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Ask Pajiba (Almost) Anything: Cults, Bullies, And Peak TV

By Tori Preston | Pajiba Advice | October 17, 2017 |

By Tori Preston | Pajiba Advice | October 17, 2017 |

Hello, and welcome back to this week’s installment of Ask Pajiba (Almost) Anything. You wanted free advice from unqualified people on the internet, and by golly — you’re gonna get it!

(Remember: email us at [email protected] with your burning questions, be they great or very very small. Seriously, someone emailed to ask us “Does it smell like ham to you,” which is a totally legitimate question we loved receiving! And yes, stranger. It does smell like ham. It ALL smells like ham. Always.)

Let’s kick things off with a topic that fascinates all of us (especially Ryan Murphy): CULTS. Take it away, Person Whose Name I Changed Because You Used Your Real One:

Dear Pajiba,

How do you join a cult? From the news it seems like they’re everywhere, trying to lure people in, but I never get invited. I tried to google “join a cult nyc” but got nowhere.

Doing It Wrong

Look, before we begin, let me just acknowledge that being in a cult and escaping from a cult is a serious business. Not all cults end like Heaven’s Gate, and there are many stories of people who didn’t even realize that they were a part of a cult until they left — if they left. Cults prey on belief and a need to belong. They may be defined by a shared devotion and worship, sure — but they also are often authoritarian, secretive, and exclusive. Anyone who isn’t a member, who doesn’t share the same beliefs, is wrong.

And it’s with that definition in mind that I’d like to answer your question. If you really are serious about joining a cult — which we TOTALLY DON’T ADVISE — it shouldn’t be that hard! Have you considered opening your mind to some of the more pedestrian, everyday groups that may qualify? There’s Scientology, of course, which I think starts with an e-meter reading and ends with an appearance on Leah Remini’s show.

Other options, if you’re so inclined, include:

- CrossFit
- Bikram Yoga
- Spin Class
- Veganism
- Improv comedy class
- Diets (such as Slimming World, which actually calls naughty foods “syns” so you have to, um, “count your syns”…)
- Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) schemes, also called pyramid selling, network marketing, and referral marketing. You know the stuff. They sell a way of life, make you feel like you belong, get you on the hook and prosthelytizing to friends, and can make leaving a financially ruinous endeavor. (*coughLulaRoecoughcough*)

Last week’s episode of TED Radio Hour on NPR featured a convincing argument that technology, the internet, social media — all of it is manipulative and, basically, cult-like.

And speaking of of the internet: PAJIBA! Ding ding ding — you’re already a member! Kool-Aid’s on us.

Basically, cults aren’t hard to find if you expand your definition to include things that don’t require visiting remote compounds. And if you still can’t find one you like? Just make one yourself! There are plenty of poor saps who’ll join you, especially if you include free cupcakes and booze in the proceedings. I mean, I’d sign up.


Ok, next question! Here we go, another serious one…

I have a beautiful and intelligent granddaughter whose parents recently had to relocate to Washington DC, She is quite short for her age (9) and grade (4) and finds herself teased and told by “mean girls” in her school to go to the baby bathroom downstairs. She is a gentle and sensitive girl who loves to read, Her parents are wonderful at trying to help and make her life feel good about herself but it is not enough. Can you think of any age-appropriate come backs or responses?

Dear Random Grandparent,

First off: Is there even such a thing as a “baby bathroom” at her school? If not, can she just respond by pointing that out?

Look, we can DEFINITELY think of comebacks for your granddaughter. Are they age appropriate? Sure, if you swap out some of the saltier language for terms like “jerk.” But here’s the thing: feeding lines to a kid almost never works out. We’re adults. We’re just not on the same wavelength anymore. And if we try to be, it’ll still read false. And sometimes even if a kid comes up with the comeback themselves, it won’t help — it will just help reinforce to the bullies that they’ve struck a nerve, and to continue.

When I got picked on as a kid, I usually laughed it off. Mostly because I had a weird sense of self that was impervious to wisecracks about the size of my nose or whatever (in fact, one time I literally responded with “Really? That’s the best you can come up with?” and walked away). But not every kid can do that — and frankly, if she wasn’t getting teased for her size it might be something else. Kids are mean. And bullies in particular seem to sense and target weakness. So anything you can do to build her confidence and help her not take the teasing to heart (or at least not take it to heart in front of the other kids) may help them lose interest in her. Ignoring them and walking away, however hard, is a good response. Bullies hate it if they aren’t getting to you.

