Max Landis And Post-Conspiracy Culture


I have a friend. Or I guess I should say, I had a friend.
–Max Landis, “A Scar No One Else Can See”

Let me preface this post by saying I like Chronicle and American Ultra screenwriter Max Landis. I do. He’s a talented guy. And with a bit of editing polish, his recent sort of “off the cuff” exegesis on the songs of Carly Rae Jepsen, A Scar No One Else Will See, can make a really cool slim bestselling zeitgeisty volume.

But unlike the work that I am almost certain he was inspired by for this Jepsen piece, Lasagna Cat’s 07/27/1978 (he was the only celebrity to participate in Lasagna Cat’s “Sex Survey”), this obsessively detailed meditation on seemingly-inane pop music lyrics is not truly the elaborate shitpost it at first glance seems to be. But Landis seems to sure as hell wish it was. Or maybe he doesn’t. Or maybe he does. Maybe he cares. Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he thinks conspiracy theorists are all mentally ill. Or maybe he thinks he is a conspiracy theorist; that he also might be driving a little too close to the edge of Chapel Perilous Road. Or maybe not.

Or maybe he does.

Or maybe he doesn’t.

It’s like the more layers you build, the more bases you cover, the more you can’t get hurt by any of it. You can’t be mocked for having a genuine, almost savant-like, obsession with pop lyrics—something at one point in A Scar No One Else Will See Landis admits he’s had since childhood. You can’t be mocked for being perceived as possibly pretentious, because you’ve preemptively shut that down by acting like you’re just shitposting. You reveal some raw personal stuff but then protect yourself from that by casting doubt over the veracity of the entire thing (more shitposting).

A Scar No One Else Will See is a real religion masquerading (perhaps purposely; perhaps just shitposting) as a “joke” religion (such as Lasagna Cat, Everything Is Terrible’s Jerry Maguire project, Discordianism, Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc.). And it’s a religious congregation of just one, Max Landis, who never got over some chick he met once in Los Angeles—this chick who became a sphinx-like Dark Goddess to him, this fucked-up representation of the Divine Feminine/Babalon who disappeared from his life and only left an occasional cryptic text here and there to give him any sort of additional information about her current life and mindset. Finding himself with only crumbs of data regarding this human question mark, Landis then turned to the one place—the one substitute for the Sphinx—where he would be sure to be provided with neverending “material” to sort through: a pop star’s lyrics. The lyrics of Carly Rae Jepsen.

And what is the conclusion Landis makes after this exhaustive study? That all of Jepsen’s lyrics are about obsessing over a person she can never really have; a desire to bask in what he terms the “limerence” of this forbidden relationship.

And while Landis at times casts his Jepsen exegesis as something born of strictly of scientific/literary analysis—literally, analyzing each song & counting the number of recurring themes—it is clearly a bit more esoteric than that. He is a researcher who, like so many others before him, tackles the “conspiracy,” catalogues the anomalous instances, counts the synchronicities, all in the service of an ultimately personal mystery.

You know, it’s like how The X-Files is not really about a man who is trying to prove the existence of aliens, but rather a man who has not gotten over the enigma of his sister’s disappearance.

Now, what does all this have to do with the term “Post-Conspiracy Culture?”

Well, in “The Death Of Conspiracy Culture” I traced the history of “fringe” theories from its existence in the 1990s as a sort of bipartisan, creatively-fertile subculture, to the sort of ultra-paranoid “battleworn” landscape right after 9/11, to the highly polarized/weaponized atmosphere of the current period. And I said that, in a way, the cynical co-opting of Conspiracy Culture not only by the entertainment & media, but especially by demagogues, politicians, and foreign (and domestic) powers sort of “killed” it.

In the Post-Conspiracy Culture, however, people need to get “real.” They need to get rid of the tired old media co-opted buzzwords (I cringed when I saw terms like “red-pilled” and “Mandela Effect” in the Landis piece, but knew I used those terms in a faux-ironic way myself all the time), and get to the “heart” of what is being researched and talked about and speculated about. And it’s going to be a mix not only of these larger mysteries and conspiracies of the world, but also our own mysteries and conspiracies.

We are ultimately trying to solve the riddle of our own lives.

And we can hide this quest within the protective layers of the onion—irony, post-irony, post-post irony, joke religions, pasta gods, etc.—and maybe we should, if we want to keep our “respectability”—or we can just be fucking honest and raw and risky about it.

Or maybe we can instead just write and listen to and analyze pop songs about it. Maybe that will our protective “onion.”

More to read about on Butterfly Language:
You Created A Joke Religion And It Became Real. Now What?
Crisis On Infinite Realities
The Death Of “Conspiracy Culture”