So over on A Voice for Men, the regulars are all congratulating one another for their grand victory in Toronto. In AVFM’s official post on Saturday’s tiny “rally,” incongruously titled “Historic MHRA rally in Toronto huge success,” Elam — who in photographs of the events looked rather befuddled by it all — declared that the day had been magical for him:
“This was one of the greatest things I have ever done in my life,” said Elam. “Meeting all of these people and talking to a crowd that was five times bigger than the opposition was a remarkable event.”
Given that most of the opposition made a clear decision to ignore the AVFM/CAFE rally and lecture — much to the obvious disappointment of many MRAs who were there in Toronto or watching on the sidelines on the Internet — this was not much of an accomplishment.
Other commenters on AVFM were equally effusive.
“It’s an amazing day!” declared Tara J. Palmatier, the Men’s Rights therapist. “What a fantastic turnout, congrats to all the people who took part in this momentous rally,” wrote the easily impressed Onca747. “This truly is a historic moment,” agreed Unregistard. “OUTSTANDING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” added JJ.
Not to be outdone, Attila L. Vinczer of Canada Courtwatch, one of the speakers at the “rally,” declared it to have been both a “COLOSSAL” and a “complete success,” adding that
Saturday, September 28, 2013 will be remembered in history as one of the most important turning points for Men and Boys in Crisis.
The obvious question is: Do they know?
Do they know what a miserable failure their little rally was?
This was to be the great shining moment for the burgeoning Mens (Human) Rights Movement. It was trumpeted in no less than 17 posts on AVFM itself and in numerous other posts on affiliated and sympathetic sites elsewhere. Numerous MRAs flew in to be there. And the event drew … a tiny handful of rank-and-file MRAs and other onlookers. I’ve seen bigger crowds waiting for a bus. (See the pictures here to see how tiny this “historic” rally really was; see here for people making fun of those pictures.)
A Voice for Men has a long-established habit of promising big and delivering tiny, or not at all.
Oftentimes, the site simply moves on, and hopes no one remembers the promises and/or predictions.
In this case, they seem to be trying to cover up a giant failure through the sheet power of their own bluster.
Or do they really believe their own nonsense?
Recently, I read the classic sociological study When Prophecy Fails, by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter. It’s a study of a small UFO cult led by a woman named Dorothy Martin who claimed to have received messages from planet Clarion predicting an imminent apocalypse in the early morning of December 21, 1954. The researchers — in a move that would now be considered completely unethical — managed to infiltrate the group, and so had a cult-members-eye-view to watch what happened when this prophecy (SPOILER ALERT) didn’t come true.
There are a couple of aspects of Ms. Martin’s story that I think are relevant here. Prior to her big failed prediction — and the collapse of her little cult — Martin made a number of smaller failed predictions, claiming that the aliens had told her when and where they would be landing their ships. Each time, she and some of her followers went to their alien appointments and waited, only to be stood up. And each time, Martin’s imaginary alien friends came up with an excuse for their absence which somehow mollified her followers.
When the apocalypse itself failed to appear, to the great consternation of her followers, Martin again turned to her alien friends for an explanation, and told her followers that their efforts had so pleased the aliens that they had decided to not destroy the world after all.
Instead of rejecting this as obvious nonsense, her most fervent followers grabbed onto this explanation excitedly. After days of dodging the press — which had been writing jokey stories about the group as they prepared for the end — the group members eagerly started calling every reporter they could think of to share the good news about the earth’s reprieve.
In other words, the failed prophecy, in the short term, actually served to invigorate the group and strengthen the beliefs of its truest true believers — as they tried to combat their unconscious sense of disappointment with ever-more-frantic activity.
But only for the most fervent followers. Those who weren’t in direct contact with Martin faded away from the group.
The sociologists didn’t really get a chance to see what would have happened with the true believers because the real world intruded on the cult in other ways: Police threatened to arrest Martin for contributing to the delinquency of minors (by scaring them with her UFO stories) and suggested that she might be sent to a mental hospital. She went into hiding, and her group dissolved. Two years later Festinger’s book was published.
But Martin hadn’t vanished forever. Several years later she emerged again as a proto-new age guru, and she continued channeling her same alien friends for many decades until her death in 1992.
So on the one hand, she managed to keep peddling her bullshit for as long as she lived even after being proved catastrophically wrong again and again.
On the other hand, she never became the great prophet she imagined herself to be, and has gone down in history as little more than a footnote in the history of People Who Were Completely Wrong About Everything.
There may be a lesson or two here.