You'll recall that, after receiving Tony Robbins' Mother's Day appeal, I asked, more or less, "is nothing sacred?" to these people. I think we have our answer.
"Celebrate Memorial Day with Tony Robbins" reads the subject line of a breathless solicitation I received just yesterday. (I should probably repeat that I continue to get these offerings because I signed up for Tony's message boards way back when I began researching SHAM.) Now let me be clear about the title I chose for this post: Robbins does not, of course, say that, or anything remotely like it, anywhere in his offering. There are merely "Special Enrollment Offers!", which you must "Hurry" to receive, because the sale "ends Monday, 5/29." There are also deep discounts available for upcoming Robbins personal appearances in six cities. In fact, Robbins doesn't specifically reference Memorial Day at all, once you get past the subject line.
And that's a large part of my grievance here: the cheap, easy, bolt-on marketing slant. I grant you, Memorial Day is a huge retail event across the land, so maybe it's a tad harsh to hold Robbins to a higher standard than other merchandisers throughout America-the-Commercial. But... "Celebrate Memorial Day with Tony Robbins"? I guess it's the celebrate/with that bugs me. Because, first of all, you're not going to celebrate Memorial Day "with" Robbins or anyone else from his company. The seminars don't take place for some time yet, and even if you order the merch in CD/videotape format, it won't get there in time to enrich your Memorial Day. Nonetheless, I think TR's choice of words was calculated. (If the guy is known for anything at all, it's the precision of his language.) Robbins wanted that folksy, community-type feeling; he wanted the overtones of patriotism inherent in this particular holiday (just as he wanted the nostalgic sweetness surrounding Mother's Day). He wanted to attach all that to his product, and himself.
Secondly, this isn't like advertising an iPod or a can of paint. As per the words of the master himself, a Robbins program is designed to teach you how to think about things--yourself, the world around you, etc. There's also a high inspirational component, which is why many devotees have compared the experience to "going to church." And yet if you actually do go to church at some point this weekend, I'm sure the services will pause to note the contributions of America's military. Almost certainly the homilies spoken from the pulpit will be themed to Memorial Day, acknowledging the high price paid by America's defenders and warriors. Not so, Tony. Nowhere in the body of his latest promotion is there even a token nod to this solemn occasion, or what it signifies. He's using Memorial Day as a prop to sell his usual content...just another excuse to put his name in my inbox, and the inboxes of the millions of others who are registered on his site.
I think the word here is "tacky," to say the least.
Saturday, May 27, 2006
You'll recall that, after receiving Tony Robbins' Mother's Day appeal, I asked, more or less, "is nothing sacred?" to these people. I think we have our answer.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
THE SELF-HELP MOVEMENT is a peculiarly American one that grafts onto politics with surprising ease," notes Jason Moring in a fascinating column for the always canny New York Observer.
Moring's piece revolves around many of the same themes I raise in SHAM, though he comes at the topic from a somewhat different angle. (His timing is excellent, by the way, as this month's Washington Monthly* also contains a feature on SHAM/SHAM's political overtones). The author doesn't much concern himself with examining how the self-help movement actually informed the nation's two polar political ideologies (i.e. he doesn't discuss latter-day Liberalism and Conservatism as creatures of Victimization and Empowerment, respectively). He's more interested in how today's political animals and operatives are turning to self-help for the solutions to their own disappointments--and he makes his case with verve and insight. As he poses in his lede, "You feel lost, confused, alone in the world. Everything you do ends in failure. No one listens to your ideas, respects your feelings or recognizes all that you have to give. You're filled with resentment and anger. Your hopelessness borders on despair. You don't know what to do, where to turn.... You're a Democrat, obviously."
Moring then chronicles the rise of a new self-help phylum--books explicitly targeted to readers with political agendas in mind. "The mass-market appeal of the political-strategy book is a relatively recent phenomenon," he writes. And since, at the moment, Dems see themselves as the odd men (and women) out, many of these new books are designed to teach folks of liberal persuasion how to reclaim their lost thunder--or at least, get more in touch with their inner, very angry child. Moring cites as illutrative works Jarding/Saunders' Foxes in the Henhouse, columnist/commentator E.J. Dionne's Stand Up Fight Back,** and the similarly combative Take it Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future, by political strategists-cum-talking heads James Carville and Paul Begala.
