Book Review and My Take On-Scarred:The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM, the Cult that Bound My Life

All that Sarah Edmondson wanted to do was self-improve as a human being and help others along the path. An aspiring actress from Vancouver, Canada, she was educated on self-improvement by her parents. And while she was struggling to get acting gigs, she came across an organization that seemed to align with her self-improvement mantra. That organization was NXIVM.

However, after 12 years of being a part of an organization that was aimed at changing the world, Sarah realized that she was living in a nightmare after she was branded (with a cauterizing pen) on her pelvic area with the initials of the Keith Raniere, the founder of NXIVM. And it is in the book, How I Escaped NXIVM, the Cult that Bound My Life, she tells a story of her ordeal and her eventual emancipation from a cult.

After reading this book, I often forgot that I was reading a book. It was almost like reading a letter from a friend.  And that was what I enjoyed about the book. I saw that Sarah’s writing voice is like that of someone genuinely writing to the reader. It is very personable and relatable. The writing style is used by Sarah is a mixture of questioning, since she was a part of a cult that turned out to be an organization aimed at sex trafficking, and imagery, since it showed many person-to-person interactions with family, friends, and loved ones.

As Sarah writes, it seems like she is warning the reader of what can happen if someone ends up walking into a cult by explaining her joys and horrors while in NXIVM. One of those joys being that she thought she found her purpose in life after struggling as an actress and found love. However, the horrors she experienced were NXVIM pulling her away from her family, being told to strip naked for a photo, providing collateral (in the form of false damaging information about her), and her eventual branding.

There is one thing that got me to almost say “Thank you!” aloud while I was reading the book (thankfully, I just said thank you in my head). It was the part where she beautifully, and somewhat hilariously, described Vanguard (the name NXVIM members called Rainiere) himself. One of the ways Edmondson described Raniere was that he talked in a way that reminded her of “word salad.” Word salad, according the Merriam Webster dictionary means “a string of empty, inchorent, unintelligible, or nonsensical words or comments. Before reading Scarred, I saw one of Rainiere’s conversations with Smallville actress, Allison Mack and I could barely keep up with what he was saying. I wondered if he was just trying to sound intelligent. Or was he just pontificating his opinions on the state of acting in a way that didn’t make any sense or perhaps to mind trick Allison Mack. Just check out that conversation here and you be the judge.

When her breaking point starts, we also see Sarah and her friend, Mark Vicente question Rainiere. Raineire was praised by many as one of the worlds smartest men and that he was a Judo champion, an excellent pianist, and among other accolades. Sarah and Mark questioned if Raineire really did accomplish those things. And if he really was smart, how come he lost so much money in the stock market? Money that he was given by Sara and Clare Bronfman, two heiress to Seagram Company and also a part of Rainere’s inner circle who would later get arrested along with Rainiere and Mack.

Another person that Sarah wrote a lot about was Lauren Salzman, the daughter of top NXIVM executive Nancy Salzman and also a member of Raniere’s inner circle. Sarah wrote that she saw her as an instant friend. Sarah was so close to Lauren that she made her a godmother to her newborn son and she was the maid of honor in her wedding. But when Lauren introduces Sarah to the women sorority DOS, an acronym for Dominus Obsequious Sororium (Latin term that translates to Master Over Slave Women), that was what led to the breaking point. To me, Salzman is seen as somewhat of a foil to Sarah. Even after Lauren had her strip naked, provide her with collateral (one that could damage her reputation), and get branded, it can be seen by Sarah’s writing that she hopes for Lauren to find peace and even seems to have started to forgive her.

In addition to reading this book, I have been following the NXVIM story for sometime through watching documentaries and reading Frank Parlato’s blog, The Frank Report. One of the things that got me interested in this story was Allison Mack’s involvement. As a Superman and Smallville fan, I was flabbergasted and I felt betrayed. I admired Allison Mack who beautifully played the intrepid and dauntless Chloe Sullivan, friend and confidant to Tom Welling’s Clark Kent. As I watch reruns of Smallville, I saw that Chloe was a reliable friend and someone who would go to bat for Clark. Perhaps, Allison went to bat for Raniere, a real-life supervillain that would make Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex Luthor seem like a choirboy.

I didn’t want to believe that it was Mack that joined DOS and was responsible for carrying out Raniere’s disgusting mission but, it was her. I even had a crush on her but after finding out what she did, I felt repulsed. In a sense, this was almost like a warped real-life episode of Smallville. I could picture poor Clark finding out that his friend did something so terrible and against everything they stood and fought for. Its very safe to say how Clark would react because, I can tell you how I was feeling when I first learned the news.

