One of the central ideas in Geek Love is that of the cult. The structure of the Binewski family can, in a way, be viewed as similar to a cult. They live seperated from society, have a strong-willed central leader, and a tendency to power struggles.
Katherine Dunn has long been fascinated by cults. In an interview with Donna bowman for the AV club website she defines her idea of a cult as "a negative structure that is destructive to its members, and usually one that has a charismatic central figure who is the dominant power."
Although she says that the cult started by Arturo in the novel is not specifically based on the events in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978, she admits that it was "a very, very potent event in my life". She also mentions that a speech later given by Arturo is a "very close parallel of one of Jim Jones' speeches"
Jonestown was the informal name for the "Peoples Temple Agricultural Project", a religious community in northwestern Guyana formed by the Peoples Temple, an American cult led by Jim Jones. It became internationally notorious when, on 18th November 1978, 918 people died in the settlement as well as in a nearby airstrip and in Georgetown, Guyana's capital. The name of the settlement became synonymous with the incidents at those locations.
Jim Jones moved the members of the People's Temple to Guyana from San Fransisco during 1977, amid media oubt at his treatment of church members. On 18th November 1978 a delegation investigating the Peoples Temple visited Jonestown. After their visit, five of them including an American Congressman and defected church members had asked to return with the delegation, were shot by Jonestown gunmen at nearby Port Kaituma Airstrip. After the murders, jones ordered that a giant vat of Kool-Aid laced with cyanide be made, and this was fed to over 200 of the group's children before man drank it themselves. A total of 909 Temple members died in Jonestown, all but two from apparent cyanide poisoning. Suspicions as to wether the deaths were all suicides has been rife, with reports of many bodies, including Jones', being found with either gunshot wounds or needle marks in the back.
The Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant has appeared in various forms in religious texts all over the world as a warning against looking at things from only one angle, for fear of not seeing the whole picture. Here is the story as told in the Buddhist scripture text Udana:
"A number of disciples went to the Buddha and said, "Sir, there are living here in Savatthi many wandering hermits and scholars who indulge in constant dispute, some saying that the world is infinite and eternal and others that it is finite and not eternal, some saying that the soul dies with the body and others that it lives on forever, and so forth. What, Sir, would you say concerning them?"
The Buddha answered, "Once upon a time there was a certain raja who called to his servant and said, 'Come, good fellow, go and gather together in one place all the men of Savatthi who were born blind... and show them an elephant.' 'Very good, sire,' replied the servant, and he did as he was told. He said to the blind men assembled there, 'Here is an elephant,' and to one man he presented the head of the elephant, to another its ears, to another a tusk, to another the trunk, the foot, back, tail, and tuft of the tail, saying to each one that that was the elephant.
"When the blind men had felt the elephant, the raja went to each of them and said to each, 'Well, blind man, have you seen the elephant? Tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?'
"Thereupon the men who were presented with the head answered, 'Sire, an elephant is like a pot.' And the men who had observed the ear replied, 'An elephant is like a winnowing basket.' Those who had been presented with a tusk said it was a ploughshare. Those who knew only the trunk said it was a plough; others said the body was a grainery; the foot, a pillar; the back, a mortar; the tail, a pestle, the tuft of the tail, a brush.
"Then they began to quarrel, shouting, 'Yes it is!' 'No, it is not!' 'An elephant is not that!' 'Yes, it's like that!' and so on, till they came to blows over the matter.
"Brethren, the raja was delighted with the scene.
"Just so are these preachers and scholars holding various views blind and unseeing.... In their ignorance they are by nature quarrelsome, wrangling, and disputatious, each maintaining reality is thus and thus.""
Map of Arkansas
Olympia cannot remember where she was when Dr.Phyllis joined the Fabulon, but the two places she sites are hundreds of miles apart, showing how dissasociated she and the rest of the carnival are from their geographical location.