Mad as a Tinfoil Hatter: A Conversation With Cynthia Gould

Tinfoil Hats Court

Tinfoil Hats Court

Tinfoil: is there anything it can’t do?

Not according to Weird Al and certain electro-focused conspiracy theorists around the globe. Business Insider, apparently having run out of actual, you know, business, delved deep into the mysterious origins of the tinfoil hat, and came up with the satisfyingly fitting information that Brave New World author Aldous Huxley’s brother Sir Julian actually invented the concept in his speculative fiction work The Tissue-Culture King. You may read that in its entirety online, headgear optional. In the story, the tinfoil blocks telepathic rays, emancipating the wearer from obnoxious outside interference and control.

A study at MIT, however, found that the hats can actually amplify radio waves, turning your brain into a kind of Twinkie-in-a-microwave as far as the Shadowy Powers That Be are concerned. Uh, if they exist, of course. Not that they do.

I’ve got to stop listening to Night Vale before bedtime.

And the same month that study was released, a phenomenon sprang up in the heretofore notoriously sensible Canadian burb of Toronto: The Tin Foil Hat Party!

Cynthia Gould Presents the Prize

Cynthia Gould Presents the Prize

Party instigator, artist and musician Cynthia Gould takes full responsibility for the several ensuing episodes of aluminum madness that gripped the town. “It popped into my head as a silly fun party idea, then when I told someone, they said, ‘That would be great!’ Then I told a few more people, who said, ‘You have to do this!’ Sometimes I do as I’m told.”

Over the next seven years, she hosted several of the conspiracy-flavoured dos, the last in 2012. Presumably in this economy the sheer concentration of raw metal would have proven irresistible to the type of person who rips down live power lines to sell for scrap, and she wanted to avoid trouble. We coaxed her to open up her digital scrapbook of memories and tell us about it.

Faboulous, Darling

Faboulous, Darling

“I likely started brewing the idea about a year earlier, then started planning the actual event two months before. I’m a graphic designer in a corporate office. It gives me the headspace to concentrate a reasonable amount of energy on my own work – my band – High Heels Lo Fi, my spoken word, painting, volunteering for The Art Bar Poetry Series, and planning other crazy events.” These include Bridesmaidmania, a Tacky Bridesmaid-themed pub crawl in which everyone, gentlemen included, must wear tacky bridesmaid attire.

(sorry – there are a few rules!)

1) organizers are responsible for NOTHING and are not responsible people. get your own sorry ass home & stay outta jail, okay?
2) this is a fragrance free event. no perfume, no cologne, no body spray, no kidding. please let the super allergic people have just one night where they can breathe.
3) you MUST be dressed as a tacky bridesmaid to come with us. no entourage! no lookyloos! dress up or get lost!
4) Bridesmaids get tipsy & giggly, not shitfaced & guttery. drink like a “lady”…. hahaha i can barely type that with a straight face…

At the tinfoil hat parties, it was strictly BYOKennedy Theory.

to every hat, turn turn turn

to every hat, turn turn turn

Naturally, these wacky events attract an assortment of mixed nuts, averaging between 30-50. “Our circle of tinfoil aficionados include tech folks, dancers, artists, musicians, everyone!” Gould told us via email.

As in all things, you will be judged. Judges have included robot builder and tech reporter Rachel Ross, as well as an assortment of local artists and creators. Attendees are allowed to bring accoutrements from home, but the majority of the hat structure must be tinfoil. Given that restriction, it’s breathtaking what some non-engineers have achieved, including a pirate ship in full sail, a roaring lion, a fully operational 15th Century helmet (nb: will not deflect swords), and the above turntable that actually moves.

what, this old thing?

what, this old thing?

Teaming up is permitted, but ultimately only one head can bear the tinfoil hat.

“Hats are made AT the party. Then there is the modelling portion, followed by entertainment! I’ve had bands and comedians, then sometimes a DJ. I had actual trophies made for the last one – one for Best Engineering, one for Best Artistry, and I think the tiny one was basically for whichever hat cracked me up the most. I wasn’t sure at the very first contest what would happen – I still sort of thought of it as a joke. But people REALLY brought their A game. I think some people actually practiced technique beforehand, it was crazy. I could not believe the quality of these sculptures!”

It’s hard for a parent to choose among her babies, but Gould admits the ones with a special place in her heart are, “the huge pirate ship, the armour helmet with moveable faceplate and matching bra, the Battlestar Galactica with Vipers that shot out of the tubes on wires, and the huge Jiffy Pop popcorn hat.”

When asked straight-out if anyone ever took the whole thing too seriously, she demurs, preserving Toronto’s reputation for sensibility. “No, but we all get chatting and there are truly weird conversations.”



While the tinfoil hat contest is currently on hold, she doesn’t rule out future occurrences. As for what happens to the chapeaux after the party, she eschews the easy Fight Club joke and responds seriously.

“Some people take them home, some squish and recycle, some shoot video of themselves destroying their hats. Anything goes! It’s ephemeral art.”


tinfoil chapeau

tinfoil chapeau

All images courtesy Cynthia Gould on Flickr

Hat tips to Heinous Hats and Jenny Lee Silver

Categories: Art, Conspiracy, Cyberpunk, Hackers, Humor, Science, Weird

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