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.

20 thoughts on “Review: Psychic Blues, Mark Edward

  1. People like him don’t think; they feel, and feelings change. I have always stayed very, very far away from any of this nonsense (although I do like your Tarot card warning!) until I started watching Supernatural, and their take on it is that what’s even worse than a charlatan psychic is a real one. That’s entertaining.

    • OOooh! What’s so bad about a real psychic? TELL ME.

      Also. Jen, thanks for turning me off to this one; if I had seen it at the bookstore, I too would have thought it was right up my alley, and I can see from your review that it is not even in my suburb. I need a better memoir – I’m thinking maybe Book of Mormon Girl?

      • A real psychic can sometimes find him/herself talking to a real evil spirit, and they all have that “father of lies” capability in Supernatural. It usually turns out that the psychic has opened a door he/she can’t close.

    • Oh, I don’t know who he is either. The only psychic I’ve heard of is Sylvia Browne, and that’s just because when I was watching my soap opera Guiding Light, sometimes Sylvia Browne would be on the show that came on directly after Guiding Light. And we would see her doing her pretend psychic thing and laugh like hyenas and talk about how awesome we’d be at her job. :p

  2. Boo! This seems like it would be super interesting, too. I just watched an episode of The Mentalist where Jane has to tell this woman he was conning her by being ‘psychic’ and she wouldn’t believe him. There is also another more devious ‘psychic’ in the story as well. Seems like an hour long TV show episode did a better job at unearthing the moral dilemmas than a full length non-fic did!

  3. There’s a romance book that actually looks deeper at the ethics of psychics — Proof By Seduction by Courtney Milan. She’s a fraud, and he’s the bossy cousin of her client that’s going to expose her. Except that she’s also about the only thing keeping her client from suicide — he relies on her “sight” to believe that he’ll eventually be someone who deserves to live. And while she knows she’s just faking the supernatural stuff, she really believes that in this case, she’s helping the guy. But is lying to someone to help him really help?

    And it has a great scene where she announces she’s going to read entrails for a prophecy, and the client is all “I’m a bit squeamish, really…” and she whips out an orange and makes him cut it up. Sort of a vegetarian oracle thing.

  4. Thank you for suffering through this one for us. Oddly, I like psychics in fiction; in real life not so much. Ick is the perfect way to describe it all.

    Also, welcome back! :)

    • Thank you! I like the idea of them in fiction, but I can’t remember ever having read a fictional book about a psychic that I liked. I don’t think? I would welcome recommendations though!

  5. So it sounds like he’s mostly conflicted about those *other* people giving him a bad name by doing exactly what he does. I’d say there’s a conflict there but maybe not the one he’s thinking of.

  6. I used to watch some tv psychic shows every once in a while (Sylvia Browne, John Edward) as some sort of sick amusement but then I would just get too sad that these people couldn’t move on in life and that they were willing to believe anything just to feel a little better. I agree with Teresa … sounds like this guy isn’t conflicted in the way we would have thought he was.

  7. Oh what a shame, because I would have been so interested in a memoir that really did explore the inherent conflicts in the psychic business. I guess he thinks that the very act of making such so-called ‘revelations’ puts him on the side of the angels (and I expect he’d like that to be literal). But what an odd mentality he must have to judge others so differently to the way he judges himself! I love your tarot card warning. I always say two things: 1) the cards won’t tell you anything you don’t know already and 2) the designated ‘future’ cards indicate the likeliest outcome if nothing changes. You can take your future into your own hands at any point. It really does matter how you approach a card reading – I won’t have anyone think they don’t have full responsibiility for what’s going on in their lives.

    • I think exactly what you said about his thinking he’s on the side of the angels. It’s clear nonsense.

      I love your tarot card disclosure! That’s a good way of saying it.

  8. Wow, you are probably the first reviewer I’ve read who actually read the entire book… and paid attention. It was certainly an interesting and, at times, entertaining read from a very *CONFLICTED* man. It often felt like two people were writing the book. (Nice review, yo!)

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