Thursday, September 21, 2006

Mr. Oprah fixes the universe...and doesn't.

Stedman Graham, best known as Oprah's long-time beau, sat for an interview with GMA's Chris Cuomo this morning to promote his latest book, Diversity: Leaders Not Labels—A New Plan for the 21st Century, which sounds to me like part social treatise, part self-help book. Historically these types of hybrid tomes are not only hardest to categorize, but also some of the most dangerous books culturally, because they masquerade as serious works (and are often taken as such; Cuomo's eyebrows remained duly knitted the whole time) while reducing to, in essence, just another day with Dr. Phil. The official Amazon description of the book says it will show readers how to "break out of the box"—a phrase Graham must've used, no exaggeration, at least five times this morning. For someone who professes to keep his eye trained resolutely on the future, Graham sure seems anchored in cliche. Cuomo, by the way, is yet another of those erstwhile serious journalists, like the aforementioned Diane Sawyer, whom celebrity and good looks have corrupted into little more than a well-spoken, less leggy Mary Hart.

I haven't r
ead Graham's book, but so far as I can tell from his GMA patter*, here is what must happen if we are to succeed, individually and collectively, at nudging America forward: We must realize that we're different...but also the same; we must focus primarily on our strengths...but also our weaknesses; we must draw comfort from what's familiar...but also be willing to break out of that damned box.... You getting the gist here? Basically, Graham's book covers everything...and nothing. It's whatever you think it is. Like those relationships books that say you have to be loving and giving...but never to the point of "codependency." You end up thinking, That's terrific... But now what do I do??

Diversity: Leaders Not Labels will sell, of course; the considerable marketing machinery of Harpo Productions will see to that. The book is already showing a nice Amazon bump since its author's GMA spot just a few hours ago. And people who read it will praise it to their friends, saying how "important" and "energizing" it was—though they haven't a clue as to how they're supposed to put its insights into effect in their daily lives.

Finally, let me say that the official pub date of Graham's book is September 26, which also happens to be the official pub date of the paperback version of SHAM. Sychronicity, sweet synchronicity.


* This may sound unfair, but look: It is an author's responsiblity--as the person who, after all, wrote the book--to communicate its core message(s) in a coherent manner. I've heard Graham before, and he's a pretty good public speaker. I therefore think that what he said on GMA probably represents a fair distillation of his book and its themes. Warts and all.

16 comments:

Cosmic Connie said...

Well, this one has "best-seller" written all over it, no doubt about it. And it has not one but two subtitles! Or is it two titles and one subtitle? I really can't tell.

I just went to the Amazon listing. Even though they don't have "search inside the book" set up for this title yet, the text of the book's intro is on the page. "Why This Book?" the intro asks, just as if we didn't know the real answer.

But here's Stedman's answer, in part:

"...The world is a collection of unlimited wealth and resources. Often, we limit our potential by moving in our own small circles because of our fears. If we change the way we view the world, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.

"This sentiment is important to me because it represents a different kind of thinking -- a thinking that gives you the confidence that you can be, do, and accomplish anything."

He forgot to say you can "have anything." If he'd just included that, he would have sounded like all of the Internet hustledorks we so love to lampoon.

So it's really not "a different kind of thinking" after all (duh).

I haven't read Graham's book either yet. But it sounds like the kind of book that you can like, and yet not like. Or read, and yet not read. And if you do, or don't, everything will or will not be the same, and yet different. :-)

Anonymous said...

Personally I think you're jealous or racist or both. You seem to have an awful lot (always bad) to say about Oprah who only tries to help people and do good. And what have YOU done for people lately?

Steve Salerno said...

I approved the previous comment--note that it is anonymous--in the spirit of fair play, though I like to think it speaks for itself.

Anonymous said...

What exactly are Stedman Graham's qualifications to write a book on world leadership, or leadership period, aside from dating a leader of contemporary culture? (And I ask this in ignorance--I know nothing about him beyond his Oprah connection. For all I know, he could be head of the World Bank.)

Steve Salerno said...

Here's a link to his official bio, which I am allowing him to tell in his own words.
http://www.stedmangraham.com/about.html

Look, the man has done a few things in life. Does that qualify him to write such a book? Hard to say. My quibble--in this case--is less with Graham's qualifications than with his content, which--again bearing in mind that I haven't read the book--sounded quite underwhelming, as he himself described it to Cuomo.

Cosmic Connie said...

Well, if the introduction, from which I quoted briefly, is anything like the rest of the book, I'd say that Graham's description (or non-description) on GMA was pretty accurate. And yet somehow inaccurate...

Steve Salerno said...

Very good, CosCon. Verrrrry good...

Anonymous said...