Moring puts forth two prime reasons why self-help translates so easily to political life. First, "Self-help reduced everything in American life to the intensely personal," he writes, "and politics were no different." (This is not, strictly speaking, a new concept. "The personal is political" is a phrase usually credited to Vietnam-era feminist Carol Hanish***.) Perhaps more important for our purposes, Moring intuits today's tidal wave of political self-help as a natural outgrowth of classically American rebellion against limitations of any kind. After discussing the European tradition--which recognizes the past's enormous role in shaping the present--he writes, "This notion of a largely predetermined fate is foreign to most Americans reared on optimism and possibilities." Endless possibility is an especially salable theme to a generation of Democratic voters and strategists who refuse to accept that the deck is stecked against them. They need to believe that, despite current GOP ownership of both congressional houses as well as 1600 Pennyslvania Ave, vindication is just a few hanging chads away.
"Self-determination is our most essential myth," as he puts it, "and the one at the center of most advice books for Democrats." Hmmmm.
But it isn't till late in his essay that Moring makes what may be the salient point here, for my money (or political contributors' money, for that matter). He observes that "Desperate to attract moderates, Democrats have undergone the political equivalent of way too much plastic surgery, abandoning their unique, compelling features...." If that sounds familiar, it should: It's our argument about whether, in the process of conforming yourself to some one-size-fits-all "improvement" program, you end up, in essence, abdicating yourself and becoming something you were never meant to be. The delicious irony is that this endeavor to trade in the old you for a new you may only make things worse. Certainly, in political terms, this is a hard truth the Democrats have been slow to perceive, argues Moring: Not only has their move to a more centrist persona failed to attract the new blood they'd hoped for, but increasingly it has lost them the original voter base who liked the party just fine the way it was.
* June issue, not available online.
** No, there's no missing conjunction. That's the correct title.
*** though many claim that Hanish was appropriating sociologist C. Wright Mills.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
I write this post in honor of the latest Dr. Phil prime-time special, which itself airs in honor of the end of May sweeps, tonight at 8 Eastern. This time around, Dr. Phil focuses not on fixing Paula Abdul's love life or horrifying the parents of some poor 9-year-old* by telling them he's destined to become the next Jeff Dahmer, but rather the damaging role of addictions in people's lives. Which, in turn, leaves me wondering if McGraw will cover people who've become foolishly addicted to him and his banal preachments.
Anyway, I figure this also gives me license to revisit Dr. Phil's Love Smart.** Those of you who are new to this blog can catch up by clicking here and following the trail as noted.
The "Marilyn R. Barry" review reappeared for the umpteenth time on April 30 and continues its inglorious tradition of piling up positive feedback votes at an astonishing pace; as I write this, "her" review boasts a perfect 24-for-24 rating. To put that in context, no other Love Smart review posted since mid-April has elicited more than 11 feedback votes (and no more than 5 positive ones). I've said it before and I'll say it again: I still can't believe that Amazon looks the other way while this (and other idiosyncratic nonsense) takes place on the Love Smart page day after day, week after week, month after month....
* as well as his more serious-minded peers in the field of psychotherapy.
** Hey, Rodg, I held out for as long as I could.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
It's not commonly known (and the guy's official pub takes great pains to downplay the fact), but The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown actually launched his writing career in August 1995 with the tongue-in-cheek title, 187 Men to Avoid: A Guide for the Romantically Frustrated Woman. Brown wrote it in partnership with his wife, Blythe, who is an art historian. The book set no sales records and was not even particularly well received on Amazon, which is typically friendly to such books, even when the reviewer isn't Marilyn R. Barry. I give you, herewith, the title for the most succinct of just four reader reviews* listed on 187 Men's Amazon page:
This book sucks.
The review was submitted on April 4, 1997, by "a reader."
Still, though 187 Men is long out of print, Brown's more recent literary triumphs have elevated available copies to collectible status: One such book, in "very good" condition, is now going for $99.95 on Amazon Marketplace.
