How to Start a Secret Society: Film & TV Edition
Lessons from Fight Club, Eyes Wide Shut, Wild Wild Country, Lost Boys
“I don’t care to belong to any club that will accept me as a member,” goes the famous quote from American comedian, actor and entertainment multi -hyphenate Groucho Marx.
While there have been many different interpretations of the quote over time, thought to refer to an elite Hollywood private members club, it is generally agreed that Marx was resigning from a club rather than refusing to join one.
Many membership clubs have had a tendency towards elitist separation, as Marx's quote perhaps suggests in some way. People are often desperate to join such clubs believing that this sought - after membership will aid their future prospects and social standing. Yet many are turned away because they do not have the right social gravitas, their ‘faces do not fit’, or they do not have a certain golf handicap. They have in fact been ‘black balled’.
But fear not if you have been barred from Bilderberg, fired from the Freemasons or don’t have enough creative kudos for Soho House. Why not start your own secret society or membership club? After all, people have been forming these since ancient times, from tribal states to the Greek, Roman and Egyptian civilisations, to Shakespeare’s day.
And today membership tools like Memberful can help bring your secret society into the 21st century; showing you how to monetise your clandestine sisterhood or brotherhood, create content and membership tools to communicate passwords, secrets and initiation ceremonies, as well as tips on regalia, gaining influence and worldwide domination through newsletters and podcasts.
Whatever your passion, from religious cults to underground sex clubs, vampirism to bare - knuckle boxing; the films and tv series below may provide some useful tips for getting your club off the ground.
Passion: Underground elite sex parties
See: Eyes Wide Shut
If your passion is elitism, extramarital adventure and masked orgies, Stanley Kubrick’s final 1999 film could provide excellent inspiration for your new underground sex club business. Telling the tale of sexual obsession among Manhattan’s super wealthy and powerful, it sees New York doctor Bill Harford (played by Tom Cruise) gate-crash a sinister masked (and murderous) orgy, following his wife’s confession of lustful thoughts of another man.
While many read this film as simply a story about the complexities of marriage and the sexual psychology of everyday people, others have focused on the chilling secrecy of the uber-elitism and ruling class decadence. And in an age of Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein, perhaps it is not so far - fetched to imagine such elaborate clubs whereby the rich and powerful can sexually exploit the vulnerable. In this world, capitalism sees all things, even people, as objects to be bought, used and discarded by the world’s wealthy (as are the women at the masked orgy in this film).
Many have deliberated over perceived hidden messages and conspiracy theories around the film, which nod to an exploration of secret societies including the Freemasons, Skull and Bones, Scientology, the CIA, among others. Some suggest Kubrick was trying to expose the Illuminati’s (German secret society) gatherings, while others have commented on the fact that the red-cloaked orgy leader sits on a chair containing two eagles, which is also a symbol of the billionaire Rothschild family (see Rothchild conspiracy theories). The orgy scene was also filmed at Mentmore Towers, a countryside estate built by the Rothschilds. The additional meta fact that Tom Cruise is a scientologist, should not escape anyone either.
Ritual, regalia and ultimate secrecy are of course of upmost importance to any self-respecting underground sex club. When Dr Bill sneaks his way into the secret masked ball he sees a man in a red cloak and a demonic venetian – style mask summoning a group of hooded figures, who each drop their outfits and start to kiss as the chanting and menacing music stirs them into action.
Death seems to be the price to be paid to anyone who enters uninvited, particularly when one slips up on the ironic password (Fidelo) as exemplified with the above chilling scene. Eyes Wide Shut refers to the ‘hidden in plain sight’ aspect of cults and secret societies. Anyone can overcome the powers if they open their eyes.
Passion: Bare- knuckle boxing, anti – capitalism, defeating toxic masculinity
See: Fight Club
The first rule about fight club is don’t talk about fight club. The second rule of fight club is you don’t talk about fight club....Only one fight at a time...No shirts, no shoes...If it's your first night of fight club you have to fight.
Rules are indeed, key to any secret society, and Fight Club has a lot of them. Perhaps the most important rule of fight club is: Fuck the rules.
And if secret bare- knuckle boxing, violence and hyper masculinity is your thing, then you may get a few tips from David Fincher’s 1999 film adaptation of Chuck Palahnuik’s novel, featuring Ed Norton and Brad Pitt. But beneath the surface, this film is also widely read as a parody of some of the elements of capitalism and toxic masculinity.
The movie tells the story of how an office worker (Edward Norton, simply known as "The Narrator") meets an eccentric man named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), and how they start a secret fight club that evolves into an insane underground cult. The big twist is that Tyler is actually not real.
The film features classic lines which captured the Gen - X nature of the novel:
“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate, so we can buy shit we don’t need.”
“We are the middle children of history, raised by television to believe that someday we’ll be millionaires and movie stars and rock stars but we won’t.”
“I felt sorry for guys who packed into gyms, trying to look like how Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger said they should."
Fight Club recognises that patriarchy hurts men as well as the rest of us. It is after all, about punching yourself repeatedly in the face, with this realisation only coming with the literal murder of the toxic masculine alter ego. Fight Club tells us we are not free because of the things that we think are important or things we own. We try to complete our life by consuming materials and possessions that surround us but we are not truly free unless we can be ourselves.
