Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jonestown, 30 years on

To mark the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown mass-murder/suicide, Boing-Boing has offered a useful series of posts looking back at the cult and the shocking series of events that marked its end.

Among them was one that featured a video of a PBS documentary that, if you have some time to spare, is definitely worth watching.

I had grown up knowing about Jonestown (it happened when I was 8), and 'don't drink the Kool-Aid' had quickly become a joking reference to any form of extreme cultish devotion.

However, I don't think I have, before now, really spent time considering where the movement came from and the horrifying details of that fateful day, 18 November 1978.

The documentary is quite a thoughtful, and even in some ways sympathetic, view of the cult's early days. But it packs quite a punch by the end.

I read Haruki Murakami's fascinating book Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, which focuses on the Aum Shinrikyo cult, last year.

The two movements had very different cultural contexts and explicit notions about the world.

But still, you see a similar appeal attaching to such movements among people searching for something...more?...than the ordinary world provides them with.

These movements are, at the same time, terribly ordinary and terrifyingly strange.

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