Listen Up! | Sounds Like A Cult

Listen Up! | Sounds Like A Cult

Madison Reinhold, Writer/Volunteer

Have you ever looked at your high school bully who promotes LuLaRoe on her Facebook, your coworker who goes to Disney World four times a year, your roommate who’s in a sorority, your friend who gets mental health advice solely from colorful Instagram graphics, your cousin who’s Sunday mass is watching their favorite NFL team lose 0-56, or your other cousin with a 12-step skin care routine and thought, “huh, there’s something off about that?” 

“A podcast about the modern-day cults we all follow” is the tagline for co-hosts Amanda Montell and Isa Medina on their weekly podcast Sounds Like a Cult. The two examine a specific group or interest and ask: “This group sounds like a cult, but is it?”

Montell is a critically-acclaimed author and linguist and wrote a book about the language of cults, and brings up her research throughout the episodes. Medina is a filmmaker and comedian. They put multi-level-marketing and stan culture in comparison to common cult practices, such as isolation or high exit costs to see how bad this “cult” really is. 

Some weeks, they have a guest, usually from the “cult” itself. The guest’s comments usually defend the cult but also say why the community they’re in shouldn’t not be having cult accusations. For example, for the “Cult of Veganism” they brought on a vegan influencer, for “Cult of Cheerleading” they brought on a star from Netflix’s Cheer, and for the “Cult of Astrology” they brought on an astrologist. I really like this aspect of it because it brings a balanced view to the episode, seeing what is and isn’t cultish about the group. 

Some of my favorite topics they’ve covered have been the “cults” of LulaRoe multi-level-marketing, Disney adults, fraternities and sororities, Instagram therapists, the NFL, and skincare

These groups are dissected every episode, it really makes you think about what makes a group fringe or accepted in the culture and how factors like this acceptance or longevity can contribute to more problematic aspects of these groups flying under the radar. 

For example, in the episode on fraternities and sororities, they say: “The people who would be holding them accountable are part of the group, right? So you have male deans who were in a fraternity when they were growing up, and you have male presidents of the university, and then how are they going to hold a group accountable that they themselves were in? That’s ultimately why I think it’s like, the deepest rooted cult in America, because it runs all the way up to politicians, and it’s still not seen as a cult.” 

At the end of the episode, they rank that week’s cult on a scale of “Live Your Life”, “Watch Your Back” , or “Get the F— Out.” 

Every episode provides a nuanced take on the groups in our culture that form us. How do fraternity hazings compare to brainwashing? How does the skincare industry cause us all to look the same? How does being a Disney adult financially exploit you? How do NFL players or cheerleaders keep coming back to an industry that causes them physical injury? How common are cults in our culture? Find out every Tuesday on all streaming platforms.