IT’S NOT OK to Rip Off the Ignorant

Psychic TV? Isn’t that a rock band? It might also apply, with a big dollop of irony, to frauds like the “psychic” John Edward with his TV show about Talking to Dead People; to so-called “exorcists” who torment the mentally ill on their “reality” TV shows…and yesterday, watching a cable show, I saw a commercial for a particularly vile exploitation of the confused and ignorant, a phone “service” where you call up someone claiming to be a psychic, and you pay $19 a minute (19! US Dollars! A fucking MINUTE!) to receive vague remarks, platitudes, and flat-out misinformation about your life.

The commercial was designed with the utmost cynicism, the very latest in high-impact designer cynicism, to seduce confused, lonely, desperate people. It started with an image of a frightened woman trying to find her way through a maze. She’s lost, we’re informed; she can’t understand, all alone, how to make life choices. But there’s help. She can find out why everything going wrong…Just call this number and…

Of course, some of the customer’s problems are going to be financial. Maybe all of them. So the “psychic” hotline makes the caller spend $19 a MINUTE for phony, irresponsible, murky, banal, NON-psychic advice on…financial problems. Calling the hotline only deepens the caller’s financial problems–significantly, I’d guess, especially as the “telephone psychic” is going to use every manipulative trick they can to keep the phoner on with the phony as long as possible.

My question is simple. Why is this legal? Are they claiming it’s religious freedom, because the psychic supposedly connects with the spiritual? Is it a “first amendment” issue?

Committing fraud is not an exercise of your first amendment rights. Probably 99 out of 100 legislators would know that these hotline phonies are liars and predators taking advantage of the ignorant. So why don’t they do something about it? There seems to be an “if they’re stupid enough to fall for it, the Hell with them” attitude. But that’s just plain ethically wrong. It’s wrong to take advantage of the mentally handicapped–anyone would agree with that. Why is it okay to rip off the ignorant?

In the paragraph above my first inclination was to say, these hotline phonies are taking advantage of stupid people. But suckers are not necessarily stupid. They may have been raised to believe in this sort of thing. They may have been poorly educated, never trained in discriminating the real from the illusory.

A recent poll found that 50% of Americans believe in Alien Abduction. Almost 50% believe in Creationism; they believe evolution is not real and the Earth is only, what, 7000 years old, max. Another 18% believe that the Apollo mission to the moon was faked.

Those are stupid things to believe in. I don’t like to believe all those people are stupid. Statistically, it seems unlikely. It fills me with despair to believe that many Americans are flat out stupid. I’ll go with ignorant. I do believe that it’s fairly easy to be misled–especially if you’re imprinted with poor analytical skills.

Stupid or ignorant–it’s flat out wrong to take advantage of these people. Psychic phone phonies on TV have been around for awhile, I know. This one seemed particularly baldfaced in its predatory cynicism. I see no reason any of them should be legal. (The same goes for that “harmless” psychic advisor in her little storefront down the street.) Most of us know that none of the people on the phone-psychic staff are, in fact, psychic. Most of us know that people who call thee hotlines–desperate people in need of real counseling–are being cruelly exploited. Some of these people, getting in even deeper trouble through bad advice and the financial burden of calling phone psychics, may commit suicide.

The purveyors of this criminality don’t care. They don’t care who they hurt, as long as the make money. If this scam dries up, they’ll go onto another.

Picture jackals in the wild. They try to drag down a wounded calf. The parent buffalo drives them off.

The jackal doesn’t care. It moves on, to find another victim.

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