I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

FDA v. Orgasm, 1947: Making it Rain with Dr. Wilhelm Reich

by Anthony Galli
June 10, 2014

Hey. Do you remember the Orgasmatron from Woody Allen’s 1973 film Sleeper? Yeah? Well, it may come as a surprise to learn that the idea for such a utilitarian device didn’t just spring spontaneously from the oversexed imagination of the filmmaker. Nope. Actually, the Orgasmatron can be traced back to a mad scientist from the early 1940’s named Dr. Wilhelm Reich and his fantastic Orgone Energy Accumulator . See, Reich believed that he had discovered a new form of energy that, when harnessed properly, could cure mankind of its social and physical ills. A pretty tall order, but nothing wrong with trying, right?

But more on that in a moment.

And remember that phrase, “The Sexual Revolution”? It’s kind of a thing of the past now, but there was a time in the 1960’s and 1970’s when it was all people could talk about. Well, that phrase, too, came from Dr. Reich who, in 1930, wrote, “A sexual revolution is in progress, and no power on earth will stop it.” In 1930. In his book The Sexual Revolution . Can you imagine such a thing at such a time?

Perhaps you are acquainted with Reich’s work through the 1985 Kate Bush song “Cloudbusting,” in which she recounts the good doctor’s belief that weather can be controlled, and that he could build a machine to make it rain. He really thought this. So, Reich went about constructing the Cloudbuster in the 1950’s, a mechanism designed, ostensibly, to create clouds. Why not? There is even testimony that blueberry farmers in Maine (where Reich’s “Orgonon” Institute rested) pleaded with Reich to end the horrible drought in 1953 that was ruining their crops. With the help of his trusty Cloudbuster mechanism, Wilhelm Reich made it rain, and Maine’s 1953 blueberry crisis was averted. Amazing.

However, Reich had another important use for his Cloudbuster as well. He believed that alien invaders from space were polluting the planet (or, his institute, anyway) with deadly, poisonous radiation. He was convinced that his Cloudbusters could evaporate the alien aircraft, and, again, mankind would be saved.

Dr. Wilhelm Reich was a very complicated man.

Born Austrian in 1897 in, what is now, Ukraine, Reich is mostly known for his particular and controversial brand of sexual healing. Having studied under Sigmund Freud in Vienna, Reich eventually worked alongside him. Reich borrowed Freud’s idea that the repression of the libido, or one’s sex drive, will create psychological disturbances for an individual, and, through research, developed his own theory on the subject of human sexuality. Where Freud believed that one’s sex drive should conform to societal dictates, Reich felt that it was conformity to societal influence that ruined people for life. As such, Reich equated sexual repression with everything from fascism to cancer, and he spent his life attempting to convince the world of its ignorance.

Unfortunately, he was a little too outspoken at an inopportune time in history. He was kicked out of the Communist party in 1933, kicked out of the International Psychoanalytic Association in 1934, was forced to relocate from Berlin to Oslo (because the Nazis hated him), was forced to leave Norway because of attacks on him from the psychiatric community in the press, and landed in New York City just as World War II was breaking out in 1939. It was in the safety of America that Dr. Reich could continue his research into “orgone energy” and its healing properties.

ORGONE ENERGY : Primordial Cosmic Energy, universally present and demonstrable visually, thermically, electroscopically, and by means of Geiger-Mueller counters. In the living organism: Bio-energy, Life Energy. Discovered by Wilhelm Reich between 1936 to 1940.

As one can plainly see, the “ORG---“ of ORGONE comes from the word ORGASM. In essence, Reich was advocating for a bigger, better, and as Norman Mailer said, “apocalyptic” orgasm, and, really, who can blame him?

Believe it or not, this is where Reich came to the attention of the American authorities. Much was being made in the press, at the time, of the various studies in human sexual behavior by Reich and Alfred Kinsey. Many prominent people, such as the aforementioned Norman Mailer, along with William S. Burroughs, J.D. Salinger, and Michel Foucault, championed Reich’s theories, with Burroughs building his own Orgone Energy Accumulators with the belief that they would help him live longer. The mainstream media, however, portrayed Reich as a deviant and a danger to society, calling for an investigation into his practices, and an ouster from the medical community.

The Food and Drug Administration became interested in Reich’s work and encouraged the FBI to investigate the man and his methods. He was eventually brought to trial for offering medical advice that did not comply with industry standards, and was ordered to destroy all of his Orgone Energy Accumulators, any research that related to orgone energy, and any publications that even discussed orgone energy. Refusing to appear in court, Reich was eventually arrested for contempt, and sentenced to two years in a federal prison. While there, all of his Orgone Energy Accumulators and much of his literature were destroyed at his institute in Maine, while tons of his publications were incinerated in New York City. Tons.

Why would the federal government find Reich’s ideas and his published information so important that they actually ordered it destroyed?

Eight months after being incarcerated, Wilhelm Reich died of heart failure in a federal penitentiary. He has joined history as a footnote and a misunderstood maverick, much like the 19th Century vegetarian and anti-smoking advocate Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and microtonal musical theorist and instrument creator Harry Partch. Perhaps others would put him in the same category as charismatic leaders like L. Ron Hubbard and Joseph Smith in that they created an entire alternative narrative for their theories, but that is another story altogether.

WR: Mysteries of the Organism is a mysterious and baffling Yugoslavian tribute to Reich that includes documentary history of his work, but also finds space for Marxism, Andy Warhol acolyte Jackie Curtis, Screw Magazine, the Moscow Ice Follies, and the Plaster Casters. In a sense, this film has everything! But…huh?

While exploring Reich’s philosophies, to a degree, WR: Mysteries of the Organism also includes dramatic interpretations of many of his ideas, as well as musical numbers and an interview with Reich’s barbers. Very strange. It is also full of some of the funniest anti-authoritarian dialogue ever, such as, “Your wives and children have no respect for you fuckless fools,” and “Your roommate is having sex again---disgraceful!,” and “The military hasn’t been laid in six months!” What does it all mean? As one character says at a crucial moment, “To me, it’s just a fuckfest,” and maybe that’s how critics of Wilhelm Reich viewed his research, but he really believed he was saving the world.

Anthony Galli currently lives in Athens, Georgia. He shares a birthday with his black cat, Magic, and they both claim Wings of Desire as their favorite film. Anthony has published two books of poetry, Amnesia for Insomniacs and Invisible Idiot.