We's in California

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Cults: Good or Bad?

Until we moved out here I never realized how many famous cults came from and continue to come from California. I guess a lot of them arose from the "let's do weird stuff" vibe of the 60's, and I hear the 60's were pretty big here. Off the top of my head I can think of several: Charles Manson, Heaven's Gate, Prius owners, and Jim Jones. And I'm not event into cults! In order to learn more about cults and to educate myself to perhaps one day prevent myself from joining a cult unawares, we went to see Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple at the Nuart, a movie house in Santa Monica.
Intermittently you can tell that the film industry is still active in LA, as the director of the documentary, the editor, a former member of the People's Church, and someone who's aunt died in Jonestown were present at the screening and interacted with the audience after the movie. Films about Jonestown have been made before, but apparently this is the first one to fairly portray those involved. Many others basically followed the formula: Man starts cult, man tricks stupid people, people commit mass suicide and murder. This film seemed to make the point that nobody just up and joins a cult, and I think they have a point there. You join a movement, or a student group, or in this case a church that became very very paranoid about the CIA, FBI, and the US government. I'm certain that many of the seemingly extreme bizarre cults that come and go seem very normal at the start but eventually you get in over your head and it becomes harder and harder to leave until it's too late. I know from experience, I used to belong the Winnipeg Microsoft .NET users group. Computer joke, just trust me, it's hilarious.

For my generation Jonestown is a vague story as it happened 3 or 4 years before we were born and I can't ever recall ever talking about it with someone my age. I'm sure that for most of us all we really have as a frame of reference are those terrible pictures of hundreds of dead people lying around in bright colored clothing. I never knew the details of what happened and watching them slowly come out in this film is quite an affecting experience, which culminates in the playing of a horrifying audiotape of that final day. Next time you're thinking of watching Miami Ink because there's nothing else on: watch this movie. Unless it's a new episode then, you know, weigh your options. Now that I think about it watch Miami Ink, you can always rent the movie.


  • "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple" - haven't yet seen the film but I'll be sure to check it out. Some of the history behind these groups is just so sad.

    For an interesting analysis of a short satire film on "How to be a Cult Leader," check out this new blog:
    The Truth about Human Potential Seminars

    By Blogger GuruTruth, at November 09, 2006  

  • Saw the Jonestown film here in Germany. At the end, people just sat there for a long time, not talking to each other. Then they went out into the lobby and smoked 5 cigarettes each and chased them down with cocktails. The air was so thick I couldn't find the exit doors. This country smokes way more than Canada or the States. You can check out the 45min audio tape of the suicide at

    By Blogger Warren du Plooy, at November 09, 2006  

  • Oy. I was about 14 when it happened. I remember coming downstairs for breakfast before high school and seeing the grainy footage on "The Today Show." Big shock. There was a lot of talk about that day in school.

    By Blogger Scott, at November 12, 2006  

  • Had a friend who got involved in the Institute of Self Actualisation or ISA. Never been the same since

    By Anonymous sherlock, at March 03, 2008  

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