Even though the book was mostly parody (Brown's list of 187 types of men to avoid includes those who "write self-help books"), it's fun to contemplate: How might the world be different had his foray into the genre somehow clicked? Would the millions of women** who have bought and read Da Vinci Code instead be tuning in to hear "Dr. Dan" each afternoon? Might his follow-up work have been titled, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From The Vatican? (Or maybe Men and Women: Cracking the Code?) Would Brown's kids (if any; I haven't checked) now have book deals of their very own, to write insipid spin-offs with titles like 187 Adolescent Males to Avoid: A Guide for the Romantically Frustrated Virgin?
I guess we'll never know.
* In contrast, say, to the 3,232 reader reviews currently listed for Brown's more familiar book.
** Almost needless to say, a fair number of men have read the book as well, with some 60 million copies now in print worldwide. And I hear there's a movie out...
Friday, May 19, 2006
Just heard back from Mr. Ibay, who, you'll recall, is the author of the book pictured at right--and a guy we slammed pretty good in May 4's edition of SHAMblog. In the very title of that post, we nominated him and his book as the "most shameless attempt to capitalize on someone else's name and following..."
Manny, though, was surprisingly restrained in his comments, which I present for you here, in full, with his permission:
"Happened to catch your sham blog. Don't worry, I'm better at handling criticism than Kobe Bryant. The book was actually legit--I don't know Tony on a personal level, other than my fleeting contact at his seminars. He didn't even know about the book until it was published. As an attorney, I knew I wasn't going to have any legal problems because I did not use his photo--name usage okay. Surprisingly, he never contacted me as I thought he might. I actually thought he would call to thank me for writing something that made him look great. His stuff actually helped me. And yes, I know that it doesn't help everyone. I receive primarily great reviews/emails, but occasionally will get the Tony-hater who claims that its all BS.
"I was able to get him the book via one of his sales reps (who sold me a seminar via telephone). And he did acknowledge receiving it when I spoke to him live on QVC. However, he said he didn't have time to read it yet when we spoke. I don't know if he ever has. I'd be curious to know if he did, but this book was merely a fun project that I had in me. I spend most of my time with my law practice and working on my golf game now. Good luck with your stuff in the future. Thought you might like to hear the real story from the source."
There's a lot to be read between the lines here. But for me, the takeaway is that Tony's satisfaction at being a source of inspiration for one of his devoted followers may have been outweighed in this case by his annoyance at having somebody essentially repurpose* his material.
* See SHAM pp. 6-7 for a quick refresher course on the genius, if you will, of repurposing.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
ONE OF THE prime reasons underlying self-help's astonishing and enduring popularity--I'm not so naive as to think that my book or my blog has changed any of that--is that it tells people what they want to hear. Oprah's 9 million viewers watch her show dutifully each day because she croons a love song of boundless hope; she tells them they can beat life at its own game. (Admittedly this is a little less true nowadays than it once was. The 2006-model Oprah can be somewhat less chirpy, somewhat more in-your-face than she used to be. But I suspect that she feels safer in doing that now that she's built her vast quasi-religious empire. People don't abandon the Catholic church, after all, just because the Pope rains a few stern words down on St. Peter's Square.) Even Phil McGraw, for all his "Get real!" and "Stop being a weenie" and the rest of that tough-love bluster, is making that same basic bargain with his viewers/readers: Do what I tell ya and things'll work out for ya before ya know it. You can have it all if ya just trust yer ol' pal, Dr. Phil.... Dr. Laura spouted pretty much the same message when she burst on-scene and became a multimedia phenomenon: "I'm going to tell you things you won't like--at first--but those things I tell you will enable you to find your path through the darkness."
I have a confession to make at this point: I sometimes get sick of writing this blog. Yes, I believe in the empirical and philosophical truth of what I say here. I also believe in the value it provides to people who otherwise would waste a lot of money on this crap--people who'd be set up for a huge emotional crash somewhere down the line, or at the very least would wind up as navel-gazing self-help junkies, doing endless amounts of planning and hoping and mentally strategizing while in the meantime their real lives simply passed them by.
