No one joins a “cult”

which spells "Jim Jones"

which spells “Jim Jones”

Cult leader supervillains! Can you get any more evil than that? Not in comics, you can’t. But their cults are strangely vague.Religious nuts, ritualists, Nazis, terrorists … whatever it is someone’s up to, they’re all made ten times worse when organized into communities with their funny clothes, their leader, their weird beliefs, their repeated phrases, and their goals. It’s the otherness of it all, the flocking-together, the attentiveness, the willingness to act collectively – always with an undertone of abnegating individuality and judgment, and always, ultimately directed toward some combination of murder and suicide. I’m trying to think of a single counter-example in comics, anything which suggests that this very common human social behavior – observance and community, with distinctive life-style and stated values – is anything but the rankest pathology and serves anything but evil.

A helpful thread at G+ and some twittering yielded a preliminary list for these guys. Not all of them fit my topic; I’m not including merely socially-organized violence or mind-controlled hordes, but intentional communities which people join and through which they adopt a new lifestyle. Check out the link and if you think of any others, add’em in the comments. I’ll focus on one especially from a very specific historical moment: the Mandrill from his first appearance in 1972 through his “settling into” the concretized Marvel ‘Verse in 1980 or so.

But first, let’s take look at some reality, specifically for the people in the group, not the leader or elites.

  • Dissent or marginalizing by general society
  • Need for help with specific problem
  • Commitment to community, ritual action, collective action

What about the brainwashing? Well, all these things have to occur before it kicks in through participation, so if the point of the brainwashing is to make these occur, then we have a little conundrum. Trying to reconcile this logical difficulty has led to a whole narrative which has to draw on ancient models of demonic possession and soul-stealing to work, to explain how a person can be “sucked in” or “tempted” or “dabbles and then can’t get out,” as well as social/body cleanliness concepts, the idea that the merest touch by the “soiling” agents taints you and makes you think wrong thoughts. A whole generation of Americans questioned the validity of these concepts regarding communism, but then adopted them wholeheartedly about intentional communities. The comics show some of this weird transference in action.

Intentional communities is the phrase I just used. That’s what you say now instead of “commune.” Maybe co-op (short for cooperative, for non-native English speakers). During the 1970s and trickling into the 1980s, there were thousands, maybe dozens of thousands of them, across the United States. Some simply meant a group of people bought into a mortgage together and committed to living there as a chosen extended family. Others were almost completely separatist and considered themselves to be an exiled mini-nation, a chosen reservation-in-reverse. You could find almost anything in the spectrum between these extremes.

My own home was a mild version. My parents rented rooms in our house to local grad students and part of the deal was that they really lived there, becoming part of our family activities and general routines of life. For most of my childhood, I effectively had a rotating cast of older siblings, who stayed the same age. Some stayed with us more than once, or for many years. Any particular holiday might feature a couple of former boarders.

My own life's center until about age 20.

My own life’s center until about age 20.

My summers were mainly spent at a radical camp which had begun as a Quaker retreat/summer camp in the 50s, but by the late 60s was about as close to the feared dangerous-hippie naked black-people-too stereotype as you can get. President Nixon even sent goons to investigate it while I was there. I was a staff brat there during the late 60s, then a camper and eventually a counselor through my teens in the late 70s and early 80s. It was very much its own intentional community and rugged as hell by modern standards: no plumbing, electricity, or gas tech, and we cooked over fires. Life at camp was organized by tribes, each including at least one male and one female counselor, each with the full age range of campers from 10 to 17. The kids always included a fair proportion of group home and street kids, mixed in with the rest of us. It’s still there, albeit mellower I’m sure. (As of this writing, the director is Sarah Camp, whose mother I knew well and whom I remember as a 5-year-old. She looks a lot like her father James, one of my childhood mentors.)

