E! about to debut new show starring a psychic “grief vampire”

As Susan Gerbic (head of Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia) reports on the Center for Inquiry site, the t.v. entertainment network E! is going the route of the History Channel—touting the paranormal. The “psychic” in question is one Tyler Henry, also touted as a “Celebrity Clairvoyant” or the “Hollywood Medium”, he’s very young (just 20) and good-looking, and has just been given his own show.

To wit, this is from Henry’s Facebook page; apparently the lad is endorsed and was presented by the odious Oprah-acolyte Dr. Phil:

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 8.11.06 AM 12509268_983084628431456_5589832842810470152_n

Now “E!” stands for “entertainment,” but Henry’s supposed ability to discern things about people (“cold readings”) and put them in touch with the dead are presented not as entertainment—like magicians who emphasize that they’re doing tricks, not real magic—but as REALITY.

From E! (here and here):

The small-town native is a medium extraordinaire to some of the biggest stars in Los Angeles!

E!’s latest series Hollywood Medium will document Tyler’s experiences as he uses his special clairvoyant abilities to give readings and connect celebrities like Jaime Pressly, Bella Thorne and Snooki with their loved ones on the other side.

“I really think I knew I was different when I was able to see and feel things that most people weren’t able to,” Tyler says in the teaser.

and

The celebrity clairvoyant may be able to communicate with the dead, but he has never learned to drive a car!

No, E!, he can’t communicate with the dead!

Referring to an interview with Henry conducted by Out magazine (Henry’s gay), Gerbic says this:

Here it is. The part that makes it clear whether he is a psychic entertainer who is up-front about his act or just another grief vampire. Henry tells the interviewer his goal for the future. It is to work with parents who have lost their children to suicide. I can feel my blood pressure increasing and the hackles on the back of my neck starting to rise. He isn’t just a grief vampire; he is aspiring to be one of the most despicable types of grief vampires, tying for first place with those who work as psychic detectives. These are the people who prey on families when they are the most desperate and vulnerable. I’m appalled that he thinks this is something to aspire to. Something to be proud of!

In the Out interview, Henry gives a bit of lip service to skepticism:

The skeptic in me wants to know if your gift has ever been criticized, or if you’ve been asked to prove your ability?

Lots of people feel either that [my gift needs] to be proven or that, on a personal level, they need the validation that their loved one is ok. Some people come to readings with a ‘prove-it-to-me’ mentality and others come with an openness.

I do inherently understand both sides. I think it’s important to have a healthy degree of skepticism. I myself am a very skeptical person. In readings, my goal is to bring up information that there really is no way I could know. I don’t like saying general things. I don’t like saying information that everybody knows. I focus on information that can’t be researched or googled, and that usually includes inside jokes or sentimental pieces of information that only families really know.

In high school and earlier on, my issue wasn’t that I dealt with people who didn’t necessarily believe in me. Unfortunately, there was a lot of fundamentalism and people who didn’t like what I did because it conflicted with their beliefs.

People were more frightened by what I did, and that was a different kind of isolation in the sense that people were judging me from a religious perspective. But I found that as time went on, people did open their minds, well some did, and for those who didn’t, I understand that we’re all entitled to our beliefs.

This is just classic cold reading based on psychological cues given off by the mark, things that the “clairvoyant” could look up online (he claims he doesn’t), or general statements that are true a lot of the time (see below for links to tricks used in this practice). If Henry wants a serious test of his abilities, let someone like James Randi or Penn and Teller set up a real examination of his abilities—tests that “psychics” never submit to.

The sad part of all this is that Henry is going to be on a show on a widely-watched network, one that presents his duplicity as if it were real clairvoyance. And a lot of his efforts will be directed at soothing parents whose children have killed themselves. (Believe me, those parents will all receive reassuring messages that their kid is in Heaven and looking down on them. Nobody is going to hear that the kid is frying in Hell.)

What’s the harm in that, you ask? Why not tell parents soothing fictions if it makes them feel better? The harm is that it is all a fabric of lies, but, more important, it simply buttresses those people who believe in the afterlife and the ability of psychics to suss it out. And, of course, Henry will make tons of money promulgating these lies. Remember that Americans spend two billion dollars a year on psychics, and, like religion, the psychic business booms during tough economic times. These people prey on the poor and disaffected, often through “telephone consultations”. People like Henry may be attractive and slick, but in the end they’re simply enriching themselves by preying on vulnerable people. You can bet your ass his services aren’t free.

For discussions of how these “psychics” do their tricks, go here, here, and here. (There are many other “whistle-blower” sites.) As has been noted many times before, if these people really could see back into the past, they wouldn’t be doing storefront readings; they’d be finding hidden treasure. Or, if they can foresee the future, they’d make a killing on the stock market.

