He eventually got hold of his birth mother who said that she wasn’t sure who his dad was (remember the orgy)—until she took a look at him, and pegged Manson as papa. At some point, Roberts was suddenly hit by the realization that he was living quite close to Spahn Ranch -- the Manson Family headquarters. “‘That blew my mind,’ Roberts says. ‘Here I am, right near where all that stuff took place. Here I am, playing in a band, dating strippers, conspiring to take over the world, and I’m like Oh, my God. Do I have any freewill at all? You know, I’m, like following in this guy’s footsteps completely! That really freaked me out. I was in a spot where you can’t really tell anyone because you’re gonna look like a crazy person.’” (Read the full interview here.)
It sounds like Roberts was especially freaked out by the realization that he had moved so close to the Mason family ranch. That was, after all, his first point of comparison (“Here I am, right near where all that stuff took place”)—but even beyond that, note all of his metaphorical comparisons to place: “here I am” in reference to current activities (playing in a band, etc.); “I’m … following in this guy’s footsteps” in reference to life’s pursuits; and “I was in a spot” in reference to a quandary.
This sense of geographically-induced epiphany really meshed with the LoS obsession with decoding "place" -- so I’ve dwelt on this story a bit (so to speak). There are any number of ways to interpret this tale: perhaps Roberts is a lying publicity hound, or perhaps it's all true but there's a Manson-ic weirdness about it. Let's chase down a more interesting path: it's possible that Roberts is simply delusional -- and, well, as it turns out, there are handful of syndromes that are triggered by places. The French, for some reason, seem to have a better handle on describing this category of conditions (or at least it appears that way when I try to read about it on the internet); they call it syndrome du voyageur; specific syndromes include Jerusalem Syndrome, Florence Syndrome (more widely known as Stendhal Syndrome), Paris Syndrome, and Indian Syndrome.
I’m going to focus here for a bit on Jerusalem Syndrome, because it feels to me like it is the most relevant to the son of Manson tale, as it is particularly wacky, particularly dangerous, and particularly malleable to my gross misinterpretation. This has been a bit of rabbit hole for me lately; jump on in and let me be your guide.
An article in the British Journal of Psychiatry (BJ of P) identifies three types of manifestations of the Jerusalem Syndrome. “Type III” Jerusalem syndrome is best suited for our purposes. It manifests itself among tourists who have no previous symptoms of psychopathology but apparently simply go crazy in Jerusalem. At first they feel anxious. Then they ask to leave their tour group, go back to their hotel room, excessively groom themselves (clipping nails, etc.), strip their clothes and don their bedsheets in the form of a robe, go outside shouting bible verses or singing hymns, and finally move on to preaching on a religiously significant site. At some point along this series of stages, they come to believe that they are a manifestation of some important religious character—perhaps John the Baptizer, or Jesus. The syndrome culminates in a psychotic rampage, as the would-be holy man injures and perhaps even kills people, sets buildings on fire, etc. Later, after a couple weeks away from walking about Jerusalem, they go back to normal and forget that the whole thing even happened.
In one notorious case in 1969, Denis Michael Rohan tried to set fire to al-Aqsa mosque and caused significant damage, leading to massive rioting and international political repercussions. The mosque is one of the holiest sites in Islam -- and it is also regarded by some to be in the way of the construction of the Third Temple, a key eschatological concern among some groups of fundamentalist Christians.
According to that BJ of P articled linked above, between 1980 and 1993, “1,200 tourists with severe, Jerusalem-themed mental problems were referred to” Kfar Shaul Mental Health Centre. And apparently this full series of steps (except, perhaps, for the last one) happened 42 times over a period of 13 years -- a figure that will cause the numerologically aware to sit up and listen (although I’m not going to tell you why, bwahh-ha, ha, ha!).
There are two widely accepted theories concerning the cause of Jerusalem Syndrome -- and a third theory that is less mainstream.
