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Issue #1627      February 19, 2014

Culture & Life

Exorcising the public broadcasting demon

There are many very clever people in the United States of America – brilliant scientists, writers of great talent and imagination, extremely talented performing artists of every type, highly skilled engineers and technicians of every type. And, at the same time, something like 37 thousand gun deaths last year alone, and more loonies and purveyors of ignorance not only running around loose but commanding audiences and airtime than any sane person can conceive of.

These unfortunate girls are the daughters of the Reverend Bob Larson (left), one of those loony American preachers who think “the Devil” is a real person, and that demonic possession is not only possible but that it happens all the time.

The ABC is about to run a program called Teen Exorcists (ABC2 Wednesday 26 February at 8.35pm) about three teenage American girls from Scottsdale, Arizona, who have been raised to be a crack team of exorcists. Yes, exorcists. These unfortunate girls are the daughters of the Reverend Bob Larson, one of those loony American preachers who think “the Devil” is a real person, and that demonic possession is not only possible but that it happens all the time.

The Reverend Bob’s delusions warrant some sort of mental health intervention but instead he is given a microphone, radio time and publicity and encouraged to “spread the word” as he and his daughters drive demons out of emotional church-goers. To do this they need special crosses (which are made for Bob by a special contractor) and which he and the girls sell at their religious “meetings” and services.

Their exorcisms also require a lot of “holy water” and a heck of a lot of yelling as they “command” the demon to leave the person who is supposedly “possessed”.

This hokum should have their audiences rolling in the aisles with laughter, but of course sensible, rational people don’t go to events of that sort. Instead, the Larsons’ audiences comprise that huge chunk of “Bible Belt” Americans who devoutly believe that angels and demons are real, along with wizards and sorcerers and practitioners of black magic of every description.

Don’t for a moment think that this craziness is limited to Americans, however.

Brynne, Tess and Savannah Larson have been on missions to England and Ukraine, conducting spectacular public exorcisms. The inclusion of Ukraine is interesting. Since the overthrow of socialism in the USSR, representatives of every evangelical church with the money to allow it have flooded into Ukraine to “help save the people there” from their (godless, materialist) socialist past.

They have the blessing of imperialism, of course: both Germany and the USA – for their own reasons – would like to see the former breadbasket of the Soviet Union torn away from Russia’s influence. In joining the EU, Ukraine would quickly become in effect a German colony. For its part, the USA would have struck a serious blow at Russia’s economy and defences.

The overthrow of socialism in the USSR, an overthrow remember that did not come from below, from the people, but from above – from the highest levels of the Party and government – left the people of the USSR leaderless and rudderless. Party leader Gorbachev didn’t mind: he proudly revealed later that he had plotted for several years to “bring down” the Soviet government. That the people of the USSR didn’t appreciate what he had done for them was shown by the way they spurned him in all subsequent elections.

Nevertheless, the apparent overturning of the belief in the working class and the ideology of socialism left a lot of people groping for some thing they could believe in instead. Evangelical churches in the US rushed to fill the void, especially those in the Bible Belt who had previously endeavoured to smuggle bibles into Russia when it was “Godless and Communist” (a purely propagandist activity since during Soviet times the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church published more than enough copies of the Bible from its own very prolific publishing house).

But substituting a belief in “the Devil” and demon-banishing exorcisms for their previous confidence in socialism does not seem like much of an advance for the people of Ukraine. During their visit to Britain, because they were not from a mainstream church but were from the USA’s Southern Bible Belt – usually perceived as “loony” among educated people – the Larson girls copped a bit of a battering from the more perceptive of the British bourgeois media who accused them of profiteering (never!), fame seeking (surely not) and charlatanism (really?).

I doubt that any of this will have affected them adversely: it would obviously have been the work of the Devil! The Larsons, father and daughters, are physically living in the 21st century, but mentally they are stuck somewhere in the tenth or eleventh century. They are hip as far as using all the technical benefits of modern science and electronics in particular, but their understanding of the world has fossilised sometime during the Crusades.

Not that they have the slightest awareness of this. For them, everything bad that happens is the work of the Devil, everything good is God’s doing. They just keep smiling and trusting in their magic talisman, “the Power of Christ”. They are so backward and ignorant it is positively painful. And yet they are surrounded by hordes of people who are just as ignorant and superstitious as they are. Where are we? In the leading capitalist country of the 21st century or in Al Capp’s comic strip hillbilly village of Dogpatch? It’s hard to tell.

What is really worrying about this program is that it is being run on the ABC, which has apparently abandoned its Charter completely now. You may remember, the original Charter for the ABC gave it the task (amongst other things) of raising the educational and cultural level of the Australian people. Promoting this kind of nonsense does not seem to really be living up to that Charter. But, then, these days one has to wonder if the heads of the ABC are actually concerned about doing that, or if their real brief is after all to turn it into a clone of the commercial channels? Murdoch would approve, I’m sure.

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