Frozen. By Larry Johnson. (Ghostwriter Scott Baldyga) Vanguard Press. 2009.
This is a “tell-all” book about the alleged practices of ALCOR (see http://www.alcor.org), one of several cryopreservation organizations dedicated to preserving personhood awaiting a time when technology is available to reverse an obligatory dying process. It is written by a former employee of ALCOR who allegedly became disillusioned with the organization’s policies and procedures, ultimately implementing a plan to expose them to the media. He then surreptitiously collected data, photos and taped conversations toward that end.
I think the interesting part of this book and all that goes with it has little to do with the veracity of the author’s claims. I make no comment as to the truth or plausibility of the material presented. I will say that some of the allegations concerning a personal friend (not a member of ALCOR at the time Mr. Johnson was there and never having had any contact with him) are based on hearsay and speculation. Some of these accusations are contrary to my personal assessment of several persons involved. So I will leave it to anyone desiring to read the book to form his or her own opinions in this regard.
Although published by an otherwise reputable company, this book encompasses many classic features of the tabloid press. It contains little if anything other than vivid representations of alleged ghastly deeds, described to engender the most prurient interest. Most if not all of the representations cannot be proven definitively. Some of the accusations have already been investigated by the police and others and dismissed or found wanting for evidence. Many of the allegations involve “celebrities” that may have been placed in a position of abuse (the public loves it).
The author has a built in tabloid credibility hook all tabloid aficionados love. He endangered his life to get the story. From an article in the New York Daily News: “He told the Daily News then he had received death threats and was moving from safe house to safe house. Johnson plans to come out of the shadows Tuesday, with his book and an appearance on ABC’s “Nightline.” The day the book hit the streets; the author and his publicist started working the TV news magazine circuit. The NYDN also wrote: “He drew criticism at the time for an aborted attempt to sell photos online purportedly showing Williams’ corpse.”
I read this book from the vantage of someone that knows a little more about the subject matter than the average Joe on the street and so I have a little more information base to criticize it than the average guy. But that said, had I been someone only interested in looking further into the hook (weird scenes inside the gold mine – Jim Morrison), I will tell you that it comes off as fairly credible. The story they spin proceeds in a fashion that begs believe-ability. Very expertly so, and that brings up the second issue that makes it interesting.
This book is chock full of libel. Most if not all of the accusations involve fulfill the letter of libel law: “a false (to the person libeled) and malicious publication printed for the purpose of defaming a living person”. Some of the accusations also involve criminal activities, all based by the author’s own admission on hear say evidence. Therefore, lawsuits against the authors and publisher were a self-fulfilling prophecy and came to fruit almost immediately.
Given that the author and the publisher knew with certainty they would spend years in court defending themselves against libel, one wonders what it was about the book that gave that inevitability some juice. Surely they planned for it. Did they plan to use it to enhance book sales by keeping them in the eye of the media? Court-TV loves stuff like that and they work it to the max.
And THAT brings up the interesting issue what anyone can say about anyone else, when they can say it and what it takes to get away with it. Tabloids are famous for getting away with blatant libel. The National Enquirer headlines on your supermarket shelf scream: Britney Spears caught in 3-way love tryst with Al Gore and an octopus”. When Britney goes to sue she finds out that doing so is like rolling a heavy ball uphill. Eventually you get tired and the ball inevitably rolls back down.
The National Enquirer doesn’t have to prove the 3-way. They heard it from reliable sources they don’t have to name. Britney must prove it didn’t happen, virtually impossible. And Britney gets to finance her own legal arrangements against the legal strategy of Enquirer, which is simply to delay forever while the clock ticks, costing Brit a bundle and costing the Enquirer nothing. In the words of some actor in a Paul Newman movie, “as long as we’re absent malice. We can say anything we want to about Mr. X”
The inability to prove anything will withers lawsuits on the vine and the protagonists get tired of throwing good money after bad. I am told that one of the accused principals is writing a book detailing all the factual errors, a maneuver much like an erratum of page 22 of the newspaper. The big splash has been made. It made Nightline and a few other minor league TV newsmagazines and is now run its course. Mr. Johnson has had his 15 minutes of fame and is about to join Heather Mills McCartney, Jessica Hahn and William Hung in blissful obscurity.
What will be the long-term outcome of this brief ripple in history? I think it has the potency to destroy ALCOR. Anything they ever did before will be remembered now under this light. They will never fully shake this and the more they try, the more the public remembers “something about ALCOR and weirdness”. Some of the individuals involved will continue to run from the media until it finally dies completely. Books detailing factual errors will be written and quickly forgotten. Tomorrow, the National Enquirer headlines will scream: “Britney Spears pregnant by Paris Hilton’s Chiwawa”.
Could Brit really be prego by Tinkerbelle? Prove it ain’t so.
Such is the nature of news in these United States.