Dangerous – Big Data
So I attended my first cult meeting the other night. As you do. They’re called The Landmark Education. Or The Landmark Forum. Something like that. Not sure. When I Googled their name one of the first links was “We are not a cult!” So they’re definitely culty. An actress/model girl I know invited me along to an induction meeting/graduation class they were having. Not sure if she thought I was a sucker or which. I knew her from shooting some RanDumb stuff recently. Told me about these great meetings she was going to, changing her life, enriching her world, making every day more positive than the next. Maybe she thought I needed some hope. Either way I weighed up my options:
1. Sit on the couch, drinking tea and watching Frasier for the night.
2. Cult on!
The girl wasn’t going to be there but she was delighted when I said I’d go along. Sent me the address. Google maps. Some building kind of out by LAX. On we go. Bit nervous on the drive there. I had lived with a couple of Scientologists before when I first moved to LA, seen the cult like behaviour up close and personal. Slightly brainwashed. Glazed over look in their eyes when they started talking about it. Reciting lines as if everything was a pitch. Forever holding small things that would hurt them in the church over one another’s heads. Odd. Not sure if Landmark was going to be the same but I had a good feeling it might. Just hoped they weren’t going to kidnap me or anything, lock me up. You never know. Your mind will play out all sorts of scenarios during a thirty minute drive.
Arrived at the destination a bit late. Show started at seven. I made it for twenty past. Building is in a modern looking business park. Lots of office buildings around. Seems like a safe spot. Fairly deserted though. Too quiet. Feels like all those office buildings in the last scene in Fight Club. Something might be about to go down.
Find the building. Park up. Stroll inside. Glass sliding doors open by magic. Big LANDMARK sign on the wall. Reception area to my right as I step in the foyer. Place looks classy. Jolly grey haired guy in his fifties greets me.
“Welcome to Landmark. Can I help you?”
Over his shoulder there are about forty people at desks chattering on phones and tapping on computer keyboards. All looks legit. Or is it? Could be a front. Better not give away too much info.
“Hi. Yeah. Here for the induction-graduation thing?”
“PERFECT! Take the elevator down a floor, someone will find you and help you to the room.”
“OK. Thank you.”
Swivel. Scan. Spot the elevator. Hop in. Just as the door is about to close fully a hand reaches in – “One more!” Hmm. Doors open. Well dressed black guy in his late thirties gets in. Big, huge, perfect American smile. “Thanks man. Going down?” Indeed. Down we go. American Smile beams and smiles at me the whole time, nodding and saluting me non-stop. Reach the basement. Doors open with a ping. He holds the door for me. Tells me,
“Follow me, I think I know where you’re going.”
I do as I’m told. No point putting up a fight this early. Takes me along the nicely carpeted hallway, through two big wooden doors, greeted by a huge group of happy smiling folk, all with name tags on. American Smile then hands me off like a baton to a small, jolly looking Mexican guy wearing cream slacks, a navy blue knitted cardigan and a green bow-tie. All these people are weird. Too well dressed. Too many smiles. Maybe I’m jealous. Onward I go with Bow-tie. Takes me down another hallway. Through more doors. We take a right. And again. Then maybe another right? Was I not just here? Did we do a loop? Not outside two more double doors. Table with a a Stepford wife sitting at it. Smiles a delirious smile. I must be getting closer to the core. Bow-tie hands me off again like a baton.
“So great for you to come. Just fill out your name, email, phone number, home address and who referred you. I like your pants.”
They are nice pants in fairness.
I fill out a fake name, fake email, fake number, fake address and the girl’s name who invited me. She definitely gets a referral fee. Stepford beams at me as she puts a name tag on my chest
“Max… Iman. Max Iman. That’s an unusual name.”
“Yeah, it’s Irish.”
I think I was making up a superhero named Maxi Man on the drive down here. Not sure. Say nothing.
Stepford ushers me through the double doors. In I stroll. Big long conference room. Grey walls. Room full with about five hundred people all sitting on fold up chairs. They’re all facing sideways as I’m looking at them, sitting in a half moon shape, listening to a short haired, blonde Australian woman in a grey power suit wearing a microphone on her head as she strides up and down and talks at them at all. I scan the room pretending I’m looking for someone. I can feel eyes in the crowd on me already. Fresh meat. Notice that there are all sorts of folks here. Asian family. Persian women. White guys in the forties. Black guys in business suits. Few good looking women. Couple of guys who look like actors, chiseled chins and good hair. Everyone has an eager look on their face, as if this is the last chance they have to get the life they always wanted. Nice atmosphere.
On the other side of the room, the left hand side as I’m looking, there are rows of tables with all Landmark people. I can spot them already from their catalogue clothes dress sense. Two jump up as they see me. I wave them away as if I know what I’m doing, grab a spare chair and sit at the back of the room, slightly away from the rest of the half moon zombies. Don’t want to catch any of their false eagerness by accident or anything.
