Haunting and Heaven’s Gate

I recently watched a documentary on the Heaven’s Gate cult and resulting mass suicide incident and felt that it had a lot of relation to this course. I hadn’t realized how related to the digital age the cult was, with their main source of income coming from web design jobs which was an up-and-coming field at the time. Additionally there was a lot of found footage sourced from videos made by the cult itself including a “farewell video”, essentially a video suicide note, and instructional videos made by the cult’s leader Marshall Applewhite. To me this was heavily reminiscent of the “haunting” we discussed earlier in the semester and definitely is more on the “ghostly” side of things. In a way, the videos almost make me feel as though Applewhite’s “advancement” beyond humanity was consummated by the recording of the instructional videos; forever preserving his ideology, personality and message in a digital format. Because of how unnerving his eyes and general mannerisms are in the video it seems haunting even if you’re unaware of his death, but knowing that he’s now dead as well as knowing the circumstances of his suicide make the videos spine-chillingly unnerving to watch. I had first seen clips from the Heaven’s Gate Applewhite tapes when I watched the postmodern audiovisual short film/album combo Duality released by super-producer Flying Lotus under his villainous rap moniker, Captain Murphy. In the context of an artwork exploring the nature of cults and mentality of cult leaders the video almost seemed inconsequential compared to when I viewed it in the context of the reality that is the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide. The sense of self-awareness that the album gave the clip was removed completely when I watched it in its natural context and it seemed infinitely more unnerving, reminding me of how much context can change the “haunted” nature of a digital media artifact.