The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Sci-Fi 'psychic'
John Edward is a
good poker player

October 12, 2000
By Franklin Harris

I've found that most science fiction fans are skeptics. By "skeptics" I mean people who don't believe in UFOs, psychic powers or monsters under the bed. And by "science fiction fans" I mean more than simply people who know which episode of the original "Star Trek" featured a fight between Capt. Kirk and the Gorn. I mean people whose faces don't go blank at the mention of Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin or Ted Sturgeon.

Science fiction fans are not the Sci-Fi Channel's target audience. There aren't enough of us. If the Sci-Fi Channel catered just to our preferences, it would draw about as many viewers as the Oral Surgery Channel does.

(Don't check your TV Guide. I made the Oral Surgery Channel up, but you get the idea.)

The Sci-Fi Channel's target audience is much broader and includes lots of people who only think they are science fiction fans.

I point this out to explain why I'm not surprised that the Sci-Fi Channel is home to the paranormal "reality" series, "Crossing Over with John Edward."

As Sci-Fi's commercials say, "John Edward is a man with a singular gift." Of course, the commercials go on to say his gift is the power to contact the dead and reunite them with the living. Actually, it's more mundane than that.

He is a good poker player.

Skeptical Inquirer magazine devotes a few paragraphs of its September/October issue to Edward and his supposed psychic abilities. His methods are amazingly simple.

He asks his subjects leading questions and studies their faces, drawing out just enough information to let him know if he is getting warmer or colder as he describes a deceased loved one. He's like a poker player, reading faces to see who's bluffing. It helps, of course, if his subject is a blithering idiot, like, say, soap opera actress Linda Dano, as in this exchange recounted in the Skeptical Inquirer:

Edward (continuing on the subject of Dano's grandmother): "I'm getting 'Bo-bo.'"

Dano (perplexed): "Bo-bo?"

Edward: "Like two B's. B-B." (Dano is not making any connection with any human she knows.) "Wouldn't be a dog, would it?"

Dano: "Beebee?"

Edward: "Passed?"

Dano: "Yes!" (Dano pauses and a look of amazement crosses her face.) "No! I had a dog named 'Beebee'!"

Edward: "Passed?"

Dano: "You get dogs?"

Yes, he gets dogs, at least when he can't seem to latch onto a dead human.

There is nothing supernatural about what Edward does. It's called "cold reading," and it's an old carnival trick. Put Edward up against someone who has a good poker face and doesn't give him any helpful hints, and he'll suddenly find all the voices on the "other side" disturbingly silent.

Unsurprisingly, it's against the rules for Edward's audience members not to play along with him. It says so on his Web site:

"Validation Is Important! Since John does not know your friends and relatives, it's very important you give feedback. A simple nod of the head, a yes or no answer goes a long way in a reading. Please don't give more information than John asks for."

Heavens! Don't give John more information than he asks for! We don't want his parlor trick to seem too obvious!

But why doesn't John know your friends and relatives? Isn't he psychic?

Right now, people who believe in alleged psychics like Edward are shaking their heads sadly. They feel sorry for unbelievers like me. We come along with our nasty auras and closed minds, and the bad vibes we give off make it so difficult for wonderful men like Edward to work.

All psychics suffer from Tinkerbell Syndrome, you see. If you don't believe in them, their power fades away, but if you clap your hands and make a wish -- presto! They can tell your fortune and give you a message from your Great Aunt Tilly.

(She says don't forget to turn the iron off before you leave the house.)

The most amazing thing about John Edward is how truly bad he is at this psychic thing. He is so obviously manipulating his audience that only the desperate or desperately stupid could believe he's for real.

The only thing I can figure he has going for him is that he looks a bit like a grown-up version of Haley Joel Osment, the boy from "The Sixth Sense." And if little Haley can see dead people, why can't baby-faced John talk to them?

While skeptical science fiction fans may cringe to think that so many people believe in frauds like Edward, if "Crossing Over" must exist anywhere, at least it's on the Sci-Fi Channel.

The name says it all, with the emphasis on the "fiction."

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