Australian woman kind of reminds of the Tom Cruise character in Magnolia. Schmoozy, manipulating the crowd, asking questions that everyone’s going to shout “YES” back at her, she’s a dodgy spoof.
“DO YOU WANT TO BE RICHER AND HAPPY? LET ME HEAR YOU!”
“YES!! WE DO!!!”
“THEN LANDMARK IS FOR YOU!”
Crowd cheers and claps. Magnolia asks if anyone would like to share their success story. Hands go up in the crowd. One Asian lady is called up to the microphone on stage. Shy and bumbling at first, after a few sentences she speaks eloquently about how Landmark changed her life, made her a stronger woman, repaired the trouble she had with her family, got her a better job, improved her love life and even saved her from suicide. Some spoof. All staged. She was a pro speaker. Crowd doesn’t care. They clap and cry. Tears and tissues are passed around. Anyone else?
This goes on and on for four people. One large Asian woman burst into tears from the word go. Tears of happiness though. Her Dad introduced her to Landmark years ago. Her Mum didn’t agree with it, thought it was a scam and money drain but her Mum knows nothing. Landmark saved her life. Before Landmark she was an emotional wreck. Now look at her, she says, as she sobs and wails into a microphone, almost eating the poor thing. Magnolia tries to clap her off stage but she won’t stop. Drags a skinny white guy up to the stage with her. Introduces him as her ex-boyfriend. He broke her heart twice.
“Shame on me for doing it once, shame on me for letting you back into my life to do it again, hahahaha, but it’s OK. I wanted you to know it’s OK, we’re friends now. Not like I need my heart or anything!! HAHAAHA.”
Her ex-boyfriend is just standing on stage with his head bowed wondering what he’s got himself into. She’s on the verge of a meltdown/killing spree. Hard to tell. I’m too busy trying to take photos of all of this going on. Hard to be discrete. Two Landmark employees have appeared behind me, pretending to examine something on the wall. Magnolia announces it’s time for a break. Ten minutes, folks.
I mosey my way over to the other side of the room as people get up and mingle. Actually a lot of good looking women here, all have the model/actress look. As I’m pretending to be looking for someone in the crowd, a hot brunette model/actress introduces herself.
“Hi, I’m Sandy. Nice to meet you… Max.”
“Pleasure Sandy. This is kind of odd isn’t it? How come you’re here?”
“Pardon? Are you going to sign up today? It will make your life better.”
Ahh, Sandy is a worker too. Soliciting me on behalf of Landmark. Time to smile and nod and make horrendous small talk. Sandy introduces me to Mary, a large happy looking woman, all smiles and words flying out of her mouth. Tells me about the special rates they have today if I wanted to sign up “Only $500 for the first course!” I nod and smile and ask Mary about the best way to drive home at night and what are her Christmas plans and did she buy her turkey yet I wonder? Confuses her enough to go away. Break is over. Dodged their brainwashing bullets.
Magnolia starts by asking for a show of hands of people who signed up. Half the rooms hands go up. They all clap. Then asks why the rest of us didn’t sign up.
“Are we really that happy with our lives? Do we not want to get more out of life? Could we not make more money? Live in a nicer house? Eat at better restaurants? Fix our family problems? Become better people? And those are only the problems we know about!”
Huh? What is this nutter on about?
Magnolia goes to a whiteboard. Draws a big circle. Splits it in two.
“On the left are all the problems we know we have, the ones listed above. But what about over here, on the right hand side? What about all the problems we don’t know we have? Wouldn’t we like to fix those too?”
So basically, she wants us to worry not only about the problems we know we have but also make up a load more problems to fix too? Sounds about right and very sane. You funking manipulative nut. She then goes into a long story about how she thought she had a great relationship with her Mum but then she realised maybe it’s not perfect but then something happened which she didn’t explain at all but that made the relationship better and then her Mum died of a terminal illness and she was grateful she could strengthen the already strong relationship before she passed away and now she’s on the verge of tears and people in the crowd are crying at this heartbreaking story and then she has to punch to gulp back tears and this is so poignant and sad and she must just say one more thing which is,
“And I thank God every day for what Landmark has done for me. It saved my life. Sign up today.”
And the crowd goes wild! Tears, cheers and time for a break. Thank funk. This is the creepiest woman I’ve seen in a while.
As I stand up and look for a bathroom and an escape route I realise I’m being swarmed by Sandy and four other good looking models/actresses. Low cut tops and Beverly Hills bodies. All smiles, handshakes and asking am I happy with my life? I nod and say yes. They shake their head and tell me I’m not. They ask me where I am failing in my life and I laugh them off and check out their fake boobs. Now two actor looking dudes have joined the group. Leather jackets, beads and perfectly spiked up hair. Daytime soap stars. Both bore me with how Landmark has changed their lives. No one really specifies how, but they wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t signed up. Where would you be, I ask? They don’t know, confuses them. As their last resort I’m introduced to a regular looking guy named Alan. Eager to please while I’m eager to leave. Except Alan somehow has me pinned into a corner. I’m between a bin, a table and a hard wall. I can’t leave. And Alan has horrendously bad breath. Stale as a gone off fish, this man loves tuna. Droning on about how I should take charge of my life and sign up right now. I’m getting dizzy. Lack of fresh air. Empty stomach. Feeling sick. Alan non-stop badgering me to sign up, sign up, sign up! Not next time or tomorrow. Now. Sign up. Right now. NOW. SIGN UP MAX IMAN, BEST CHOICE YOU’LL EVER BE FORCED TO MAKE!