My mom taught pregnancy and childbirth classes all the time, and sometimes would travel to various communes around California to teach people how not to die. This branch of activism was nearly unique in that the perceived radical material did in fact get adopted into mainstream medical practice on legitimate scientific grounds, after a couple of decades of political strife (i.e. my childhood). When my wife and I had kids less than a decade ago, I was amused to see that the prenatal classes at the hospital featured the same material that I’d mimeographed and collated for my mom thirty-five years earlier, considered at the time to be fringe and scary. I went with Mom on these trips and stayed in all sorts of places, including the famous Black Bear Ranch, as it happens at the same time that Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn were living there, as he and I found later when we sat down to figure out where-all each of us had been. It was a nice place, including details such as every single person being buck naked.

synanonlogoOne of my family members was a former Weatherman and general dissident, and by the early 70s had decided that he could simply not live any kind of ordinary life in the U.S. (his mother actually defected to Cuba). He was very skilled mechanically and was therefore solid gold to any rural commune, as he could keep the sump pump running and similar stuff. He joined Synanon sometime in the early 70s, and we visited him there pretty regularly, including and right through its infamous media period and its eventual decline in numbers and effectiveness. I’d stay there for a weekend or a week, once a year or so, for let’s see … about age 12 through age 17.

Was life there different? Sure. Everyone lived in dorms and ate in the cafeteria. I always stayed with the kids my age, which meant pretty much recovered heroin addicts and street prostitutes. Everyone worked, every day, with people rotating through the more menial tasks. Everyone attended classes (in the kids’ case, perfectly reasonable academic ones). There were scheduled Games, and impromptu ones if someone felt like things had gone to shit in some situation. The Game has a bad rep and its abuses in late-stage Synanon are well-known (it’s the model for the bad guys in Dick’s A Scanner Darkly), but it’s also true that the rehab techniques were incredibly successful and are still alive in most effective drug-rehab and other contexts, with the serial numbers scraped off. A lot of the technique was social, not psychological – people needed something to do. Everyone worked harder and better at these places, day in and day out, then I’ve ever seen in any other voluntary context. “Work” in the professional middle-class sense is a complete joke by comparison.

The important, counter-narrative thing about Synanon and other notorious examples like the Rajneeshpuram is that they had a really high turnover rate. The idea that they refused to let people leave is rooted in a couple of divorce-and-custody cases and to the Jonestown events, not to the ordinary membership. I don’t think Synanon’s current membership was ever more than a few thousand people – but it wouldn’t surprise me if ten times that many had spent a fair amount of time there, say a year for a given person during its run from the late 50s through the late 80s. Anyway, I stress, these communities are the most useful and effective when a lot of people are showing up to join, and a lot of people are simultaneously leaving on good terms.

As a young person whose life brushed against and into these groups without joining them, my take was to cope with the simultaneous insight and bullshit very carefully. That was the primary problem with all 70s culture, commune or not, activist or not: people running numbers on each other all the time, with the presumption that if a person was dumb enough to swallow it, then they didn’t deserve consideration. Very, very hard on the younger members of the community and culture. This became murkier when many such groups declared themselves religions, probably as a tactic to avoid political pressure or (obviously) taxation as businesses, but this backfired on all of them after the sordid custody case at the People’s Temple throughout the 1970s, the public and political ramp-up of the Unification Church (1974/1976) which I fully grant is creepy, ongoing Manson events like Squeaky Fromme’s assassination attempt on President Gerald Ford (1975) and the gaudy TV film Helter Skelter (1976), the hysterical maunderings about brainwashing in the Patty Hearst trial (1976), and of course, the events at Jonestown (1978) which were presented as brainwashed religious-fanatic insanity. Although the Manson family (so-called) bore little if any resemblance to a commune, and the events at Jonestown were badly skewed in their presentation, the concepts were confounded; the derogatory murder/suicide + mindlessness meaning of “cult” emerged during that period and has stuck hard.