But it's no fun saying this stuff (and I know it's often no fun reading it, which is why I think SHAMblog readers burn out from time to time and turn their attentions elsewhere). It's depressing to think that one's mission in life--my mission in my life--is to throw darts at people's pretty balloons, puncturing the illusions that make the daily grind livable for so many of us. The simple fact is that, given a choice between truth and hope, most folks would probably pick hope; that's just the way of things for homo sapiens, especially the American variety. We're strivers and dreamers. We want to believe that the impossible remains possible (even if we know better), and we don't like people telling us otherwise. (If you want to know the truth, I don't like people telling me otherwise, even in my own life.) So it must get tedious reading this same cynical sharp-shooting day after day, week after week. And, as I said above, it gets tedious writing it.
A week ago, after receiving an email on this theme from SHAMblog regular Rodger, I reviewed all of my posts for the previous few weeks. Though I more or less remembered what I'd written about, I was shocked and dismayed to evaluate the material in toto: It read as an endless stream of negativity and nihilism, one downbeat remark after another. Rodg seems to think that if I have issues with SHAM's unrealistic (and usually insincere) optimism, maybe it's time for me (of all people) to sit down and write a book that provides a more commonsensical brand of self-help: self-help "for people who think," if you will. The jury's still out on that one.
For now, I just wanted you folks to know that it "gets to me," too. I'm as eager as the next guy or gal to want to hear good news, and I want to be able to apply formulas in my life that will help me achieve my goals (when I have them)--formulas that will spark greater success and happiness and everything else we aspire to as a species (yes, even me). I just don't want people getting rich on my dime/time by selling me promises that they already know are rooted in nothing, and are really designed to help one person and one person only: the person making the promise.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
SHAMblog regulars know that from time to time, I reserve the right to stray from this forum's usual mission in order to address some other event that strikes me as worthy of comment. In this category is one of the hot stories in my region (Allentown, PA) of late: the rise of dog-fighting. Much like the cock-fights that proliferated 20 or 30 years ago in U.S. border towns and then spread rapidly inland, these stakes matches take place in dimly lit basements or out-of-the-way backyards, are publicized on the street via word of mouth, and become big-ticket gambling venues. The impresarios driving this latter-day blood sport tend to be folks who've already "made it" in drugs or prostitution; they arrange and promote the spectacles much as Don King promotes boxing. For a few days before the match itself, dogs typically will be deprived of food and proper amounts of water in order to make them leaner and meaner. Once in the fight ring, the dogs, usually (but not always) pit bulls, are expected to fight to the death. Animals who lose the will to continue after sustaining severe and/or painful injuries may be given added incentive with electrical prods. Aside from taking home a nice purse, the owner of a victorious dog earns a fair amount of street cred. Among a certain set of young urban males, it's a point of pride to parade the animal through the neighborhood, showing off its horrific battle scars. "The dog is an extension of their manhood" is how one cop recently put it.
Last week local police made a major bust on just such an operation, and a few days later the young defendants were hauled into court to answer the charges. As it happens, on the same day these gentlemen were arraigned, another young man was in court in a domestic-battery case. When he wound up receiving a lower bail than the members of the alleged dog-fighting ring, the latter group beomaned the unfairness of it all loudly and in open court. As reported in the Morning Call, one of them yelled, "We shoulda beat us some bitches instead...!"
Regular readers will also know by now that I'm dubious about whether there's much choice (if any) in life. Though I'm not at all sure where I come down in the nature vs. nurture debate, I'm pretty sure that whatever the respective degree of causation, nature + nurture = inevitable. Still, I think about stories like the above--I think about the singular heartlessness and brutality embodied in that quote, no matter which way you look at it--and I ask myself: How does someone (let alone an entire group of someones) turn out that way?
* Any CSNY fans left out there? For that matter, anybody out there who knows what CSNY stands for? (And no, it's not a new crime show...)
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
...reads the lead sales line of Tony Robbins' latest spam to me (and, presumably, to the other zillion or so names on his mailing list).*
"Our mothers guide us along a path of never-ending growth and learning, and with it, the path of everlasting love," posits an inspirational quote featured at the top of Tony's email--which, almost needless to say, turns out to be Tony quoting himself. (Hey, why waste precious space or verbiage on anyone of lesser wisdom, right?)
