Scanner Darkly Portrays Many Cal 3440 Section 1 2

Scanner Darkly Portrays Many Cal 3440 Section 1 2

Scanner Darkly Portrays Many Cal 3440 Section 1 2

Fresh Prompts for Week Two

OPTION ONE: Gustave Le Bon describes the way a single member of a crowd can change the disposition of an entire group as “mental contagion.” It is as if the behavior of human groups is subject to a kind of viral infection, such that a violent, paranoid, or hysterical individual can infect an entire group, and produce a mass hysteria. Consider whether you see any examples of group behavior in the world around us that could be well described using Le Bon’s idea of “mental contagion.” If so, describe the behavior and draw attention to the mental contagion you see in it.

Week 3

3. McCarthy is described in the documentary we watched as “a demagogue.” A demagogue is a leader who gets the people worked up by appealing to fears, prejudices, and passions rather than by appealing to rational arguments and evidence. a) Reflect on why the United States might be more vulnerable to demagogues than other countries or b) compare McCarthy to any figure from your own living memory of American politics–someone who also seems to have been a demagogue.

Week 4

1. Use Brian Keeley’s account of UCTs (unwarranted conspiracy theories) to briefly characterize a conspiracy theory that is circulating in the world right now. By “characterize,” I mean try to describe the conspiracy theory using Keeley’s language; use his list of features to identify the theory as a UCT.


2. THIS COUNTS AS BOTH ENTRIES FOR THE WEEK After you have watched COINTELPRO 101, briefly investigate one or two claims that you find in the documentary. For example, you could look into whether there are peer reviewed articles discussing COINTELPRO in the libarary’s databases of academic journals. Or you could chase down the Church Committee, seeking either video footage of the hearings or the reports published by the committee. I’m not asking you to do a research project, but just to spend twenty minutes or so looking for corroborating evidence. FOR ENTRY ONE: Write up a brief description of what you find in terms of evidence for or against the existence of this FBI program. FOR ENTRY TWO: Given the effort it took you to “check up” on the COINTELPRO story presented in the documentary, reflect on whether you think we can expect people to check up on the claims made by conspiracy theories they hear on the web.


1. Reflect on the difference between reading The Crucible and seeing it performed in the film version that we watched. How much of the power of the text comes from the language of it? How much comes from the spectacle of the performance?


3. A Scanner Darkly portrays many different kinds of paranoia. In our reading for this week, we encounter the sort of paranoia that is characteristic of people using certain drugs. Consider whether you think this sort of paranoia has anything in common with the paranoia visible in Unwarranted Conspiracy Theories.


2. Using Barris’ ridiculous theories about the “seven speed bike” as a model, try to describe a similar conspiracy theory in the culture around us. Select a theory where you see the theorist’s prejudices (racial or otherwise) working as a source of the theory (rather than any objective evidence).


3. A Scanner Darkly depicts a vast conspiracy in which Substance D is being used to produce millions of zombie like, obedient workers. We can see this plot as paranoid, but we can also see it as an exaggerated version of certain tendencies in American life. Try to work out a description of American life that draws attention to the Scanner-Darkly element. That is, in what way might American life seem involve a conspiracy to make people into obedient, unthinking workers?


2. “The White Album” describes Didions talks with Linda Kasabian, who was a key witness in the Manson murder trials. Take a quick look at the wikipedia page on Kasabian, which describes her involvement with the Manson “family” and her experience of the murders (try not to get sucked down the rabbit hole of reading about the Manson murders for an hour). Then consider this passage from “The White Album”

“I once asked Linda what she thought about the apparently chance sequence of events which had brought her first to the Spahn Movie Ranch and then to the Sybil Brand Institute for Women on charges, later dropped, of murdering Sharon Tate Polanski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Voytek Frykowski, Steven Parent, and Rosemary and Leno LaBianca. “Everything was to teach me something,” Linda said. Linda did no believe that chance was without pattern. Linda operated on what I later recognized as dice theory, and so, during the years I am talking about, did I.”

What do you think of Kasabian’s idea that “everything was to teach me something”?


1. Our reading for this week sheds light on Rennie’s father and on her romantic relationships with Jake, Daniel and Paul. Reflect on whether you think the novel suggests or establishes any connection between her relationship with her father and her relationships with other men.

2. We’ve seen that Rennie began her journalism career writing about “abuses” or in other words about political themes having to do with exploitation and injustice. But then she gradually transitioned into writing about fashion, food and travel, which could be seen as less important topics. In the political turmoil of St. Antoine, she has stumbled upon the kind of story many journalists would love to discover. Speculate on why she seems reluctant to exploit this opportunity.


1. In Chapter 4, “The Psychology and Sociology of Conspiracy Theories,” Uscinski describes a number of factors that can dispose us to believe unwarranted conspiray theories. It is fun to use these factors to identify the errors in people with whom we disagree, but perhaps a more important skill is being able to identify and correct our own errors using these tools. Briefly explain a conspiracy theory that you hold or once held. Then try to describe your acceptance of this theory as an external observer might describe it, drawing upon categories from Usinski’s chapter 4.

2.Bodily Harm presents a number of memorable horrors–so much so that I almost didn’t use it for this course. Consider the effect reading about this kind of horror has upon you. One might say, that the horrors make Rennie feel that her own problems: breast cancer, Jake, the man with the rope, Daniel, etc., become small compared with the problems she sees in St. Antoine. Does anything of that kind happen to us as readers?


1. In The Social Dilemma, several of the tech industry veterans describe what they call “the information extraction economy.” Write an entry in which you reflect on how it feels to think about your online life as a place where your attention–i.e. your life–is the thing being bought and sold.

2. Jaron Lanier says that the product being bought and sold on free online platforms is “the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your behavoir and perception.” Write a reflection on this.


1. Write a reflection on how this course has changed the way you think about conpiracy theories.

2. Take a close look at the postings from Q that are cited in “Nothing Can Stop What is Coming,” then reflect on why people might find those postings compellings. They offer no evidence, only claims that continually fail to prove out, yet the movement grows. Why might that be?