"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 1 July 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Hit & Run CLXXXV



Think the Web is driving you

crazy? You may be right. As

detailed in a new study

published in the Southern

Medical Journal, the Internet is

becoming the main player in the

delusions of psychotics who

believe in everything from

online insect conspiracies to

Wiccan Web powers. We spoke with

Dr. Glenn Catalano, lead author

of the new study, from his

office at the University of

South Florida College of

Medicine in Tampa.


One of your cases involved a man
who thought his friends had
posted photos of him
masturbating on the Web, which
seems to be becoming a popular
theme in the media. A media
mogul gets busted online while
masturbating in Kurt Andersen's
book Turn of the Century, and
I believe there's a plot point
about accidentally uploading jerk
shots in the upcoming teen
sex comedy American Pie. Do you
have any idea why that trope is
out there right now?

This case happened about a year
and a half ago. There was stuff
beyond just [online
masturbation]. This gentleman
thought he was going to be
exposed on a daytime talk show
for his lack of sexual prowess
and had other delusions. I think
this man just had some sexual
issues, and since he saw the
Internet as a big, monolithic
entity that can't be controlled,
he was concerned about it.

You mentioned that none of the
people in your cases had much
actual experience online. What
did this guy know about it?

All this guy knew was that his
friends were more computer savvy
than he was. He didn't have a
computer or anything, and he
believed his friends were going
to use their knowledge to mess
with him and embarrass him.

This same person believed he
had Internet bugs in his ears
that were controlling his thoughts.
Were they like the intelligent
agents who recommend books
for you at Amazon?

That's a real common symptom in
schizophrenic patients; they
often believe they're being
controlled by radio waves —
although that's more '50s/'60s
stuff. But this guy sort of
brought it into the '90s.

He also believed people could
make his extremities jump just
by clicking on certain links on
his Web page. Could you expand
on that?

What he thought was that he was
so under the Internet's spell
that his friends, once again,
had made this Web page that
contained photos of him
masturbating and had put in
these links just so people could
come along and mess with him
some more — make him jump
and kick. Actually, when we were
seeing this gentleman, he was
kicking and moving his arms
around and saying, "See? This is
all part of that Web page."

Wow. How did you end up
treating him?

This gentleman ended up needing
medication. There were drugs
involved too, but even after
the drugs were out of his system,
he needed antipsychotic
medication. He was definitely
out of touch with reality.

Well, did you ever talk with his
friends to see if they really
had put this Web page

We talked with his family. They
had no idea where [these ideas]
came from, but they did know
that in the last months before
he was hospitalized he had
started talking about this stuff
with increasing regularity. He
had no computer; even his
friends said, "We have computers
at work, but we have no Web
pages and no idea where this
paranoia came from." He had seen
a movie; I can't remember which
movie. But after that, he
started picking up on the idea
of the Internet's being pretty
bad for him.

What do you make of the fact
that the people who know the
least are the most delusional

The thing is, if you're familiar
with it, you know what you can
do with it. People who don't use
it at all think you can tap into
your government files and read
what they're saying about you
and that people can tap into
personal data about you.

Your other case involved a guy
who "received magnetism from
the Internet each day at 2:00,
4:00 and 7:00, just like on
the Dr Pepper bottle." I don't
get the allusion.

The old Dr Pepper bottles had a
clock on them, and this guy was
obsessing about the idea that,
since he was a witch, Dr Pepper
had some kind of strange meaning
for him — I have no idea
what meaning. He also believed
he could surf the Net using only
his mind. When we were talking
to him, he would zone out for a
couple minutes, then say, "I was
just surfing the Web. I visited
so-and-so's Web site." He was
spending time on the local
university's Web site, giving
advice to other witches, all
through his mind.

So he was the opposite of the
first guy: He had delusions of

Exactly. He was a webmaster.

Yeah, it was just a matter of
time before somebody picked
up on that term and declared
himself webmaster even though
he doesn't have the credentials.
How did you treat this person?

This gentleman was a lot tougher
to treat. The first gentleman
caused a lot of disturbances on
the floor, so we were able to
intervene. This gentleman,
despite his beliefs about the
Web, wasn't a threat to himself
or anybody else and he refused
any treatment. When he left the
hospital he said he was going
home to work on some stuff with
other witches. He refused follow
up. And in the state of Florida,
you really can't do much with
people unless they're a threat
to themselves or to others.

You don't see so many movies
where people hack into
government computers and the
like anymore...."

Or stuff like Sandra Bullock
being tracked down in The Net.

Right, so were these people
influenced by current coverage,
like the IBM paranoia
commercials and such?

I think people who don't know
what this stuff is about are
still really wary of it. There
are people on the staff at the
hospital who don't trust the
Internet and believe that the
government can get into their
computers through phone lines
and see what they're up to. And
these are functioning people.

Have you seen any delusions
based on what the Internet
actually is — for example,
people who believe they're being
tormented by friends who send
them lists of LOL jokes?

I've seen four or five cases
since these two, but they've all
been in this vein. They've
involved people who are
concerned that the Web is out to
get them or believe they have
special Web powers. But nothing
based on reality. It's all been
based on fantasy and urban myth.

Have you seen any hypochon-
driacs who believe they have
Net addiction syndrome, even
though they don't?

We've seen some actual cases of
people who have been so obsessed
with this stuff that they've
lost their jobs or families. We
had one woman whose husband left
her because she was online 10 or
12 hours a day.

Are you going to make Internet
delusions a specialty?

Right now I'm just keeping an
eye out for it. Some delusions
have names. For example, some
very psychotic people believe
other people in their
environments have been replaced
by exact duplicates, and that's
known as Capgrass Syndrome.
The question is whether this will
grow enough to have its own
name — "cyberpsychosis" or
something like that, which is
sort of catchy. But I'm willing
to bet that as people use this
stuff more and more, it will be
used more by mentally ill people
who need something to build
their delusions around.



Speaking of delusions ... The

last few years have seen a

disturbing uptick in

hyperexpressive pets in the

media, of whom the

Gorditas-snarfing Chihuahua is

only the best-known example. The

advertising magic of digital

technology has given us a

menagerie of eye-rolling mutts,

winking cats, and bemused owls.

And now anthropomorphing has

reached its apotheosis in Spike

Lee's Oscariffic joint Summer of

Sam. (Harry Knowles blurb: "...

the word is that this is a GREAT

FILM, and folks ... pile into

the theater to see this one. The

trailer is great, the buzz is

electric, and it looks like

Spike is set to kick our

asses!") Spike has been

making the talk-show rounds to

correct the impression that

David Berkowitz is the film's

main character. He should save

his breath, because,

entertaining as the movie is,

its real money shot is a

paranoid fantasy in which

Berkowitz's canine straw boss

opens his jaws to intone "I want

you to kill. Kill! KILL!" The

preview audience howled with

appreciative laughter at the

scene, although our reporter

found it oddly terrifying. Then

again, our reporter thought

Babe: Pig in the City gave a

new name to horror.



Summer of Sam also makes

some hay out of the role played

by the media in intensifying the

terror felt by ordinary folks

about crime in their midst.

Similarly, each successive

school shooting has provoked

much hand-wringing about whether

or not excessive media coverage

actually provokes copycat

crimes. If this is so, then San

Diego is undoubtedly living

through what Hollywood and

history will dub the long, hot

Summer of Charlie. In two

separate incidents reported in

San Diego last month, men were

arrested for beating individuals

with whole tuna fish (whether

the fish tasted good or had good

taste is unclear). In the first

case, Nicholas Vitalich was

arrested for beating his

girlfriend with a fresh tuna in

a supermarket parking lot after

an argument. Less than a

fortnight later, boatman Anthony

Scott Tucker (note the ominous,

assassin-connoting inclusion of

the middle name) was arrested

for beating a fisherman and

breaking his vertebrae. How much

longer will San Diego tolerate

these fishy floggings before it

realizes that the only solution

is to legalize the carrying of

concealed fish?



It used to be that for 99 cents

and some postage, you could get

a bag filled with plastic Army

men, and a couple of

firecrackers would do some

serious damage. Now you need

billions of dollars and total

air superiority to do the job.

It seems that an assessment of

the battle field in Kosovo is

missing the wreckage of the

tanks that were supposed to have

been taken out of commission.

The early number released by

NATO was 151. Now only 13

can be accounted for. What they

did find were some wooden

constructions with polythene

sheets in the shape of tanks as

well as some fake bridges. As

with the KGB's string of Cold

War victories, this is probably

a case in which being bested

in intelligence really doesn't

matter. As Captain Stephan

Pietropaoli of the United States

said, ''From our perspective,

we're satisfied we destroyed

enough stuff to get him to say,

'uncle.''' The Serbs, after all,

never had much to show for their

relatively accurate

communications capabilities. And

as for the domestic effects of

wrongheaded intelligence, well,

we always knew Bill Clinton

would rather be president than

be right.



Speaking of not being right,

our reference last Friday to

Marv Albert's exile from NBC was

a little too broadly worded for

many readers, who lambasted us

for failing to note the lovable

announcer's burgeoning career on

TNT. While Marv's 1997 interview

with Barbara Walters convinced

us that we will never be clean

again no matter how many times

we shower, we hold too many fond

memories of his broadcast booth

effusions to wish him ill in his

career. And in fact, our article

seems to have had exactly the

opposite effect. Immediately

after Suck hit newsstands,

the Peacock Network reinstated

the disgraced Yess! Man. We

were, in fact, expecting a note

of thanks from the broadcaster

himself. So far, however, Marv

has been ignoring us.

<Marv Albert joke> But wait

till he sees us in our black

taffeta! </Marv Albert joke>

courtesy of the Sucksters

[Purchase the Suck Book here]