Charles Manson. We know the name. We know the face.
For many in my generation, we don’t understand the sordid depravity and significance of the Manson Family since it wasn’t during our time. Ask a Millennial, the face of Evil is Osama.
Ask a Baby Boomer, the Face of Evil is Manson. No contest.
Sinister End to the Lovely Sixties
The 1960’s was a decade of decadence. Judeo-Christian values were eroded by the ceaseless wave of progressivism. But America’s newfound debauchery finally blew up in the summer of 1969.
The growing disregard for the nuclear family, and rising liberalization of drug use, led to actress Sharon Tate’s cold-blooded murder. Her 3 housemates, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, and Wojciech Frykowski, and driver Steven Parent were also killed on the night of August 8, 1969.
The murders were not a run-of-the-mill event. They were not the result of a random burglary, either. The crime scene painted gut-churning images of 5 dead adults, punctured with butcher’s knives. The walls of the upper-scale residence were desecrated with dried blood, spelling “pigs.”
And the worst of it? The crime scene contained a butchered fetus inside Sharon’s womb. A fetus that was only 2 weeks from entering the world.
There was a rather fantastical aspect to the story that enticed the public. This was a horror film, not like Rosemary’s Baby in the theater, but on the front pages of every paper in the country. What sort of mind was necessary to make this a reality?
Manson the Talker
With a silver tongue and fool’s gold, Manson converted a crop of teenage runaways into a band of murdering, LSD-buzzed vagrants. Academics have debated and studied Manson’s methods for decades and how an abandoned child became a cult leader. They studied how an illiterate juvenile gained control over young adults that were otherwise well-educated and adjusted.
Charles Manson not only had the gift of the gab, he had the heart of a storyteller and a mind for creativity. He created a story that linked all of his followers together and turned them into a cohesive unit.
Let’s look at the story Manson fed his followers and try to gauge its morbid, yet alluring, appeal.
Helter Skelter & the Manson Trial
In Helter Skelter, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s account of the Manson trial, he confessed that finding the motive for the crime was his most arduous task.
Bugliosi didn’t need the motive to secure the murder convictions per se (all he needed was the foresnics, eyewitness statements, and Sadie Atkins’ big ole mouth).
However, a motive would go a long way to tying Manson with his followers, despite the leader not being present at the night of the Tate murders.
Delusions and Grandeur
There needed to be an end goal for their monstrous designs, Bugliosi mused. But, what? Sadie had already spilled the beans about an impending “race war” annihilating all white people. But the word of a druggie wasn’t good enough. Bugliosi had to dig deeper.
Through Paul Watkins, Brooks Poston, and Gregg Jakobson, the prosecutor was finally able to crack the code: Manson prophesized the apocalypse called “Helter Skelter” where he and his Family would save the world from the Blacks.
(Just a Little Detour….)
The most outlandish piece of the entire story is that “Helter Skelter,” a song on the Beatles’ White Album, is actually a love song with slides as a metaphor! The most popular band of the 1960s inspired the decade’s most grotesque murder.
I suppose this gave conservative pundits a talking point about the ultimate consequences of cultural rebellions like rock music and recreational drugs. Hey, I don’t want to wax religiosity or thump that ole Bible, but…well, I kinda like rock music. And I ingest a drug myself. It’s called caffeine (wow, a blogger just wrote a coffee joke. So original).
End of the World Prophecy
Manson convinced his Family members that they, upon the end of the world, would become heroes of valor. They would be powerful, towering figures like the ones we read about in epic novels and Biblical stories.
Manson persuaded Sadie, Tex Watson, and Patricia Krenwinkel that they were privvy to a fantastic set of circumstances that would soon befall the entire world. They would be the Noah, saving the White race on their Ark. They would be Moses guiding them through the Red Sea.
Charlie told them they were destined to survive and avert Armageddon. And with a little willingness and LSD, they ate it all up.
Heroes of Stories
Every story traditionally has its heroes and villains.
In Manson’s story, he and his Family were the heroes and the villains were the “pigs”, i.e. the upper-class elite that Sharon Tate belonged to. The other villains were, of course, the Blacks that would massacre the white race and subjugate the Earth. The Whites in Manson’s story were the Jewish slaves toiling and creating monoliths for the Egyptians.
Now, was it Manson’s way with words that soley brainwashed these kids? Not necessarily. In cult-like situations, there needs to be a pre-existing weakness or feeling of dread outside of the Leader’s control. All the leader has to do is seize on the opportunity and exploit the insecurity. Case in point: the Nazis rose to power because the Great Depression left the German economy in complete shambles. Hitler didn’t create the crisis or the nationwide melancholy, he merely exploited it.
It was despair that led people like Tex Watson, Sadie Atkins, and Leslie Van Houten to cross paths with Charles Manson in the first place. They were lost souls yearning for a place in the world. They were children abandoned by their families. As a refuge, they retreated to substances like psychedelics to escape reality and all of its bland gravitas.
Simply put, reality does not have the engaging power of a story. Reality is dreary, depressing. Most of all, reality is dull.
Manson came along and fed his “children” a story of dark prophecies and uplifting tales imbuing a misleading sense of hope. The rest, as we know it, was the symblolic and chonological end of the 1960s, the Decade of Idealism.
Power of Storytelling
Most do not realize nor appreciate the power that storytelling holds. The power is like a coin with two sides: one constructive and the other destructive.
And it’s perhaps easier than you think to wield either power. Just set up the narrative to include you and your followers as the heroes, paint the “others” as villains, and convince them that you and your followers are meant for great things. Convince them that their prior struggles were for a great, universal purpose.
Storytelling, as I understand, is the paintbrush of introverts, the megaphone of extroverts, and the kool-aid of psychopaths.
Charles Manson concocted an apocalyptic tale that may have earned him a book deal if he chose to put it on paper. From my personal observation, psychopaths are gifted with unique talents that could benefit society, but instead they divert said talents to commit atrocities.
Who could forget Judge Ed Cowart’s famous “You went another way, partner” rebuke to Ted Bundy? Bundy could’ve used his wits and charm to excel in the legal profession, instead of victimizing over 30 women.
Simply Put, I Love Storytelling
When I first started this blog, storytelling was my main topic of interest. After all, it was right after I published my first novel. With the blog, I want to delve into classic films and books. I want to show how forms of media utilize storytelling and teach viewers and readers relevant lessons to apply in life.
Make no mistake, storytelling can be used to acheive sinister ends, as what the Manson cult made clear. I believe it’s on us to not spoil and desecrate it. Let’s show how storytelling can be used for good. Let’s show storytelling can lead to ultimate enlightenment for the individual and civilization.
Let’s show how storytelling can be beautitul.
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