Charles Manson may be gone, but his twisted legacy and the dangers of cults like his remain.
His songs will live on and his contribution to the stories of The Beatles and The Beach Boys cannot be erased.
According to Dr Carlton Brick, Lecturer in Sociology at UWS, Manson’s rise to infamy was a symptom of: “A USA undergoing a profound cultural change- whereby traditional political forms of authority come into question- exacerbated by experiences of Vietnam and counterculture- Americans began to view authority and legitimacy as highly problematic, oppressive and something that needs to be resisted.”
“This period is broadly mythologised from a contemporary perspective. Manson emerges when traditional authority began to lose legitimacy. In a sense, this process predates this period [i.e.: The 1960’s] and can be seen as a protracted feature of western democracies since, at least, the end of World War 1.”
“This is particularly evident in the emergence of theories that seek to understand the emergence of the ‘Charismatic’ leader/personality, these attempts draw on the work of Max Weber.”
Which is not to say that Dr Brick believes the cultural ‘lionisation’ of Manson by 90’s figures such as Marilyn Manson and Guns and Roses, who both recorded versions of Manson’s music, was merely of the shallow, “shlocky” type: “…such figures like Manson etc are ‘adopted’ as counter-culture ‘anti-heroes’ -but I think this is done without any real investment on the part of those doing the adopting… it’s similar (if not the very same) as the Sex Pistols/punk adopting and wearing swastikas during the late 70s- shock value rather than ideological attachment.
There is also a certain continuity with other US ‘anti-heroes’- interestingly, it is during this period that Bonnie and Clyde become lionised (through the movie)- prior to this they were seen as low life murderers and criminals.”
When asked why these figures, such as Bonnie and Clyde, and Manson himself, seem to make for such interesting reading, Dr Brick believes that they provide archetypal examples for explaining difficult to understand behaviour: “What’s really interesting with the discussion around so-called cults is the presence or practice of abuse- particularly child sex abuse.”
Dr Brick is not unsympathetic to these organisations, however: “The term is largely used pejoratively, and one should always be aware of how these terms are usually very ideologically loaded.”
“Cult leaders are often described as being victims of some form of abuse in their early lives. ‘Cult’ organisations are often de-legitimised by association with some form of institutionalised abuse for example, recent attacks on Scientology.”
However, Brick is seemingly wary of the way culture has assimilated and appropriated the character of Manson “I don’t think there’s any deep significance to Manson himself as a person. The real significance is in terms of how meaning is ascribed to him by society more broadly.”
Still, these figures and in particular appear to be predatory, both in stereotype and in practice, as illustrated in Brick’s belief that: “I think he attracted a small following of very naïve, very ‘damaged’ individuals.”
Which, while perhaps an intuitive assertion, is not borne out in reality.
Ian Haworth, author and General Secretary of Cult Information Centre, an organisation that aids people who aid cult members in leaving cults, spoke to UWS News. He described the methods that cults and their leaders employ to indoctrinate people into their organisations saying; “These leaders use techniques like hypnosis to make people more susceptible… There are 26 of these techniques, like hypnosis and diet, which is meant to deprive people of nutrients and keep people fatigued, and before you know it, you’re already too deep.”
Healthy minds are the most vulnerable to indoctrination into cults says charity that helps break people out of dominating organisations such as Manson’s ‘Family’.
Haworth spoke of how his own indoctrination into a cult started with a promise of stopping smoking, “I thought, well, if I can spend a hundred quid up front, I’ll make my money back in six months… over the course of four days, and hypnosis, I was completely given over.”
When asked about Manson’s plans to start a race war Haworth said, “yeah, that was his plan and it doesn’t make sense, but then, it doesn’t have to. The end result isn’t as important as having people under your control.”
His organisation describes five characteristics of cults to help people identify whether they could be vulnerable to or in contact with cult indoctrination:
- It uses psychological coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain its members
- It forms an elitist totalitarian society.
- Its founder leader is self-appointed, dogmatic, messianic, not accountable and has charisma.
- It believes the end justifies the means in order to solicit funds recruit people.
- Its wealth does not benefit its members or society.
Haworth has used his own experience to help many people escape these damaging organisations, giving lectures about leaving cults and his own experiences.