"Now you kids are probably saying to yourselves, "Hey, I'm gonna go out and GET THE WORLD BY THE TAIL and wrap it around and pull it down and put it in my pocket. Well, I'm here to tell you that you're probably going to find, as you go out there, that you're not going to amount to JACK! SQUAT!"
—Matt Foley, motivational speaker
In the strangest-yet-oddly-creepy conincidence of this week, I discovered that my favorite person ever Eric Avery and I have been listening to the same podcast: The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. How cool is that?? Anyway, I think it's also more evidence that great minds think alike because I was already preparing to blog about something that I heard on Skeptic's Guide and the resulting obsessive road it has sent me down—ragging on self help.
First, a quick word on the podcast: basically, Skeptic's Guide is a weekly roundtable discussion/snarkfest about pseudoscience, "intelligent design," psychics, and other nonsense from a scientist's point of view. Totally geeky and totally fun. I highly recommend it. Anyway, I found the August 8, 2005, ep particularly interesting, not only for the hilarious discussion about a "haunted" doll up for auction on eBay, but for the guest skeptic: Steve Salerno, author of "SHAM: How Self-Help Made America Helpless".
I bet you'll never believe that all that stuff that Tony Robbins spouts out about living up to your true potential and empowerment and how special and unique you are is really just a bunch of meaningless bullshit. Not convinced? If "The 10 Stupid Things Women Do To Mess Up Their Lives" worked the first time, then why do we also need about a zillion other versions of the book, CDs, DVDs, seminars, retreats, and other branded crap as follow-up?
Just for laffs, I thought I'd make fun of some of the more popular self-help gurus. Maybe we'll all learn a little something about ourselves and finally be able to tap into our personal inner pep squad, master our emotions and become the passionate, unbreakable go-getters we are all capable of being. And if you can't, well, then you just don't want it bad enough. Slacker.
One of my pet peeves is meaningless corporate-speak, and Anne represents "Impression Management Professionals", (see—even the name of the company is just a collection of nonsensical words), an organization that seems to be hell-bent on sucking the life out of the minds, motivation and self-esteem of as many office peons as possible. If you've ever had to sit through one of these stupid corporate seminars to learn how to "shatter resistance", "filter messages", "optimize presentation" and "communicate core ingredients", you know how these excruciating talks just make everyone feel more confused and lethargic about their jobs and life in general. Just looking at some of the seminar titles—Outcome Focus, Impression Management, Success Tools To Polish The Diamond Within You, ProGotiations (I wish I was making these up)—makes me want to stab myself in the throat with a ball-point pen. My advice is to start coughing now and develop a full-blown "cold" by the time the seminar rolls around.
Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen
Chicken Soup For the Golfer's Soul. Chicken Soup For the Shopper's Soul. Chicken Soup For the Fisherman's Soul. Chicken Soup For the Scrapbooker's Soul. Chicken Soup For the Baseball Lover's Soul. Chicken Soup For the Canadian's Soul. Chicken Soup For the Military Wife's Soul. Chicken Soup For the NASCAR Soul. Chicken Soup For the Ocean Lover's Soul. Chicken Soup For the Prisoner's Soul. Chicken Soup For the Beastiality Soul. OK, so I made that last one up. BUT ALL THE REST OF THEM ARE REAL.
This woman (real name: Rhonda Harris) totally intrigues me...and not in a good way. It's unclear how exactly she earned the titles of "doctor" and "reverend" (and many of these self-help mofos get their diplomas online); in fact, her main "credentials" seem to be that she had a really crappy childhood that she has apparently made peace with. Her bio says, "In 1990 with seemingly little notice, her path to working with man’s law transformed and suddenly made way to a divine appointment with Spiritual Law. This union gave birth to her work of service to the Universe and manifested in the form of workshops, lectures, television appearance, and best-selling books wherein Iyanla shared Spiritual Law and Principles." Okaayyyyyy. What can be confirmed is that she is the author of "One Day My Soul Just Opened Up", "Yesterday I Cried", "Giving To Yourself First" and several other ridiculously pretentious titles. Seriously, Rhonda, get over yourself. Many people have overcome horrible situations to become inspiring, but trivializing serious situations with pseudo-spiritual McAffirmations is seriously irresponsible. Leave the care and counseling to the people who actually sat in classrooms for four years. And for god sakes, enough with the man's law/spiritual law business. It sounds like something Kirk Cameron would say.
The man behind some of the most popular relationship books on the market was at one time a monk. That's right. A monk is giving step-by-step advice on how to please women. And with profound tips like, "All men and women have an equal need for love; when these needs are not fulfilled it is easy to have our feelings hurt," who wouldn't think that was a good idea? They must not have stressed the sin of greed too much at the monestary, because with books, magazines, retreats, radio shows, an online dating service and more, the Mars/Venus empire seems to go on and on with no merciful end in sight. Johnny also sponsors something called the "O Spa", which features some kind of convoluted hot tub with "metabolism-enriching" iodines and sea salts. Is he serious? Someone needs to tell him that Jesus doesn't like liars.
Sark is the Candace Bushnell of self-help. She writes books with titles like "Eat Mangoes Naked", "Succulent Wild Woman", "Living Juicy" and "Transformation Soup: Healing For the Splendedly Imperfect." She uses words like "bodacious", "luscious" and "radiant" and surrounds them with sherbet-colored drawings of rainbows and fairies and coffee mugs. She talks about having a safe place to dream and explore and create. She assures the readers of her website "You are so completely welcome to be here! This is our creative community built by all of our hearts. It is a place of learning, teaching, loving and sharing what it means to be a succulent human bean [sic]—that's you!" Simply put: I fucking hate Sark.
Dr. Spencer Johnson
Spence is the "innovator" behind that annoying "Who Moved My Cheese" book that every boss ever in the history of the modern world quotes from ad nauseum at quarterly meetings. His revolutionary philosphy to success involves the four "Change Skills™": anticipating change, taking action, moving beyond fear, and imagining success. Seriously. I have no idea how cheese is supposed to fit into this equation, but I'm sure there is some profound analogy that relates to not sweating the small stuff and maximizing results and shit like that. Even with his millions of adoring fans showering him with cash, the good doctor at least remains modest. From his bio: "Dr. Spencer Johnson is one of the world's most influential thinkers and beloved authors. He is renowned for his brief, profound parables that help millions of people manage in changing times and rejuvenate their spirits." Dr. Johnson would take your call, but he's too busy looking at himself in the mirror and jerking off to his own reflection.
Also of note are the wonderfully absurd book titles the "movement" has spawned. Here's a small sampling:
• Live Like You Were Dying (because when you do, you'll live forever, like Michael Jackson)
• Becoming The Me I Want To Be
• Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda: Overcoming Regrets, Mistakes and Missed Opportunities
• Calming The Inner Storm
• Cleaning Out The Closet Of Your Mind
After you've finished purging, let me just say that, conversely, I realize that we all need all the help we can get after getting several pan-zoom views of Britney's crotch and C-section scar in the last week. But the pathway to wellness will not be found in any of the books listed above. The best, most healing advice I can give you is to get rid of that memory by attacking it at the source: kill off the brain cells. That's right, alcohol and lots of it is the answer. It's the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems.
I mean seriously. Can you imagine a whole world of empowered people walking around living up to their full potential? How fucking annoying would that be? We'd all be drinking anyway.