So now I’m obviously talking about the ones which fail in scary ways, about which still more mistaken narratives prevail. It’s not about the leader(s) becoming power-drunk mind-controllers, but about them becoming disoriented and isolated while a small clique of intimates “takes care of him” and wields the real power, often compounding their problems and forming a gang by entering into mob and drug connections, then becoming a paranoid clique seeking to preserve their privileges, and turning to force against the community itself. When Diedrich crashed and burned in Synanon, taking the Farmworkers’ Movement with it; when the Farmworkers Movement (technically not an intentional community but with many similar features) itself started brutalizing migrant workers; when Jim Jones went loopy in the years prior to moving to Guyana; when whatsername at the Rajneeshees started bugging everyone’s cabins and poisoning people, it was always this weird little clique of remarkably obvious assholes who really made the decisions, not the “main man,” who nevertheless is always painted as a Svengali.

That said, I have no reason to doubt that Jones was a total asshole, certainly following the move from Indiana to California, and my take even as a kid was that Diedrich was the same, based on how people talked about him, despite whatever literal words they used. Chavez was absolutely no prize either in the later years, a manipulative, guilt-tripping skunk. What interests me is that if they’d acted like that in the early years of their very own movements, their compatriots would have dumped them in a hot second and moved on with the work themselves, and no single person can, for instance, install and enforce a PA system, hidden microphones in living quarters, and armed patrols. There’s a lot to investigate about this, for which I’ll touch on a couple of points.

So you noticed I graded into talking about the People’s Temple, with which I had no personal contact. But weren’t we talking about comics? Yes, and that means the Mandrill, created by Carole Seuling and Ross Andru in 1972, written mostly by Steve Gerber during the 1970s. You may not know that until the Jonestown killings, the People’s Temple was primarily known for its intensive leveling of racism, with Jones himself exemplifying a white child whose primary cultural context was black, and who was married to a black woman. First in Tennessee, then in the Bay Area, the People’s Temple was considered a beacon of civil rights activism – prior to the 70s, it may even have deserved it. You remember the Mandrill and Nekra, do you not? Well …

mandrillnekraWhich then becomes a militant cult of aggression, sexual domination, violent women, and distinctly misbehaving black people, all due to individual dominance. (You can spend all day debating whether it is racist or criticizes racism, whereas I shrug and say, “That confusion right there is the 70s all over.”)

And women are his slaves!

And women are putty in the hands of the cult!

They don't chant "booga booga" - but only barely.

They don’t chant “booga booga” – but only barely.

Even your girlfriend!

Beware! Even your girlfriend may succumb!

Did you feel your head spin there? Kind of a … jarring shift from valid social issues to flatly racist, sex-phobic absurdity? Note a distinct lack of the mention that the Mandrill and Nekra might, without powers, without control, might have a point which people would agree with and organize around, for its own sake? Hush! Quick! Couldn’t be! Must be MCI! But I can understand that reaction perfectly, because by the early 70s, that jarring shift is either what happened to the People’s Temple or is a distorted attempt to explain what did happen, or both. And this is before Jonestown, before even the move to Guyana in 1976-77.

You see, it’s not Jones we should be talking about, but instead the so-called “followers,” the ones always characterized, no, caricatured as unthinking idiots who “blindly” obey whatever they’re told, always pitched as a matter of mass hypnosis coupled with stupidity. This is where the comics and the larger culture in general fell down hard, missing the daily gains and individual friendships in what did seem, without brainwashing, like a radical but decent social endeavor. Maaga’s book rightly focuses on rank-and-file members of the People’s Temple throughout its history, not on government statements, Jonestown elites’ announcements, accounts of the “deprogrammed,” or media accounts that merely purple-up any of the former. She shows that for many people, the People’s Temple provided something they needed – health care subsidy, for instance – and that blind or stupid subjugation of their own will was simply not part of the picture, no more so than for any other identity or values-based social organizing. She shows that many people joined and left without incident. She shows how its mission was falling apart even before the move to Guyana. She also does an excellent job of documenting why – the agency of the inner circle members, especially the women, without falling into easy dismissals of them as either sex-crazed concubines or love-blinded idealists.

