ROBERT BURALE tells it as it is: “There is too much fakery in the world”; “Knowledge is power; applied knowledge is wisdom.” Mr Burale is a celebrity “love coach”, whose fame now extends far beyond his native Kenya. He is full of aphorisms and rhetorical tag-lines — not all of them his own.
Megha Mohan, the presenter of The Documentary: Buy me love (World Service, Tuesday of last week), deftly observed that the epigram “Woman is the neck, Man is the head” was not some piece of original sagacity, but had been swiped from the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
With the chutzpah of a charismatic preacher and the cheesiness of a game-show host, Mr Burale is an easy target for scorn. But the women who flock to his seminars, paying the equivalent of a week’s wage for advice on how to land a husband, are not stupid.
Mary is 35, the eldest of five sisters, and has never had a boyfriend. She admits that she can be a bit choosy, and she applies the same scepticism to the course. And there are elements in the Burale message which require it. To hear a guest speaker, Shazeem, talk of returning to her formerly abusive husband after healing herself by the Burale method would make anybody queasy.
And yet, as it transpired, this was not your typical profile of a charlatan. Mary came away from the session content to step away from the quest; you don’t need somebody else to make you whole. It was the same message as saved Jane, one of Mr Burale’s online followers, from suicide. Jane has found a new relationship — not with a man, but with herself. Mr Burale is unashamedly a moral conservative, as summed up in his most cringe-worthy line, “No ringy, no thingy.” But this has engendered, at least in the examples featured here, a sense of female empowerment which any “progressive” must regard with approval.
In the case of Emma Hardinge Britten, the gift of charisma was directed towards a goal of historic significance. Featured in last week’s episode of the podcast This Day in Esoteric Political History (Radiotopia podcasts), Britten was a popular spiritualist, active in the United States during the Civil War, at a time when exploration of the occult provided succour to the hundreds of thousands bereaved. In 1864, Britten turned to politics, and her speeches in support of Lincoln’s re-election campaign are deemed at least partly responsible for its success.
This Day is one of those bite-size podcasts that do a particular job well and with little fuss. The premise is to celebrate a historic anniversary in US history, and, although 28 September 1864 was hardly referred to, the artificial hook was justified by the yarn attached to it. In this case, however, one wonders about the contemporary resonances of the story. The “unmooring” effect of the Civil War was like nothing else previously experienced: hundreds of thousands of young men, dying far from home.
We are undoubtedly living today in troubled times, but the traumas are of a different scale; and, unless I’ve missed something, we are not now experiencing in the shops a run on Ouija boards.