Friday, November 17, 2006

Just another turkey for Turkey Day?

Comes, now, via email, and just in time for Thanksgiving, the latest offering from Tony Robbins. And guess what! It's Robbins himself! Yep. Funny how Tony always seems to have the perfect gift for every occasion, even the most improbable ones, and funny how the perfect gift always turns out to be Tony....

To address a comment by one of our regulars last night, yes, I did catch a few moments of Round 2 of Larry King's Positive-Thinking-Extravaganza-and-General-Barf-fest. A few moments were all I could stand, frankly. (Click here and scroll down for some thoughts on Round 1.) I continue to wonder why Larry—who is never too shy to ask presidents about the inconvenient details of their sex lives, or corporate leaders about the less noble aspects of their business dealings—seems so very much in the thrall of these bozos. Then again, I remember some of the conditions that were laid down in a few cases where I was supposed to go head-to-head with SHAM artists early in the PR campaign for my book. And it occurs to me that maybe these guys collectively have enough clout to dictate terms even to a Larry King: "Look, if you're going to try to make us look bad, we're not doin' the show. OK fella? Just don't go there...." Wider-lens, I also think it has something to do, again, with The Givens in our society: that there are certain things you just don't question, period. Even if you're Larry King. Among them: Self-esteem is good for you. A positive mental attitude is good for you. The glass is always at least half full. You can do it if you really try. Etc.

This reverence for the set of various ideals considered Givens holds throughout the world of journalism, and there was no clearer statement of the phenomenon than I heard on some radio talk show as I was out buying gas for the car this morning. The host wanted to know why everyone in media is covering this weekend's apparent TomKat wedding as though it were a coronation. "Can we put aside our juvenile obsession with Hollywood's hot young couples for just one freakin' minute," he asked, "to confront the fact that these two characters arrived in Europe carrying the baby girl they conceived out of wedlock? [As shown in that footage that's ubiquitous on the networks today, with little Suri's adorable face poking out over Tom's shoulder.] And now finally they're getting around to getting married seven months later? And we're all giddy and fawning over them like they just discovered the cure for cancer." This host wanted to know what message that sends to kids growing up in a culture that is already perilously close to losing what little moral compass it has left.

Let me emphasize that I'm not necessarily agreeing with him, nor by any means claiming to be holier-than-TomKat. I'm simply using this as further proof that in today's America, when it comes to certain issues in pop culture, there is only one side. There are some things we're permitted to experience—if not compelled to experience—from one perspective and one perspective alone. You can't be judgmental or even cynical about premarital sex* anymore, especially when it's occurring among celebrities
(who, if you think about it, are precisely the people you should be judgmental about, if you're going to be judgmental at all, because of the role-model effect alluded to above). So, too, you can't be cynical about the supposed wonders of a PMA, even when the gurus are peddling those wonders insincerely, and raking in millions along the way.

P.S. By the way, if Larry King's running positive-thought-a-thon really piques your interest, you owe it to yourself to read Cosmic Connie's recent musings on the matter and related notions. You'll thank me. But more appropriately, thank her.

* You can't, for example, propose that the solution to today's growing nightmare of teen pregnancy and STDs is abstinence; the media will do one of four things: ignore you, eat you alive, laugh you out of the room, or set you up as a straw man for the solutions they regard as "credible" and "enlightened"—contraception, intensified counseling on sexual health in schools, etc.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

In our culture of promiscuity, and, as you point out, virtual celebration of celebrity promiscuity (nothing makes news like celebrity breakups, hook-ups, infidelity, etc.), it seems to me that contraception and high school sex education are essential, especially if we are ever to stop our society from using abortion as a means of birth control (one of the great horrors of our time) rather than the extreme measure it ought to be. Please bear in mind that, except for the voluntary celibacy that is supposed to be practiced by those in holy orders, "abstinence," as applied to the greater society, tended to be most effective in the days when girls were married off at sixteen--by an odd coincidence, the very girls who would be sexually active highschoolers today. I'd be down on my knees thanking God for an effective birth control program for teens!!!

Steve Salerno said...

You make an excellent point, Anon. I'm not saying I disagree with you. Remember, the main purpose of my post was NOT to sermonize about the need to return to the Little House on the Prairie ethic (and one suspects that more went on on the prairie than we're told about, anyway), but rather to point out that in today's society, we are not even permitted to examine the issue (as well as the other "givens") as if there IS another side. Today, it's considered unfashionable if not downright gauche to take a stand against promiscuity (or to favor "higher standards of morality" at all). We're almost made to feel that things have turned completely around: that there is something intrinsically wrong with the idea of deferring sex till after marriage. And you know, if I wanted to use this as an opportunity to attack the self-help movement on yet another ground, I'd point out that this very notion--that you shouldn't criticize people for having premarital sex, babies, etc.--has its roots in the self-esteem movement, which pretty much argues that the worst thing you can do in life is make somebody feel bad about himself/herself. Therefore, no matter what a person does--it's "all good." How far do we want to take that, as a culture? I'm just askin'.