Everything you probably think happened at Jonestown was publicized almost moments after the events, without fact-checking and in many cases with no journalistic follow-up at all. Did you know that most of the people (about a thousand) were shot? That the ones who died of poison were mostly forcibly injected? That the tubs of “Kool-Aid” were hardly touched? That (and I know this is trivial, but still) it wasn’t even Kool-Aid, but Flavor-Ade? The entire picture of a thousand people meekly lining up to drink poison because “Jones told them to” is simply false. Tapes of the final days there show that people were speaking up against his rantings and the inner circle’s bullying right up until the end, silenced ultimately only by fear of a perceived external threat, intimidation, and violence.

The crazy thing to me is how perfectly this popular “brainwashing cult” stereotype does apply to the career white-collar workplace, for example the ever-popular Arthur Anderson in the 1980s, which engulfed a considerable number of my friends. How such an entity differs from the Unification Church fully eludes me, because the latter’s creepiness has nothing to do with its churchiness and everything to do with its crass power. Or to many, many other social institutions … I already wrote a whole profile on this matter regarding the CIA and KGB in my book-and-game Spione.

Strangely, gamers will go into paroxysms of outrage when Dungeons & Dragons is accused of or referenced as brainwashing or cult-like, yet they wholly adopt phrases like “drink the Kool-Aid” and in their fictions, routinely depict stereotyped and non-factual commune-cult-brainwashing – oblivious to the fact that the deprogrammers who allegedly saved commune members were the exact same people going after kids playing D&D, and the media play regarding the former lent massive media cover for the latter.

In the mid-70s, the narrative had not yet solidified. The People’s Temple was just then moving to Guyana, and the tension between the anti-racism history and the probably true intimations of political intimidation in the San Francisco area was extremely raw. The idea of participating in something like the Rajneeshees or, more likely, any of a hundred less gaudy or physically centralized endeavors, was not considered too weird – or at least not brainwashing. Public opinion about Synanon was confused or split. The whole sexual harem around the Svengali had not yet become the standard description, not even for the Mansons, although it would before another year passed. I’m not surprised that the writers at Marvel were right on or even ahead of the curve regarding the confusion and tension about the issue.

So many more to talk about! Glorious Godfrey especially. But really, the fundamental point doesn’t change a bit for any of them. To take a slightly more neutral example than the Mandrill, what did this guy’s organization do for anyone who joined it?

This shot's from the Suicide Squad story if I'm recalling correctly

That’s right, nothing. Which shifts the entire use of “cult leader” in comics into a superficial, no-ground-contact meme factory rather than what comics are notably good at, dramatic critique of life as we know it, intentional or otherwise. I think the next villain I make up is going to be a cult leader who’s doing at least something interesting.

Links: Henching for the Naja-Naja

Next: Bless me DC, for I have sinned



About Ron Edwards

Game author, publisher, consultant, teacher

Posted on June 14, 2015, in Politics dammit, The 70s me, The 80s me, The great ultravillains and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. epweissengruber

    Did the comics, just pick it up from Pulp? You have your Robert E. Howards, H.P. Lovecrafts, and C.A. Smiths with their insidious cults. Those guys are relying on easily available encyclopedias and popular accounts. I doubt that they even picked up The Golden Bough or other early anthropological studies of religious practice. In addition turn of the century pop-anthropology there were some turn of the century literary models: Sax Rohmer’s Fu-Manchu, the secret societies guarding the Queen in Rider-Haggard’s She. Is there Imperial anxiety here, anxieties about disturbances on the fringes of empire, like the Mahdi’s revolt in Egypt or the Boxer Rebellion in China, the Sepoy rebellion and the Thugee in India? As well as Orientalism vis-a-vis the figure of the Assassin associated with the Muslim world. When Wilkie Collins has his trio of cultists show up to seize the Moonstone, he is unleashing a trope that stalks through English pop culture from Victorian England, to Dunsany, Leiber, Ian Fleming in “Dr. No,” The Beatles’ “Help,” and even pops up in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (w. the heroes looking back at the trio of bounty hunters they cannot shake and muttering “who the hell are those guys?”). How many movie serials have a sinister, exotic masked assassin crawling through the window, w. dagger or blowgun in hand to launch at the protagonist?