Saw your post on mediabistro. I think this is a bit unwarranted if you haven't actually read his book. Premature, anyway. I know that critiquing self-help is your gig, and I get where you're coming from re the vacuousness of self-help as a category, but it seems to me from other things I've read that Stedman's rap is more like something Toffler might have done. Maybe you don't give the guy enough credit for being a cultural visionary (don't laugh.) And he's a pretty successful dude in his own right. You have to give him that.

Cosmic Connie said...

Anon, I haven't read Graham's book either, and I am certainly not knocking his accomplishments. However, just judging from (1)the book's introduction, which was printed on the Amazon page; (2) Graham's own remarks about the book on the GMA interview; and (3) The copy on Graham's website -- I cannot exactly view the man as a "cultural visionary." Perhaps if he had written this book back in the 1950s or early 1960s, it would have been visionary. But today, every Graham, Phil and Tony -- and even your average Joe -- is saying, "Just change your way of looking at the world, and you can do or be anything you want." Or some variation thereof. Self-help authors are saying it. New-age writers are saying it. Even a lot of clergy are saying it now.

Toffler, on the other hand, was a visionary, at least back when he wrote "Future Shock." In that book he expressed some ideas that were new at the time. Graham doesn't seem to express any new ideas at all in his latest book.

Again, this is not to belittle his real-world accomplishments in any way. But plenty of accomplished people are mediocre authors at best. Yet their books hit the bestseller lists again and again, merely because the author is a "name." And despite Graham's many admirable accomplishments...well, let's face it, he probably wouldn't be such a "name" if he weren't Oprah's squeeze.

Anonymous said...

o.k. (this is anon again) but here you have one self-promoter (i.e. Steve) going after another (i.e. Stedman). Can we all at least agree that this is all about making money, no matter who's saying what about whom?

Steve Salerno said...

No. We can't agree. And I'll tell you why, and also why I consistently reject these "moral and monetary equivalence" arguments when they come up on talk shows (as they notably did during my infamous debate with Mr. Chicken Soup, Mark V. Hansen). There's a difference between somebody raking in a fortune by knowingly putting out a fatuous message, and somebody else taking in far more modest sums of money (if you saw my royalty statements, you'd know what I mean) by calling the first guy on his mistakes and deceptions. I won't presume to set myself up as a whistle-blower or any such thing, but I think the principle holds. A book like SHAM is never, ever going to play to a mass audience, certainly not an audience of Oprah-esque dimensions. If I wanted to get rich via writing, or at least try, I'd have written a book LIKE GRAHAM WRITES; those are the books that sell out the kazoo. I would NOT have written a book that attacks the very themes that are the biggest sellers in American society and that, in so doing, strips away the veneer of fantasy that allows so many of us to get through the day (but in the end may prevent us from having the very fulfillment we seek!). If these gurus and allied authors would just play by the rules, or at least sit down and give a bit more thought to the messages/programs they send out (like, so they made sense and were actionable), there'd be no market for a book like mine. See the diff, anon?

Steve Salerno said...

Bottom line: I think it's unfair and misleading to blame me for writing a book that painstakingly reveals the insincerity and incompetence behind the programs that are making millions for other writers and seminar gurus. To me, it's almost like drawing moral equivalence between the arsonist and the firefighter (and please, I don't want to hear from people who tell me that I'm trying to make myself out as some noble, heroic public servant. I'm just making a useful analogy).

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

What have YOU done for people lately? Oh what's that? NOTHING!? yeah i thought so. Sorry, but giving people free cars is not my idea of "helping", just a way of throwing your financial wealth in the faces of others. I dont agree with anything that woman does. And no, I'm not racist either, half my family is afro american. Nice try, but the racist card is getting pretty old. I'm surprised you didnt pull out the "woman" card as well.

Love,

Anonymous #2

Cosmic Connie said...

In Oprah's defense, Anon #2, it's not all about giving cars away; she has actually done and is doing some things that could make a real difference in people's lives (e.g., those schools in Africa). I kinda like her, and I do not begrudge her any of her success. But I do think she has made stars of some people who really don't deserve stardom.

Cosmic Connie said...

In Graham's defense (sort of), his message seemed marginally more distinctive during Friday's brief interview on CBS' Early Show. He seemed to be saying that the main message of his new book (beyond the need for workers of the 21st century to adapt to new ways of thinking) is that society needs to "transcend race consciousness." As new-agey as the latter bit may sound, I think a color-blind society is a worthy goal. Part of me fears it is unrealistic, but it's something to work for. But I still don't see how repeating cliches about diversity -- or any other fine ideal -- is going to benefit much except the cliche-monger's bottom line.

Anonymous said...

I also am missing Salerno's point here. Is it that Graham is unqualified to write a book? Is it that as Oprah's partner he has an "unfair" advantage in promoting said book? Is it that the book itself is bad? Or is it that the producers of GMA are fools for booking Graham as a guest? I really don't get it--and all of Salerno's anger directed at Graham seems a bit pointless and overheated to me.