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This weekend we’re watching: astrology, love and mass delusion

This weekend we’re watching: astrology, love and mass delusion
Walter Mercado -Mucho Mucho Amor (Image Kino Lorber, Netflix)

Mucho Mucho Amor is a documentary about an astrological icon who preached love and kindness, amassed millions of followers, influenced the political decisions of the president of the United States,and was implicated in the telephonic scamming of millions of poor and desperate people in Latino communities.

Astrology has a reputation for being harmless. Many secular communities see it as playful fun, and religious communities put up with it since it doesn’t seem to pose a significant threat to their power, but this might show a lack of foresight on both parts. This weekend we’re watching a documentary about an astrological icon who preached love and kindness, skyrocketed support in astrology, influenced the political decisions of a former US President, and was implicated in the telephonic scamming of millions of poor and desperate people.

Mucho Mucho Amor

Imagine fusing David Bowie, Benicio Del Toro and your grandmother. If you’re having trouble picturing this person then you’ve probably never heard of Walter Mercado, a flamboyant androgynous Puerto Rican astrologer and TV personality who died in November of 2019.

Walter Mercado – Mucho Mucho Amor (Image Kino Lorber, Netflix)

Mercado was shrouded in mysticism his entire life. As a young child, his mother passed him off as a spiritual healer. Locals in his rural Puerto Rican village would come to him for good luck. As a young adult he dabbled in dance and starred in tella novellas, but by the late Sixties, Walter Mercado was hosting one of the most popular television shows in Puerto Rico.

During Mercado’s shows, he would perform motivational horoscopes while dressed in extravagant and beautiful jewellery, makeup, and a cape; and at the end of each episode he famously signed off with a dramatic “mucho mucho amor!”. (lots and lots of love!) He was essentially a motivational speaker who spoke for the universe, the self-ordained “prophet of the new age”. There was nothing like him on television at the time and he quickly amassed a colossal following.

Mercado might be one of the most benevolent cult leaders in history. He was not in it for the money, and he certainly was not in it for astrology – he saw astrology as a means towards two ends: influencing people to watch his shows, and influencing people to be good to one another. “I want to mesmerise people… the people love all that kind of stupid things. So I used the stupid things, to teach, to help, to give”.

Mercado openly admitted that his horoscopes were improvised. He would sometimes record up to 10 episodes in a single weekend, each of which would be released as if they were current. But his viewers were either ignorant of that, or simply didn’t mind. What they really wanted was encouragement. In all his content, he never said anything negative. Never. He was the news broadcaster we all wish existed, the messenger who only ever has good news.

More important than the thumb-sucked reassurance he gave people on his show was what he meant to the LGBTQ+ community.

“Walter was very beloved and very much a part of the culture, but he would also get folded into gay jokes. He was embraced and othered at the same time.” Here was an idiosyncratic gender non-conforming asexual person, thriving within a deeply homophobic culture. He was a beacon of hope.

The other reason people tuned into Walter Mercado was for the glamorous outfits. People are sometimes impressionable. They don’t always care about what’s real, they care about what’s fun and uplifting, and Mercado himself was unashamed of the superficial interest of his support base. “He had his look. So did Elvis, so did Liberace. So did the Pope. If it doesn’t look good, we’re not even going to listen.” That is a quote from Bill Bakula, the man responsible for the end of Walter Mercado.

Bakula was Mercado’s agent. He wasn’t interested in astrology or kitsch fashion, what he was interested in was Walter Mercado’s humongous following. Through Mercado’s brand, Bakula is responsible for the largest telephonic psychic service scam of all time, which capitalised mostly off of poor and desperate people in Latino communities. Bakula’s thirst for a buck was also Mercado’s downfall – he managed to convince Mercado into literally signing his name away.

Before you watch Mucho Mucho Amor, you should watch the episode of Explained on Astrology.

***

Explained 

If you don’t know Explained, you are in for a treat. Explained is a Netflix docuseries produced by Vox which unpacks topics such as monogamy or the racial wealth gap in short informative standalone episodes. Many of these episodes are available on Youtube but unfortunately the episode on astrology is not.

Explained: Astrology investigates why people are so fascinated with astrology even when they don’t believe in it. Egocentrism is a typical human characteristic, so it makes sense that more people would be attracted to religious and mystic belief systems which place them at the figurative centre of the universe, rather than scientific belief systems in which humans are portrayed as an insignificant cog in a magnificent machine. Indeed, Galileo’s assertion that the earth revolved around the sun rather than vice-versa threatened the existence of astrology in the West.

Today, the West is secularising, and this is likely the source of astrology’s growing popularity. Astrology provides a similar comfort to religion, but it does not share the brutal history and stringent restrictions of mainstream faiths. Because of this, astrology is not nearly as controversial as mainstream religions, but the problem is that it still requires faith in unscientific concepts, making it potentially less harmless than people sometimes think.

American astrologer Chani Nicholas describes horoscopes as “a gateway drug”. Once you are willing to accept an unproven idea, and nobody challenges you on it, you are far more likely to accept something even more preposterous.

When you’re watching Mucho Mucho Amor, you might find yourself thinking: “Even if this is all bogus, he’s preaching love and he’s not hurting anybody. If it makes people happy, why not leave them be?”  

And indeed, in the case of Walter Mercado, the world is lucky that he didn’t use his influence in more nefarious ways, as so many spiritual leaders have done before and will inevitably do in the future. But there is always a danger when, under the flag of ‘love and kindness’, people get trapped into giving away their faith, their beliefs, their belongings, and sometimes even much more, to the leaders they rally behind. DM/ ML

Found a little-known gem of a film which you absolutely love? Send a recommendation to [email protected]

Missed last week’s review?  read it now.

This weekend we’re watching: Solace in Solitude

To see what’s new on Showmax in July, click here.

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