Culture

Christy Carlson Romano Shares How She Almost Joined A Cult

By Meghan Dillon··  5 min read
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Christy Carlson Romano Shares How She Almost Joined A Cult instagram
@thechristycarlsonromano

Our cultural obsession with cults is similar to our cultural obsession with celebrities, and the two are often connected.

In one of her latest YouTube videos, former Disney Channel star and content creator Christy Carlson Romano shared her experience with cults and cult-like organizations while living in Hollywood.

Cult-Like Acting Classes, Hollywood, and Scientology

Last summer, former Smallville actress Allison Mack was sentenced to three years in prison for her role in the NXIVM cult. Desperate for a sense of community, Mack joined NXIVM in 2006 when it promoted itself as a self-help group, and in 12 years she went from attending orientation to branding and sexually exploiting other women in the cult under the authority of NXIVM leader Keith Raniere. Though Mack’s story is extreme, it’s common for celebrities to join cults or cult-like organizations to find a sense of community. Romano experienced this personally in an elite acting class that eventually led her to attend an orientation seminar for the Church of Scientology.

In her video, Romano describes some acting classes she took while she was in Hollywood that sound both cult-like and exploitative. She felt indoctrinated into the teachings of the school because classes were taught by well-known teachers, but these teachers were infamous for flirting and having inappropriate relationships with their students. Though these relationships might seem fine because they’re between two consenting adults, it’s important to remember that these students often felt obliged to please their teachers and feared that saying no could ruin their experience in class or their careers, making the relationships coercive by nature.

Romano goes on to blame the teachers for creating the toxic and cult-like environment in class. Teachers would ignore the imbalance of power between teacher and student, and sexually exploit vulnerable students by convincing them their careers would be in jeopardy if they didn’t hook up with their teacher. Teachers would also break down their students' egos, presumably to shape them into actors, which Romano argues is completely unnecessary. The goal of these teachers wasn’t to create strong actors, but to take advantage of vulnerable students and keep them coming back for more. Romano says that she’s had more success with one-on-one acting classes with teachers she trusted and encourages aspiring actors to do the same to avoid being exploited.

She describes how the students were encouraged to spend time with each other outside of class, often leading to a culture of drinking and casual hookups. When those relationships resulted in pain and awkwardness, it negatively impacted their personal experience in acting class. But the teachers didn’t care, as long as the class was able to continue.

The goal of these teachers wasn’t to create strong actors, but to take advantage of vulnerable students.

One day, classmates invited Romano to go to an orientation session for the Church of Scientology after experiencing a breakup with a fellow classmate. She attended orientation at the Scientology Celebrity Center in Hollywood (yes, they actually have a celebrity center), where she saw many fellow celebrities attending orientation and taking classes. Her interest was piqued by their methods of self-help and organization, but she didn’t take their classes after attending orientation. She believes the Church of Scientology preys on vulnerable people looking for community and structure, making it easy to fall into the spell of a cult.

Scientology’s Weird Relationship with Hollywood

Scientology and Hollywood have a strange relationship. Prominent celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta are known for being outspoken Scientologists, so much that the church allegedly drove a wedge between Tom Cruise and ex-wife Katie Holmes, causing them to divorce in 2012. Though Scientology has celebrity cheerleaders, other celebrities like Leah Remini have left the church and consider it to be a cult instead of a religion. Remini went as far as creating her own docuseries, Leah Remini: Scientology and The Aftermath, which exposed the corruption of Scientology and how they abused their members, and how they exploited the vulnerable. Unfortunately, this is a common practice in cults.

How Cults Exploit the Most Vulnerable

Romano pointed out that the predatory teachers in her acting classes and Scientology targeted people who were at their most vulnerable, like those suffering from depression or recovering from substance abuse, and this is no accident. This is because cults thrive on exploiting the vulnerable by offering them a sense of community and something to believe in.

Cults thrive on exploiting the vulnerable by offering them a sense of community and something to believe in.

Psychologist and cult expert Stevan A. Hassan writes, “No one joins a cult voluntarily; they are recruited into it. There is lack of informed consent. Everyone has vulnerabilities. Possible situational vulnerabilities include illness, the death of a loved one, breakup of an important relationship, loss of a job, or moving to another city, state, or country. Individual vulnerabilities may include high hypnotizability, strong ability for concentration and vivid imagination, learning disorders, or autism spectrum disorders. Excessive use of hypnosis, meditation, and other activities can induce an altered state of consciousness. These, in turn, increase susceptibility to being recruited by a cult unless there are strong critical thinking, media literacy, and good supportive network, which can help a person stay grounded.”

In short, cults thrive on exploiting the vulnerability of prospective followers to grow. In a place like Hollywood, where most are insecure or vulnerable, no wonder it’s a breeding ground for cults.

Closing Thoughts

Though most Americans see Hollywood as a glamorous place, it’s home to some of the most insecure people. This leads people to find community and purpose in unorthodox ways, which often turn into cults. Though Christy Carlson Romano got lucky and didn’t get indoctrinated into Scientology, her story is a perfect example of how easy it is for a Hollywood celebrity to fall under the spell of a cult.

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