times in the last few months. It kind of makes my eyes roll and my skin crawl when I hear it now.

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Over the course of working on American Madness, I was told I should “research”  9/11 and vaccines and flat earth theory and other stuff I’ll just let you read about in the book.

I have mixed feelings about conspiracy theory, depending on the topic. Some of it, like UFO cases and the JFK assassination, I find to be really interesting. Stuff like the moon landing hoax or Jimi Hendrix faking his death and becoming Morgan Freeman, are just goofy and amusing. Theories like the Sandy Hook shooting being fake are pretty disgusting. There’s a fine line that’s hard to navigate sometimes.

I think my irritation with “do your own research” was already there, but blew up with all the COVID-19 theories from an internet army of people who were suddenly “researchers.” Someone on Facebook told me I was dumb for believing the pandemic was a real threat. This person had “researched,” they said, and their findings was that the “plandemic” was fake.

Really? Did you? Did you do this research in a lab? Did you have it published in a peer-reviewed journal? Or did you just watch something floating around YouTube?

Ok, let me take a breath here. I’m not saying you need a PhD to educate yourself. We should all strive to be better informed. Media literacy is more important than ever.

Fake news is a real problem in 2020. Conspiracy sites, foreign interests (like Russia), bots, data mining, deep fakes, far right sites–some that have deceptive, Orwellian names ( justthenews.com, for example is definitely not “just the news”) have formed a tidal wave of misinformation. Unfortunately, I don’t think a lot of people want media literacy. They’d rather follow their “hunch,” like Trump does, and find faulty resources that support their idea that the world is flat, or that vaccines cause autism, or that Democrats have imprisoned “mole children” under Central Park.

Here’s some things we should ask ourselves when searching for information:

  • What source is this and is it credible? Is it “fake news”–not the type that Trump yammers on about because they report information that hurts his ego, but heavily skewed, conspiracy peddling, Photoshop fear-mongering sites like Breitbart News, InfoWars, FOX, OANN, etc.?
  • Who authored it and when was it written? I periodically see people mourning the recent loss of Gene Wilder on Facebook– but he died in 2016.
  • What sources are provided for the article you’re reading or the video you’re watching? Some outlets use an echo chamber– they might use articles on their own site or other similar bad sources for information.
  • Is this source heavily biased, an opinion piece, or a satire site? It’s hard to tell these days if we’re looking at the New York Times or The Onion.
  • Am I looking for the truth, or am I just looking to have my opinion validated? Research follows facts, not emotion.
  • Appeal to authority is a misunderstood logical fallacy. It says that a claim isn’t necessarily true just because an expert says it is without other evidence. It doesn’t mean all authority figures are wrong, it just means that they aren’t always right. Appeal to false authority is using evidence from someone who claims they are an authority on a subject when they are not.
  • Who pays for the site the source comes from? Are they owned by a non-profit, or a special interest group? Those are things to consider. Do they fund their site by selling scam products (ahem, Alex Jones)? Are they really owned by George Soros, or is that something you saw someone say on Reddit?

Doing your own research can be a fun and rewarding thing, a way to understand life better. Just be careful where you get your information from.

Freelance Dept.: I interviewed members of Antifa for local paper the Shepherd Express this week: https://shepherdexpress.com/news/features/what-is-antifa/

My upcoming book American Madness features a journey through conspiracy culture. It’s out August 25, 2020 from Feral House. To pre-order: Bookshop.org: CLICK HERE Amazon:CLICK HEREIt’s on Goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/52486773-american-madness

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“Tea Krulos has forged a fascinating collection of work by immersing himself in various sub-cultures that exist on the fringes of society.” —Cult of Weird

American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness by Tea Krulos from Feral House on Vimeo.

Tea’s Weird Week: Summer of Conspiracy Theory

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Tune in here every Friday for Tea’s Weird Week.

Today starts my 3-day vacation, where I’ll be doing nothing but laying in a hammock drinking pina coladas. Just kidding. I will be doing some kicking back at the Moonlight Retreat, but I’ll also be taking a red pen to a couple manuscripts and leading a ghostlore workshop.

Being somewhat in vacation mode (and looking forward to fall), for today’s column I thought it would be appropriate to round up of some stories I’ve studied this summer. I’m working on finishing up a book about conspiracy theory (American Madness) and 2019 has been a helluva year for it. This summer in particular feels like the one where we collectively lost our damn minds. [I included links to further reading.]

Here’s my top 5 Summer of Conspiracy stories:

(1.) Storm Area 51: I wrote about the viral “Storm Area 51” event in this column a few weeks ago. Now there’s going to be a 3-day “Alien Stock” music fest, already drawing comparisons to the disastrous Fyre Festival. As I wrote before, I’ve been through the area and Rachel, the town the fest is happening in, has a population of 58 people, no infrastructure, no shelter, no nothing– the nearest gas station is 50 miles away! Not the best place for an EDM festival. [USA Today]

(2.) QAnon Vigilante: One of my editors sent this article to me and I’m surprised I haven’t seen it more in the news cycle. Francesco “Franky Boy” Cali, who was head of the Gambino crime family and spent most of his life avoiding death, had his ass capped by a vigilante conspiracy theorist named Anthony Comello, inspired by QAnon. I’ll be dissecting the story more in my book. [New York Times]

(3.) Flight of the Flat Earther. After aborting his mission last weekend, Flat Earther and rocketeer “Mad” Mike Hughes is set to blast 5,000 feet into the stratosphere in his homemade rocket tomorrow, which reads “Research Flat Earth” on the side and was funded by a hook-up dating app called Hud. The attempt will be filmed for an upcoming show called Homemade Astronauts for the Science Channel, which sounds fun. At first I was completely confused as to how launching 5,000 feet in the air could prove anything about Flat Earth as we have planes, hot air balloons, and hang gliders that can rise higher than that, but then I realized this is more about publicity. It’s not the journey, it’s how you get there.  [Space.com]

(4.) V is for…Anti-vaxxer? This year’s San Diego Comic Con featured an appearance by a large group of protesters dressed as V, the character from V for Vendetta in a protest appearance made popular by Anonymous. A couple months earlier, the same (or similar) group protested outside of Disneyland for the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, dressed as Star Wars characters. [respectfulinsolence.com]
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(5.) Epstein Suicide Conspiracy. The most interesting news story of the last week for me was the suicide of Jeffrey Epstein. It was just crazy to see conspiracies explode and proliferate online within minutes of his death being reported. Because Epstein had some connection to both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, the theories were partisan– Trump had him rubbed out or the Clintons had him whacked (to fit the Clinton Body Count theory) or a Deep State cabal did. I even saw theories that Epstein made a getaway, leaving a dead hobo’s body in his place (a theory spread by the band Foster the People, among others, who tweeted “Epstein’s on a private plane to somewhere in the middle east getting prepped for plastic surgery right now”). [NBC News]

Alright, enough conspiracy– I’m off to the Moonlight Retreat. Have a good weekend!

Links

My favorite barbershop is Jose’s. Sad to hear of namesake Jose Ortiz’s death. Here’s an “Off the Cuff” I wrote on him for the Shepherd Express back in 2008, after someone suggested I stop in and talk to him because he was an interesting person. Indeed he was.: https://shepherdexpress.com/arts-and-entertainment/off-the-cuff/barber-extraordinaire

My latest book is Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Preppers. You can find it here: www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow

Twitter: @TeaKrulos Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheTeaKrulos