This video was made in 1983. I would have guessed a few years later, but I could have told you that it was made in the Eighties for two reasons: 1) Meat Loaf’s (relative) youth, and 2) the fact that the Critical Secret Information is recorded on a cassette tape. How many of you out there reading this blog even remember when cassette tapes were in common use to record and play music? I remember when they were used for computer memory. That’s right. I’ve played video games on media that had less memory than that necessary to contain even one of the videos in this blog post.
No, they weren’t particularly good.
Still, as much as I appreciate the improvement in data-storage media overall, I have to say that it’s been a bit of a loss for the spy thriller and conspiratorial genres. Back when this video was made, stealing information meant stealing things – cassette tapes, rolls of microfilm, or briefcases full of files. A tense hacking scene just isn’t the same, not least because most of us know that hacking doesn’t really look like that.
Of course, both of those genres have fallen far from when that video was made anyway, dealt near-fatal blows by the end of the Cold War. Back in my post on The Blob, I talked about living in a world where two empires, the world divided between them, stood with nuclear guns to each other’s heads. The irony is that such enormous power and stark ideological conflict not only created the ideal situation for cloak-and-dagger, but made it absolutely necessary.
Each empire was backed by a complex web of developed-country allies. Each played developing nations like pawns, refusing to let the other side’s ideology gain even an inch of ground, but never daring to confront each other directly. Every moral compromise, every questionable alliance, every amoral scientific advancement could be justified because we couldn’t let the other side get there first.
The slightest mistake could tip the balance of power and plunge the world into slavery (both sides believed this) or burn it all to the ground.
As a final element, the Iron Curtain (link included for those of you born after 1985 or so; I’m not counting on you remembering your high school history classes) made everything behind it a mystery to the book-reading, movie-watching public. It was easy to imagine an efficient war/espionage machine and all sorts of super-scientific weirdness.
Who are our enemies now? China? They don’t want to fight us, they’ve replaced Mexico as the country that took ahr jerrrbs. The Terrorists? They’re good for a thriller or two, a last-minute nailbiter about preventing another, bigger 9/11, but they’re nothing like the kind of existential threat that the USSR was, no matter what speeches aging Cold Warrior politicians like to give.
But. Getting back to the video. It would actually be a little disappointing to find out that the mysterious conspirators shown here were just agents of one side or another in the Cold War. Such an answer seems too…prosaic, just like it would be for the bizarre secret masters of The Village in The Prisoner, another Cold War classic. Of course, the mystery can be stretched out a bit by the games of double-bluff and puppet-mastering that make it impossible to tell one side from the other, or the shadow governments-within-governments only interested in their own power, but only for so long. In the end, it makes one realize why the idea of a greater, world-controlling Conspiracy at the center of the onion is so popular…but even then, if you turn on the lights, it’s still just going to be a bunch of old men in a boardroom.
Which is why most conspiracy writers and theorists don’t really want to turn on the lights. But as Stephen King said, sooner or later, you have to have some steak to go with the sizzle.
For my money, I always prefer conspiracies with a paranormal element. That way the mystery never goes away completely. Even old chestnuts like the Grays and the Reptilians have life left in them – for example, what if the aliens that have been manipulating humanity all through our history are outlaws from their home society, the equivalent of bandits lording it over a small village, and now the rest of their species is coming with an entirely new set of unknowable purposes?
Or if the Secret Masters must be entirely human, maybe they have some appropriately dark and epic goal, like summoning the Old Ones back so they can rule as favored slave-kings?
My current personal favorite is the setting for GURPS Cabal, where you have secret masters with goals like making the history between now and the Elizabethan era unhappen (and he’s one of the good guys! What could he possibly know that we don’t, that makes that a good course of action?) and the power to accomplish them.
But again, I digress.
So what do I think is happening in this video? I think that the Mysterious Organization that we see is part of The Conspiracy – the secret masters above even the two sides of the Cold War. The people involved here are some of their direct agents, rather than the puppets they usually work through. Agent Loaf has been fighting them for years and has finally achieved something that could do some actual damage – probably something to do with that tape, but does that tape even exist, as such? The fact that he’s in a brainwashing facility means that none of what we see on the screen can be trusted. What memories are real, and what has been implanted? Did the woman in white ever exist? The fact that she vanishes at the pull of a plug suggests not – unless she was a memory that needed to be wiped to weaken his resistance. Does the tape itself exist, or does it represent the knowledge the Conspiracy is trying to get from Agent Loaf?
When the process is completed, Agent Loaf rises from the table unopposed by his captors and is handed a jacket like theirs. Indeed, they treat him with respect and deference; perhaps now that he’s been properly “conditioned”, he’s been inducted as an officer in their organization. Maybe he always was – maybe Master Loaf’s life as Agent Loaf was a brainwashing-induced lie to undermine the resistance from within. Or maybe they just want him to think that’s the case. Whatever they were trying to do, we see a hint that it didn’t quite work. Master Loaf doesn’t put on his jacket, and he’s none too friendly to his new “co-workers”. Even if he was Master Loaf to begin with, it may be that his time as Agent Loaf has changed him. The Secret Masters may yet regret this day.
Bonus: Here’s another nice, conspiracy-themed music video. Careful – brief moment of NSFW.