Early in the pandemic I started watching Seventies paranoid thrillers with a few friends every Monday night. We choose a movie, cue it up, decide when to press go, and then discuss in a twitter message thread. It’s just about the right level of togetherness — we are watching from three different states, four separate houses — but we’re watching together.
Paranoid thrillers just made sense in the beginning of the pandemic. The best ones — The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, The Conversation, Michael Clayton — all have a similar menacing vibe. Something bigger is watching, pulling strings, making things happen. There are a lot of shots of people from overhead, surveillance style. They look little. They sound like they are being recorded on primitive devices.
Sitting in my locked-down house completely unsure what was going to come next, if my itchy throat was a stray cat hair or the first step toward my eventual intubation, if any of us were going to make it through this thing and if the President of the United States gave a single shit about any of those questions, paranoia made a whole lot of sense. As they say in Spinal Tap, there was “too much fucking perspective” and it was creeping, encroaching, looming over us. Something was literally in the air.
* * *
The plot of every Bugs Bunny episode can be summed up in this sentence: somebody is trying to murder Bugs Bunny.
* * *
I got pretty into Qanon during the run up to the 2020 election. Not in the way that I was storming the capitol, but in the way that I liked to check in on some Q twitter accounts to see what they were on about on any given day. Something about it soothed me, made me feel better about everything that had happened since 2016. They really are that crazy, I would think, scrolling through tweets about the kraken and the storm and how the security cameras in the back of Four Seasons Total Landscaping were pointed toward a funeral home where surely truckloads of ballots had been burned in the middle of the night and it was time to get your popcorn ready and enjoy the show. They followed this toy plane in the oval office very carefully, watched what presidential portraits it was pointed toward. “Symbolism will be their downfall,” they wrote, while matching up time stamps on social media posts to Q drops.
* * *
It is December in our small town of State College. I’m watching Looney Tunes at our downtown theater on a Saturday morning with my young son. This is a State College tradition, free Looney Tunes in December. And not the new Looney Tunes. These are the classics, with Bugs and Daffy and Yosemite and Speedy and Pepe. These are the classics, and when one segment ends with a character putting a pistol up to his head and pulling the trigger – that’s all folks – there is stunned silence and then nervous, tittering laughter, and then we are on to the next one.
* * *
When I’m working on a book project I try to avoid reading other books that might fall into the same vein. I don’t want to have somebody else’s voice in my head. I don’t want to accidentally cop somebody else’s moves. I broke this rule during the writing of the Rabbit portions of this book, when I read Jeff Chon’s great Hashtag Good Guy with a Gun. It’s such a smart book, and Jeff’s understanding of the way people’s brains are being fried by the internet is just so spot-on. It is no mistake that this book ends with the rabbit in a pizza parlor, a gun and an invitation to an event being held by Tom Hanks and Hillary Clinton in his pocket.
* * *
The thing about paranoid thrillers, about the idea that They are watching, strings are being pulled at the highest levels, is that even as those movies tilt at conspiracy windmills, at their core they betray a great confidence in the systems they are exposing. The idea that somebody somewhere has set into motion a series of events that would have Warren Beatty or Robert Redford or Denzel Washington eventually compelled to do their bidding is the idea that somebody somewhere has been incredibly, profoundly competent and prepared.
* * *
Things I managed to get into this book that are like little easter eggs probably just for me:
- Ryan Seacrest
- The rabbit references getting a prescription from Doctor Murray. That’s Conrad Murray, convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the killing of Michael Jackson with propofol.
- The phrase “massive cleansing fire”
- Short story about “a sad cowboy in a beer commercial”
- Below Deck and Watch What’s Happening Live
- Indoor smoking
- The X-files, The Usual Suspects, Gene Hackman, Wes Anderson movies being impersonal and devoid of heart
- Project MK-Ultra
$10 for HAD Chap #2: Dave Housley's LOONEY
$15 bundle for both LOONEY and Evan Williams' Claustrophobia, Surprise!