    • All of these things you mention are as present in comics as they are in the rest of popular culture, just as you describe. I’m interested here in those comics which deviate from the patten or complex of the pulp standard in extremely distinct ways that are relevant to the moment of publication. The Mandrill and Nekra break the pattern perfectly in accord with the reality and falsehood of the pre-Jonestown People’s Temple, and Glorious Godfrey’s rhetoric – and Darkseid’s commentary on it – could come straight out of a Marshall McLuhan conference dated precisely to the publication of those comics.


  2. epweissengruber

    Herbert Hoover was worried about the Garveyites, and was anxious about a “Black Messiah” rising up to upset the status quo. The treatment of the Nation of Islam, Dr. King, Malcolm X, and others was a continuation of his long-standing policy.


  3. Well, there are two arenas where you find people blindly chanting hymn to someone who does nothing for them: organized sports and politics. Seeing that these two kind of organization are everywhere in “normal” society, it’s not possible that comic book authors not familiar with the way these communities worked thought that they were scaled-down versions of Nixon supporters or Football fans clubs?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think there’s more to it than that. Powerful institutions which utilize the stereotyped cult-like methods – quite rightly, organized sports and politics at a certain level – react strongly to competitors. But not all competitors are the same.

      In the current U.S. party configuration, Republicans and Democrats are not competitors at all, just as the two teams at the Superbowl aren’t competitors. In each case, the nominal competitors (candidates, party careerists; teams, coaches, cheerleaders) go home with everything they came with, with heightened status among their base, with full freedom of action just as they had before the event, and with increased resources. The contest is spectacle. So whatever trash talk or minor brawling is involved, no one’s going to go into ethnic cleansing mode if they lose or feel as if they might. The same could be said for corporate communities who overlap in power, like different insurance companies – their power players might like more market share than the other guy, but all in all, the priority is for all of them to stay in place.

      Such entities (or rather, their power players and those who benefit secondarily from the entity like media, advertising, local employment structure) take a dim view of minor versions of themselves gaining real power. Such things are fine as long as they’re trivial, so if you want to run a new political party in the U.S., go ahead, as long as you’re nothing more than a local clubhouse. Get bigger, and one of the “real” ones will eat you up – maybe changing a bit if you have some actual weight, but with its own power players still firmly in place. This has happened most recently with the Republicans eating the Tea Party, and the Democrats eating any number activist groups or small parties (Black American Caucus, Greens, Code Pink). The little ones can keep their slogans and clubhouses as long as they toe the line about the crucial issue of the day. (To get 60s about it, the hard-line communist groups in the U.S. all decided not to oppose the Vietnam War and to support the Democrats in how they would wage war, which is why the term New Left emerged regarding antiwar and draft resistance activism.)

      The one unforgiveable competitor, though, is the one who chooses to live differently, even a little bit, subverting the relationship of genuine family and community to these larger power entities. And finally I get to my point: that in smearing these smaller, even tiny groups, the larger entities assign to them precisely their own features. For me to say that saluting the flag and flying F-16s over football games is flat-out fascism, not an analogy or an empty slur but the real thing before our eyes, is a trivial personal idiosyncrasy. For the Jehovah’s Witnesses to say the same thing (wrapped in their particular idiom, which I think doesn’t matter) means they’re a cult – weird chanters of weird things, organizers for inexplicable activities, obsessers over obscure trivia … all the things which professional football blatantly is. I don’t have to like the Jehovah’s Witnesses to identify them as on the right side in this matter. Or to complete my point, no one calls Opus Dei a cult. Or that such terminology and concepts seem to have sloughed off the LDS in the public eye precisely as their members entered the power structure, first in the intelligence agencies and then the military and finally with candidates now that they’re “real Christians,” and now that being a mainstream Mormon ties directly into living the establishment life, something that was definitely not the case in terms of outside reference when I was a kid.

