1274: Open Letter

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Open Letter
Are you ok? Do you need help?
Title text: Are you ok? Do you need help?


This comic is a reference to the US government shutdown in 2013 that had been ongoing for a week and was still current as of the time of this comic. Under some circumstances, the United States Federal Government can temporarily shut down pending budget legislation being passed by the United States Congress. These shutdowns are typically due to political disagreements between the President, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. Due to the shutdown, numerous government services and facilities are shut down, often resulting in many logistical issues for the public.

Over the years, various conspiracy theories have been proposed claiming that the United States Government is not controlled by publicly-elected officials, but rather by one or more organizations that secretly control the actions of the government (sometimes termed a "shadow government"). In this strip, Randall writes a letter to the shadow government, telling them that the situation (having the country's government shut down) is embarrassing and asking them to fix the problem.

This comic also implicitly argues against the plausibility of the aforementioned conspiracy theories if one assumes that a shadow-controlled government would be more likely to operate with a singular purpose and therefore be less susceptible to paralyzing political disagreements. Randall previously alluded to this in the title text to comic 1081: "Really, the comforting side in most conspiracy theory arguments is the one claiming that anyone who's in power has any plan at all." This is one of several comics in which Randall expresses dismay at how many intelligent people can fall for absurd conspiracy theories; see comics 258: Conspiracy Theories and 690: Semicontrolled Demolition, among others.

The title text addresses the leadership of the shadow government in more colloquial terms, asking if they are suffering from personal problems that are impeding their ability to keep things under control. This is patronizing, and thus hilarious.

The message, as titled, is in the form of an "Open Letter", being a directed and 'personal' message to a person or group of people which is nonetheless intended by the sender to be publicly aired (unlike a standard commentary or editorial, which is intended for public consumption, but addresses the concerned 'target' almost as an aside). In some cases this may be to ensure the correspondence is not kept confidential by the recipients and/or that the public as a whole are also indirectly addressed ('Cc'ed) in the correspondence, without having to compose a companion piece for that purpose. In this case, however, it may additionally be because the intended recipient(s) are not so easily identified for direct communication, and a public airing would ensure 'delivery' even without compromising the integrity of the message. Open Letters are often aired (or pre-copied, verbatim, from actual correspondence) in one or area or other of the public media, and while web-comics aren't necessarily the most publicised of forums, the xkcd readership almost certainly leads to covering both the 'named' recipients and the intended public view.


Addressee Brief Description
The Freemasons Fraternity claiming the legacy of medieval stonemasons. Some of the Founding Fathers of the United States were members of the organization. Organised in local groups, the so-called Lodges.
Illuminati Secret society formed in Bavaria to further the ideas of enlightenment. Although officially banned in 1785, many conspiracy theorists believe the organisation might have survived and is still secretly exerting influence.
Scientology A church founded by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Often criticised for alleged brainwashing of its members and accused of hiding commercial interests behind religious claims.
FEMA Agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security, that has been granted extensive authorisations in cases of emergency and is therefore believed to act as an entity independent of governmental control. Conspiracy theorists also claim that FEMA has been building concentration camps to silence conspiracy theorists.
The New World Order Not a secret organisation itself, but rather the concept of establishing a totalitarian system controlled by an elitist group in this list.
The Federal Reserve Central state bank system of the United States, therefore to some degree able to control the monetary circulation of the US Dollar.
Citigroup One of the four biggest American financial service corporations. Considered by the Financial Stability Board to be a "systemically important financial institution".
Halliburton International corporation offering technical services, especially in the field of oil and gas production. Also a major supplier for the US military. Halliburton was in the headlines for unethical business practices and connections to the former US Vice President Dick Cheney.
Google Corporation offering Internet services, most notably the Google search engine. Known for collecting massive amounts of data about its users in order to sell personalised advertisement. The idea of secret plans of Google has been mentioned in comic 792.
The Vatican Central government of the Catholic Church and residence of the pope. Historically important not only as a religious authority, but also as a secular political power.
Bilderburg (correctly: Bilderberg) Annual conference of important politicians, bankers, directors of major corporations and other people of influence, therefore considered the quintessential elitist meeting.
Walmart American retail corporation, best known for the eponymous chain of warehouse stores. As of January 2013, Walmart is the world's largest public corporation by revenue.
The Rothschilds Family of Jewish financiers that was later elevated into European nobility. Believed to exercise influence through considerable wealth. The subject of conspiracy theories since the mid-19th century, when they amassed the largest fortune in world history.
Knights Templar Originally a medieval Christian military order of considerable influence, the Knights Templar were inspiration for many successive (secret) organisations that are sometimes believed to undermine governmental authorities. There is also an eponymous order affiliated with Freemasonry. It may also be a reference to the Assassins Creed video game series, in which several historical figures are claimed to have been Templars.
HAARP Ionospheric research project of the US military. Believed by some conspiracy theorists to conceal attempts to control the weather and trigger catastrophes.
The UN Large intergovernmental organization; most countries (193) in the world are members, with Palestine and the Vatican having observer status at the UN. It has little direct power unless its member states choose to cooperate.
Skull & Bones A secret society at the Yale University that has many influential American politicians amongst its members, including former Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, as well as former Secretary of State John Kerry.
Bohemian Grove Campground of the private Bohemian Club in San Francisco, known for hosting an annual encampment of club members and selected guests who are among the most powerful men in the world.
The Koch Brothers Owners of the second-largest private company in the USA, known for supporting libertarian and conservative political causes.
George Soros Business magnate and investor, known for supporting liberal political causes.
The Trilateral Commission Think tank and associated meeting, emphasizing cooperation between North America, Western Europe, and Japan; founded by David Rockefeller
The Knights of Malta Religious order that was once a sovereign state; contemporary Republic of Malta is not controlled by this order. Its exact status now is debated; it considers itself a "sovereign subject of international law" and has observer status at the United Nations.
The CFR Acronym for the Council on Foreign Relations. Foreign policy think tank in the United States
Exxon Mobil Major petroleum corporation; third largest company in the world, by revenue
The Zionists Political movement favouring the creation of a Jewish homeland, a goal achieved with the creation of the state of Israel. In a conspiracy-theory context, it references the belief that wealthy and powerful Jews (such as the above-referenced Rothschilds) control political and social institutions, as presented e.g. in the (fake) Protocols of Zion.
The Vril Society The "Vril" are a hidden subterranean race from the novel Vril, the Power of the Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. The novel allegedly inspired a "Vril Society" in Nazi Germany; however, there is no real evidence that the society existed, much less that it had the influence sometimes ascribed to it.
The Lizard People Secret snake-men, similar to the aliens from V. This is probably a reference to the conspiracy theories of David Icke, which include the idea that an ancient race of god-like, shapeshifting Lizards have interbred with humans, and that these half-bloods now secretly control the world.
and everyone else who secretly controls the US Government Note the implicit notion that so many different groups each have control, which makes no sense.


[The picture shows a letter.]
October 7th 2013
To: The Freemasons, the Illuminati, Scientology, FEMA, the New World Order, the Federal Reserve, Citigroup, Halliburton, Google, the Vatican, Bilderburg, Walmart, the Rothschilds, the Knights Templar, HAARP, the UN, Skull & Bones, Bohemian Grove, the Koch Brothers, George Soros, the Trilateral Commision, the Knights of Malta, the CFR, Exxon Mobil, the Zionists, the Vril Society, the Lizard People, and everyone else who secretly controls the US government
Can you please get your shit together?
This is embarrassing.
A Concerned Citizen

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If you believe in a shadow government, it seems likely that you would actually see a goverment shutdown as part of the conspiracy. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Is this another shadow fact? http://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php?title=1272 --MauroVan (talk) 09:33, 7 October 2013 (UTC)
Actually, theoretically speaking, a government shutdown would be part of the conspiracy. Think about it. If there was a shadow government, then the only thing that can stop them is the people uniting against them. So, in order to keep the people from finding out, you would have to destroy their unity. And, unity in the US is at an all time low with people vehemently fighting amongst themselves. So, I don't think that the argument in this strip is valid. An orchestrated chaos would certainly be a tool of a shadow government. Theoretically speaking, of course. Kwyjibo (talk) 20:13, 9 October 2013 (UTC)

I guess Randal is only right as long there is only ONE group involved ;-). --DaB. (talk) 11:01, 7 October 2013 (UTC)

Randall knows exactly which group is in control, but has been forced by them to leave their name completely off of the aforementioned list. 13:25, 7 October 2013 (UTC)

I removed the words 'Self-proclaimed' from the description of Scientology. It's so vague to be meaningless. Aren't most religions and churches self-proclaimed? Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc all started with somebody claiming secret knowledge. It should either be applied to all religions, or none. 13:50, 7 October 2013 (UTC)

Is "Sincerely, A Concerned Citizen" really a Half-Life 2 reference? The phrase is generic enough that it actually appears before Half-Life 2 was released (example). -- 15:21, 7 October 2013 (UTC)

Agreed, people have been using the "Concerned Citizen" phrasing for years. Mattflaschen (talk) 17:41, 7 October 2013 (UTC)
It's not just the wording, but the context, so it does seem to be a reference. 18:22, 7 October 2013 (UTC)
The context being that of somebody concerned about their government? That seems a wee bit broad to be a contextual reference. 03:01, 8 October 2013 (UTC)

Wow! The actual group secretly running the government is so powerful they had themselves removed from the explanation table, apparently! (There's no Trilateral Commission entry right now.) Imperpay (talk) 16:29, 7 October 2013 (UTC)

Fixed. :) Mattflaschen (talk) 17:41, 7 October 2013 (UTC)

No mention of what an open letter is? 04:08, 8 October 2013 (UTC)

I just added something. It got wordy. Probably could be improved (and/or wiki-link to at least their page on Open Letters). But it's there, FWIW. 13:36, 9 October 2013 (UTC)

Seems he left off Monsanto (according to the hippie types I hang around for some reason, they're running the entire world). Who else was left off the list? 19:49, 7 November 2013 (UTC)MR

...the Mafia. Greyson (talk) 02:28, 17 June 2014 (UTC)

Really? The Knights of Malta read xkcd? Djbrasier (talk) 18:20, 31 March 2015 (UTC)

The Lizards may be a reference to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: "I come in peace. Take me to your lizard" Ford Prefect explains here:

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/162557-it-comes-from-a-very-ancient-democracy-you-see-you 18:17, 6 November 2015 (UTC)

inter dimensional guardian of life here. the illuminati does not control the U. S. government. right now. -- Overlord of oddities (talk) 21:05, 27 January 2020 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Okay, I just gotta say that this hits differently after the last two years. 18:19, 7 June 2022 (UTC)

Differently good or differently bad? It could be either way, depending on personal perspective/suspicions/conspiratorialisations.
(And moved your thing down to the bottom, so it's properly chronologically.) 21:10, 7 June 2022 (UTC)

THIS COMIC MAKES NO SENSE Z1mp0st0rz (talk) 19:47, 15 April 2024 (UTC)

Does the Explanation not explain it? What part does not make sense for you? (And why are you adding ALLCAPS comments to so many comic Talk pages..? You're new here, we know, but it's distracting.) 13:22, 16 April 2024 (UTC)

infinitely relevant. youtu.be/miLcaqq2Zpk 17:14, 19 June 2024 (UTC)

is it the bit about zionists? 13:14, 9 July 2024 (UTC)