March 26, 2006

Science: Making Money the Easy Way Pt. 3

I've already mentioned cold reading and how that works on an audience in Part 1, but I'll give another runthrough:

Cold reading is when the "psychic" performer has no foreknowledge of the members of their audience (I'll talk about "hot reading" in a bit). As such, the performer will want at least one of two things: an audience that is primed and ready to accept the psychic as being the real McCoy; and an audience that has a desperate need to believe in the psychic's supposed ability. A live audience is wonderful, and ideal for building a mob mentality, but not entirely necessary, as the many radio- and televangelists can attest.

That distance can help in many ways, such as failure having no immediate negative ramifications for the performer. Then there is the impression the performer wants to leave being influenced by effects other than the performance, ie lighting, camera angles, dramatic music, editing, etc. John Edwards, for instance, took three to four hours to perform his "readings" that were then trimmed down to 42 minutes. This editing, when appropriate music was added, made him look pretty darned good to his television audience.

Which brings me to the audience.

How would you like to have an audience who not only believed in your ability to talk to dead folks, but had already paid their money whether you succeeded or not? And, here's the kicker, they wouldn't be able to get their money back when you failed! They would all be back at home, watching on their televisions. Heck, who wouldn't want to get in on this?

It's already happened: the Princess Diana Seance occured in 2003, cost each viewer $14.95, and was tuned in to by 500,000 television sets in America alone. For those with shaky math skills, that's $7.5 million, all for a mediocre documentary in weepy blue tones ending with two con artists telling people who loved her what they wanted to hear. The show was a hideous piece of ghoulish exploitation at it's very worst.

But the $7.5 million was so successful that they are doing it again, but this time mutilating the memory of John Lennon for a mere $9.95 per viewer. So, after two more seances the price will finally start closing in on their actual value, if the discounts continue apace...

In other supernatural (or just unreal) news, a "world famous" psychic (her words, not mine) is coming to our town all the way from Scotland, giving me an opportunity to talk about what "hot reading" is. Hot readings are, obviously enough, the opposite of cold readings: that is to say they are far more accurate, specific, and impressive. They are also achieved by cheating, rather than just by playing the odds as cold readers do. There are several methods to do this, most of which the people attending the show don't think about:

1) Poppin' Off: Former televangelist Peter Popoff often performed faith healing in his shows, walking through the audience then stopping seemingly at random beside someone, saying their name, address and what their ailment was, then getting them pumped up on adrenaline and telling them it was God's Word that gave him the information. Well, after a miracle like that, who would deny that God healed them right then and there, with thousands of witnesses all roaring approval? Except that "God" in this case was Popoff's wife and the wife of his number two man Refford Shirrell, and almost all the audience members who came to him specifically to be healed filled out so-called "prayer request cards" which included a space for addresses! There were also agents in the waiting crowd before the show listening to people talk about what their reasons for coming were, which were subsequently broadcast from "God" to the waiting Popoff at 39.17 megahertz. And you wouldn't believe what passes for healed!

Popoff, by the way, is still very active. He's stopped listening to the voice of God, and is now miraculously giving people money! That is, God's giving them money, if they send some to Popoff first...

2) Limited Tickets = Select Audience: Though most theatrical performers make a big effort to get their tickets available to as many people as possible, that would mean just anyone could show up, and if you're not sure of your audience, the greater risk that the reading will be rather, well, basic and not that interesting: a danger inherent when cold reading is combined with an unresponsive or skeptical audience. How to avoid this? Choose your audience ahead of time! Advertise only in New Age, religious or otherwise spiritualist magazines, and better yet have an advance person control all the ticket sales. When someone calls for tickets, your advance person can get a name and phone number at the very least; they can also be asked why they wish to attend such a show. If it is a matter of grief, most people want to talk about it, and they provide a fount of information to the performer they don't even remember giving away. Even if reticent, how much could you find out about someone with a name, a number, and the obituary pages of a local paper (among other things)?

3) A Personal Visit From Our Saviour: This again relies on advance ticket sales, but includes addresses - or just phone numbers and a simple reverse directory. A representative of the performer will call on the potential attendee and ask to talk with them, if they wouldn't mind too much? Well, why not if they are feeling a bit lonely, and maybe they'll have a bit of tea and discuss, oh, whatever the attendee wants to talk about... In the meantime, the home itself is a wealth of information (family and/or vacation pictures, taste in reading, decor, approximate income level, interests) without anyone saying a word, or even getting past the front door.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: if I were just a little more dishonest, I'd be a much richer man. But the Significant Other says she'd leave me, so there goes that plan. *sigh*


The Easy Way, Part 1
The Easy Way, Part 2


posted by Thursday at 8:34 pm


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