The copy continues, "Mother's Day is a tremendous opportunity to show the special mom in your life just how much her love, guidance and constant nurturing has meant to you over the years. Moms are the cherished caregivers and cheerleaders who give so much of themselves as they are always looking for ways to make our lives better. Honor her today by giving her the gift of gratitude, something that will allow her to take time for herself."
And what is this gift of gratitude? Well, let's see. For just $299, you could give her--no, not a 24K gold necklace with a pretty locket; not a "day of beauty" at a chichi day spa that will pamper her and cater to her every whim--but Tony's treatise on "Mastering Influence," an audio program that "integrates proven tools with sales tactics that help you persuade and influence others to ultimately achieve your goals and objectives." In other words, you could teach your Mom how to manipulate people better than a used-car salesman on his best day!** Or maybe she'd like Tony's program on "The Body You Deserve" (because after all, what Mom wouldn't want to be surprised on Mother's Day with a video that basically tells her she's fat!) Or, you could send Mom off to Atlanta to "hear Tony live!" (sure to be high on any mother's list of preferred getaways). What's more, no matter what, you get a free ecard to send to your Mom on Mother's Day.... And why do I suspect that (a) the ecard includes a pitch for, or at least a subtle allusion to, TR's product line, and/or (b) Mom's name and email address will be added to the distribution list for future Robbins spam? If I'm wrong on any of this, I apologize in advance. But I don't think I'm wrong.
I watch some of these folks and I wonder: Is there nothing they don't see as a marketing op or product tie-in? The gall of them. Seriously. What hubris....
* Tony--no fool--knows that mothers are something many of his loyal subjects tend to have.
** though most Moms--let's face it--know this already.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Sometimes when you’re wracking your brain, trying to devise a particularly fiendish satire/send-up of a given something in order to drive home its sheer stupidity, life itself comes along and provides you with a reductio-ad-absurdum scenario that can't possibly be improved upon.
In this category is Mr. T’s forthcoming advice/reality show, to be called—naturally—I Pity the Fool. The show will debut this October on TV Land, which is owned by giant Viacom, which is the parent company to Paramount-TV, which also gives us Dr. Phil’s show. Me? I pity the fool who watches either bozo.
Press releases emphasize that Mr. T (real name, Laurence Tureaud) thinks of his show as a clear and direct challenge to McGraw’s dominant franchise in the tele-therapy sweepstakes. As the T-man so eloquently put it in an AP interview on the heels of the May 4 announcement, “My show ain't no 'Dr. Phil,' with people sitting around crying. You're a fool--that's what's wrong with you! You're a fool if you don't take my advice.” (Can’t you just hear him saying that?)
Though this latest development clearly smacks of “need I say more?”, I’m going to say a little bit more. (I repeat: It's my blog.)
First, I have a question or two about the likely quality of the advice Mr. T is apt to dispense. (See his own quote, above, for a succinct statement of his therapeutic philosophy.) Then there are his qualifications to be dispensing such delving interpersonal wisdoms in the first place. It’s hard to imagine how his five-year stint on The A Team, where he played Sgt. Albert “BA” Baracus, would count as OJT towards a degree in psychology or counseling. (I don’t know about you, but I don’t tend to think of therapy and demolition in the same breath.) Then there’s the persona one would expect Mr. T to adopt in sharing his advice. (Here, I must pause to chuckle at the fact that many serious psychotherapists dismissed Dr. Phil as too in-your-face….!) Then there’s that whole notion of using troubled/fragile people as props in order to win ratings points. (Is there any doubt that Mr. T can be relied upon to "out-Jerry Springer" Dr. Phil in his pursuit of wackos and sad sacks to parade in front of America?) Now, in fairness, I don’t expect too many individuals with actual clinical problems to avail themselves of Mr. T’s counseling services. If ever there were a case where people understood that a TV show is about entertainment, not life-altering therapy, this would appear to be it. Still, there’s no way to control the untoward inferences drawn by the millions (or at least thousands) out there in TV Land's audience who will watch the new show and—just perhaps—be affected (or God help them, changed) by what they see. And surely at some point Mr. T is bound to do something along the lines of Dr. Phil's notorious gaffe involving the 9-year-old boy who, McGraw strongly implied*, was destined to become a serial killer. (And lest we forget—that was from a guy who actually has a valid credential in psychotherapy!)
