A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Ex Machina #11

Before I managed to get to the shop and buy the issue myself, the Shrew Review brought the legal premise of Ex Machina #11 to my attention. Mayor Hundred tells the police commissioner that he wants the NYPD to start enforcing 165.35 and...y'know, I'll just let you read it yourselves:

As the Shrew observed, New York Penal Code 165.35 is a real law. Specifically, it's a Class B Misdemeanor, which (as best I can tell) is punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Laws against fortune-telling can be found in many places, varying from states that outlaw any fortune-telling (both free and for-profit) to those that (in my opinion, insanely) license fortune tellers. I've heard that some places license astrologers, so I'd guess the standards are about the same for both. As in, 'no standards at all.'

Michigan apparently repealed its anti-fortune-telling law, but while it was still on the books, it included this rationale for the ban:

"There may be some question whether this conduct should continue to be criminal. However, persons holding themselves out to possess occult powers very often proceed to take advantage of the gullible and persuade them to turn over money or property. While this activity amounts to theft by deception, it may be difficult to prove. A prohibition against fortune telling, etc., as such drives the activity underground and reduces somewhat the opportunity to practice frauds."

I also like this quote from a Pennsylvania prosecutor, particularly the middle clause:

"If it's for entertainment purposes, and that's clear, it's not illegal."

Lately, I've started watching DVDs of the Showtime program Penn & Teller: Bullsh!t. In it, they go after psychics, alternative healers, alien abduction therapists, feng shui experts, and more. People who aren't marketing their services as "entertainment," but as genuine scientific methods, and getting paid hundreds or thousands of dollars in the process. And what do their customers get in return? At best (as in the case of feng shui) a lighter wallet, and at worst (as with abduction therapy) actual harm. I find it nauseating that John Edward is not only allowed to hornswoggle people, but it allowed to do so on national television. Not only do I like the notion of Mayor Hundred going after the fortune tellers, I wish he'd do more.

Of course, in a fictional world where fortune telling is a legitimate skill, the law takes on a different aura, as observed by another character a few pages later. The mystical is commonplace in the Marvel and DC Universes, as illustrated by the Madame Xanadu that Hundred refers to. In fact, one could argue that those worlds have a greater need to license its paranormal experts in order to weed out the frauds. Is fortune-telling legit in the world of Ex Machina? Could be, but the existence of the Great Machine is certainly not the proof that the fortune-teller would claim. After all, every indication is that its world was all but identical to our own up until Hundred's experience.

Two final points and I'll be through. First, the two balloons of foreign dialogue spoken by the fortune-teller's cousin are actual Romani phrases. The second means "It is God who brought you," and I'll let you follow the link for the first.

Second, the police commissioner tells Mayor Hundred that "Mayor Beame ordered raids on fortunetellers in the late seventies, and I heard three guy involved in the busts ended up dying in totally freak...," before he cut her off. This has the ring of Brian K. Vaughn historical trivia, but I can't find anything about it. Any help?