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"...another reason I'm intrigued with the hanged of Salem, especially the women, is that a number of them aroused suspicion in the first place because they were financially independent, or sharp-tongued, or kept to themselves. In other words, they were killed off for the same sort of life I live right now but with longer skirts and fewer cable channels." Sarah Vowell, The partly cloudy patriot.


There will be no Harry Potter talk here...

until after I've finished reading it tomorrow.

Until then, let's talk about cults. Jonestown, to be exact.

I watched a documentary tonight called Jonestown: The life and death of the People's Temple. I knew really quite little about Jonestown in advance - and now, I'm hooked. I'm very interested in how it is that people become convinced or coerced into things - this is a theme that undergirds some of my own research and work. When you read or learn a lot about it, you can become almost convinced that there is some manual out there that all cult leaders, despots, batterers, child molesters, etc., are given - as the methods used by them are so terrifyingly similar. For example, Jim Jones' methods are eerily similar to those used by Kim il-Sung and Kim jong-Il in North Korea.

Watching hte film was pretty stunning - I was fairly well sobbing by the end (I also sobbed through much of the movie Elf, which I also watched recently - but for very different reasons). Jones had really quite promising roots - he experienced such oppression and torment that he - in a time when segregation ruled - found himself drawn to and empathizing strongly with African-Americans. Unfortunately, he had no empathy for the animals he killed - but, we see the roots of that later.

He began a church that had its roots on the Pentecostal tradition - and emphasized equality. In fact, after he married, he and his wife were the first people in Indiana to adopt a black child. He was, in a way that is very impressive given the time period, very progressive in his views on race and saw his church as a means to end racism. He also sought to create a communit in which individual wealth and privilege were obviated - all went into a pot for the common good.

Once he and his followers moved the California (where their views on race were more accepted), he and his church were seen as important social change institutions - he created senior citizen homes that were humane, he took in foster children drug users, the poor, and had an extremely diverse following. It's interesting in watching the footage how many old african americans there were among his followers.

But, unfortunately, he was also a power-hungry and abusive man who used drugs, and who seemed to be going fairly insane. At the same time that some of his followers were becoming disenchanted and defecting, he was becoming a pillar of the san francisco community - recognized even by Mayor Moscone, and given a city leadership position.

And, you know how it goes from there - charges of tax evasion, and defectors breaking silence to the media ... and they all fled to Jonestown - and it all went downhill from there.

Part of why I was so sad in watching it was seeing the footage of all those adorable kids who died on that infamous day in 1978. But part of it was just the sadness associated with seeing what could have been such a great and powerful movement go so terribly wrong. Had he not been such an asshole, he could have really done something potentially powerful for race relations and poverty in the US. But no, he had to go and rape people, beat them, brainwash them, hold them prisoner, and then kill them all.

When I think about that - and think too about the special I watched recently on "the electric company" (weird comparison - I know), I wonder what happened such that we went so backwards. One of the pretty amazing things about the electric company was the diversity of its cast - it was one of the first television show to have an extremely racially diverse cast. It was of import to them at the time to represent the diversity of the US - and it shows. And I would bet few to no television shows since then has been so diverse. What happened to that emphasis on the value of diversity - not just lip service to it? What happened to people like the Weathermen who were willing to live underground and bomb buildings in order to redress social injustice? When did we become so complacent?

What happened to the idealism of the late 60s and the 70s in terms of equality and social change? Did it die from flavor-aid (aka Kool-aid) as did all the Jonestown followers?

Stupid 80s.

speaking of - I keep wondering, how will we refer to this decade in the future? the decade of 00-09? Will it be the zero-zeros? What will the next decade be - the teens? I don't know if I know what the first two decades of any century are called, besides like "the early 1900s" or "the turn of the century."


At 1:45 PM, Blogger Anastasia said...

the aughts

At 4:02 PM, Blogger k8 said...

That film was devastating for me too watch. Especially knowing what will happen (no surprise ending there) and seeing all of those kids playing and generally living.

At 7:56 AM, Blogger Eddie said...

I call right now the zeros and the next decade the teens. Dunno if anybody else does though.


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