For the past month or so, I have been obsessed with documentaries about cults and I think I finally figured out why. Like I said, random post.
First, the documentary Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator is fascinating and has a little bit of a relationship to Hindi film, especially American Hindi film fans. It’s your standard cult story, charismatic conman reinvents himself and convinces folks to believe and follow him, then once you are seduced into believing in his goodness, rapes people.
But here’s the thing! He used to make people watch Hindi movies with him before he raped them! Okay, that’s not great or anything, I just find it kind of funny in a very black comedy way. Here’s this dude that is supposed to be all spiritual and wise and at a higher plane, and he’s got cheesy 1970s movies blaring on his TV and making bored white folks watch them with him. And he didn’t even have subtitles! That’s the real evil, making them watch these movies without subtitles. EVIL! Well, and also the rapes. I joke, but really the rapes are the horrible thing. And in a weird way, the movies were part of the grooming. If you didn’t blink at this “higher plane” guy watching these cheesy movies, or complain about having no subtitles, it was one more step in the brainwashing.
What the documentary does really really well is what that entire many many hours long documentary on Osho kind of failed to do, tie together American and Indian side of the story, and show the culpability of the American media and the hidden prejudices of the American public that allowed this kind of abuse to thrive. This guy shows up in Beverly Hills in the 1970s and announces he is a “yoga champion” from India who has invented “new yoga”. And the talk shows loved him, and the celebrities loved him, and they just ate up all the stuff he fed them. Plus there was this very intriguing mix of the eastern spirituality with western consumption and sexual jokes and so on. It felt like “hey, here’s this magical guru, who is also just like us!” And then the documentary actually WENT TO INDIA and talked to Indian journalists and yoga folks who said “oh yeah, this was totally a can. Blatantly obviously a con. There is no yoga competition, this dude was a body builder and street performer who fell in with a yoga teacher, ripped off his teachers, flew to America and presented them as his own.” That’s the thing! Whether it is Lauren Gottlieb coming America to India, or Priyanka coming India to America, you feel “exotic” in either place and you can reinvent yourself, and if you want you can really abuse people by spinning out lies.
Anyway, that’s the documentary to watch if you are going to watch one of them. But in general, you know what I realized from watching all these cult documentaries? I like them because they remind me how good my life is, how good “normal” life is.
All of these documentaries include interviews with survivors. And the overall statement you get from all of them is that life, regular every day life, is amazingly wonderful. It’s a very specific kind of affirmation. Cults are tempting because it is love and answers and simplicity and all the hard parts of just living life go away. You don’t have to be lonely, you don’t have to make decisions, you never have to be afraid again. But here are all of these people who had that life, who gave up decisions and freedom and committed to love and joy forever, and they are just SO HAPPY to be done with that! The world, the real world we already live in, is heaven already. Doing what you want, going where you want, eating what you want, that is heaven. Responsibility is freedom, and freedom is responsibility.
I don’t really have anything else to go from here. Say whatever you like in the comments! What are your favorite cult documentaries? Or the cults you find most interesting? Is there some similar weird interest you have that you find strangely soothing?
Oh, also, do you think the reason Katrina is so strangely peaceful is because she is a cult survivor herself and has that sense of “real life is heaven already”?