Saturday, August 05, 2006

Willful Gullibility: Snuff Films

Here's a classic article on an example of people believing something against all evidence to the contrary, in this case, the existence of a black-market for snuff films.

"Although an occasional nuisance to those aware of their erroneous nature, urban legends rarely have a dramatic effect on society. But what if such a tale grew to an unprecedented level of acceptance that it actually had a substantial effect on the public? What if it became responsible for the dissemination of unsubstantiated claims that created a nationwide panic? What if such a tale was responsible for single-handedly creating a myth that would become a cinematic bogeyman for generations? Such, it seems, is the history of the snuff film."

Here I think the motive for most people to talk about snuff films is that it's a good story- basically a film in which the actors or actresses are killed on-camera. Also, the existence of various faked snuff films, such as "Snuff" (which started the legend) and "Faces of Death", tends to trick a lot of people into thinking that they've seen people die on camera, instead of watching cheap special effects.

What's more interesting is that the 'snuff films' urban legend gained a certain legitimacy in the 1970s, when various prominent feminists wrote on the widespread snuff film racket. There, I think, the motivation was their on-going campaign to rid the world of pornography. It's perhaps harder to get people riled up about other people having sex on film than it is to get them upset about people having sex, and then being murdered on film. "Even Linda Lovelace, star of the groundbreaking adult film Deep Throat (1972), testified to the U.S. Attorney General's Commission on Organized Crime that 'women acting in porn films were being murdered on camera or after filming when they were deemed of no further use.'"

I think this is an example of people being willing to swallow a line because it accords with their notions about how the world is. "Pornographers are sleazy woman-haters, right? So, why wouldn't they murder women on film?" The problem is that the underground network of snuff films has never been found, although one could argue that various terrorist groups are distributing snuff films over the internet. Here though, there is no market, no 'actors' and sadly, no urban legend.

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