Netflix Reveals The Secrets To Becoming A Cult Leader

The only problem with positioning a docuseries about cults as a how-to is the possibility that someone will take it seriously enough to put the show’s lessons into practice.

The odds don’t favor that happening, but we live in a nutty world. So, who knows?

The series does have a title that might seem inviting to the unglued -- “How To Become A Cult Leader.”

Its six parts -- running about a half-hour each -- carry titles right out of a how-to book: Episode One: “Build your Foundation,” Episode Two: “Grow Your Flock,” Episode Three: “Reform Their Minds,” Episode Four: “Promise Eternity,” Episode Five: “Control Your Image,” and Episode Six: “Become Immortal.”



Peter Dinklage is our narrator and guide through the worlds of some of the 20th century’s most infamous and deadly cult leaders -- Charlie Manson (pictured above), Jim Jones (mass suicide), David Koresh (Waco), Marshall Applewhite (Heaven’s Gate) and others.

“Unconditional love, and this devotion and the power to control people’s minds, bodies and souls -- all of this can be yours,” says Dinklage as the series begins.

“You just have to follow this playbook, a series of tactics that aspiring cult leaders use to convert themselves from humble mortals into living gods. 

“But tread this path carefully or things could get out of hand,” the actor warns. “[But] with this playbook in hand you too can harness human vulnerability and make it work for you.”

His script reads like copy right off the back cover of countless how-to’s and self-help books.

It is reasonable to assume that neither Dinklage nor the show are advocating that anyone actually apply these lessons to “make it work” for them. 

But it does lay out the stories of these cult maniacs in an instructional way. For example, in Episode One, the focus is on Manson, whose story is told in a manner that lays out the successes and failures he experienced on the road to realizing his full potential as a messianic murderer.

The message seems to be that we can learn from Charlie’s failures to do a better job of establishing ourselves as mind-bending cult leaders.

Again, however, it is doubtful that this is what the makers of “How To Become A Cult Leader” intended.

Although the show’s approach is novel, these tragic cult stories have been told many times before in made-for-TV docs.

For me, they are in a wide category of what you might call “human misery stories,” including death cults and hundreds of murders that are grist for the TV crime mill. 

Hundreds of people died, and their loved ones deeply affected, by the evils brought upon them by the cult leaders who are profiled in “How To Become A Cult Leader.”

For the victims and survivors of these psychopaths, this is real life, not entertainment. 

“How To Become A Cult Leader” premieres Friday (July 28) on Netflix.

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