The first popular theory involves the idea that people are simply overwhelmed by being immersed in what they consider to be holy places -- compounded with the various stresses of travel like culture shock, lack of sleep etc. -- and they snap. This same basic interpretation is pretty much the same explanation given to the other syndromes du voyageur. You see, people go to Florence and are dumbstruck by the beauty. Or people (more specifically, Japanese women) go to France and are dumbstruck by the crassness and the lack of cobblestoned streets. Or people go to India and go nuts because it’s crowded.
The second theory is that it’s bullshit. There are two key arguments here. First, people go crazy everywhere, so do we really see a statistically significantly increase in tourists going batshit in Jerusalem? Second, nobody has fully documented the background of the “sufferers” of Jerusalem syndrome—so how can we be sure that all these people weren’t delusion before going to Jerusalem? Bolstering this argument is idea that Jerusalem serves as a magnet for people who were already suffering from religiously-tinged psychosis.
The third theory -- the one that’s not mainstream -- is much more interesting. Suppose that Jerusalem itself actually causes people to become (or believe that they have become) holy people -- completely independently of the cultural and religious significance of the area? That doesn’t make sense until you understand where the argument is headed: Was Jesus just a man who was struck by Jerusalem Syndrome which made him believe he was a holy man -- like Paul, thunderstruck on the road and suddenly, "Pow"! He's super evangelist!
Here LoS obsessions bisect the curious case of Roberts. And we have many questions.
For starters, is there a California Syndrome (not that one) that turns you all kookoo? We're treading here, I think, on Philip K. Dick's turf -- for he believed that modern day CA was actually ancient Rome, masked by aliens to confuse us poor souls. CA has certainly long been a magnet: conquistadors drawn to the seven cities, ‘49-ers drawn to gold, dust-bowlers and immigrants drawn to a land of plenty, hippies drawn to the summer of love. Each of these dreams has a nightmarish side: the genocide of the natives, ‘49-ers piled into make-shift towns full of violence, dust-bowlers and immigrants trapped into slavery, the Manson family murders.
One of the really disturbing things about Roberts is that I get the sense that he really *wants* to be Manson’s son. It’s like we are seeing in Roberts someone drawn to the dark side of CA. This is a complete reversal: Instead of a dreamer sucked in and shattered, we have someone actually drawn to the destruction. Maybe this is why it is almost comforting to think of Roberts as a lying publicity hound. Then we can pigeon-hole him as chasing the dream, seeking to be a rock star, and we can sense a “justified” fate in his future, where his lies lead to a dark turn. But if he is drawn to the darkness of CA … does this mean that the dream has changed and we’re a society seeking destruction -- or is does it just mean that Roberts is simply nuts?
Of course it’s much more fun to imagine a CA syndrome, to imagine that CA itself casts a spell, the actual place in-and-of-itself, completely separate from the cultural icon it has become. Maybe it’s the geography: The deep dark stillness of the red wood valleys up north, or the bleak deserts in the south, or the end-of-the-earth feel to the Pacific lapping the western shores. Or maybe it’s a curse, perhaps bloody genocide or slavery or nukes have drafted our true manifest destiny: To chase dreams but catch nightmares.
Okay, okay, I know that I’m writing all hamfisted, dunce and clichéd. I slob here, and I’m sorry. So let me end by looking to a wonderful passage by someone else: Thomas Pynchon’s “Mason & Dixon”:
Oops, sorry, lost my bookmark. You'll have to find it for me.
Surely someone has made a XXX spoof off the Manson family called “Spawn Raunch” … or maybe that’s just entirely too tasteless…
I'm aware of a handful of other "place" syndromes that are less place-specific including:
* Ruben's syndrome--which is characterized by inappropriately, publicly sexualized behavior while viewing "high" art (like masturbating in front of a Ruben's painting in the middle of an Italian museum)--and is arguably as localized in Rome as Stendhal's syndrome is in Venice.
* Airport syndrome, in which previously "normal" folk basically get all wacked out at an airport, bumping into people, temporary amnesia, etc.
* Mean World Syndrome is perhaps stretching the definition of "place" too far?
If you've heard of other geo-triggers or place-related-syndromes, let me know; I'm curious.