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The Psychic Industry in the United States: Background information when reading Some of It Was Real

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Some of It Was Real

by Nan Fischer

Some of It Was Real by Nan Fischer X
Some of It Was Real by Nan Fischer
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    Jul 2022, 352 pages

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The Psychic Industry in the United States

This article relates to Some of It Was Real

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Neon signage in doorway advertising psychic services In Nan Fischer's novel Some of It Was Real, psychic-medium entertainer Sylvie Young comes under the scrutiny of Thomas Holmes, a reporter determined to expose her as a "grief vampire" who takes advantage of people mourning loved ones. Whether or not you believe their claims of clairvoyance and communication with the dead are real or sincere, self-identified psychics like Sylvie are in high demand, and the performances and services they provide make up a multi-million dollar industry in the United States.

Professional psychic performers can be seen on television shows and in advertisements for psychic hotlines, which give the option of calling a number to talk to someone who can allegedly provide insight about the future. Some examples of famous American psychic personalities include Tyler Henry, who claims to have communicated with the dead and has worked with many celebrities, including Khloe Kardashian; John Edward, known for his work with larger audiences; and Miss Cleo, the now-iconic spokesperson for the Psychic Readers Network, who appeared on late-night television commercials in the '90s. Many smaller businesses and individual practitioners offer in-person psychic services. Some may focus on specific practices such as palmistry, astrology or tarot reading.

The selling of psychic services raises many ethical questions, as people may differ in their understanding of what precisely a psychic is providing in exchange for payment. Some may view the psychic as an entertainer, akin to a magician or circus act, while others may not only take their predictions seriously but use these predictions as a way of coping with grief or general uncertainty, which can lead to addictive behavior and large financial losses.

The US has a long history of regulating providers of psychic services, with laws differing over time and from state to state. For example, in the 1920s and '30s, tea rooms in New York City offering fortune-telling were prohibited by law from charging guests for this service and police raids of the businesses were common. Today, it is actually still a crime in New York State to charge money for the use of psychic skills with the claim that they are real — those selling are legally required to say their services are "solely for the purpose of entertainment or amusement."

How psychic practices are viewed depends on their relationship to religious, cultural and spiritual factors. In American society, those claiming to have psychic abilities are often viewed as fraudulent (if still entertaining), while prophetic declarations that fall within socially acceptable boundaries, such as in Christian sermons or the Book of Revelations in the Bible, may be considered less so. Also, some psychic practitioners may borrow from certain cultural traditions while misrepresenting those traditions — fortune-telling in the US, for example, has historically relied on stereotyping of Romani culture. Of course, individual psychic practitioners differ in their backgrounds, intentions and practices, just as religious institutions do.

Regardless of how they feel about the culture of psychic performance and services, many Americans claim to sincerely believe in the existence of psychic powers. 26% believe that humans are equipped with some form of clairvoyance, while one in three believe that they have personally had some kind of psychic experience.

Business advertising psychic services. Photo by Alex Kristanas

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

This article relates to Some of It Was Real. It first ran in the August 3, 2022 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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