In fact, bottom line, you could say this new show epitomizes the self-help movement to a T....
* This was during a September 2004 evening special that was supposed to put McGraw on the prime-time map.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
Last week, at the International Harm Reduction Association conference in Vancouver, B.C., over 100 activists representing more than a dozen different "drug user groups" worldwide took the opportunity to form a self-help coalition, to be known as the International Drug User Activists Congress (IDUAC)*. This new group will "lay the groundwork for increased coordination among user activist groups" who seek "an end to human rights violations against drug users," according to news reports of the events. Determined to ensure that their voices are "heard loud and clear," today's (ab)users feel compelled to take a direct hand in matters; seems the non-using professionals now in charge just aren't getting the job done. As one IDUAC spokesperson noted, "Drug users are one of the most marginalized and stigmatized groups in the community...." A position paper circulated at the meeting says it's "time to raise our voices as citizens...striving for self-representation and self-empowerment." The paper goes on to note that drug-user organizations have already contributed mightily to making drug policies "more responsive to drug user needs."
This is an intriguing phenomenon. On the one hand, the new coalition clearly isn't just a bunch of potheads sitting around comparing war wounds, as it were; these folks are out for action--to effect meaningful change. This, in other words, is a manifestation of true empowerment. On the other hand, they're seeking their empowerment on the basis of a form of alleged victimization with which many observers might take issue. They're selling the notion that--as drug users--they're not violators of the social contract, but rather victims of it. Having broken society's rules, they now want to claim they're being oppressed by society's penalties. This strikes me as a new wrinkle on that old chestnut about the kid who kills his mother, then asks the court for special treatment on the grounds that he's an orphan.
Then again, is such an argument much of a surprise anymore, given Alcoholics Anonymous' 70-year erosion of traditional perspectives on seriously nonconforming behavior? Look at the progression: Pre-AA, alcoholism was a character flaw, a vice. Then, thanks largely to AA, it became a disease, whose sufferers deserved extra consideration (often at society's expense) as they attempted to "get well again." Now this latest group of substance abusers doesn't even want to get well again: They expect society to take them as they are, by God. And if you don't like it, it's your problem.
By the way, I apologize for the title of this post, which some may deem insensitive. But...is it really that far over the top, considering what's happening here?
* You'd think they could've come up with a better acronym. How 'bout the Society for Taking Our Narcotics Every Day (STONED)?
Thursday, May 04, 2006
And, in the category of Most Shameless Attempt to Capitalize on Someone Else's Name and Following....
...I give you Manny Ibay. Or, more pointedly, I give you his book, Thank You, Tony Robbins: How Tony's Success Programs Helped Me Design My Life So I Can Do What I Want When I Want. Now, I confess at the outset, I know nothing specific about the contents of this book or the circumstances of its conception. For all I know, Ibay, who in his day job is a Los Angeles trial lawyer with an interesting clientele, could be working as a shill for Robbins, either formally or informally, which would make the book Tony's way of applying a nice, hearty pat to his own broad back. It wouldn't be out of character for a guru to do something like that. As a class, these guys (and gals) just loovvvve to talk about what a boon they've been to humankind; they tend to accept tribute from their admirers and proteges with all the humility of the Pope granting an audience (or maybe the Godfather having his ring kissed). At the very least, you gotta believe that Ibay cleared the whole thing with Robbins, who is fiercely protective of his name and public image these days. Trust me on that.
But even if the book is thoroughly "legit"...can you imagine a more unctuous slant on self-promotion? It's as if, say, some years back, at the height of Thriller-mania, some groupie-cum-aspiring-pop-star had come out with a CD titled "Songs Michael Jackson Loves to Hear Me Sing!" Or maybe this is Ibay's way of ingratiating himself with Robbins in hopes of getting some special quid-pro-quo. (It could mean nothing, of course, but his offices in Culver City are within fawning distance of those of Lavely and Singer, the venerable entertainment-law firm that lists Robbins among its top-tier clients.) If nothing else, Thank You allows Ibay to recycle (and resell) Robbins' material via the ingenious device of showing how the author applied it in his own life. The irony of all this is not entirely lost on the members of Robbins' happy little web community. As one of them, "Spaceman," begins a post, "So here I'm going to quote Manny Ibay who was quoting Tony Robbins who probably got it from Jim Rohn...."