Passion: Insatiable blood lust, sleeping all day, partying all night
See: The Lost Boys
Sleep all day... party all night...never grow old... never die – it’s fun to be a vampire...! went the film marketing, for what is now considered the OG of vampire movies, 1987 horror comedy The Lost Boys.
Indeed if motorcycles, leather jackets, sunglasses and 80s mullets are your thing, with a healthy bit of bloodsucking thrown in, then setting up a vampire club could be a great call.
The film sees a recent divorcée and her teenage sons Mike and Sam settle down with her father in the California beach town of Santa Carla, which is plagued by bikers and some mysterious deaths. At first, Sam laughs off rumours he hears about vampires who inhabit the small town, until he makes friends with two other boys who claim to be vampire hunters. But after Mike meets a beautiful girl at the local amusement park, he begins to exhibit the classic signs of vampirism, sleeping days and staying out all night, and is drawn into the gang of bikers by the beautiful girl. Fearing for his own safety, Sam recruits the two young vampire hunters to save his brother by finding and destroying the head vampire.
Scratch the surface of the 80s style, nostalgia and genre thrills, Joel Schumacher’s film offers an evolutionary story about America’s kinship bonds, released at a time when many Americans feared the deterioration of traditional dynamics in the home. More than many similar films in this era, The Lost Boys (a reference to JM Barrie’s Peter Pan) challenged the dominant expectations around the nuclear family as a social and moral ideal.
Michael is caught in a tug of war between his biological (blood) family vs. the sort of chosen family that has formed around the lead vampire David and his clan. While the latter can be seen as most akin to the Lost Boys of Peter Pan, never growing up (or in this case even dying) while Michael and his brother Sam can also be seen as the 'lost boys' of divorce.
It’s not difficult to see the surface appeal of this sort of membership, so recruitment and marketing should be a breeze if you’re starting a vampire club. It’s key to initiate your members to make their first kill swiftly in order to become a full member of the undead, so you could consider rewards and bonus membership scheme to persuade them to do so.
Remember, initiations like drinking blood will only make your recruits a half vampire. And half vampires will return to human if the head vampire, like Max, is killed. So protection for your great leader is another key consideration. Oh, and those rumours about garlic and water aren’t true.
Passion: Guru-like status, control, mental and psychological manipulation, extortion etc
See: Wild Wild Country
If sex parties, wild dancing and wearing only maroon clothes is your thing, and you have a penchant for control and mass manipulation, then you could start a religious cult just like the one formed by Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho) his one -time personal assistant Ma Anand Sheela and their community of followers in the Rajneeshpuram community in Oregon.
Indeed, Netflix’s Wild Wild Country could be the most jaw dropping cult documentary you will ever see and provide plenty of tips.
Bhagwan began amassing followers in the 60s and 70s in India when spoke out against socialism, Mahatma Gandhi, and orthodox religion. He became known for his more lenient views on sexuality and relationships, and the “transformational tools” of meditation that he brought to those looking for enlightenment. Before long he was referred to by some as a god, albeit one who defended Hitler and took all of his followers’ money.
This docuseries digs deep into the guru’s life during the ’80s, when he and his followers departed from India and took up residence on a ranch in the small retirement community of Antelope, Oregon and built a utopian self-sufficient municipality. The town developed its own police force, restaurants, public transport system and airstrip, with the meditation hall easily accommodating 10,000 followers, or sannyasins.
At its height the movement was said to have attracted roughly 500,000 sannyasins. The Antelope locals were not too happy have what they deemed to be a sex cult living in their community, and a constitutional battle eventually escalated into a full-on war involving guns, a bio-terror attack, and numerous other threats.
Key to religious cults of course is a certain type of leadership, with the perfect storm being charismatic and enigmatic characters who are adept at mental and psychological manipulation. And Bhagwan certainly had that in spades. Otherwise, how did tens of thousands of people give up their lives to wear only maroon clothes and blindly follow one person with his fleet of Rolls-Royce sedans? There are obviously several psychological mechanisms at play.
Similarly, in 1978 Jim Jones urged more than 900 of his followers to kill themselves by drinking poison in Jonestown Guyana. In 1993, after a stand- off with government officials, more than 75 branch Davidians died in a building in Waco, Texas with their leader David Koresh.
Bhagwan, Koresh and Jones not only had charisma in common; they were also all very capable of understanding and studying people. It starts with an indoctrination period of forming a bond with their subjects. Once the bond is formed, it is easier to make suggestions to them ‘ie you should move away from your family’ or ‘you should come and live with us’.
Punishment and reward also serve as forms of control. In terms of recruitment, people tend to be most vulnerable to a cult when they’re in a state of psychological instability – if something is not quite right in their life or if something is missing and join cults as a way of satisfying that. Cult leaders can easily detect this in people and attract them to their gang.
If you like these secret society tips, also see: Dead Poets Society, The Master, The Wicker Man, The Godfather, The Sopranos, The Handmaid's Tale.