Fake Disease Created For Viral Movie Campaign?
There's a little rumor going around that a disease called Morgellons, a creepy skin disease that involves
little bugs a bug-like sensation under the skin, and the websites associated with it are just a viral marketing campaign for the upcoming movie A Scanner Darkly. Michael Shostack of The Halting Point has collected some information pointing to the likelihood the disease is, in fact his opinion, a viral campaign. Shostack, who, since one never knows when it comes to virals, may actually be part of the viral campaign, points to a Slashdot story which says "Imagine having a disease that is so controversial that doctors refuse to treat you." The Slashdot story leads to a June 2005 Popular Mechanics story about the disease which has, reportedly, been around since 2002 when websites (1, 2) about the disease began appearing.
There's also a Wikipedia citation for Morgellons which, among other places, points to a April 2005 local CBS TV affiliate story on the disease. That article says the disease has been around for a long time. "In 1935, an English physician wrote a paper about Morgellon's including excerpts from medical journals from the 1600's, describing the disease." A disease with Morgellon-like symptoms is also mention in the first chapter of the 1977 Philip K. Dick novel, A Scanner Darkly, on which the movie is based.
The fact the disease has apparently been around for a while, is referenced in many places, was eluded to by Dick in his novel and has elicited many comments on this website in support of the disease's validity might lead one to believe, however obscure, the ailment is legit. On the other hand, the fact the disease's websites are registered anonymously may give credence to the notion the movie studio co-opted the disease (or created it along with a fake history) and created a viral marketing campaign around it. Additionally, much of the recent news coverage of the disease reads like it came from the same press release. TV coverage looks like it came from a VNR. And, interestingly enough, reports point out the highest concentration of the disease is in LA - home to the Hollywood movie-making machine. In support of the create-a-disease theory, one might find it odd all this flurry of activity is occurring just prior to the movie's July 7 release date. Not to mention the disease's websites making mention of some sort of major announcement in June or July. Of course, all of this could simply be our jaded, skeptical excuse-for-a-brain run amok.
Anyone care to tell us we're crazy? Anyone care to support the theory? We vote viral. If so, it's both masterful and scary. To have created a viral campaign in 2002, four years prior to the movie's release and when viral was barely in a marketer's toolkit, is amazing and commendable. Of course, to create a fake disease that garners legitimate news coverage is likely to bring down heavily the wrath of the medical community. One way or another, we're likely to know the truth in a month or two.
UPDATE: We were completely wrong on this one. Morgellons is a real disease and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reportedly forming a task force to look into the situation. We apologize for our idiocy.
UPDATEI II: We placed a call to the CDC press office and, while we await an "official" reply from a "qualified" press agent, the woman we spoke to in the press office had not heard of Morgellons, did not think the CDC had been made aware of the disease and stated that any prepared alert goes up on their website immediately. A search of the website found no mention of Morgellons. Stay tuned.
UPDATE III: CDC Communication Specialist Dan Rutz returned our call and has verified that Morgellons is a syndrome, as he refers to it, the CDC is looking into. The CDC has received numerous calls from those citing symptoms associated with what is being called Morgellons Disease and has, in fact, formed a group to explore the syndrome and define it. All angles from environmental to medial to psychological will be taken into consideration. Rutz says, based on information the CDC has collected to date, it's highly unlikely this syndrome was "invented" as some us originally thought. Whether Morgellons is being leveraged in some clandestine fashion to promote A Scanner Darkly is unclear bit if it is, it's sick, twisted and wrong.