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Spring 2021 ︎︎︎ SUNY Purchase ︎︎︎ (DES4100) Community Design

What is Community?


Okay so admittedly, this is a dark one. Perhaps you’re into true crime so maybe this appeals to you on that level. Please be advised about the content as there is generally dark stuff about suicide, psychological manipulation, and terrorism that goes along to some degree, with cults. 

In the last part, we looked at fictional portrayals of community, in this one we’ll look at ones that are quite real. 

I genuinely find cults interesting from a learning perspective, and find they usually start under aspirational auspices with a charismatic leader. Eventually, they become more radicalized or devolve into smaller sub-groups. I’m not trying to psychologize anyone involved but I often find the ability of a cult leader to attract followers and those followers to remain indoctrinated into the group fascinating. 

Although it is easy to see the violence of a cult as reprehensible (which in the cases below it is), the thing for me that makes it worth considering is how the communities we form can function, effectively, in ways that are cult-adjacent and how when the judgment of a cult being repugnant or happens in comparison to culturally accepted behavior.

Required Viewings

Japan's Strange and Deadly Insurrectionist Cult (1995)︎ Aum Shinrikyo is a super interesting cult in that they were able to attract engineers and that, before they gained some of their notoriety they were more embedded into Japanese culture, even having computer games and animes produced about them. I’m not totally clear on their relationship to Japanese culture in a way that I could vividly recreate it for you, but still of note.

Rajneeshpuram | Down the Rabbit Hole (2018)︎ I quite like Down the Rabbit Hole, particularly his older work covering strange internet characters which I think he’s trying to get away from. That being said, be warned if you watch his channels as he covers some intense stuff. You’re welcome to watch Wild, Wild, Country if you want, but this is freely available and a little bit more compact.

Heaven's Gate | Full UFO Cult Documentary︎
Not sure what year this is from. I quite like these generic History Channel-type videos but your mileage may vary. There is a new docuseries on HBO Max about Heaven’s gate, but again, requires a bit more of a time investment.

Questions to think about

    • How are the above cults featured in each video different and how are they the same?
    • How did the groups start as aspirational or positive in some way?
    • Did the groups “target” a group of people who might be susceptible to being in a cult?
    • How did the cult regulate people’s behavior? How did they keep people from leaving, if at all?
    • What other cultural factors might have been at play to make the cults “succesful” in their aims?

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