Thursday, January 12, 2006

A million (not so) little disappointments?

Here's a transcript of my appearance last night (Wednesday) on Tucker Carlson's MSNBC show, which I think went quite well (and which, it now appears, may have generated a number of further appearances; we shall see). Tucker and I began my segment with a brief discussion of author James Frey, who, as many of you will know by now, stands accused of fabricating much of the central action in his Oprah-endorsed, mega-best-selling "memoir," A Million Little Pieces. Off-camera, and then much more briefly on-, Tucker and I had an interesting chat about how the Frey scandal at least indirectly epitomizes the atrociously low standards to which SHAM holds itself. Oprah herself underscored this unfortunate reality by announcing that she stands by Frey and upholds the book's inspirational message: You see, from the SHAMster's point of view, it doesn't really matter if this stuff is true or valid, because self-help is not about truth or validity per se. Self-help is about (supposedly) uplifting and inspiring. So where's the harm?

Here's the harm: SHAM's hard-core followers often base their lives, and entrust their futures, to credible-sounding regimens that, in the end--if not from the beginning--prove empty and illusory, thus resulting in a colossal waste of time and energy, as well as crushing personal disappointment. In SHAM's thrall, desperate/hopeful people abandon courses of action that may have been right for them, in order to embrace causes that may be wholly wrong for them. Either that or they remain locked in their essential malaise thanks to the "improved coping skills" SHAM provides to them by making them feel better about a bad situation. And why do self-help's regimens so consistently fail people? Oh, I don't know; maybe it's because they're based on nothing--no research, no testing, no scientific methodology, inappropriate conclusions drawn from sketchy or shoddy data, etc. On top of that, as we've seen, self-help tends to be delivered by individuals who have no credentials and/or standing to be doing any such thing. It starts with the prototypical self-help program, Alcoholics Anonymous, where many millions have put their faith in a "cure" devised by a wire-rope salesman and a rectal surgeon... After all, who better to lead America out of the national nightmare of alcoholism?

** Dr. Phil Update. ** Need further proof that Amazon is "in on" the highly suspect happenings viz the reviews for Dr. Phil McGraw's latest best-seller, Love Smart (the primary subject of this blog in recent weeks)? Check out Amazon's latest choice of Spotlight Reviews. I herewith reproduce the first such review in as close to its Amazon format as possible:

4 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Love Smart , January 9, 2006
Reviewer:
Gail "sincrony" (Usa) - See all my reviews
I know that I have chosen the right path. I have everything MY partner who is romantic, spontaneous, smart, and more. About communication there should be a rule about not talking about your job, the weather, and telling the story of your life like a history lesson, and conducting a date like a job interview. Excluding these topics forces you to be interesting. Talk about what excites you instead. I also recommend my favorites books about this matter Sex and the perfect lover by Mabel Iam and The Love Diet by Mabel Iam more that love and sex

Notice, for starters, that this isn't even a review of the book! Rather, it's just a general comment on living and loving. Not only does the reviewer never mention Love Smart by name, but she fails to cite a single specific aspect of the book that pleased her, or motivated her to award four stars.* (What's all the more odd is that the reviewer specifically does mention two books by other authors.) Moreover, the review has received a mere 11 feedback votes, only four of which labeled it helpful. Finally, it is poorly written, to an almost horrific degree.

Yet Amazon sees fit to elevate it to Spotlight status.

* I suppose an apologist for Amazon could argue that if they really wanted to promote the book, they could've selected only five-star reviews. But after all that's gone on with the Love Smart page, am I excessively cynical to suggest that whoever's doing this is trying to leave himself a modicum of plausible deniability?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ok so how do they get away with this? Who's getting paid-off? Somebody needs to investigate this if not you. And didn't you say you were talking to Jeff Bezos? I still find this unbelievable and in fact wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it day by day.

acd said...

Wow. I'm surprised they didn't choose Dr. Marilyn Barry's review for the spotlight (although I guess they didn't have to since it's usually the first review anyway). At least she has writing competencies above the grade school level...

Steve Salerno said...

ACD, I'm fairly sure that Amazon would've already nominated Barry (nee OHolleran) as a Spotlight Review--if whoever's writing and posting the damn thing ever left it up there long enough to accumulate more than 4 or 5 feedback votes at a clip! Each time they post it, it starts from scratch in building its impact with readers. But I'm sure the McGraw camp is more than happy to make that "sacrifice," in exchange for putting the review in the eyes of a fresh set of readers every few days.

Incidentally, thanks, ACD, for all your savvy comments over the life of this blog. Some great points, succinctly made...

Steve Salerno said...

Btw, I was amused to note that "Mark Twain" has now weighed in on Dr. Phil's book, awarding it five stars in his staccato, one-line review. I guess the people pulling the strings here were desperate to dislodge Jenna's searing review from the top slot, but were really busy today, and didn't have the time to write a full-fledged tribute. Mr. Twain notes that Love Smart would make an excellent gift, and in fact, he gives it "to everyone I know"!

Anonymous said...

Poor Sam Clemens! He must really be rolling...

acd said...

As I write this, Barry's review has 14 feedback votes and more actual helpful votes than the illiterate spotlight review by Gail. I'm still shocked that they haven't chosen Barry's. Oh well. I'm not going to complain that Dr. Phil's spotlight reviewer doesn't even directly praise his book. Any remotely intelligent reader would immediately dismiss that "review," if you can even call it that.