Friday, April 15, 2005

The People's Temple.

I had an amazing opportunity last night. My wife is works for a business firm that donates heaps of money to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. As such, we were invited to see a full dress rehersal of The People's Temple -- a play about the Jonestown Tragedy. It was an amazing performance and it was an incredible behind the scenes look at the dramatic world.

I usually can't stand hoity-toity events like this. You know, rich people sipping wine and eating overpriced cheese. Oh man, did the play make it worth it.

It was done very tastefully. The play interweaves the lives of seemingly disparate individuals into an organization that clearly went out of control. Imagine 918 men, women and children comitting mass suicide. How tragic. Want more history about the Jonestown Tragedy? Read here.

Cultic organizations are frightening. As an undergraduate, I did a documentary for the college radio station about cults. What scared me most was the competence of the people that get sucked into these groups. They were doctors, lawyers, young college students etc... Previously, I thought that only a dumbass could get wrapped up in a cult. Not true. If you're interested in learning more about cults, read "Cults in Our Midst" by Margaret Thaler Singer.

The play adequately deals with the pressure placed on cult members. Perhaps the best line in the play occured just before the mass suicides. One character tearfully says, "You call this suicide? I call this being trapped."

For those of you in the area, you must see this play. For those of you not in the area, what are some good theatrical venues in your neck of the woods? Have you ever had any exposure to cultic organizations?


Blogger thc said...

Mrs. THC and I have discussed whether we want to see it. We are old enough to remember this amazing tragedy and I'm not certain I want to see it played out on the stage. But if you say it's good, maybe we'll check it out. Weren't most of the followers from the Bay Area?

6:42 PM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

Paul: They sure were. The play also shows how Jones was able to recruit a heavy African American following.

6:45 PM  
Blogger Merry Stitcher said...

I was eagerly waiting your review. Thank so much. Time to order tickets.

I'm sad to report that the current show at the BRT is mediocre. Moments of spark, but overall it's a disappointment.

Thanks for the thumbs up!

7:23 PM  
Blogger An80sNut said...

Tons of cultish organizations around here in Vegas. Grew up Mormon and I'm surprised they let me out of there. But it is amazing the pressure they put on people around the members. Sounds like a great play though. Hopefully it gets filmed or comes out this way.

1:14 AM  
Blogger dahvid said...

re: "Have you ever had any exposure to cultic organizations?"

hmm..a very good topic. i think all of us are frequently exposed to cult organisations almost it in a church, school, military institutions, at home, yadda yadda. the term 'cult' has always been associated to being religious in nature..but that's not entirely true.

members of cult groups tend to create identities which are shared amongst themselves...and when people become overzealous about their membership and group that's when they become blinded by other issues.

in terms of religious cult groups, people who submit their will to powerful authorities (vis a vis religious leaders-because they are perceived to be more supreme than they are), would usually follow what has been requested of them, for to disobey is to deviate from the norm (cult group).

11:56 PM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

dahvid: A cult is defined by its tactics, not necessarily its beliefs. Methods of thought reform used by a cult are somewhat unique. You are correct, many religions still have vestigial remains from cultic origins, however they may not use harmful tactics that a cult does. Check out some of the work by Richard Ofshe. He is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer that has done some great work on thought reform methods. You'll be surprised to see that the term "cult" is oft misused. Let me know what you think. I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

2:48 AM  
Blogger dahvid said...

hey vavoom,

sorry, but i can't get hold of ofshe's publications at the moment..would try to do so sometime later. but i've googled him, and read bits and pieces of his work. he's a very impressive social psychologist.

right. i see your point... but wouldn't all beliefs (propogandas/ideologies) influence the institution's means of social control (e.g. tactics)? lets take an example: we all heard of african societies making boys undergo excruciating 'coming-of-age-tests' to proof themselves as men. there was a particular tribe (i can't remember the name of it) which went the 'distance' by pricking the boys' uncircumcised penises with long sharp needles which were connected to ropes. and these men pulled the ropes to rip off the foreskin. (sorry, i can't continue with the description..i feel like puking when i think about it..but you generally get the idea). in other words, people behave accordingly to the practices (tactics) of the ideologies of the institution (beliefs), because, "that's the way it has to be". cult-ish, isn't it not?

right...that bring us to another problem: i tried searching for the definition of 'cult', however, it appears to have an obscure definition. :/

in one of the many short articles i had just read, ofshe was said to have studied 'group exploitation', and by this, i assume that he means, the 'leaders' and authorities would utilise its members for their own sake. (i think hitler did that very well indeed).

oh, don't mind me quoting you: "many religions still have vestigial remains from cultic origins, however they may not use harmful tactics that a cult does."

in terms of cult religion, i came across a very relevant point made by zimbardo: All religions want to control your mind. so, what is harmful then? physical pain? you know, in malaysia, because islam is a dominant religion, malaysians (non-muslims) planning to marry a muslim (regardless of one's sex) must convert to islam. and i've seen some families getting into tight conflicts because of this. it's not to say i'm against islam or anything like that (i think it's a peaceful religion), but this is just a description of how people maintain sociocultural practices in social institutions :/

i'd agree that the term 'cult' is often misused, because as mentioned earlier on, its definition is vague ;)

i believe that tactics cannot stand alone without beliefs, for it's beliefs that influences the 'mode of tactical' practices. (i could be wrong though). what do you think?

9:36 PM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

Dahvid: Excellent comment. Lots of good, thought prevoking insights. Let me back up, there are cults that believe that UFOs will arrive and carry their people to another planet. True there are cults that are religion based. I know of no religion that sleep deprives its believers, restricts all protein from their diet and forces them to give every inch of their worldly possessions to their organization. There is a commonality in thought reform tactics that are oft used in cults. Its not their beliefs, its their tactics. You can believe that a UFO is going to take you to another planet. You can recruit others to believe the same. There is nothing wrong with believing that. It becomes wrong when you use methods, akin to what I mentioned previously, to control the minds of your group. If you get the chance, check out Margaret Singer's book. I mention it in my original post. Nice response, dahvid. You impressed me.

11:50 AM  

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