The Game

History is filled with violence and trauma. As a result, historians must grapple with difficult questions from time to time. What makes the study of history significant, therefore, is the ability to reevaluate existing narratives in order to shed light on new perspectives and increase our understanding of the past, even if that past is difficult or controversial. For Garcia, this task took the form of a study of the farm labor movement, Cesar Chavez, and the United Farm Workers union.  

While processing the research materials Garcia compiled, I came across a few different terms I was unfamiliar with. In correspondence and memos from the UFW, I noticed the term “Synanon” and “The Game” come up fairly often. You may remember from an earlier post that I mentioned Synanon. I chose not to address it then, but I’d like to briefly detail this bizarre story now. 

Synanon was a drug rehabilitation program founded in the 1950s. Their approach to rehabilitation was not traditional and they did not use medication. Among their various forms of treatment, the most popular, and the most peculiar, was a sort of counseling session referred to as “The Game.” In this “game,” participants would berate other participants and hurl insults at one another at will. Social filters were momentarily turned off, and anything and everything was “fair game.” Once the session ended, everyone would come together and embrace. This cathartic release of negative energy was intended to bring everyone closer together. Quite a unique team building exercise to be sure. 

Well, Chavez believed this team building would be useful for his union and he invited Synanon representatives to teach them the game, and they played it at UFW headquarters for over a year. The transcripts of some of these games, and written responses to the exercise by members, are present in this collection. A word of warning, there is explicit language throughout. I do not want to risk making this post too long, so I will not go into much more detail, other than to say that Synanon was eventually disbanded and classified as a cult.

Garcia’s investigation into this matter garnered some negative reviews of his manuscript. One reviewer even claimed his book was too concerned with the “salacious and lurid” details of Chavez and the UFW and did not merit publication as true scholarship. This is just one difficulty of writing history. At times, difficult questions spawn difficult answers that are not always well received by the reader.