What We Don't Need Right Now: A Netflix Show About 'Medium' Tyler Henry
Last week, Netflix dropped a new show, "Life After Death With Tyler Henry." Henry is best known as the star of "Hollywood Medium," in which he visited various celebrities to tell them easily Googled and well-known facts about themselves, which he would pretend to have psychically divined. Like the time he just "sensed" that Corey Feldman had a friend who died of a drug overdose. This new show features him contacting the deceased loved ones of regular people, while trying to solve a "true crime" mystery involving his own mother, which he for some unknown reason cannot just use his magic powers to figure out.
Ever since the Fox Sisters learned to crack their toes, there have been people out there making a living by claiming to be able to contact the dead. Some of them, like Henry, actually manage to get rich and famous for it. It makes sense, since it surely makes for compelling television, whether it's Sylvia Browne erroneously telling the families of missing children that their children are dead, John Edward landing on an audience member who knows someone named Bob or Robert who died, or Allison DuBois getting all, "I know how everyone is going to die!" on 'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills."
"Life After Death" is the sixth most popular television show on Netflix right now, according to the little tag next to it on the app, which means a whole lot of people are watching. And while I would never judge anyone for watching trashy television, I will absolutely judge Netflix for choosing to air this show in the first place, and especially to choose to air it at a time when, thanks to a global pandemic, so many people are grieving the loss of loved ones.
This is not the first time this has happened, either. There was also a major spiritualism craze following the 1918 influenza epidemic and World War II, because people were grieving and psychics and mediums were there to take advantage of that.
If People Find It Comforting, What's The Harm?
The harm is that it is priming vulnerable people to be taken advantage of by con artists. These shows use hot readings (meaning the "psychic" is given information ahead of time) and cold readings (meaning the "psychic" tosses out guesses with a high probability of being correct and then adjusts the answer based on the subject's response/body language) and then use deceptive editing to make everything look more accurate than it really is.
Across the country, there are so-called psychics and mediums bleeding people dry and taking every dime they've ever had, very frequently by pretending to be in contact with their deceased loved ones. Psychics and mediums have been doing a bang-up business throughout the pandemic because not only are people grieving, they don't have the usual social support systems they might have otherwise to help them through it. Someone telling them that they are able to talk to their lost loved one is something that may be too tempting for a lot of lonely, grieving people to resist.
I'm going through it right now. I lost my mother at the end of October, not to COVID, but still. It's not just that it hurts all of the time because I miss her, because that's obvious, it's that my actual brain is screwed up as well. Grief brain is a real thing. It's like my ADHD is turned up to 11 — I regularly cannot remember what I was talking about five minutes ago. I've put face wash in my hair instead of conditioner. I go to the store to get milk and come back with literally everything but milk. It is a million times harder to think through anything than it was before everything happened and nothing feels real. If I were ever going to be particularly vulnerable to being conned in some way, now would be that time. Thankfully my skepticism is the one thing that is still on autopilot.
So it makes me particularly angry right now to think of people being taken advantage of in this state. There have been a lot of times when I actually have kind of wished that I believed in some kind of afterlife-type thing because it would be so much easier and less painful. I can absolutely see why people would spend every dime they have trying to find some proof that that's true, and that is why I probably hate mediums and psychics more than I hate any other kind of people.
Right now, if you go over to the Better Business Bureau's Scamtracker and type in psychic, you will find endless reports of people getting screwed over by so-called psychics and mediums. Why? Because they are desperate and there are assholes out there willing to take advantage of that. One person lost $200,000 over several years to a psychic who kept telling them she needed more money to "fix" things in their life. $200,000! It's easy to laugh at these people for being suckers or believing in this bullshit, but it's those who take advantage of them who deserve our disdain.
There is also absolutely no regulation of this industry, because psychics and mediums are able to say their services are "for entertainment purposes only." There's no quality control. So even if these abilities did exist, there would be no way to determine those who have them from those who don't.
I don't like to insult people's religious beliefs unless I believe they cause harm. This causes harm, so I am going to say it straight out — no one has magic powers and no one can talk to your dead loved ones (or rather, your dead loved ones are not going to be responding to anyone). If supernatural abilities existed, someone would have won James Randi's Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, and that sure as hell never happened.
Netflix should not be airing "Life After Death With Tyler Henry." There should not be non-fictional shows about mediums or psychics or anyone purporting to have magic powers whatsoever. Not just because it's bullshit but because it is bullshit that leads to people getting conned. There are approximately 87,000 other entertaining premises for television shows, so no one needs to keep recycling this one.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse