Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sylvia Browne and Montel Williams

I know some of you sarcastic folk are going to give me shit about this, but I swear I don't normally watch Montel. That being the case, while I was tidying up the master bedroom this afternoon, I grabbed the remote and hit power. The television was tuned to the channel that carries Montel's talk show.

Now, I'm not a Sylvia Browne fan. I think she's a fraud. More than that, I think she's a shameless manipulator. If you doubt this, then please read this. The widowed woman (we'll call her Jane) in the account is an old friend of mine. For those who don't want to read it, I'll do a redux of the issue.

Jane lost her mother to breast cancer when she was very young. It kind of haunted her because her she didn't get to say "good bye" before her mother died. More than that, experiencing something that traumatic in youth could lead you, in my opinion, to seek some way to change the reality of the situation. Reality says that your mom is dead and there is no way you can truly communicate with her. So, grasping at any straw is probably part of human nature. ESPECIALLY as a child.

Jane grew up. Went to school. And, finally met a fantastic guy who she ended up marrying. When they married, he was (I believe) training to be a firefighter. He received his first post just ten weeks before the attacks on 9/11. He died on 9/11. So, Jane is distraught. She considers suicide. She remembers reading the book by Sylvia Browne and, having seen her on television, decides that she wants a reading. She calls and they tell her Sylvia is booked for a year and that she should go to a class or reading to get an in. She blurts out that she can't wait that long or afford a bunch of lectures. She tells the scheduler that her husband died on 9/11. Well, this was the magic word! The scheduler promised her a phone interview with Sylvia post-haste and gave her a discount if she would allow Sylvia to use the reading in a book in the works. Here's where it gets interesting- Sylvia and she do the phone reading. Sylvia, after some cold reading, tells her that her husband "knew he was going to die" when he went "into the building". "It was his destiny." "He helped people down the stairs" before dying. One problem. Jane's husband died in a car accident while responding to a fire. And, he was far, far away from the attack sites. Whoops. Sylvia back-peddled and sputtered and then called Jane a liar who wanted to take Sylvia down. Thus...I think Sylvia Browne is probably one of the most repulsive people on the planet.

Anyway, as I was saying, I caught the show today. Sylvia goes on his show every Wednesday to cold read the audience and diagnose people with medical problems they do not have and are medically impossible, know, it's hard to run a scam these days. *rolls eyes* Montel starts talking about two women who are haunted by dolls. After the commercial break, a video montage rolls and talks about two women who were given four "Aztec Incan sacrifice idols" (Sylvia's words) by a cousin who'd dug them up in Mexico. These idols are clearly very old and one wonders why these two women hate their cousin so much as to do a show that could get him arrested for smuggling antiquities from a foreign country. But, I digress...

The women put these idols in their living room and one idol starts "decaying" (Sylvia's word after seeing the video). Let's set aside the fact that non-organic matter doesn't really decay. One idol loses a foot. Over the next week, one of the women develops a horrible foot fungus that won't go away. How very Greg-Brady-v-Tiki-God! She goes to doctors who can't diagnose her foot rot. So, she decides that the footless stone idol is creepy and takes it outside...where she bashes it to smithereens with a hammer. Now,...if this were me and I imagined some hocus pocus of angry idols, wouldn't completely destroying it just piss the other three off? I would think your bad juju points would skyrocket! As time goes by, they bash another idol for some reason I didn't quite catch. They are convinced these things are terrorizing them and giving them bad luck.

Of course, they did have to fly to the studio for the taping of the show. And, they brought the two, evil remaining idols. WTF? If you think the idols are the cause of your bad luck, why the hell would you get on a plane with them? They sit in the audience with these things and ask all sorts of stupid questions.

In five minutes, Sylvia tells them they are "Aztec Incan" "sacrifice idols" that are "2000 years old". *boggle* Let's review our Mexican history, shall we?
* The Aztecs controlled Mesoamerica in the early 1500s, but they had only existed as a civilization for some 200 years.
* The Incans were in dominated the west coast of South America in the 1200s.
* The idols the women hold are not "sacrifice idols", but fertility idols.

So, one wonders how these "Aztec Incan" idols broke all physical laws of space and time to be in both places at once. And, one wonders why it would be a "sacrifice idol", as neither culture left stone idols with their sacrificial humans. Sylvia doesn't stop there, though. She then starts babbling on about the fact that these women need to banish the idols from their home, because "they're not worth anything. Just get rid of them." At which point, Montel jumps up with a hammer. He rushes the women and says, "Let's just solve this right now." and reaches for one of the stone idols. The women, luckily, aren't that friggin' stupid and one tells Montel that a local museum offered them "several thousand dollars for the dolls". Gosh! I'm so glad they're "not worth anything". And, let's hear it for Montel Williams - destroyer of ancient artifacts in the name of pseudo science! What a nimrod.