Trish Ryan said...

"I'm not claiming to be holier-than-TomKat"

Steve, that was a funny line! And I think you'd be on safe ground if you did make such a claim. I don't know you at all, really, but I think there's plenty of room on that particular patch of ground.

The Professor said...

Steve,
Perhaps it was forcefed to me by the liberal media, but I recently heard figures that suggest that the actual rates of teen intercourse are down. That perhaps the oversexing of images (clothes, myspace profiles with flirty pictures, etc.) actually has a numbing effect on youth sexuality. Do you have any figures that might offer a counter-argument? Is teen pregnancy really up? Or is our fact checking better? With population growth and so forth, numbers can easily be skewed to make the issue seem "worse than it is."

Steve Salerno said...

Trish: I dunno about that. By this point in my life, the ground under my feet is getting pretty...muddy. But your faith in me is refreshing.

Professor: Taking up the question of whether the issue "seem[s] worse than it is" strikes me as little more than a diverting but ultimately pointless exercise in pedantry. The numbers are bad enough, regardless of whether, at the present moment, they're trending slightly up or slightly down. That said, I did find this link, which may be helpful, at least as a start:
http://www.teenpregnancy.org/whycare/sowhat.asp

Anonymous said...

Steve, so how come when other "regulars" tip you to something they get mentioned by name, but I'm just "a regular?" This isn't about ego, I'm just making a point about your biases in the different treatment you give to some of us.
-Carl

Steve Salerno said...

No offense, Carl...but are you for real here? Or are you pulling my leg?? Please tell me it's the latter....

Cosmic Connie said...

Carl, I am sure that Steve loves you just as much as he loves the rest of us. :-)

Some of this discussion reminds me of an interview I saw the other day on one of the network morning gab shows. The interviewee was Ariel Levy, author of a new book called, "Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women & The Rise of Raunch Culture." It's all about how women (and girls) are sabotaging feminist gains of the past few decades by overemphasis on being sexy in bold new ways. Levy argues that this has become a kind of false empowerment for women and girls. As she explains it in her intro:

"Women had come so far...we no longer needed to worry about objectification or misogyny. Instead, it was time for us to join the frat party of pop culture, where men had been enjoying themselves all along. If Male Chauvinist Pigs were men who regarded women as pieces of meat, we would outdo them and be Female Chauvinist Pigs: women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves."

At one point in the interview, the conversation turned to the increasingly common phenomenon of young girls who dress, to put it bluntly, like sluts. (They didn't use that word on TV, of course, but that's what they meant.) Both the interviewer and Ms. Levy expressed dismay about this trend, and asked the rhetorical question, "How could their parents possibly let them go out of the house looking like that?"

Well, I'm sure that in at least some cases, the moms are going out of the house dressed like sluts too. After all, 40 is the new 20, blah blah blah. Unfortunately, it seems that 10 has become the new 20 as well. When little girls start dressing like their Bling-Bling Barbies, all in the name of "girl power," it kinda makes you wonder where we went wrong in this culture.

PS -- I have nothing against dressing daringly on occasion, but then, I'm not trying to be a role model for anyone. :-)

Case Carstensen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RevRon's Rants said...

"Is the beef really with these notions or with those that over-promise and profit from selling them?"

I would posit that the "beef" is with both... and then some. First of all, applying a soothing salve to a wound might feel good, but if it does nothing to address the underlying dis-ease (or even exacerbates the progress of the disease by leaving it untreated), the salve actually becomes part of the problem. The underlying problem (as I see it) is the acceptance and internalization of a level of competitiveness which is based upon superfluous goals. Our society has blindly accepted the notion that the quantity and quality of possessions and the adherence to an aggressively marketed image of attractiveness are the true measures of an individual's inherent worth. By accepting such a notion, most individuals doom themselves to futile efforts to obtain things which are unattainable to them, thus rendering them "failures."

Along come some savvy marketers, who perceive the ultimate customer base: Individuals who hunger for something elusive and unattainable, which the marketers can promise to provide, sans any responsibility for actually providing anything. These hustledorks promise the moon, and when they cannot deliver, they manage to convince the customer that he/she hasn't jumped high enough, and needs only to buy the next "magic key" to realize their goals. And when the next secret formula doesn't work, the hustler repeats the admonition and offers the next magic key. The cycle will continue until the mark either has a realization that he's been hustled, or he runs out of money to invest. Either way, the hustler just moves on to the next mark, and the customer is left with an even greater sense of failure. It's no accident that many of these modern-day "gurus" have backgrounds in MLM pyramid schemes, as opposed to health and/or theological fields.

