Astro TV in Holland: Spirituality, Power and Gender
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In the Netherlands a two-hour spiritual television show called Astro TV is broadcast daily on a commercial channel. I analyse the power and gender relations in and underlying this programme on the basis of my anthropological observations with reference to the theories of Bourdieu, Wood, Woodhead and others. In the show clients can call in and have a short consultation with a “spiritual specialist”, usually a psychic. On the surface such shows are very much like the presentations that psychics held at paranormal fairs in the 1990s. Both in the television show and in real consultations the psychics do dominate somewhat because of their claim to channel special signs or messages from “beyond” – they act like magicians. However, clients can reject the message or debate its meaning. Backstage a large and obscure pool of psychics, alternative healers and counsellors, publishers and businesspeople use divination programmes and other mass media presentations to supply a large public with holistic spirituality. On this second level real power is exerted more or less anonymously and commercially. Nevertheless, the divination practice appears to offer psychological support to the mainly working-class women who participate in it. Besides, both clients and psychics enjoy such practices, for instance as entertainment. Although religious symbolism is frequently used in such divinations, they should not be seen as a form of religion (because they lack worship), but as secular spirituality.
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