Friday, June 10, 2011

"What's the Harm?", You Say?

With a little searching using the handy dandy Google, I finally managed to find the above video. It's part 1 of the one program on the Discovery Channel that succeeded in thoroughly scaring the crap out of me as a kid. I watched it again today and found that my feelings of fear had been replaced this those of irritation.

A six-year-old boy starts to exhibit distant and moody behavior which eventually escalates into full blown tantrums and flouting of his parents' authority. His mother is convinced that there's a demon possessing him. Yup, you heard right. She gets so freaked out that she hires a Native American Shaman to help perform a exorcism ritual on the house. ...Twice. 

Now this is just a TV show supposedly based on hearsay. I don't know how much of it is true and/or remembered correctly. The superstitious mother is the only person interviewed at length. The father was skeptical in the beginning, but we get no testimony from him as to whether or not he saw fit to become a believer. Let's assume, however, that none of the events described are exaggerated. 

Let's look at the facts we know:
  • Both the mother and father work long hours and rarely see their son during the day. They leave the boy with a nanny.
  • The boy begins to play with an imaginary friend.
  • The child starts to exhibit moody and erratic behavior as the situation progresses.
  • Throughout the time of this incident, the mother treats the imaginary friend as if it were a real person and chooses to become emotional about the bad behavior rather than discipline the child.
  • The only person who claims to see or feel anything supernatural is the mother, who was convinced from the beginning that the negative events in her life were a result of the paranormal.
Now, if we ignore the extravagant video editing and overacting in the show, we reveal that the child's behavior is something that you see on almost every episode of Super Nanny. Honestly, when stripped down to the bare basics, this story is more mundane than those on Super Nanny. If the mother and father are rarely home to care for their young child, of course the child won't respect their authority. Of course the child will feel distant from his family and turn to imaginary playmates if his family is rarely around. Notice that once the mother realized something was wrong, she started actively trying to be involved in her son's life, even if only out of necessity. That's when the son's behavior improved. Even after the first exorcism, the family went about their business and the behavior perpetuated. Why is this not a red flag for some people?

I also thought it was incredibly dense of the mother to assume that the boy couldn't have possibly picked up cuss words or a story about a kidnapping at his age. As long as the boy is exposed to television or other human beings, he's going to pick things up, good and bad. Also, the story the boy told about a child murder was not detailed at all. In fact, it sounded like the reasons my parents gave me for why I shouldn't "talk to strangers" when I was a child. If he had gone into elaborate details about child molestation, then I'd be worried. However, that's not what happened. Not only that, but the mother actually went and did research on child abductions in the area and found nothing. That should have been another red flag. If the child had indeed described an event that actually happened decades before he was actually alive, then I might raise an eyebrow. As it stands, there is no reason to draw from those facts the conclusion that there's a demon in the house.

...Unless one is already convinced. 

That was the other fishy part about this story. The only person who ever saw, felt or heard anything out of the ordinary was the mother. The fact that she was so convinced and so emotional leads me to think that what she "felt" were the results of psychology. She only felt peace after the performed the native american ritual. Which brings me to another point. Most religions have some beliefs in demons and many of them involve the banishing of those demons. The ritual in the show was very different from, say, a muslim exorcism. Yet both she and muslim exorcists claim that their rituals work. Either both religions are right somehow, or the reason they appear to work is because they calm the minds of the people involved. 

Here's what worried me slightly about these events. The family did absolutely nothing practical to help this child. No discipline, no research on erratic behavior in children, no consulting an expert. If this child had had a serious illness or psychopathy, they would be allowing this child to suffer and perpetuating his problem. What's the harm in these little superstitions? They are absolutely useless when it comes to solving legitimate problems. 

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