Here’s Henry meeting the Kardashians and working his scam:

(Want more? Go here.)

What a fricking charlatan.

38 Comments

  1. gluonspring
    Posted January 21, 2016 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Well, at least that clears up the “is he a real doctor” question about Dr. Phil.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 21, 2016 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      Oh there are a lot of legitimate Phd psychologists who either fall for this kind of thing — or fall for the idea that as long as it “helps” then it’s fine and dandy.

      • gluonspring
        Posted January 21, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

        legitimate. credentialed

        • Posted January 21, 2016 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, those abbreviations don’t necessarily mean anything.

    • Charlize
      Posted January 21, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      “The sad part of all this is that Henry is going to be on a show on a widely-watched network, one that presents his duplicity as if it were real clairvoyance.”

      I think this sentence might benefit from a slight change to: “…one that presents his duplicity as if clairvoyance were real.”

      Wouldn’t want to leave anyone with the impression that you think there exists such a thing as real clairvoyance elsewhere if not on that particular show.

  2. allison
    Posted January 21, 2016 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    It’s hard to believe that intelligent women like the Kardashians would fall for such nonsense.

    • gluonspring
      Posted January 21, 2016 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      On today’s curve, yes:

      I’ve heard Kim Kardashian speak, Mrs Palin, and you’r no Kardashian.

      • BarerMender
        Posted January 21, 2016 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        Good one.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 21, 2016 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      I have never considered them intelligent, but maybe you are right. It does make sense. They enriched themselves, after all.

      • Posted January 21, 2016 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        Themselves? I don’t really know, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there are scads of people working in the background to successfully market whatever it is the Kardashians market. Looks, I suppose.

  3. Posted January 21, 2016 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this wonderful article. You are on the button and great links to refer to. Most of the time I hear that this is entertainment and its fun. But it is neither and Hollywood needs to come to grip with that fact. Thanks again!

    • Posted January 21, 2016 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. It most definitely is not entertainment. It is horrible people taking advantage of gullible people.

  4. Randy Schenck
    Posted January 21, 2016 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    So like, isn’t it like normal that they could have doing nothing in common.

  5. Sastra
    Posted January 21, 2016 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    I don’t like saying information that everybody knows. I focus on information that can’t be researched or googled, and that usually includes inside jokes or sentimental pieces of information that only families really know.

    I’ve got several good books on cold reading (and once took a seminar given by Ray Hyman!) and know that this is a very common trick. Good cold readers know that it’s important to be specific — or sound that way. The most important rule of cold reading is to get the other person on your side. Let them do the hard work. The smarter they are, the better they’ll be at discovering some connection. In the video, Tyler mentioned “smelling a tie.” One of the young women immediately jumped in with the fact that she used to smell her father’s clothes, including his ties!

    Did she? Maybe. Is that uncommon? Probably not, if we’re talking about the deceased. And was what the “psychic” actually said open to other interpretations? Perhaps.

    Of course, it might not be cold reading at all, but “hot” reading. If the cousin or someone else mentioned the fact — deliberately or in casual conversation — it can be brought out later as a “hit.” Frankly, in this particular situation this is my guess — but it’s only a guess. I’m not psychic or anything.

    In Ian Rowland’s astonishingly thorough Full Facts Book of Cold Reading he mentions what he calls “dazzle shots.” At least once or twice in every reading, make some wild ass guess about something odd and specific: your grandmother had multiple poodles with the same name, your father was buried with the wrong cigarettes in his pocket, your nickname as a kid was “Butterfinger,” etc. At least 99 times out of 100 you’ll miss. But that last 1% will either be right or right enough — and now you are golden. Your reputation is established for life.

    This will probably be helped along by people’s memories providing additional facts you never actually said, like the poodles’ names or the word “Marlboro.”

    By the way, Tyler’s references to “fear” is standard boilerplate Spiritual jargon/apologetics. The reason skeptics are skeptical is supposed to be because we are afraid. It’s very brave to believe in the paranormal, powers, God, whatever because you have to resist that pull towards consistency and the normal. You struggle to trust in what you know deep down. Reason be damned: those who can’t/won’t believe are really just frightened, that’s all.

    • Richard Bond
      Posted January 22, 2016 at 5:01 am | Permalink

      At least 99 times out of 100 you’ll miss. But that last 1% will either be right or right enough — and now you are golden. Your reputation is established for life.

      Bonferroni strikes again: see xkcd.com/628/

      • Sastra
        Posted January 22, 2016 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        I once heard a speaker at TAM say that a fairly large percentage of people, when asked to pick a number from 1 to 100, will pick 73 (or 37.) It seems random. So I tried this once on my husband. “Pick a number from 1 – 100.” “Okay.” “73.” I was right.