Years ago in Los Angeles, I almost joined an organization similar to NXIVM but, I left at the very last second due to them trying to pressure me into purchasing one of their self-help curriculums which was a whooping $800 USD (Probably as cheap as rent would get in Westside Los Angeles). And after seeing Sarah’s account on an interview with ABC News, I feel that I might have dodged a bullet by not joining that organization and giving them my money.

This past Sunday, I spoke to my pastor about NXVIM since he knew I was reading the Scarred. We talked about just how easy it can be for anyone to get ensnared into a cult despite intention or emotional state.

Sarah Edmondson wanted to help herself and anyone out. Even when she she began to detox from NXIVM, she did just that by helping people find a way out and being the very person who helped put Rainiere behind bars. She became like a North Star to those who were lost in the dark. To me, she is more of a hero than Allison Mack. She was intrepid and said no to Rainiere despite the collateral that he and his NXIVM cronies had on her. And many people who once carried the NXVIM flag followed suit and all that culminated to the arrests of Mack and Rainere.

As someone who once admired Allison Mack, I hope that Mack find peace and rebuilds herself to be a better person.

I definitely hope to meet Sarah Edmondson one day and just tell her how brave she was. She is a real superhero and one that even Clark Kent would praise for her mission to help others and seek justice.

I see this book not only as a warning but as a healing for Sarah and many others who had to endure the hell and torment NXVIM had put them through.

This book taught me that even people with the best intentions can get mindtricked into something that is seemingly wholesome while in reality, sinister. I encourage anyone who is going through, or even suspects, a similar ordeal to read this book. You will learn about loving yourself, helping others, and forgiving yourself and others.

For those of you who are reading this, especially if you had went through the crap NXVIM dished out or something akin to it, please understand that you are not bad or evil. You are loved no matter what and to not be afraid to seek those who truly love you and want to help you. You have my support.

-Brian From Earth-16

sarah
Sarah Edmonson: Survivor and the Real Superhero of the Story

 

 

 

Smallville: An Awesome Superman Story

I am beyond stoked about news of the bosses behind the CW Network’s Arrowverse revealing yet another surprise for the Crisis on Infinite Earth’s five episode event. As I look up to the sky…

It’s bird….it’s a plane…it’s Tom Welling, reprising his iconic role as Clark Kent/Superman from the CW’s Smallville TV series.

Tom Welling’s portrayal of Clark Kent is one of my favorite incarnations of the Man of Steel  and it made me watch Smallville almost religiously when I was a teenager. As you, constant reader, must know, I am a huge mark for Superman.

Smallville debuted on 2001 and it was a story about a young Clark Kent trying to make sense of his who he is and the man he will grow up to be. The thing I enjoyed about the show was that Welling had showed a more vulnerable and human side to the future Man of Steel. Under the guidance of Martha and Jonathan Kent, Clark had to face what every teenager faced (puberty, high school crushes, drama, etc) while discovering his Kryptonian heritage and developing his abilities. In addition, it took awhile for Clark to learn how to fly due to him being afraid of heights.

In addition to being brave, selfless, and loyal to his parents and friends, Clark was also mild-mannered. I mean, how can he be Clark Kent and not be mild-mannered?

There are several scenes where Clark is a complete goof ball when many women show interest in him while he is oblivious as to what is going on much to the humor of the audience or whoever Clark was with.

Another cool thing about Tom Welling’s portrayal of Clark was that some people saw this it as an analogue to Jesus Christ. One scene showed Clark falling from a building after a brutal fight with General Zod. While falling, Clark had his arms stretched out which made him look as if he was being crucified. There was an episode where Clark discovered that his blood could possible cure a disease.

Like any Superman story, Smallville had an ensemble of  supporting characters including: Ma and Pa Kent, played by Annette O’toole and John Schneider; Pete Ross, played by Sam Jones III; Lana Lang, played by Kristin Kruek; Chloe Sullivan, played by Allison Mack (currently awaiting a trial which will be another story for another time); Jimmy Olsen, played by Aaron Ashmore; and Lois Lane, played by Erica Durance. We also eventually meet other charaters like Kara Zor El, played by Laura Vandervoort; Dr. Emil Hamilton, played by Alessandro Juliani; Tess Mercer, played by Cassidy Freeman; and Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, played by Justin Hartley.

