John Waters is a very smart guy despite being (aptly) introduced as director of "tasteless movies". It is interesting how he sees his humor and art with what the Manson gang did. But what caught my attention was the role that millenarianism played in the minds of Charles Manson's followers. They truly believed that the world was coming to an end - and that Manson was the perfect leader for them - hence they offered their complete allegiance to him.
These end-of-times cults just keep rearing their heads. I'm currently listening to lectures on The Terror of History: Mystics, Heretics, and Witches in the Western Tradition by Teofilo F. Ruiz. He traces the roots of the apocalyptic thinking all the way back to the Persian/Iranian concepts of time and the endless struggle between good and evil. In the Epic of Gilgamesh (written at least 2000 BCE and the source for several stories in the Book of Genesis), time was cyclical and repetitive. However, around 1500 BCE (though this date is disputed and 11th/10th century BCE is more widely accepted), Zoroaster taught of good and evil in Avesta - and the fight between them that leads to the end of time it self. Thus, time is linear here. It is this notion of time that the monotheistic traditions have adopted - thus they have a definite beginning and an end. The followers of these religions are now waiting for their own ultimate end-of-time victory.
The appeal for such an idea is obvious - all bets are off when it is the battle for the end of time in a literal sense. We also see modern twists to it - like the mass-suicides committed by the members of Heaven's Gate in 1997 and the silliness associated with 2012, when Mayan calendar, just like a speedometer, turns over all zeroes. Hopefully, other than some bad Hollywood films, we won't see much Heaven's Gate like craziness in the year 2012. Too bad - Manson and his followers didn't use films as an outlet for their madness.
(By the way, while we are on the topic, also check out this earlier post on Newton's calculation of the apocalypse).
In any case, listen to John Waters interview here. Here is the description of the show:
Forty years ago, in August 1969, Charles Manson and his cult of followers gained national attention when they embarked on a brutal murder spree in California.
Film director John Waters was one of those fascinated with the murders. In 1985, while working on a Rolling Stone article about Manson, Waters contacted Leslie Van Houten, a Manson follower who was serving a life sentence for her participation in the killing of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca. Van Houten, who was 19 at the time of the crime, declined the interview request, but she and the director struck up a friendship.
Waters devotes a chapter to Van Houten in his upcoming book Role Models, about people who have inspired him. He argues that Van Houten, who now takes full responsibility for her part in the murders and has led an exemplary life in prison, deserves to be released on parole.