      Every social group has meetings and rituals, looks funny to a small or great extent, uses its own slang, refers to particular texts as touchpoints, engages in collective activity, and invents some economic or similar collectivism. These only become cult when the latter is substantive.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. epweissengruber

    And to take my armchair positivist hat and put on the critical theory one. One of Frederic Jameson’s recurring themes is the ambivalence towards representations of collective life in our society. The spectacle of masses coalescing or groups consolidating will be overdetermined with conflicting associations. A sinister army on the march or divisions of angelic crusader? Those lacking all conviction will be variably repulsed, intrigued, or jealous of those with passionate intensity. Those whose experience is predicated on atomized individualism will be apprehensive of social modes that are not.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This post made me laugh a little bit. “Sure,” Ron seems to be saying, “these groups tend to decay into isolated madmen and his clique of violent, criminal, paranoid enablers–over and over again, independently, with reliably identifiable features–but I don’t get why people are so down on them. I mean, the individual members just wanted help with real problems and ended up exploited and cheated by an unaccountable hierarchy, and if they dare to speak out are harassed and terrorized. But the leader’s really more administratively incompetent rather than evil. Honestly, people shouldn’t be so narrow-minded.”

    To be constructive for a minute: things seem to go real bad when you’ve got a hierarchy with really poor internal controls, and which stakes its legitimacy almost completely on metaphysical or scientific claims outside its competence. This pattern seems to generalize from early LDS to 1950’s Objectivism to late-era Synanon to Scientology to Heaven’s Gate to various actual dictatorships.

    Change any piece of that–get rid of the hierarcy; or impose strong internal controls; or make legitimacy depend on actually serving your people–and the problems seem to go away, or at least aren’t anywhere near as bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Snark as you like. But don’t forget confirmation bias, which overlooks the much more numerous groups which came to no such fate and either continue in muted form or dissolved without incident. As well as the many people who entered and left even the most notorious groups with improved lives, and as well as – no surprise to me – the generally high success and satisfaction levels among the people who spent a fair amount of their childhoods in such groups.

      You’re misquoting me in saying these groups tend to come to bad ends.

      Consider the Source Family and Ya Ho Wa 13, which as far as I could tell never took itself entirely seriously, but did a viable intentional community without scams, crimes, or scandals. You’ll find a modicum of shocked horror that the main guy got laid a lot, but no murders, no death threats, no beatings, in fact, pretty much nothing bad. Which means no one’s heard of it. The main guy died in a hang-gliding accident and the group underwent no cataclysmic breakdown, no mass suicide, no crime spree, which is why you never heard about that either.

      I don’t disagree with your final non-snarky observation at all, but if ever there were a group who conformed to your “impending breakdown” description, it’s the U.S. and Israeli governments.

      Liked by 1 person

      • James Nostack

        Shall I reserve your ticket for the Hindenberg, sir? The dangers of the hydrogen airship have been unfairly exaggerated : )

        But seriously: I completely agree that forming your own little group, dedicated to doing your own thing, is a fine American tradition–maybe the American tradition, if you look at the Pilgrims, Rhode Island, and Philadelphia in the 1600’s; New Harmony, IN and Salt Lake City, UT in the 1800’s; the various 20th C. counter-culture groups; and arguably the Internet. None of that stuff has to end badly.

        But, that said, xenophobia is worrisome; authoritarianism is worrisome; kookery is worrisome. And if you’ve got a self-isolating group led by an authoritarian kook, I think it’s sensible to be a bit leery. Fairly or not, those seem to be the defining aspects of “cult” in pop culture, and thus in comics.

