Monday, March 6, 2017

Kairos of The Sacrament

An appeal to kairos uses timing to gain an advantage in influencing the minds of others. This appeal is an especially powerful tool when used by cult leaders to influence and control the minds of their followers. In The Sacrament, followers are tempted to join because they are at desperate times in their life, dealing with afflictions such as drug addiction or abuse. Therefore, in the eyes of the commune’s leader, Father, they are perfect - easily persuadable targets with low spirits that provided the perfect opportunity for him to “save them” with promises of hope and salvation through membership into the commune.In the same way, many other cult leaders use appeals to kairos in order to attract and influence their followers. For example, the Children of God cult utilized the “hippie” spirit of the 1960s and early 1970s to draw people into joining their commune. As noted by Joaquin Phoenix, people at the time were eager to do something different and escape the materialistic mindset of the time. Therefore, by taking advantage of this time’s mindset, cults such as the Children of God were able to persuade people into joining by leading them to believe that they offered an answer to the liberated lifestyle that they were searching for. By playing upon the opportunities presented by timing, these cult groups were able to use appeals to kairos as a chief method of garnering followers.

Stasis Theory Within "The Sacrament"

The creators of "The Sacrament" decided to keep a steady theme of action and jurisdiction throughout the movie to highlight the main conflict of the film. The storyline follows two journalists who decide to film a documentary about a seclusive religious cult. However, what they find is not so pretty. The journalists notice multiple red flags throughout their time there, until finally a little girl spills that there is a group of individuals who want to escape. The protagonists are then stuck with a choice to take action or leave the incarcerated behind. The decision to take the initiative to try to save these followers set up the entire plot for the movie. Without this stasis set up, the movie would lose its direction and vision. The directors set off to represent the horrors behind some cult movements, and without the main characters looking to save victims, the movie would be unable to convey the message that cults can be extremely dark and dangerous. 

Not only is action and jurisdiction used to align the main ideas of the movie, but also cause and effect. When the protagonists decided to take the initiative to save those who were bound to the religious sect, the effects are irreparable. The "Father" of the cult orders a massacre of all who intended on leaving. If the journalists had never come, these events probably would not have occurred. It was crucial to portray the cause and effect of what happens when outsiders realize the horrifying truths that lurk behind the happy exterior of idolizing one being without question or reason. The stasis of the film kept the audience engaged and helped them to realize the director's concept of "The Sacrament". 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Stasis in Elmer Gantry (1960)

Within our text, Elmer Gantry, the primary stasis of action is employed in order for the cult leader, Elmer Gantry, to persuade his followers that they need him in their lives. In the trailer, to convince the religious leader Sister Sharon Falconer, loosely based off of Aimee Semple McPherson, of his intentions, Gantry says "I'd show you what heaven is like...just ecstasy." Through utilizing religion and sex, Gantry calls to action the need for him within her organization. Once he is able to preach to his audience, he begins to ask for money by convincing everybody that it is the only way to get to heaven. In order to emphasize this, Gantry says that they are "all sinners" doomed to "perdition." In the trailer, Falconer, under the influence of Gantry, asks the congregation what they think will get them into "God's own glorious heaven," following with the question "Your bank book?" In the blog, "Elmer Gantry: The Trap of Hypocrisy and Greed," it is said that Falconer in fact "knows Gantry is lying but allows him to continue preaching" because she believes they are meant to be. Through the powers of sex and guilting his audience, Elmer Gantry manages to convince his followers that the action they must take in order to not perdition is through him.

Kairos of Elmer Gantry

Kairos refers to the timing in which a rhetorical text is made. This can mean when an argument is presented during the most pertinent time possible, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. presenting his "I Have a Dream" speech during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. The kairos of the film Elmer Gantry is largely derived from the eponymous novel of which it is adapted from.

The 1927 novel Elmer Gantry was based on the career/actions of Aimee Semple McPherson. McPherson was the founder of the Pentecostal Christian movement known as Foursquare Church. As stated previously, this was around the era of American history where there was a sharp advent of religious movements. The author Sinclair Lewis likely wrote his book to satirize such. He also wrote literature critical to capitalism and the wars taking place in his time. It is also good to note that McPherson was a critic of communism, as she believed it had the goal of "ruling without God," while also opposing fascism. The controversial movements introduced in the times of both the novel and the film were the driving force in their creation.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Pathos in "The Sacrament"

For cult leaders, preying upon pathos is a unique and powerful method of controlling and attracting followers. Appealing to the sense of emotion is an especially important tool, as the way we feel truly does have the power to influence the way we act, behave and view the world. In The Sacrament (watch the trailer here), this is seen through the control of the commune’s leader, who goes by the hauntingly simple name, “Father”. Father has brainwashed his followers into committing heinous and exploitive acts because he has full power over their emotions. These followers feel that Father has given them a sense of hope and happiness, choosing to ignore the wrongful pain that he is inflicting on them and their loved ones. Another modern day cult in which an appeal to pathos is particularly present in is The Brethren (to learn more about this group, click here). This group has such a grip on the emotions of their followers that they are willing to give up all worldly comforts in exchange for membership. They have become so emotionally attached to the goals and teachings of the Brethren that they cut all outside ties, completely giving themselves to the group. Emotional appeal is one of the most powerful tactics because it allows for the formation of bonds, making followers incredibly vulnerable to the grip of their leaders.