But it’s also important to teach her that, while she may not want to show it in the moment, it’s ok to feel hurt and to come home and talk about it, because words matter. And learning what it feels like to hurt can help teach her not do the same to someone else. If she does feel insecure about her size, regardless of the bullying, it may help to find other ways to show that size doesn’t matter. That there are plenty of successful, talented people who may be on the short side, or that there are even advantages to being small! Dustin recommended the book Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, to help put this all in perspective for her. It’s also being made into a movie soon! Here’s the trailer, if you’re in the mood for some spontaneous crying:

It might be useful to point out that kids who tease are usually insecure and have low self-esteem themselves. She may be new to the school, but she might be able to start identifying the insecurities these bullies are trying to mask by lashing out at her — and it may become easier to ignore them if she realizes she can sympathize and that we ALL have flaws. They may be assholes, but it might be harder to take them seriously if she can see them for what they are. And let’s face it — to a certain extent, getting picked on can (sadly) be a useful learning experience. We are all going to deal with assholes in our lives, so learning how to cope with them early isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s hard to look a kid in the eye and say “get used to it” because that’s not really the point, but this could be an opportunity to look a kid in the eye and say “this might not be the last time in your life you have to deal with a jerk, and how you handle it says a lot about you. Who do you want to be?” And remember that it’s ok for her to make a mistake! We may know that walking away is the best, but maybe she needs to try a few bad retorts first to learn that for herself.

Of course, this is all assuming there isn’t a physical element to the bullying, in which case ignoring is harder but violence is still not the answer. Trust me, I heard about some serious schoolyard brawls from various staff members, involving getting bullied and retaliation, and they all agreed that it’s the worst. And sometimes all you can do is endure it. Whatever form the bullying takes — verbal, physical, even getting excluded from social groups — it’s ok to talk to teachers or administrators to make them aware of the issue. Maybe it isn’t severe enough to warrant a meeting with the other kids and their parents, but it could be enough to have a teacher more closely monitoring the situation and stepping in if need be. Your granddaughter can also go and get help in the moment, or find friends to stick around with in a sort of buddy system. There are a lot of studies showing that bullying is a problem for younger kids, like your granddaughter, and can have far-reaching impacts as they get older (here is an article that might help). And that’s even without factoring in social media! So I think you’re right to be concerned, but there are other options to explore before you go soliciting scripted retorts on the internet.

Ok, we’re almost done! I’ve saved this final inquiry, one that is near and dear to my heart, for last.

Dear Overlords,

I typically have a lot of free time on my hands. I used this free time well by watching all of the TV. Well, not all of it. I still haven’t seen Westworld, but by and large I was able to keep up with most of what pop culture demanded of me.

This all changed last month when I started teaching twice a week, began an evening MBA program, started several projects that actually require me to get work done while at work, and found myself no longer in a long distance relationship due to the second party in said relationship moving a mere hour away from me, thus increasing the amount of time dedicated to that. To top it all off, my friends remain as demanding as ever.

Needless to say, my television viewing has been slipping. What do I do? Quit my job(s)? Quit school? Dump my boyfriend? Ditch my friends? I’ve already taken grocery shopping out of my weekly routine but that only gives me enough time to keep up on You’re the Worst and Better Things as I eat takeout. How do I fit Peak TV into my radically altered life?

Thanks for the help,


First off, NoTime — congrats on having a life! I don’t know what that’s like, but it sounds… you know, fine I guess? To each their own, etc. etc.

Basically, fuck Peak TV. Don’t let the insane amount of television programming get you down! If there are shows that you personally enjoy staying up to date on, you’ll find a way. There’s DVR, and Apple TV, and all sorts of methods to catch up on shows at your own leisure. Watch as you go to sleep, during meals, at the gym, or on Saturday mornings. And if you’re curious about new shows, maybe give the first episode a shot. And then check back in a few months down the line to see if it still seems worth it. But don’t feel beholden to staying on top of everything unless you’re genuinely interested in something. This could be your opportunity to cut ties with mediocre “maintenance” viewing of shows you’ve kept up with just because, well, you’ve already stuck with them thus far.

If you’re concerned about missing out on some sort of cultural zeitgeist around a particular new show, then spend a few minutes reading episode recaps or looking it up on Wikipedia. There are plenty of programs I haven’t watched but know enough about to fake it in a conversation. Hell, there are shows I actively don’t watch but LOVE reading recaps of (Riverdale).

And this may sound like a dick move but I’ll say it: maybe plan viewing parties with friends/loved ones to knock out two birds with one stone. Or ditch your friends for some “me time” — that’s ok! And advised seriously by several staff members! If they care, they’ll understand that you just need to unwind in front of the TV with your pajamas on. And if you’re teaching, maybe you can fit an episode of something relevant into your lesson? Or plan a project around a series you want to watch so you HAVE to watch it?

Also, I’d like to share this handy viewing guide, created by our esteemed boss:

“THE ROWLES SLEEP TEST: You can watch all the television, or you can sleep. PICK ONE. If you’re willing to sleep 5-6 hours a night, you can fit most of it in.

Also, you save the stuff you are least looking forward to until around 1 a.m., or so, and if you persistently fall asleep during it, then that’s the show you quit.”

Look, the only show that demands immediate attention is Game of Thrones, simply because it’s virtually impossible to avoid spoilers. Everything else you can binge when you have time and the desire to do so, as long as you’re a little careful about what you read online.

But all of this advice is moot, because you STILL HAVEN’T WATCHED WESTWORLD. WTF are you doing reading this shit? Go watch robot cowboy fights!


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Tori Preston is deputy editor of Pajiba. She rarely tweets here but she promises she reads all the submissions for the "Ask Pajiba (Almost) Anything" column at [email protected]. You can also listen to her weekly TV podcast, Podjiba