Whatever the case, this strikes me as pretty tacky stuff. Even for SHAMland.
Speaking of tacky, and Tony, I received more spam from the Large One yesterday. The (nominal) subject of this latest outreach is spirituality. Bet you thought you knew what spirituality meant, huh? Not so fast. The pitch begins, "while some of us might equate spirituality with praying, meditating, or even reading enlightening literature, it's actually more complicated than we think." We learn that Tony* defines it as "the depth and expansion of your caring. Spirituality, in its simplest form, is your level of consciousness, or the way you connect with and care for those around you." He goes on to say that "to develop real connection, you must first get in synch with your inner self, becoming more aware of who you are on a deeper level." From there, he segues into some TR boilerplate about the "six levels of mastery," which include the physical body, work/career/mission, finances, and so forth. See the clever little game of connect the dots? Each mini-leap of faith (as it were) takes us a bit farther from where we started, and a bit closer to where Tony wants to maneuver us. Clearly by the end of it we've left spirituality--by any classic yardstick--in the dust. It has become whatever Robbins wants it to be.
This is another common SHAM ruse: Take a generally understood concept and redefine it in a way that supports one's aims; in this case, it starts to sound as if spirituality was invented for Robbins' personal convenience in selling his Mastery products. And that may be the least objectionable part of this outreach. Many from spirituality's more traditional camps would argue that Robbins' riffs on the concept, emphasizing self-awareness and self-fulfillment, represent the antithesis of true spirituality; true spirituality, they would tell you, upholds timeless goals and principles that bespeak maybe a wee bit less self-absorption than what Tony appears to have in mind....
* which, of course, means it must be so...
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
The SHAMblog faithful will know that the crippling problem with the kind of "self-help" book I sometimes advocate (and think could actually be useful) is that it's not publishable. More precisely, such a book--which would tread some sane middle ground between "you can do anything you want!" and "life is rigged against you!"--isn't marketable. Even more precisely, it can't be "positioned" in the marketplace. Which is to say, if it's not strictly Empowerment, and it's not strictly Victimization, publishers don't know how to promote it. And, frankly, readers usually don't want to read it.
There is, however, one way to get such a book into print: subterfuge. Give the book a title that's catchy enough in its own right (i.e. one that leans more to one side or the other than does the actual text) for readers to THINK the book is more cliched than it really is.**
Such a book is The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex and Feminism by Carrie L. Lukas. Based on its title alone, one would probably think (a) it's not a self-help book at all, and (b) it's a rightwing-ish rant, along the lines of Myrna Blyth's Spin Sisters, from which I quote heavily in SHAM. But really, Lukas' book is what one might call a well-tempered look at the ups and downs of postmodern feminism, as well as something of a user's guide for same. Though it pulls no punches when it comes to excoriating feminism for its excesses--in particular, for making women feel bad about domesticity and for blaming all of women's problems on men--it also points up areas in which feminists were indeed the squeaky wheels, facilitating the many important strides that women have made over the past half-century. To my read (again, recognizing that I suffer from the fatal handicap of being male), Lukas provides a good lens through which to interpret feminism and assess its practical relevance to everyday life--in a sensible, non-radical-fringe way.
I recommend it to women and men alike. If you take me up on this, by all means let me know what you think.
* This, by the way, was the title I would've used for the review I always wanted to write of the late Betty Friedan's work. Friedan's landmark book, of course, was The Feminine Mystique. She later repudiated, or at least softened, many of its key positions.
** It's truly sad that books almost have to be cliched--stereotypical--in order to find an audience. As a culture, we've completely lost our appreciation of nuance. And nothing demonstrates this better (or worse) than the "you're either on my team or you're my enemy" political climate.