Pathos in "Elmer Gantry"

Pathos is arguably the most potent of all rhetorical appeals. It is also the most versatile, as it can appeal to emotions, imagination, morality (often confused with ethos). Elmer Gantry employs this device primarily through imagination.

A common goal and wish for skeptics is to be able to prove that their opposers are false. Many skeptics claim that religion and similar factions are simply schemes and cons. This film clearly feature a con couple. It allows opposers to the religious movements of the 20th Century to bask in a movie that portrays such sentiments. An issue with doing this is that it may create a confirmation bias with users, as they may erroneously claim, "all of these religions are false, this movie clearly shows that!" The extreme nature of the characters in the film as utilize fear and other emotions to help sell the idea that cults are a dangerous element of society.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Ethos in Elmer Gantry

"Elmer Gantry" shows a small peek into what cult life entails and the dark nuances that come along with it. Within the 1960s film's trailer, it highlights a man who uses his position of power to excuse sexual indiscretions. The way he acts towards women aids the rhetorical appeal of ethos by creating an heir of male dominance. The men of the time period did still see and treat women as property, making this rhetorical appeal extremely effective. Within the trailer, it shows blips of Gantry with multiple women. Within cult settings, polygamy is socially acceptable. This appeal towards the general male population's set of values attracts potential new members to join the movements. To women, however, this film most likely created feelings of disgust and anger. For rights women were fighting so hard and viciously for, this type of movie feels like a slap in the face.

In a more recent film about cults called "Follow the Prophet", it calls to women's ethos more so than men's. This trailer follows a woman who breaks away from her religious sect in the hopes of finding her identity and freedom. Women audience members may feel an emotional connection to this breakaway and in some ways can relate to it. For people who feel trapped in a bad relationship, unhappy with their current lifestyle, or are just simply stuck in some way, this movie can resonate with their latent feelings. Liberation is a human craving that all people yearn for in some way or another. "Follow the Prophet" leaves  a feeling of longing while "Elmer Gantry" elicits a forbidden desire.

Ethos in The Sacrament (2013)

The Sacrament, while technically not based on true events, is filled with credible information eluding to The Jonestown Massacre. The website "Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple" gives insight into both the ethos of our text and the ethos of Jim Jones.

As seen in the beginning of the trailer for The Sacrament, Eden Parish (Peoples Temple in actuality) is portrayed as a happy, loving place to live. However, as the text continues, it is illustrated that these people can't leave even if they wanted to. In an interview, a Jonestown survivor shed light on the fact that to outsiders, "there was more cheerfulness...a lot of singing and entertainment," however, they "were locked in." This account matches what is portrayed in the trailer, causing it to be a credible source.

Not only was The Sacrament credible, but the real Jim Jones was seen as a credible leader as well. In an interview with more of Jim Jones' followers who were portrayed in The Sacrament, they claimed that "he was a role model – adopted children of all colors, hardworker, [and] lived in modest circumstances." As is seen in our text, Father (Jim Jones) accepts all races, accepts all ages, and preaches the Bible. Jim Jones became credible through building trust, becoming theses peoples' role model, and then abusing that power through manipulation.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Logos in "Elmer Gantry"

The 1960 film Elmer Gantry, based on Sinclair Lewis’ 1926 novel, tells the tale of an evangelist couple selling their religious beliefs throughout the Midwest. Satirizing societal beliefs surrounding religion, Elmer Gantry and wife/partner Sharon Falconer, used logical appeals, or logos, as a primary method of attracting followers. These preachers conned followers into repenting for their sins with promises of eternal salvation in return. In the trailer (watch it here here), this is seen when Falconer asks listeners “what do you think will get you into … Heaven? This ace of spades?” she asks “your bank book? Or this pledge to be a good Christian?”. As seen here, Gantry and Falconer prey upon the logos of the followers by illustrating the logical steps that they must take in order to make it into Heaven - that is, by following their religion, joining their ministry and repenting for their sins.
This same method of preying upon the logos of followers is seen in many cult and cult-like groups throughout history. The Children of God (read more about life in COG here), another popular 1960s cult, preached a similar message of salvation, laying out the logical steps towards achieving this through conversion and devotion to their teaching. Even in the modern day, logos is used by these groups to attract followers. For example, the Institute in Basic Life Principles (learn about IBLP here) gives a logical solution to family peace, harmony and salvation through devotion to their group. By providing easily persuaded followers with a solution or answer and deceptively disguising their teachings as logical, leaders of these groups are able to grow their following and spread their message.