The burns!!!!!!!!!!!
Sylvia Browne is an uneducated sheister.
Montel Williams is an enabler of epic proportions and all-around stooge.
Between this episode and my friend's experience, I'm amazed that this woman can appear in public without people stoning her. No wonder she never accepted James Randi's Million Dollar Challenge.


Anonymous said...

Now I kind of wish I'd been willing to give her money for a ticket to her show when she came here. Sounds like a hoot to watch her with a skeptic's eye.

It's too bad more people don't look at her and see a sham. It's sad how people are taken in by her and everything she makes up.

AIMEE said...

I've always thought she was a fraud just like Cleo, remember her? Those nut jobs drive me crazy. How is your friend doing? How did she handle it when she heard Sylvia's version of what happened to her husband? That is awful. Speaking of 9/11, I can't believe its been 7 years already. I hope the pain has somewhat eased for those families.

Berlzebub said...

Here is an interesting article where Robert Lancaster actually went to one of Sylvia's shows in Vegas.

She's a shyster, and Montel is at the very least an enabler. I have no respect for either.

Vamp said...

Well, Montel has retired...his shows are in reruns. Now let's all take a great big hit of weed for Montel's MS.

I did the same thing yesterday, poppin' on his show, by accident too. I turned the channel, because I can't stand Sylvia Brown either.

Recently at Barnes & Noble I was shocked at how many books she has written. Stunning that someone that crazy can make that much money.

I got your message, sorry I didn't get back to you last night on the phone. Back to school stuff, and another one tonite.

CrypticLife said...

I hadn't heard of her, or if I have I dismissed it instantly.

It saddens me somewhat that people like Robert Lancaster, who's obviously bright, have to be engaged in research on what are clearly fraudulent claims.

I agree with the assessment that she's an evil woman. I'm sure she knows she's a fraud.

Bronze Dog said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Milo Johnson said...

Sorry, Bronze Dog, comments that are a content-free effort to send traffic to your own blog are not permitted.

Rebekah said...

Ha ha ha! My favorite line: "How very Greg-Brady-v-Tiki-God!" bwahahaahahaaaa!

Oh, you do me good!

So...Sylvia Browne is...oh, whatever. She's just icing on the nut-job cake.

However, when I think about, oh, the pope, or Pat Robertson, who have a much more structured influence over other people based on their power to channel "otherwordly" messages and injecting them into the modern world. Grrr. I'm a lot more inclined to get cranky.

Berlzebub said...

@ Milo:
Actually, BD is a pretty proliferate blogger, and I've read both posts that he linked to. Both are very long, sit down with some popcorn, and he gives the examples of cold-reading, self-deception, etc.

Also, for anyone who's ever debated with a believer (religious or pseudoscience), his Doggerel Index might seem familiar to you.

@ Rebekah:
Sylvia has a church, called Novus Spiritus. Complete with ministers, tithes, etc. There's been a couple of ex-ministers in her "church" that have experience with Sylvia's shenanigans and one contacted the media.

Her influence is broader than you think.

Milo Johnson said...

And I didn't offer any opinion as to the content of the posts linked to, merely that by just posting a come-on line and links the comment violated PM's comment rules. The guidelines are pretty clear: write a comment with some original content and offer links along with it and it won't get deleted. That is participating in the discussion. Simply posting links takes the discussion elsewhere.

Berlzebub said...

@ Milo:
Perhaps we should consult P-Momma on this. I was under the impression that those who had commented previously were given a little leeway when it comes to links. I know he's commented here before, and P-Momma is on his blog roll.

Milo Johnson said...

Good idea. Perhaps you should have tried that a couple of hours ago instead of second-guessing me in public.

Anonymous said...

Bronze Dog's original comment.
"Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, --- [comment trimmed] --- Teh stupid, it burns!

I've got a couple big posts where I did sort of a stream of consciousness review of a couple episodes.

Berlzebub said...

@ Milo:
Or you could have waited to see if P-Momma would delete it herself. Considering it's on topic, by someone who's commented here before, and wasn't linking to something assanine it should have been her call.

