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Psychic Mediums Like Monica Ten-Kate Are Lying Frauds: A Retraction

In the 1800s, nearly 200,000 Chinese citizens immigrated to the United States as indentured laborers, most coming from a life of peasantry. They brought with them various Eastern medicines, including snake oil. That oil came from the Chinese water snake and was a legitimate treatment for joint pain, but today its name is synonymous with charlatanism, the act of peddling bullshit to unsuspecting victims for personal gain.

When the laborers shared their mystical medicine with Americans, their new countrymen were enamored with the snake oil. When Americans tried to capitalize on the medical benefits of snake oil by using rattlesnakes, however, the reputation of snake oil salesmen took a turn for the worst. Clark Stanley, also known as The Rattlesnake King, was the original snake oil salesman. His popular product was later found to have no snake oil in it at all, and Stanley became just one of many Americans profiting off of phony tonics and faux medicine.

Much like Stanley, today’s snake oil salesmen sell lies to the earnest and unsuspecting. From televangelists like Peter Popoff to self-purported mediums like Theresa Caputo, the growth of technology and media have allowed modern Clark Stanleys to prey on more victims than ever before.

As we reported yesterday, Monica Ten-Kate, the “Penn State Medium,” is indeed getting her own reality show on ABC Family — if nothing else, that much is true. Unfortunately, in trying to provide a relevant piece of news to the Penn State community, we inadvertently promoted one of the most fraudulent, predatory practices around: psychic readings. Our mission statement promises that Onward State will work to generate honest conversation in the hopes of enriching the Penn State community and experience. Yesterday’s article did not do that, and we hope to rectify that. We apologize for the oversight, and are issuing a full retraction of that piece.

After we published the article, Ten-Kate and her publicists requested that we “correct” several parts, claiming there were errors. She was absolutely right. There were significant mistakes in our piece. Instead of reporting critically, we presented her implausible assertions at face value, and implied that Ten-Kate can actually speak to the dead. In reality, she most certainly can’t talk to the dead, because that’s quite simply impossible. Anyone who claims to have that power is a liar. We apologize for any confusion or ire this may have caused amongst our readership, and we appreciate your comments.

Calling this “reality” series unscripted is untrue, as the entire nature of a medium is to play off of a script. That is because mediums do not have any supernatural powers, and everything they are doing when they “read” a person or conduct a seance is just a mediocre acting job. The common tricks of the cold read can be performed by anyone who dropped out of their local improv class. These techniques are simple conditioning methods, like utilizing the client’s own knowledge of their loved one to create a more vivid “vision,” throwing out various questions until one produces a promising return, and reading body language to figure out if the “reading” is eliciting the desired response. Like so many of her fellow frauds, Ten-Kate claims she can speak with those who have “crossed over,” a centuries-old tall tale now used to prey on those who are seeking closure, forgiveness, and whatever else one might seek after the death of a loved one.

When we profiled Ten-Kate last fall, she said: “The best part of being a medium is the gift I get to give people that I read…Just being able to see their face change from sadness to tears of joy from hearing from their loved ones is probably one of the best feelings I could ever have.”

On the surface, that cause seems noble — providing comfort to those who have lost someone important to them. But doing so by claiming you have the power to talk to loved ones who have passed away, and then profiting off of that by way of, say, a television show, is pure exploitation. Sometimes, you can knock the hustle. Taking advantage of grieving and sorrowful people is a disgusting exploitation of emotion and the human condition.

Ten-Kate’s website says she became so booked up with reading requests in recent months, she had to stop scheduling sessions. It’s unfortunate that she has not instead chosen to permanently stop defrauding people for personal gain, and even more unfortunate that ABC Family has decided to dedicate an entire television program to the concept. Just as we, in error, helped legitimize what is a crooked fabrication by publishing an article about it, so too will ABC Family. It’s an indication of just how desperate networks are for cheap programming that appeals to the coveted 18-35 market.

It may seem relatively innocuous without context, but those of us who understand the deception at its core, but choose to play along with these “psychics” because it seems like harmless fun, are in fact enabling con artists. We are allowing chicanery to substitute for real, tangible help for those struggling to cope with the death of someone close to them. We are, in a sense, willful accomplices to scam, and we are doing more damage than we could ever know.

Psychic mediums and their ilk are one of the most abhorrent cottage industries around. From the loathsome Long Island Medium, to Joel Osteen’s megachurch televangelism profiteering scheme, to John Edward’s cold readings, to Miss Cleo’s pay-per-call deception, the entire industry is built on the shameful idea of profiting off of those who most need solace. Taking advantage of the emotional state of another human being through explicitly deceitful means for your own personal betterment is a vile way to live, let alone make a living. And we’re hardly the first ones to point this out.

Harry Houdini, the greatest escape artist to ever live, dedicated his final years to exposing charlatans. David Copperfield, the world’s most famous illusionist and he of the $800mm empire, has long rejected any notion that he can perform superhuman feats. Penn and Teller are not only world-renowned magicians, but professional skeptics who starred in a TV show dedicated to debunking claims exactly like Ten-Kate’s. And James Randi, the retired magician who has made it his life’s work to challenge those who claim paranormal powers, has a one million dollar reward waiting for “any person who demonstrates any psychic, supernatural, or paranormal ability under satisfactory observation.” It has remained unclaimed since 1964, despite numerous attempts by high-profile frauds. But really, it’s just common sense: Nobody can talk to the dead, regardless of what they claim.

However, I do have a sixth sense for bullshit, and right now it’s going off.

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About the Author

Noel Purcell

Noel Purcell is Onward State's Features Editor. He's a senior Supply Chain major, but is going to law school at some point in the future and masquerades as a writer for now. He continues to disappoint his ancestors by being a complete Irish stereotype. His email is [email protected] because there were no other Noels before him. His ex-wife got the good half of his bio in the divorce settlement.

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