Thursday, April 19, 2018

Snake Oil

The origin of this little anecdote goes back many years, but recent scams and scammers — particularly the vile scum who constantly call my mom trying to finagle money from her — have prompted me to scrub the cobwebs from this event and shine a light on it.

Back in one of my myriad psychology classes at college, we frequently watched films about various mental infirmities. One of them explored autism, and the film showcased a little boy who suffered one of its most extreme permutations, in which his ability to communicate was limited to mimicking others. The film went into great detail about the boy's condition and the attempts over many years to treat it, most of which were less than successful.

Coincidentally, mere days after seeing the film in question, I flipped on the television, and what should I witness but the very recognizable face of that same little boy. For a second, I thought whatever station I had tuned to must be running that same psychology film. But no — this time, I was seeing the boy in a very different environment: the television “sanctuary” of televangelist Ernest Angley, who in those days enjoyed a sizable TV audience.

My first reaction was that the boy's parents, in desperation, must have turned to spiritual healing, however dubious such a thing might be. But then, to my horror, I discovered this was something altogether different.

The slick, oh-so-concerned Ernest Angley sidekick brought to the boy to the waiting, cherub-like figure on the dais and explained that the boy was deaf from birth and had never heard a spoken word in his life.

Why, you sorry, lying son of a bitch, I thought to myself.

It was all I could do to watch Ernest Angley pop the little boy in the head with that healing club of a hand he bore at the end of his arm, call upon the angels on high, and then scream in the boy's face, “In the name of Jay-zus, BE HEALED!”

The boy stood there silent and bewildered until the porcine Angley took him by the shoulder and said, “Now say, ‘I am healed!’”

“I am healed!” the little boy repeated in barely intelligible English.

“Glory be to God!”

“Glory be to God!”

“Praise Jay-zus!”

“Praise Jay-zus!”

Then, with a shove, Angley sent the little boy on his way and, with his ever-smug little smile, explained how the power of the lord could overcome any infirmity, even total deafness.

But the boy was not deaf. The poor soul was autistic and could only mimic words that were spoken directly to him. I had only just viewed a detailed case study of the boy in psychology class.

Now, never for one minute did I believe that Ernest Angley — or televangelists in general, for that matter — were anything but money-grubbing scammers, but I had just seen incontrovertible proof, on national television, that Angley had taken advantage of a child's tragic infirmity to spread his particular brand of poison over the airwaves. I had to assume this was done with the boy's parents' approval, perhaps to receive some much-needed remuneration for years of expensive treatment. But in the end, to me, their motives were inconsequential. Because there was no question about Ernest Angley's motives: he was a money-grubbing pig.

How many people then — and now —would fall for these parlor tricks and send money to Angley and his ilk? Sadly, it's people who are desperate, who are elderly, who have infirmities of their own — such as my mom — who become the targets of these monstrous predators. Too often successfully.

Be wary of the snake oil salesman. Be wary of the snake. They're very, very venomous. How I wish I could slay the lot of them.

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