SNL did an awkward parody of the Netflix documentary “Wild Wild Country” thus alerting me to its existence, and giving me something to while away the hours this Sunday.
I’d never heard of the Rajneeshpuram story, even though it happened in my lifetime. Granted I was a little kid in the 80s but I remember a lot of news from then, but absolutely nothing of this sordid tale.
Anybody remember following the story as it happened? Has anyone checked out the documentary?
I recommend it. It’s pretty “general interest.” To be honest I found myself shifting allegiance several times during the 6-episode series. Who are the bad people here? Also the leader “Sheela” is a heck of a trip.
I followed the story in as much as I was a teenager at the time and remember the news stories. IIRC the first big exposure was on 60 Minutes before it all blew up. The guru in the Rolls Royce was the butt of many jokes. I guess that’s why I’m having a hard time getting through the series. I already know the outline of what happened. The show seems very slow to me.
I’ve known about the Rashneeshi since I read “Cities on a Hill” back in the 90s. It’s a fascinating story, and one that is finally getting the attention it deserves. One of the reviews of Wild Wild Country stated that Rajneehpuram is what you get when you create a religion without a code of ethics, and I think that’s right. Watching the documentary, reading books and articles, I still can’t figure out what they actually believed.
Yeah I’ve read that the documentarians tried really hard to make everyone seem pretty rational “and let the viewer decide.” I think the people of Antelope were very even tempered, when it came down to it.
I also read that a lot of the inner-workings of the cult (“cult”?) were left out or glossed over. And they’re a lot worse than depicted. I think most viewers can tell that it’s not a deep dive into Rajneesh itself but more than anything a documentary about the governments and the group that moved in.
I remember it well and later worked with a guy who had been a member (and didn’t talk a lot about it). Fascinating that they carried out one of the only successful acts of biological warfare in US history, spreading food poisoning via salad bars.
I thought the Antelopers came across as extremely fearful, narrow-minded and quick to judge, and the Rajneeshis came across as blinkered, self-righteous and surprisingly un-introspective. My overriding impression after watching all six hours — aside from not knowing exactly what the Rajneeshis believed either — is that virtually no one involved in this wrenching saga learned the slightest thing from it, or gained the least bit of empathy for the opposing side. I found it a kind of depressing experience for that reason.
One of my aunts was a member/resident of the commune and I remember her coming to visit us after she left, red-clad, new husband/fellow sannyasin in tow. She still defends Bagwhan/Osho to this day, saying that the people under him corrupted his vision and thus doomed Rajneeshpuram to failure. I haven’t talked to her much about it, but watching the doc has inspired me to change that.
I recall very well seeing the 60 Minutes expose at the time and numerous stories about a fleet of Rolls Royces. I think it was also fodder for late night monologues. It was big news at the time it happened and everyone seemed to be aware of it. I remember chuckling at Sheela’s crazy interview on 60 Minutes.
I remember it well. A friend came to my Halloween party dressed in red with a dollar-bill pendant. There was a joke going around a few years after the guru left the US: “Did you hear that they’re allowing Rajneesh back into the county? They’ve decided to let Bagwans be Bagwans.”
I was too young to know about it as it happened, but I did hear about it a couple years ago on the Dollop podcast. (Two comedians read history stories to each other, one knows the story, one doesn’t. It’s history how I like it delivered: full of laughter and cussing). I was about five minutes into the Netflix doc and I was like “I bet this is those salad bar people.”
And it was.
So I went into it completely biased. I was Team Antelope the entire time.
Sheela’s eyes might be the most dead eyes I’ve ever seen before. She’s like a Prachett villain. There’s no soul inside.
That’s the difference between a religion and a cult. Whatever anyone says about religions, they do believe something. Cults claim to have beliefs, but those beliefs are nothing but a cover for fleecing the rank-and-file members.
That’s not to say religions haven’t fleeced any of their members, only that every religion does believe something or other, while a cult basically doesn’t. The new cult member is led to believe that it does, but later they find out the truth.
I can’t say as I remember it well, though I remember most of what people are mentioning upthread. My prevailing thought at the time was that, basically, a big chunk of people under an autocrat can move in and take over a little town. I was from a little town myself at the time (though bigger than Antelope - population ca. 550), and there was a little wave of fear and empathy in our environs: if it can happen there, it can happen here. Given the extreme nature of the folks moving in, I wouldn’t call that bigotry.
I just finished the series, I was only a kid in the Pac NW at the time, so it was very interesting how it compared to my hazy memories.
What I found very interesting was the conditioning/programming practice of the ‘primal abuse’ - ‘primal sorrow’ - ‘primal joy’ orgies (for lack of a better word. Also the constant wearing of the happy smile and gaze expression seemed to be a deliberate conditioning technique. I wish more of the inner rituals were shown, I can see how that kind of programming could be extremely powerful.