Review: Psychic Blues, Mark Edward

There are two main threads of subtext (well, not always so sub-, as examples below will prove) that run throughout Mark Edward’s memoir of being a psychic, and they are these:

  1. All psychics, including Mark Edward, are frauds, and some of them do harm by being deceitful and wicked.
  2. Mark Edward does no harm but always tries to do good.

That sounds okay, except that Mark Edward fails to distinguish between the deceitful and wicked psychics and himself. Whether this is because there is no difference between them, or because Mark Edward is incapable of articulating the difference that exists, I do not know and could not discern from reading his book. He talks frequently about psychics (including him) being frauds, but only rarely does he seem to worry that he, himself, in a specific instance, a specific reading, is being shady to the point of immorality.

I know that part of my problem with the book arose from the Dreaded Expectations Gap. The subtitle of this book is “Confessions of a Conflicted Medium,” and that made me think Mark Edward was really going to wade into the ethical dilemmas inherent in being a psychic. I’d have loved to read a book like that! I love ethical dilemmas! As someone who reads Tarot cards for fun and precedes every Tarot card reading with a stern look at my readee and remarks along the lines of “Remember, this is a pretend thing that somebody made up,” and who still feels the qualms about doing Tarot card readings because people still take them seriously and then I feel like I’m deceiving them, I am especially interested in the ethical dilemmas of fortune-telling.

But in fact, this isn’t something Mark Edward is interested in exploring, at least not in this book. Instead he tells anecdotes about different beats in the psychic world he’s worked in his time — psychic hotlines, Hollywood parties, private readings — and the kinds of readings he’s done, the kinds of clients he’s encountered with the attending quirks. These stories aren’t uninteresting, but Edward doesn’t have a talent for dialogue or setting a scene, so the stories often come off more whiny/indignant than funny/self-deprecating.

Mark Edward obviously has moral problems with some psychics and their behaviors. I know this from reading his Wikipedia page, which told me about all the scathing rhetoric he has unleashed upon psychics he considers to be con artists, and from reading his book. So okay, some psychics do bad things. We can clearly agree on that. But I could not for the life of me work out the line Edward perceives between himself and the other (bad) psychics. He admits to being a fraud, then says well but it’s just entertainment and anyway he gives people hope, not like some other psychics who are terrible and are taking advantage of innocent people.

Here is a perfect example. He’s telling a story about working with a psychic who purports to talk to dead people, and how before the show starts she asks this one guy if he has anyone in particular he’s hoping to talk to. The guy says, yeah, his father, Louis. Then during the show the psychic zeroes in on this guy and talks about a dead person named Louis, and the crowd is impressed. Okay. Edward says he has no problem with the psychic being sneaky in this way, and then says this:

When a mentalist or psychic makes use of this sort of thing, along with the many other covert ways employed to obtain information, it can be amazing and entertaining. But [it] gets a little legally fuzzy when you see people breaking down and crying. That’s not entertaining, it’s sad….It’s a nasty business from start to finish. I consider if my personal and professional responsibility to tell the truth about what’s really going on behind these contrived scenes.

But then in another part of the book, he says:

Although I’m seldom called upon to talk to dead people….to admit to not having any other-worldly connections in this admittedly far-fetched branch of my craft would be to decrease my marketability….And as much as I would like to stop and take the time to educate each audience member as to what is truly going on with this whole psychic business, that’s not normally included in my job description.

And anyway,

A disclaimer is a declaration that “disclaims”…that everything is being done through purely natural means, including trickery….To initially discount any mystical possibilities that may occur, either in the mind of the sitters or through any events that are revealed through this natural process, is in my opinion a waste of time. Plus, it takes the mystery and much of the fun out of the experience.

So I guess you shouldn’t make people sad on purpose? And the whole talking to dead people thing can take a turn for the emotional so that one’s probably a dick move? Unless the money’s good? And it’s wrong to deceive people, so Mark Edward to the Rescue! But undeceiving them takes all the fun out of it? Y’all, I don’t even know. The thinking, it is fuzzy.

There was one incident where Mark Edward gets a letter from someone he had talked to on the Psychic Hotline, where she says she had been going to kill herself and then she didn’t because he gave her a hopeful reading. And he feels really good about himself:

Though I was…playing a small part in a huge commercial system that sold compassion and exploited human misery, as I looked around at the colors of the autumn leaves and breathed in the fresh morning air, the warmth of a new illumination dawned on me. I had an awesome responsibility.

What? No! No autumn leaves! No fresh air! Dude, this is so ick. Take away the first clause in that sentence and put it in the mouth of someone who volunteers at a suicide hotline, and I would still think it was kinda gross. It’s real gross coming from a guy who makes shit up in the employ of a shady psychic hotline that charges sad desperate people (as well as, of course, people who are neither sad nor desperate) $3.99 a minute for a message of hope. This happens early on in the book, and it was so gross I needed Edward to make it up to me. I wanted him to show me that he had become more self-aware about his work, that he had grappled with the implications of his job and figured out where his personal moral lines were, that he had a code and stuck to it. Or at least to tell stories that were funny and interesting.

But he didn’t really do that. I still have no idea what his moral code is, and I still feel icky about him, and I didn’t like his boring book.