This is the concluding episode of The Town That Didn’t Stare and I’m quite exhausted — so forgive me if this blog post is perfunctory!
I wanted to find a way of wrapping things up and not just opening up more threads to this story. So I basically stole the approach of a 1994 Channel 4 documentary about the town, also titled “Why East Grinstead?”. This episode opens with an interview with that film’s director Ian Sellar, and basically spins off from the fact that their answers were very inconclusive (more like non-existent). So can I provide a better answer?
Throughout the process of making this show, I had asked almost every interviewee to evaluate the hypothesis that this ‘town that didn’t stare’ label, applied to East Grinstead after the Guinea Pig Club, had somehow caused the cult clustering down the line. I wanted to see what people made of that suggestion, but time after time people gave responses like “maybe” or “sounds reasonable” or “probably not a major factor”. No one was willing to give me the goodies of either vehemently agreeing or disagreeing with the idea.
So I basically had to take my own stance, which is that it’s largely self-mythologising. It’s the answer to the question that paints the town in the best light, but I don’t find it particularly compelling.
So I decided to provide two possible solutions, which sort of work in tandem. The first was to look, via Opus Dei (one of the religious organisations I hadn’t given much coverage to) at the acquisitions of properties in the area during the 1950s and 60s, and whether the Kennedys’ talks with Harold Macmillan at the Birchgrove estate in Sussex could’ve contributed. Essentially that’s strand one: it’s a quirk of the real estate market.
The second strand was more theoretical. It’s about bias and the brain and the impact the internet is having on us. For that, I spoke to the neuroscientist Itiel Dror (links to papers below) about his research into the biases the allow our brains to seek patterns and meaning, rather than just taking the world at face value and applying logic.
In the end, I don’t have an answer either. But I think it’s a question that we choose to ask, and the asking of it is, in a way, a very circular explanation. The more we talk about East Grinstead, the more we say how strange it is, the weirder it feels. We’ve made an active choice to turn East Grinstead into the town it is today.
Here are some relevant links if you want to do some extra reading:
You can watch the episode “Why East Grinstead?” above
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