week unveiled their “Unbox” movie download service. It’s expected that Apple will be introducing something similar this week. The question has become whether lots of people will want to watch full length movies on their computers or video iPods. But that question was answered over a year ago by a movie made by a couple of twenty-somethings, a movie that serves as a meticulous piece of propaganda for stupidity, Loose Change.

The film, such as it is, began life as a screenplay by Dylan Avery, a 22 year old from upstate New York. It was going to be a fictionalized account of 9/11 that implicated the US government in the attacks. As Avery began to do research, he became more and more convinced that his fictional story was the truth.

The first edition of Loose Change hit the web in 2005. What’s most stunning is the number of times that seemingly intelligent friends of mine forward links to the film to me. Many of my non-computer savvy friends wouldn’t even think of watching a regular film on their computer, let alone an episode of a TV show, but they do sit through the 90 minute presentation, scored with some pretty terrible music. It almost makes me happy – grassroots activism can grab the attention of the public! The web can spread information outside of the normal channels! Alternative thought can bypass the media censors! A guy with limited funds can make a movie that is seen by and impacts thousands!

Too bad that Loose Change is filled with utter horseshit. I won’t go into a point by point refutation (a guy by the name of Mark Roberts has done just this, at a site called Loose Change Guide. It’s an exhaustive refutation, highly recommended, and unlike Loose Change, well sourced), but the claims the film makes are insane and unfounded from top to bottom. Watching the film (and talking to the people who believe the theories) I’m struck by the feeling of religious fervor. These people don’t understand things properly – they don’t have the full information about physics or engineering or even the basic facts of what happened on that day. They’re like people who deny the Earth rotates because they can’t feel it moving under their feet. Or Creationists who don’t understand biology or what the word “theory” means in science.

In a lot of ways Loose Change shows the power that images have over us. People who don’t know a lot about 9/11 see the film and, fueled by the prevalent post-Watergate, post-Clinton scandals distrust of government and those who run it, believe everything they see. People like to believe what they see over what they’re told, which is partially understandable but mostly strange in this day and age. Loose Change is obviously an edited work, and some of the video footage they use has been edited when the full length video hurt their claims; other still images are cropped or specific and flattering angles are chosen to bolster Avery’s retarded claims (it’s like the conspiracy theory version of secret fatties, the girls on MySpace who take pictures at neck breaking angles to hide their layers of blubber). Quotes and facts are presented stripped of all context. We are supposed to be a cynical bunch, but I guess the cynicism only extends to official channels; when someone who is outside the “system” shows up with something like Loose Change, some people just take it at face value.

What Loose Change and the conspiracy theories really expose, though, is the sad need for meaning. It’s something that comes up in the New Orleans levees conspiracy theories – it’s more comforting to know that something big, evil and smart (and ultimately defeatable) is behind these tragedies. In New Orleans it’s comforting to think that bad men made the flooding happen and not bad nature. It’s the same thing with 9/11. Realizing that your government is profoundly inept is terrifying. We don’t just believe that our government should be on top of stuff like potential terrorist attacks, we expect it. When you’re faced with the reality that the only thing separating the guys in the White House from the guy serving you your Egg McMuffin is skin color and class privilege, you feel an awful lot less safe. But when your government is in control of everything – even in an evil way – well, the world makes sense. Every event can be accounted for and there is no random chaos in the universe. It’s not that different, at heart, from blaming everything on Lucifer.

The sad thing is that there are plenty of places to point fingers and place blame for 9/11, but something like Loose Change (which advances theories that Time Magazine claims over 30% of Americans believe) clouds the waters in a big way. Anyone who wants more accountability from the people in charge on that day can easily be lumped in with simpletons who believe United 93 never even crashed (easily the single most offensive conspiracy theory since the one about all the Jews calling in sick at the World Trade Center on 9/11) or that a missile hit the Pentagon. It’s sad and yet it makes me mad, because these fringe and unsupportable theories make it harder for everyone else who sees duplicity and dissembling coming from the White House every day to be taken seriously.

Even if I hadn’t done simple and easy reading to debunk the Loose Change theories (besides the site linked to above I strongly recommend reading 102 Minutes, a book that goes minute by minute through everything inside the Towers from the first plane impact through the second tower falling. It’s a compelling human story but it also has an incredibly informative amount of backstory about the construction of the World Trade Center and the building codes it did and did not meet. If you want a conspiracy theory, here’s one: real estate developers, hungry to make more money by having more rentable floor space, didn’t make the towers as safe as they could have been), the whole thing doesn’t make sense when looked at in the light. 9/11 was orchestrated… why? Theorists say to get us into Iraq, but that happened two years later and under a really slapdash set of reasoning only tangentially related to 9/11. Why bother making the fake (and supposedly, according to these pinheads, still alive) terrorists traceable to Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda – why not pin the whole thing right on Saddam Hussein? And any government that could create this illusion, one that still stands five years later and would have needed THOUSANDS of complicit partners who remain silent, could surely plant some nukes or bioweapons in Iraq, right? Hell, with the fear hovering over America on 9/12, George Bush probably could have declared martial law. Why didn’t he?

There’s one thing I can’t help but wonder about the theorists, the Dylan Averys out there. You believe you live in a country where your government proactively murdered, in a few hours, 3000 of your fellow citizens. You wake up every morning and believe you live in a country where the people in charge blew up two of the world’s tallest buildings for their own nefarious purposes. And then what do you do? Get a cup of coffee, go to work, maybe see a movie at night. You believe you live in a state that is as evil as Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany and you’re arguing about it on the internet. Maybe you’re buying free range chickens. But you’re not doing anything real. Do you think that if the Germans had been better educated about the Nazis the Holocaust would never have happened? If the things you believe are true, you will go down in history as among the most gutless, pathetic human beings who have lived.

Good thing the things you believe aren’t true. You’re just going to go down in history as dummies.

And what will Loose Change go down in history as? An aberration. I think it’s the new Blair Witch Project, something that comes from the internet and will one day sink there again. I hope – even as much as I loathe what the film claims – that Loose Change is a harbinger of a new generation of non-traditional filmmaking and alternative distribution methods. I just wish that the first full length viral web documentary wasn’t a wingnut jerkoff session. Oh well, modern filmmaking began with Birth of a Nation and the art managed to go places.