Lately, I've been discovering a surprising number of my acquaintances have participated in The Landmark Forum. By "surprising number" I mean, of course, two. But even two seems like a big number, considering the first I'd heard of this program was approximately four months ago.
I don't really know how to describe the program, but I suppose it's like one of those self-actualization seminars. If you watched Six Feet Under religiously, as I did - instead of "working on yourself", of course - you might remember the seminar Mrs. Fisher attended halfway through last season. That was perhaps a slightly loopier version of The Forum, but I'm sure both the real and fictional seminars leave the same fuzzy taste in the mouths of cynics. In fact, that taste might be familiar to some of you. If you roll it around on your tongue for a bit you'll find it tastes almost exactly like bullshit.
To be fair, I can't say for certain The Forum is bullshit because I've never really investigated it, and right now I don't have a better plan for self-actualization. It's not like my rigorous program of existential crises alternating with bourbon and Snickers binges is getting me any closer to "Illuminlightenment!™" or whatever The Forum promises. I can say that it confuses me a bit, though. I've noticed several unusual things that come up in people's discussion of this program. First, no one seems to have had a bad time. It's like hypnotism - if you're suggestive enough at that moment, you'll believe in it. Fine. I would hope it would result in a good time. I have no interest in knocking down people who are actually benefitting from their particular belief system. But here's the funny thing...
Whenever you ask friends how the program helped them, the answer is never really satisfying. No one has ever told me The Forum helped them save a puppy or buy a Camaro. The victories are always smaller, weirder. Like, "I finally started a blog!" or "Just three weeks after The Forum I was honored as 'The World's Greatest Grandma' with a commemorative nightshirt."
The Forum also seems to lack the advertising punch and celebrity weight of Scientology. On two separate occasions, I learned of a friend's involvement with The Forum because they let it slip that they had begun hanging out with a really low-rung celebrity. In one instance it was the nerdy character from Saved by the Bell, but it wasn't Screech. It was the other nerdy character - the one who only appeared in cut scenes by the lockers. Another time, I had a friend tell me she'd just went to a party with The Unknown Comic, The Real Roxanne, and the guy who provides the voice for Charlie Tuna. This inevitably led to a discussion about The Forum, and made me both curious and skeptical. And let's not forget deliciously horny!! (wink!)
As long as it doesn't cross legal or ethical lines, I try to fully support my friends' decisions. But I can't help being somewhat taken aback when someone confesses to completing The Forum. I usually read a sense of bottled-up excitement (with perhaps a shade of guilt, too) coming from them when the news comes out, and I cannot help but react with both shock and embarrassment. It's like being friends with someone for ten years and suddenly discovering he or she is "swings". Or, even worse, it's like suddenly discovering a friend "swing-dances". From that moment forward, you're going to see him slightly differently and you're always going to wonder, in the back of your mind, "is this person trying to get me to join him? Do I have to buy a zoot suit now?"