The Differing Audiences of "The Sacrament" and Scientology Promotional Videos

The 2014 trailer of “The Sacrament” aims to mirror the events of the Jamestown massacre. With this allusion, the producers target an audience who fears cults and sees them through a unfavorable lens. It is prevalent that the producers want the audience to see the evils behind cults through their use of rhetoric. To start off, producers create the initial bias for the audience by categorizing the film in the “horror” genre, which immediately elicits an audience who find these movements haunting. However, individuals who are not opposed to cult activity might find this piece of rhetoric as offensive. It is obvious that the creators of this piece did not consider them within the population they wanted to reach. Unlike some other contemporary cult pieces, such as the Scientology  promotional video, The Sacrament aims to steer people away from this cultural deviation. 

Scientology’s website brings in a entirely different audience than “The Sacrament” with its light-hearted, utopian spin on the cult life. Within their promotional video on the front page of the site, they show glimmering faces of happy and healthy families, their lives looking as if they are near perfection. It is evident that Scientology wants to capture the attention of potential new members. However, I personally found their website to be extremely vague. This is how they lure people in. In a sense, it’s a brilliant use of rhetoric. By making people feel a lack of inclusion, they will be more inclined to join the movement to find out what they are missing. The lack of knowledge consumes people, causing the type of response Scientology wants to happen.

Logos in "The Sacrament" (2013)

The Sacrament trailer, our second text, begins with a fact flashed on the screen: "In 2013, reporters from Vice Media traveled to a secret religious community known as 'Eden Parish.'" Right off the bat, there is evidence that this description of Eden Parish is logistical because it was seen by real reporters.

Logos is a large part of how people become involved with cults in the first place and is depicted by the actors throughout the text. Eden Parish was a religious cult run by a pseudo-Christian cult leader Jim Jones. In order to draw in his victims, he would make joining seem like common sense - like Christianity was what brought them together. In order to get his followers behind him, not only did he go by the name of "Father," but he would say phrases such as "this is the last sacrament." By using the Bible, Jim Jones managed to convince his followers that what he was doing was logical and right. However, as seen in the trailer, this type of logic only worked on those who are truly susceptible to it. Upon the arrival of the reporters, many families showed signs of wanting to leave Eden Parish. While Jim Jones' use of logos appeared to work, many people were simply too afraid to try and leave. In the end, his logistical approach of using fear and conformity is what created this cult.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Audience of "Elmer Gantry" (1960)

Produced in 1960, the critically acclaimed film Elmer Gantry presents what can be seen as a satirical presentation of religion in America. The film, adapted from the eponymous 1927 novel, chronicles the scheme of a con artist and his wife soliciting and propagating a new religious movement. During the era of American history in the 1920s, many people similar to Gantry flooded the religious market, and the film seeks to appeal to viewers who are aware of such.

The 20th Century was home to the creation of religious movements--from the advent of Pentecostalism and its substituents, to the influx of radical cults. Of course, there were many during this time who were skeptical of these "revelations" and such perpetuated by the leaders of these groups. Throughout the 20th Century, many conservative religious leaders held moral double standards on the grounds of sexuality, alcohol, and other personal indulgences.

The film "Elmer Gantry" poses an extreme portrayal of the hypocritical nature and practices that, while growing in popularity, in turn created a base of individuals that despised such religious groups who saw through these people's opulent facades. Those who had such sentiments towards these movements were likely the target audience for this Academy Award-winning feature.

1960 New York Times Review, by A.H. WEILER

Friday, February 24, 2017

Our 2 Base Texts

The Sacrament Trailer:

Elmer Gantry Trailer:

Monday, February 20, 2017

Film Adaptations: 60s vs. 70s

Film adaptations of serial killers and tragedies have been a long standing tradition in American media and entertainment for decades. The methods they use to depict the criminals, however, have existed in various fashions.

The Strangler/The Boston Strangler
The 1964 film The Strangler is a crime film based on the infamous actions of the eponymous Boston Strangler, a serial killer who took the lives of 13 women within the span of a year and a half. The film was released before the eventual confession of the likely perpetrator Albert DeSalvo, who was detained in October, 6 months after. Appealing to both pathos and ethos, the movie sets its sights on gaining an audience based on the "scare factor" given. Be reminded, the film came out while the killer was loose, so the sense of intrigue could be created in individuals who enjoy the ominousness of a threat who's existence is not limited to the big screen. Furthermore, basing a film off of a "true figure" such as the Boston Strangler adds a form of credibility to the film makers, as they are entrusted to create a work that properly portrays the actions of a real person.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)/ Ed Gein
The 1974 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, however, decided to capitalize on the "based on true events" motif to the extreme. The film in its original release advertised itself on a true story. A tagline even stated, "What happened is true. Now the motion picture that's just as real." This statement is obviously false, almost completely. The only truth this holds is the rough basis on body-snatching serial killer Ed Gein, who would collect victims' bodies, similar to the cannibalistic nature of the Sawyer family found in the film. Similar to The Strangler, the film markets itself by using pathos and ethos to attract an audience. It used ethos, even more so than The Strangler, to come off as borderline biographical in that everything that happened in the film,"is true" and thus is a credible source of information regarding our culture (the film also served as a slight political commentary) and murderers. And of course, as a horror film, pathos was the driving force it used to inspire fear into its viewers, making allusions to its supposed truth. The film even had an opening crawl saying, "The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin."

Next Time: Helter Skelter and Charles Manson