Has HBO’s ‘The Vow’ gone deep within the NXIVM cult?
Were you ever curious about how NXIVM, the sex cult Keith Raniere operated for years ran? As we await sentencing dates for senior members of NXIVM, HBO is giving viewers a deep-dive with their new documentary The Vow. A ten-part series, The Vow will premiere August 23 and run through October 18.
While directors Karim Amer and Jehane Noujam promise viewers an extensive look, trailers raise eyebrows about whether The Vow might actually promote the cult. Until the show comes out, we can’t be sure. Reviews infer that The Vow will shine light on the conflicting views of NXIVM followers.
What can we expect about a docuseries that involves many former NXIVM members? Have all of them shunned the group? Will The Vow show how harmful NXIVM could be, promote the group, or take a nuanced approach?
A personal look
The Vow will mainly follow the experiences of Sarah Edmonson, a Canadian actress who joined NXIVM looking to better herself. After the group physically branded her as a slave, she had second thoughts. Turning away from NXIVM, she was one of the people who sounded the alarm about founder Keith Raniere’s behavior.
Reviews for The Vow claim that the main focus is on the headspace of its victims like Sarah Edmonson. Edmonson walks viewers through the seminars she sat through as a member of NXIVM and how they warped her sense of reality.
To an outsider, the seminars portrayed in The Vow sound boring. Actually, according to survivors like Edmonson, they were very prolific. NXIVM worked in a specific way to break down members’ sense of identity and individuality to conform to their standards.
The Vow will probably show tactics like NXIVM’s infamous “rationalization” tactic. Rationalization was coined by Keith Raniere about how to discipline your mind. Raniere based it on the notion that people are selfish and have to train themselves to be better. He packed his worldview in an expensive 12-hour course, required for new members.
While the docuseries might only focus on a few prominent members, they may also show how Keith Raniere and NXIVM groomed young women to accept sexual advances. Allegedly, Raniere groomed girls as young as twelve to sleep with him.
What will we see?
The Vow wants to take a close look at NXIVM’s brainwashing techniques. NXIVM packaged itself as a female empowerment group. It held ideals like commitment and discipline up in order for members to reach their full potential.
From the trailer, we can also tell that The Vow delves into the communes that NXIVM ran. The footage shows members running through fields in front of their peers and group hugs in front of NXIVM headquarters.
The trailer for The Vow also shows footage of seminars & workshops run by NXIVM. While the seminars were riveting in real-life, according to survivors, non-members may find long seminars boring. Most likely, viewers will see shots and some inspirational-sounding speeches from these, not much else.
In the trailer for The Vow, one of the members confides that NXIVM’s tactics are manipulation, but they’re what she referred to as “good manipulation.” The clip shows that The Vow will explore the cognitive dissonance faced by NXIVM’s members.
While the trailer treats us to the seminars, workshops, and more “benign” brainwashing tactics, will they delve into the darker stuff? The branding ceremonies? The sexual abuse?
“The next step in womanhood”
Girls as young as twelve were groomed for sex in NXIVM. Whether this line from The Vow’s trailer refers to the sexual abuse women & girls in NXIVM faced or the general ideology in the cult remains to be seen.
Women were sexually assaulted in NXIVM and blackmailed if they didn’t comply. One woman was held against her will for two years for “failing to perform duties” for NXIVM. They were also branded with a sigil for Raniere.
However, the “next step in womanhood” line is connected to members’ statements about finding happiness, family, and love in NXIVM. From the trailer & reviews, we can tell that The Vow might examine the juxtaposition between NXIVM’s abuse and their positive reactions to it. Will it be successful? That remains to be seen.