        Regarding the critique of the American Squares, there are a million avenues of attack, and rightly so. But comparing mainstream American society to Heaven’s Gate obscures more than it illuminates.

        Our problem is that our foundational political texts pre-date the Industrial Revolution and the post-industrial predatory finance phase, and so we’ve embarked on this consumer-addicted extraction and colonization spree that’s plainly unsustainable–but has worked remarkably well if you’re one of the beneficiaries, and that class of beneficiaries is historically rather large and diverse (albeit extremely unequal). Any analogy to, say, Scientology or the Children of God, seem a little forced.


        • I don’t think you’re seeing my point but it may have to wait for later conversations. One can find plenty of xenophobia, authoritarianism, and kookery in the military and intelligence communities, especially the higher you go. Regarding “worrisome,” I think these institutions of empire account for a hell of a lot more bodies and grief. Regarding America, I specifically referred to current government, meaning its own community, and to clarify, the cult of power within it and interpenetrant with it, not its totality nor to the entire society.


  6. epweissengruber

    On the other hand, the long-lasting anti-authoritarian formations on the West Coast have been kept alive by small circles of dedicated people whose overlapping membership allowed a continuity that stretches from the Wobblies to yesterday’s anti-Arctic drilling protests. You don’t get cultural continuities without small dedicated groups. No Christianity without churches. My grandma didn’t stay loyal to social democracy because she read a pamphlet once. Party members took her and her childhood contemporaries out of the city and out to the countryside, they organized dances and sing-a-longs. And when she got old, she hung out with the ladies at the United Church and participated in their social justice campaigns. One problem is when people imagine that their small group experience (as a military unit, a congregation, a party cell, a Wandervogel youth group, a soccer club) can be scaled up to be the model for society as a whole.


  7. Gordon Landis

    I’m intrigued by the Mind Control issue in crossover between real-world community/cult and the comics versions thereof. To me, one of the key issues – issue in the sense of a complicated thing I don’t have an easy answer to, save at the extremes – in the real world is how the community/cult handles recruitment/conversion. What’s disappointing about a prevalence of Mind Control is that it entirely abandons that key (to me) issue and in no way illuminates the complications around it.

    Speaking of astoundingly long hours/hard work … can I just say “start-up culture”? And mention that there’s definitely crossover between that and a few of the tags Ron put on this post.

    And I also include this link, because in the context of this post it stirred complex, predominately anger-tinged, emotions:


  8. epweissengruber

    Well the real world situation complicates the fictional trope of Mind Control even further. Mind Control can make stories really boring. In the real world, there is no, such thing as brain washing. People’s weaknesses can be exploited by fairly clever operators. But brain washing is not a thing. Jihadi propagandists do not hypnotize youth over the intertubes. On a side not, Tim Miller’s “My Queer Body” has a hilarious bit about being a young runaway to 1970s West Coast catching rides in vans with lots of people who want to take him to a “meeting” or “retreat” where all the meals seem to involve broccoli cooked to various degrees of inedible.


    • Gordon Landis

      Yeah, that was my thought (about what I saw Ron saying) – resorting to literal Mind Control is a way comics stories lose their ability to resonate with actual issues. I kinda-understood why he disliked it in earlier posts here (and about RPG-stuff), but this struck me as a very concrete example of why it’s bad.


  9. Ron, were you a Defenders fan back in the day? As I’ve mentioned, I’ve (unfairly) overlooked a lot of Gerber’s work, but I know there was an arc where the Defenders square off against Nebulon and his Celestial Mind Control Movement / “Bozo” cult, which seems like it may have been partially based on Synanon. I’d be curious what you have to say about it, if that was your bag back then.

    Christ, the Defenders. ::shakes head in mystification at the foreign country of the past::


    • I wasn’t into Synanon, just visited there a lot. Their whole clean-living righteousness turned me off – plus not any skinny dipping, what the fuck kind of counter-culture is that.

      Whole Defenders post slated for soon this summer. Christ indeed, it wasn’t any less foreign at the time.


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