        He was shocked. It’s a trick with better than 1% odds, but that’s not what it feels like when it works.

  6. Posted January 21, 2016 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    “Your intuition is almost like a compass.”

    A compass to the nearest ATM machine.

  7. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 21, 2016 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Imagine if he did tell a person that their loved one was in hell. That would cause huge ratings, and the gullible would not think to reject it and see it as a cruel hoax.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 21, 2016 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      I doubt it. Tyler Henry’s audience is probably composed entirely of the feel-good Oprah-style crowd and they tend to like their religion/spirituality positive, upbeat, sentimental, and vaguely ecumenical.

      In this group, the only way a spiritualist or psychic would get away with telling someone their loved one was in Hell is if it was either metaphorical and temporary (“your deceased daughter is very afraid you’re not moving on in your life”) … or there is some damn good reason to acknowledge that the loved one, though loved, was and is evil. If instead they’re told what they don’t want to hear, they’ll turn on the “phony” and cast them out.

    • Posted January 21, 2016 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      I agree with Sastra. I think Sastra’s “playpen” analogy is appropriate here. The marks are toddlers who want what they want when they want it, which is to be told what they want to hear. Granted, it wouldn’t heighten their skepticism, but a negative response would be unacceptable. A psychic who gave negative readings wouldn’t last long. Donuts are only tempting because they taste good.

  8. Heather Hastie
    Posted January 21, 2016 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    I think these people are the lowest of the low. My contempt for them is huge. They completely disgust me, especially the grief vampires. I have difficulty controlling myself from being really insulting when someone tells me they believe this sh*t, though I do in the interests of trying to make them see sense.

  9. Posted January 21, 2016 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Some people claim these things are “just entertainment”. If that’s so, why are they described in “realist” mode?

  10. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 21, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    The Doctor responds perfectly:

  11. eric
    Posted January 21, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I can say with truth that this will not change my opinion of the E! network, or change how much I watch it.

  12. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 21, 2016 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Oops sub. ⚓️

  13. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 21, 2016 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Wow, that Henry guy gives me the creeps. There is this weird not-a-smile that flashes across his face as he lies to people.

    A sad thing here is that this could catch on and be a hit. Then will come an increase in psychic peddlers in the cities, and more psychic television shows. Then psychics will grow their presence on the Science Channel and the History Channel. Of course shows with dead pet psychics will not be far behind.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 21, 2016 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      “The only good pet psychic is a dead pet psychic”.

      There, ftfy.

      cr

  14. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 21, 2016 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    I’m now going to show you I can read minds.

    I know what you’re thinking.

    You’re thinking he can’t really read minds- it’s only a trick.

    I was right, wasn’t I??

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 21, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      Amazeballs!!

  15. rwilsker
    Posted January 21, 2016 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    As H.L. Mencken said (but is usually mis-attributed to P.T. Barnum):

    “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”

    So sad.

  16. Vaal
    Posted January 21, 2016 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    He used the old “I’m a skeptic too” caveat when answering the skeptical question about his powers. I’ve heard pretty much every skeptic say the same thing.

    And, of course, he has frosted hair, as befits the species closely related to the Televangelist.

    • Posted January 21, 2016 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      Did you mean to say you r heard pretty much every [woo-peddler] say the same thing?

      • Vaal
        Posted January 21, 2016 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

        Whoops, yes I meant to write I’ve heard every “psychic” say “I understand people’s skepticism, I’m a skeptic too!”

        • Posted January 21, 2016 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

          I figured.

          Yeah, it’s kind of the woomeister’s “some of my best friend are black!”

  17. Posted January 21, 2016 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Dear folks, when I’m dead you may be sure I ain’t gonna communicate with anybody!

  18. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 21, 2016 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Yeah BUT – with the pseudoHistory Channel that might be regretted.

    Nothing that E! does could possibly make it more trivial, shallow and distasteful than it already is. E! going paranormal is a bit like, say, Sarah Palin endorsing the Trump.

    If I were into the paranormal, I would regard the arrival of E! with dismay, as liable to discredit serious woo.

    cr

  19. rickflick
    Posted January 21, 2016 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    “(Want more? Go here.)”

    Feels like being smacked in the head with a 2 by 4. Want more?: no thanks.

  20. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted January 22, 2016 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    The celebrity clairvoyant may be able to communicate with the dead, but he has never learned to drive a car!

    Why is that an achievement? At 20 he’s about 6 years younger than I was when I started to learn to drive, and 8 years younger than when I passed my test.


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