“If I sign up will you let me out of this corner?”
He laughs, turns and gives someone a thumbs up. Leaves a gap for me to dart out of. Bolt of of the corner. Close call. Few more minutes and I would’ve signed anything to get me out of the firing line of his bad breath. Alan, their secret weapon. Almost worked. Look around for an exit. Other side of the room. Balls. Next minute everyone is sitting down. I’m grabbed by Sandy and Alan and told to stay, only ten more minutes left. Sweet Jesus. Down in the chair I go. Magnolia spins around to face the crowd.
“Who hasn’t signed up yet? AND WHY NOT?”
One guy in the second row puts up his hand. Claims he wants to but doesn’t have the $500 handy. Old guy in front of him turns around. Claims he will pay for him. Magnolia asks if they have ever met. They haven’t. Magnolia claims this is a miracle. A Landmark Miracle. See how generous it makes you. The two guys hug it out and cry. Leave to go pretend sign up. It’s all a sham. I saw them chatting away during both breaks. Spoofs.
Magnolia asks if anyone else hasn’t signed up. Look around. Everyone’s hand is down. I’m keeping a low profile, don’t want the whole place turned on me. And then Sandy and Alan both grab my hands and raise them up, one on each side. Magnolia spots me, looking like a V with my arms in the air. She turns and look at me,
“And why haven’t you signed up yet? Only five hundred dollars. Are you happy in life?”
Shrug Sandy and Alan off me. Apes. Must fight Magnolia. Can’t crack. I’ll never get out alive.
“Are you living in your dream home?”
“I like where I live.”
“Are you making billions a year?”
“Ahh, who needs that much money.”
“Are you telling me you’re driving your dream car? If you had a billion dollars would you drive the car you’re driving now?”
“Gets me from A to B, can’t complain.”
“How’s your relationship with your family?”
“So are you trying to tell me there’s nothing wrong with you right now? What about the problems you don’t even know you have? Come on, just sign up!”
“Well, I do need the bathroom, so there’s that I suppose.”
With that I got up, waved an awkward goodbye to the audience, thumbs up to Sandy and Alan, and headed for the entrance. Out the doors before I could be caught. Into the lift. Up a floor. Burst through the sliding doors. Slight jog back to my car. Hopped in. Prayed it wouldn’t explode when I turned the key. Safe. Cult off. Drive on.
Happy that I managed to dodge their brainwashing bullets. Didn’t give in. Although, it did get me thinking on my drive home. Looked at my steering wheel and around my car. Is this my dream car? Thought about where I lived. Is that my dream home? Wondered about all the problems I don’t even know I have. What are they? I need to find out so I can fix them! Maybe Landmark wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe I had been brainwashed. Maybe they’re exactly what’s been missing from my life. Maybe $500 for a weekend course IS a good deal. Maybe ten more of these courses are what would be best after that then. Maybe I’m not actually happy at all?!
At least they weren’t too full on a cult. Didn’t think I was going to be kidnapped, tortured or ask to drink Jesus juice in a mass suicide or anything. In fact, the closest I came to danger was on the way home. A car driving towards me decided to do a U-turn into traffic. Ploughed into a car two ahead of me, then started beeping and freaking at the guy he just drove into like it wasn’t even his fault. What a cult.
Don’t Fear The Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult
Ha enjoyed this blog. I could feeling the rising panic, as the pressure was cranked up and they went in for the hard sell. Good setting holding an event down a level – descending into the abyss.
I had a similar experience thanks to a singer I worked with who was actually graduating at the meeting I went to (although the one you went to seems shorter and less intense than mine). Make no mistake, very few cults show their cultiness at intro meetings. They don’t usually kidnap people right off or anything (but you sure made me laugh with that line). It’s a slow process of changing how you think until your devotion has taken over everything else.
I have yet to meet a Landmark “student” who can actually give a single concrete example of how it helped, it’s always a vague and general answer, like you illustrated above. I *have* met people who had nervous breakdowns thanks to Landmark, who have destroyed their families due to Landmark, and who have gone broke by taking courses and volunteering so constantly they can’t do their work.
Great tale of the experience! And, wow, living with Scientologists? You are a brave person!
Glad you enjoyed it!
The vague responses to how it changed their lives is unreal. I don’t even know if they know they’re being vague or not either, just glaze over it and exclaim how amazing the place is for them.
I was half disappointed too they didn’t at least try to kidnap me, tut.