December 5, 2013

Breaking the Faith

It's probably obvious by now that I have more than a passing interest in cults. After having written two novels that deal with them, I think I've watched just about every documentary and read most of the memoirs out there. Still, when I hear about a new book or show on the subject I'm ready to dive in even after years of research. Why? Because even after all this time, I'm still utterly fascinated by the inner workings of the cult itself and the reasons why people choose to stay even when their leader gets increasingly erratic. So when I heard about Breaking the Faith, a new show on TLC, I couldn't wait to check it out. I'm glad I did. While the "escapes" (re-enactments meant to look like they're happening in real time) seem overly contrived at times, what the show does really well, is give viewers an inside look at teens/young adults brought up within a cult and their dawning realization that they want a much different life than the one they have. They have to face their fear of damnation and loss of family/friends/everything they've ever known if they're going to free themselves. The journey is a scary one. Not all of the teens seem ready or able to get out for good and this make for some seriously tense TV viewing.

The episodes follow a group of girls who are trying to escape and a group of boys (led by an ex-member of the FLDS) bent on helping them. It chronicles the "night of the escape" (again, not real, but a re-enactment) and then the girls' journey to freedom both physically and mentally. I think the moments where the girls talk about their time inside the cult are especially engrossing. Their faces, sort of stoic, but desperate as well, are hard to forget. I absolutely see the main character of my book, Gated, in their stories and faces. Here are girls who instinctively want more for themselves and suspect that they can have it if they are willing to give up all that they know to get it. They question the prophet's teachings, but struggle with doubt about those very questions because after a life time spent inside the cult, they can't discount what they've been taught all this time. Their fear of damnation and abandonment is one hundred percent real.

I also felt that the scenes depicting the girls polishing framed pictures of their prophet, Jeffs, were particularly unsettling and creepy. Here is a man who by all outward appearances seems less dynamic than one would think considering how many followers he has and all the awful things he's been able to do in the name of his supposed religion and yet the hold he has over the people in the FLDS suggests he is formidable to say the least, a true monster disguised as a regular man. The hold he has over his community remains intact despite the fact that he isn't even among them anymore and rules from a jail cell. This kind of influence, even after all the research I've done, confounds me.

The show isn't about giving viewers answers, but rather is about telling the stories of these girls and their lives. It makes cult members into real people and challenges the misconception that all cult members are somehow weak minded. Fascinating television to be sure.

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