When I agreed to do this to help P-Momma out, I figured it would be like picking up her mail while she was on vacation. I'd toss out the things that were blatantly junk mail, but leave the magazines and stuff she might be interested in so she could see if she wanted them or not. I'm simply here to care for things while she's otherwise occupied, and when something is questionable it's up to her make the decision when she gets the chance.

Milo Johnson said...

You know, I had hoped that my previous comment would demonstrate that you had crossed the boundary of propriety with me, yet you persist in being rude and condescending. I am not accountable to you and never will be. I pulled a comment in accord with my understanding of the parameters given. If you had a problem with that, you could have contacted me privately and discussed it, or contacted PMomma and discussed it with her. I forward the entire content of every comment I pull to her so there are no secrets and she has the ability of reversing me and reposting it, and it was my idea to do so. Instead, you chose to call me out like a subordinate and chastise me in public. It's time for you to stop. If PMomma has a problem with me, she knows how to find me. I'm here to help an e-friend who is sometimes not able to do the housekeeping here and not to be berated by you. So, keep it civil and you won't hear a peep out of me. Treat me like an employee and I will make sure you understand where the limits are. So, if you really mean that it's her decision to decide when something is questionable, how about leaving it up to her instead of addressing me as her self-appointed proxy? Now, do you want to continue or do you want to stop?

Rev. BigDumbChimp said...

Wow, this seems to be working out great....

A common commenter who has shown nothing but respect and support for rational bloggers has his comment deleted. Another moderator just mentions he's one of the good guys and then the other moderator get's his/her back hair all on end.

IMHO Milo you are being to sensitive.

TonyInBatavia said...

Milo and Berlz, I like you both too much, too much, but I for one hope this discussion continues via e-mail, opaque to the rest of us.

Rebekah said...

blerzebub said: "@ Rebekah:
Sylvia has a church, called Novus Spiritus....Her influence is broader than you think."

So, yow. I had no idea. Sigh...

Here's a question I ask myself a lot and one which probably has already gotten a lot of interesting dialog on this blog: How culpable do you (each, personally) hold people like Sylvia Browne for being such an obvious and complete shyster as opposed to the people who follow her ridiculous doggerel? I the snake oil salesman worse than the snake oil purchaser?

I tend to believe not. Sleazier, sure, but more culpable for selling something people want to buy? Meh.

That doesn't mean I don't think it's shameful to play on desperation and grief, but...everybody, ultimately, is responsible for their own choices...including crappy ones like following Sylvia Browne.

Berlzebub said...

According to the latest episode of Skepticality, JREF has an audio tape from a radio show where Montel says that he doesn't believe Sylvia is psychic but she brings in money for his show. Personally, I find that more reprehensible than those who blindly follow Sylvia.

As far as those who blindly follow her, I don't find them as much to blame as Sylvia and the rest of her crew until someone points the follower to the evidence supporting Sylvia being a fraud. If they still support her, then they are as guilty as Sylvia herself.

Anonymous said...

I have an idea...

A UFC Pay per view with Berlzebub vs. Milo.

Possummomma, you could totally cash in with this.



Anonymous said...

I'm glad Montel retired so Sylvia can't use his show for more profit. I can't believe he let her on there every week! I recently posted 2 blogs about psychics, I won't link them (for multiple reasons) but if you care to read them, just click my name.

To answer Rebekeh, I find Sylvia Browne and those like her more culpable than people that follow her. People in general are pretty gullible and most are desperate for a way to speak with dead family and friends. She knows this and uses that for personal gain. Sure she may somewhat make someone feel better, so long as they never realize they've been taken, but to me there is no excuse to take advantage of people in that way.

Perpetual Beginner said...

Pmomma - I nominated you for a Brilliante award, but don't feel you have to do anything about it particularly. I just wanted people to know that I love reading your blog.

Aerik said...

There's plenty of other examples of Sylvia being wrong, but you've already linked to the proper site.

But correction: She did accept James Randi's Million Dollar Challenge. The homepage of hosted the clip of Sylvia promising on Larry King that she would apply for more than 2 years.

Then immediately afterward she denied that she said any such thing, and when she was caught admitting that she did, she would fabricate excuses like Randi is unfair and all the usual crap.

lynn's daughter said...

I love cold reading. When I was a high school teacher, I used to demonstrate it to the students in my AP class. I'd be all, "someone in here had an argument with their parents over the weekend" and, "I'm feeling that someone in here is kinda freaked out right now...I'm seing the letter R, and a report card." They would all get excited, "HOW DO YOU DO THAT?" and I'd explain it do them.