Smallville also had an ensemble of villains that were original. Several notable villains were: Bugboy was a reclusive and creepy teenager who spied on Lana Lang; Desiree Atkins, a attractive and ravishing looking biology teacher that caused Clark’s sexual urges to intensify and his  heat vision to manifest; and Curtis Knox, played by Dean Cain (Who portrayed Superman in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman), who was immortal and exchanged blows with Clark. Later on, we meet other villains like Davis Bloome, played by Sam Witer, who eventually becomes Doomsday.

A unique take on this show that I was a fan of was Clark’s friendship with his future nemesis Lex Luthor, played by Michael Rosenbaum (who also voiced the Flash on the animated Justice League). Their friendship began when Lex accidentally hit Clark with a car and they both fell over a bridge and into a river bank. Clark ended up rescuing Luthor and the took had become good friends. The two were like brothers and often helped each other much to the ire of Jonathan Kent who despised the Luthors.  Clark and Lex’s destined and inevitable rivalry was foreshadowed several times. Notable prophecies were made by an elderly woman who could see into the future and several Native American paintings that were emblazoned on the walls of the caves in the outskirts of Smallville.

Eventually, the animosity between the two intensified when the former a love triangle due to their shared love for Lana Lang. And it was further established when Lex’s once ruthless father Lionel Luthor, played by John Glover, found enlightenment, after being used as a vessel for Jor-El, and began bonding with Clark. Luthor was presumed dead for two seasons but not before finding out that Clark Kent was Kal-El. He returned in the final episode of  Season 10, being put back together by various cloned body parts by the Earth-2 counterpart of Lionel Luthor.

The last meeting between Clark and Lex took place  in a broken Luthor Mansion. At this point, the Earth was experiencing an apocalypse unleashed by Darkseid and the meeting between the former friends showed that their rivalry had come full circle. Clark was shocked that Lex was alive while Lex criticized Clark for not using his powers to their fullest potential. Lex commented that Clark being his enemy was what made him and that they would be great men.

“I will be there to stop you,” Clark promised Lex.

Another thing that was intriguing about Smallville was that it made me question the idea of our destiny. The question that popped into my head was: do we have a destiny or are we allowed to create our own destiny? Clark had made me ask that question whenever he struggled to come to grips with his heritage and his role on Earth. His adopted parents often assured him that he could create his own destiny while Jor El, the entity in the Fortress of Solitude, seemed more rigid or strict.

The show took place in Superman’s hometown of Smallville, Kansas. The town is a rural town that embodies Middle America and has an All-American vibe (though it was filmed in Vancover, Canada). We are also introduced to several notable places including: The Kent Farm, Smallville High School, the Kawache Caves (which lead to the Fortress of Solitude in the Antarctic), the Talon (a coffeeshop operated by Lana), and the Luthor Mansion. As the series progressed and Clark matured, we begin to see more of Metropolis and the iconic Daily Planet. We also see the Ace of Clubs and (the already mentioned) Fortress of Solitude.

Smallville holds a special place in my heart. It is not only a Superman story. It is a story about a young man with special abilities who wanted to live a normal and simple life. But even when that was not possible, that young man took it upon himself to become a hero because his adopted parents instilled values of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. But I think that the young man who would become the Man of Tomorrow did achieve much more than what he dreamed. He made some friends who were understanding and loving toward him, he became admired by the many he saved, and he fell in love with a beautiful and intrepid firebrand journalist name Lois Lane.

And the story wouldn’t end with Season 10. The Smallville saga continued in the form of a comic book which was titled: Smallville: Season 11. The comic introduced us to that universe’s version of Bruce Wayne, Diana Prince, Barbara Gordon, Jay Garrick, John Stewart, and many other familiar characters.

Clark Kent - Smallville
Tom Welling as Clark Kent. Credit: DC Comics

This show and Tom Welling really made Clark Kent more human and relatable to viewers and myself.

As I write this, I am beginning to realize that this show has been telling me to accept and love myself for who I am. It realize that it has been telling me to accept my Aspergers Syndrome and to not push it away. Or perhaps, it was Clark Kent who was telling me to accept that part of myself. After all, ever since I was six years old, I had always wanted to be Superman.

I want to thank Tom Welling and the people behind Smallville for playing a role in my childhood. I also want to thank Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel for creating an awesome superhero who not only teaches us to fight for Truth, Justice, and the American way but to also love and accept ourselves and others. That is what makes Smallville an awesome Superman story.