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Into the Storm ‘seeks its origins but misses its meaning

HBO’s new conspiracy theory documentary QAnon, “Q: Into the Storm,” is a six-part broadcast miniseries directed, written, filmed, and narrated by Cullen Hoback. Hoback has made some interesting and technically competent films in the past, including the improbably entertaining 2013 documentary on licensing agreements, “Terms and Conditions May Apply.”

As for his QAnon series, I liked the animation in the opening credits.

The problem with “Into the Storm” is that rather than focusing narrowly on the relationships within the conspiracy theory that essentially took over the presidency from Trump and contributed to the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill (which is the essential to the climax of the final episode), on the contrary, it is a sort of unified theory of the contemporary internet. Its six hour-long episodes trace the lineages and influences of meme culture from the Something Awful forums (where today’s popular comedy writers and activists rubbed elbows in the late 1990s) to hacker collective Anonymous and the web-based hate campaign Gamergate in 2014. to two of the many explicitly political right-wing movements it spawned, “pizzagate” and its amplified successor, QAnon.

It is quite possible that one does not need to understand the whole of the modern Internet to understand QAnon; after all, most of its adherents do not.

In that sense, “Into the Storm” wants to be a great story about how we live now. Instead – and despite the high stakes – too much of it plays out as sub-‘real housewives’, infighting between boring and self-involved dudebros living in relative isolation in various non-contiguous and devoting countries. their life… well, nothing.

This is why the series is such a tedious and frustrating job, punctuated by moments of frankly inexcusable itching – including what appear to be blurry footage of child abuse and footage from the Christchurch set taken by the killer and uploaded to an array of pictures called 8chan specifically to ignite racial hatred.

That’s not to say that “Into the Storm” isn’t worth anything – just that it’s two hours of documentary in a six-hour bag. It is quite possible that one does not need to understand the whole of the modern Internet to understand QAnon; after all, most of its adherents do not.

At its core, QAnon is a personality cult that sometimes lacks a person, dedicated (most of the time) to statements by a pseudonymous blogger calling himself (assuming it’s a him at all) and spreading Q , in coded messages, what he or they claim is secret information about the nefarious activities of Democrats and movie stars (who eat babies to regenerate) and the secret war of former President Donald Trump to do them justice. Q’s gnomic snippets and ambiguous prophecies are generally vague; there is a cottage industry of Q performers bent on promoting and, probably not coincidentally, profiting from the conspiracy.

Too much of the documentary plays out like sub-“Real Housewives,” infighting between boring, self-involved dudes.

Q used to post on an internet bulletin board called 4chan, then exclusively on his nominal successor 8chan and now does so on 8kun, encouraging “performers” to take the posts and their interpretation on more popular platforms like YouTube and Facebook where your older parents can become addicted the most easily. The original Q account stopped showing in December, but Q’s sidekicks continue to complain even as they drift.

Conspiracy theory became popular enough among American conservatives under the Trump administration (which constantly pushed QAnon adherents) that two politicians who publicly courted its believers were elected to Congress in 2020 (Reps Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., And Marjorie Taylor Greene., R-Ga.), And that inspired some of the people who stormed the U.S. Capitol during the murderous Right-wing Crusade on January 6.

The conspiracy theory, and its all-consuming appeal to some people who truly believed that the world’s problems could be explained by living rich and powerful on a byproduct of adrenaline harvested from the blood of children, destroyed the family relationships, friendships, marriages and more. . It is a series of fundamentally crazy ideas with an incongruously wide appeal; excellent fodder for a deep dive into the psyches of seemingly reasonable people affected by this. Hoback, however, is more interested in the psyches of the people he believes perpetrated it, and those people are mostly disappointing and despicable jerks.

Fredrick Brennan, the programmer who created 8chan and helped launch Gamergate, is Hoback’s friendliest character – in large part because he repudiated his job and made huge sacrifices to be forgiven. He’s a fascinating, visibly intelligent, self-aware person who at one point tells a TV interviewer that he “might in fact deserve” his unmissable association with the site he doesn’t operate. more.

Jim Watkins, who Brennan sold the site to, is the villain of the play, along with his bratty son, Ron. Ron is particularly interesting unlike Brennan. He’s not disabled where Brennan is visibly disabled, impenetrable pompous where Brennan is often humble and creepy in every possible way: dishonest and deceptive and, Hoback suggests, maybe even dangerous.

QAnon would be excellent fodder for a deep dive into the psyches of seemingly reasonable people affected by this.

“Maybe 25% of 8chan is paid for by pigs,” observes Jim Watkins, who owns a real pig farm (among other businesses), at the start of the series. Hoback uses it as a fitting metaphor – the site seems to be populated with the nastiest people possible – and makes a point of showing copious amounts of the site’s crudest and most antisocial posts.

The Watkins, various semi-recognizable right-wing media figures, and Q’s unrecognizable fifth-tier sidekicks are just a few of the huge cast of malicious dorks that populate “Into the Storm”. Is one of them Q? Maybe, but the question of who initially told people the obvious lie that Hillary Clinton eats babies is far less interesting than why anyone ever believed it.

Hoback’s own credibility would benefit from fewer scenes that extensively indulged in the conspirators: their straw grab, which forms the basis of Q’s fandom, is uncomfortably recalled by Hoback’s own efforts in the film to identify Q. And he There’s a continuum between Hoback’s slick style – heavy on screenshots, ominously muted music, and digital animation – and overproduced YouTube videos parsing Q’s 8chan posts on which QAnoners (“Q-tubers”) Bend over. At some point within six hours, it is no longer clear where Hoback ends and where the conspiracy theorists begin.

This is why, perhaps, some of the lessons learned by other journalists who have looked into this conspiracy – including several that he interviews – might have served Hoback well: trust but verify, deploy the speech of hate rather than give it more air and choose dry little -T truth about sexy hyperbole.

“Into the Storm” sets out in search of the truth, but gets stuck in a world made up almost entirely of lies.

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