Rosabelle, believe way too much

[A rant I wrote a while ago. Unfortunately, this stuff never stops being relevant.]

I’m not a violent person. Trust me, I’m not.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I was idly channel-surfing when I happened to land upon something which made me want to reach through the screen and shake someone warmly by the throat. It was a piece of such rampant bullshit that I could hardly believe it wasn’t some sort of overblown parody.

It wasn’t. I’m probably way behind here – and new to the loopy extremes of US television – but it was new to me. It was an entity entitled ‘Crossing Over’, starring a Michael Flatley lookalike called John Edward. We were, of course, ‘crossing over’ – with the invaluable assistance of Edward and his perfect hair – to that place known in the jargon as ‘the other side’.

I should have crossed over to the next channel, but I watched, with increasing pure pissed-off-ness. What pissed me off wasn’t the fact that a whole studio-full of slack-jawed credulous nitwits appeared to believe that Mr Edward was capable of relaying messages from their dead relatives. Nor was it that this farrago was taking place on the Sci-Fi Channel. (Folks, I hope you’re ashamed to peddle this nonsense on a channel which purports to have even the remotest connection to science. I know you won’t be, but I’m still hoping. Hang on to the fiction; it’s all you’ve got left.)

No, what really amazed me and pissed me off was that Edward was doing nothing more than the crudest ‘cold reading’. No new tricks, no neat twists. The oldest trick in the book. He wasn’t even doing it all that well.

Do we even care if this stuff is real? The Sci-Fi Channel? Obviously not. The audience? It seems they don’t either. Here were people swallowing the Edward shtick whole, despite the fact that cold reading as a pseudo-psychic technique has been understood for decades. Good grief, a simple Google search uncovers tons of stuff. Try searching for “john edward” and “cold reading”. The truth, it seems, really is out there. It just isn’t what people want to hear.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to believe in some life after death, and certainly nothing wrong with desiring to communicate with people who are badly missed. What’s wrong – embarrassingly, shamefully so – is to be so unthinkingly open to a con-man’s tricks that we fool ourselves and line his pockets at the same time, while explanations of the tricks used are freely available. We’re all diminished by such wilful stupidity.

Harry Houdini, to his eternal credit, wasn’t about to let his intense desire to communicate with his dead mother allow him to be fooled. He knew that to have any value, such communication had to be real. Setting out to prove that it was real, he ended up a debunker of false mediums. And good for him.

Almost eighty years later, John Edward, in the full glare of the television cameras, is using techniques which would have embarrassed even Houdini’s opponents with their crudity. Shame on him. And shame on us too, for letting it happen.

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