Every now and then, something comes along that makes you think, 'Ah, that's what the Internet is for!' Mike Corley is one such case.
An Internet Phenomenon
In the old days - pre-Internet - Mike would have published his view of the world in pamphlets distributed through the less-salubrious type of bookshop. Circulation would have been in single figures and the world would have been a duller place. Now, thanks to the wonder that is the Internet, the whole world can see that Emo Philips1 is just scratching at the surface of oddness, and that perhaps Monty Python had a stronger documentary element than we supposed.
Corley is clearly technically savvy. Not only has he created an impressively detailed website, he has also made extensive use of Usenet (notably uk.politics.* and soc.culture.british) and spam via anonymous remailers to promote his cause. In 1996 this was a big deal and annoyed many people, as spam was usually very amateurishly done and relatively easy to trace and stop. Spam from anonymous remailers was almost unknown, and many CompuServe users complained bitterly about their wasted modem time.
Long and acrimonious discussions were prompted on CompuServe and Usenet as to whether Corley was real, mentally ill or trolling2. The fact that he was LARTed (Luser Attitude Readjustment Tool) off most of these groups only fed his obsession.
What Mike Corley Believes
Put simply, Mike thinks that any use in TV and radio news bulletins of the word 'mad' or any derivative, alone or as part of any other word (eg, 'Knutsford' includes the word 'nut' - get the idea?) is a direct reference to him. He knows this because when they say these words, the TV newsreaders always look straight at a monitor linked to a camera in his living room. This monitor is, of course, placed adjacent to the camera lens, giving the impression that they are looking straight out of the tube at him.
Worse, his office, home and friends' homes are bugged. He was sitting in a house with a female friend when the newsreader referred to a girl 'sitting amongst the rubbish'. Clearly a direct reference to his friend (the girl) and him (the rubbish). Several months of painstaking effort unearthed a videotape of the news programme. The picture showed a girl sitting in the ruins of her house in a slum in São Paolo, where a summit on poverty was being held. So Mike was able to downgrade this to only a 10% probability of being about him. Phew!
Is He Mad? Is He for Real?
Corley freely admits to having suffered from paranoia and has been treated for mental illness. He also uses this as conclusive proof that the conspiracy is real - after all, he knows what madness feels like and this, he claims, isn't it.
Another explanation suggested at one stage, although one that is less plausible now the thing has been running for a decade, is that Corley was a construct developed by a group of sociology or psychiatry students to study reactions to bizarre and paranoid behaviour. This fitted in with the opinion of Usenet users that he was trolling.
A third possibility is that it's all for real...
For further information, it's worth reading Iain Hotchkies' Mike Corley FAQ.