Unfortunately, there is no "cure" for the cycle of deception and frustration, save for educating consumers and helping them to realize that the happiness they seek won't be found at the end of a rainbow (or at the end of an expensive weekend workshop), but rather in their learning to more pragmatically approach their own sense of self and their life goals. you won't see the hustledorks sharing this "secret," however. There's no money in it.

And as to the objectification of women (and their "sluttification," as Connie describes it), there have always been women who package themselves to entice, and there's nothing particularly wrong or unnatural with that (Anyone here old enough to remember Rusty Warren?). What has changed is that the public relations industry has figured out that little girls want to be mature (not a new concept!), and the PR hacks have taken the most effective path in marketing to them: Sell them a sexy image. Sex has always sold; it's just being sold younger nowadays, and parents are too busy "improving" themselves to pay attention.

Vanessa Biard said...

What about "juvenile obsession"? Obsession over staying young too?
I went to the US for more than a week last October and my last stay had been in 2003. I was struck by women's faces and teeth on TV. They looked the same to me: same teeth, hair color and stressing smiles... How can they keep up smiling so much? Is life always about fun even in the face of terrible events?
Just a couple of questions about this "juvenile" obsession -next time I might touch upon the European forms of the same obsession;-)

Steve Salerno said...

This thread has taken on a life of its own that I find fascinating and intellectually provocative. That is actually when I like this blog the best: when you folks take it where it needs to go. More later (on the specifics of the issues that have been raised)...

Steve Salerno said...

Just as a p.s. to Vanessa: I don't think the "smiling obsession" you describe in your comment is entirely unrelated to the false (or at least, unfounded) optimism that I constantly attack in this blog. Both likely proceed from the same starry-eyed mindset, which also helps explain how and why President Bush, even in the midst of a speech about the mounting death toll in Iraq, feels the need to flash that stupefyingly dumb grin of his every so often. Nor are you the first person of European extraction to make such an observation. In fact, my editor in London said one of the reasons that self-help doesn't resonate in the UK as well as it does here in the States is that Londoners are, basically, just too cynical--and insufficiently gullible--to buy in. Now, that could be his parochial pride talking, as I don't think the Brits have ever quite gotten over losing the Revolutionary War (wink). Still, it's a point worth pondering.

Cosmic Connie said...

And, getting back to a couple of the points you originally made on this post, Steve... You may very well be right about the reasons Larry refused to challenge the PMA capitalists on those two segments. Besides the possibility that he was unwilling to violate "The Givens," it's also possible these folks do have the clout to dictate what he could and could not ask. Since LK apparently had more to gain by having them on his show than by not having them, his only option was to go easy on 'em. (BTW, I saw a video of Part 2, and couldn't help noticing that the audience seemed equally entranced; the folks who were asking questions of the panel seemed downright starry-eyed.)

Besides, we've seen what happens when some folks get to be big stars. They have a tendency to send their legal team after media types who criticize them. Tony is an example that comes to mind...

OTOH, there is always the disturbing possibility that, as several of the PMA-droids have boasted on numerous occasions, Larry and his producer were simply so wowed by "The Secret" that it never occurred to them that challenging the guests would have made for more interesting television.

The Professor said...

Steve,
Nobody writes off the Professor as a pedant. The fact of the matter is that if you are going to cite trends in fashion and celebrity as affecting trends in the behaviour of the general populace the trending of this behaviour is more than a little relavent, is it not? My point was simple, your "growing nightmare of teen pregnancy" seemed to be an unfair assumption to make when statistics will show that among the teens who would be affected by these celebrity/fashion trends (those who can afford and have time to) pregnancy rates are down while indeed abstinence rates are higher.

Perhaps the issue is simply that I believe the numbers NPR feeds me on the way to work. The age-youth issue can be explored in other ways than fashion and television though. Consider literature's obsession with the January-May relationship throughout history. Revisit, perhaps the article you wrote for the Guardian's Observer some months ago about wanting to "do the prof." I'm sure you will provide the link for the rest. I'd do it but I don't know how to read.

Steve Salerno said...

Prof: OK. Look. Let's suppose that in 1980 there were 25,000 teenage pregnancies (I'm taking all of these numbers totally out of thin air; just making a point). And by the year 2000 there were 100,000. Then in 2001 there were 90,000. In 2002, 80,000. Etc. Even in that case--where the recent trend-line is clearly, unmistakably, uninterruptedly (if such a word exists) down--I STILL think we're justified in calling this a "growing nightmare," simply because (a) the overall numbers remain so much higher than the baseline from generations past (which they do, in reality), and (b) the fact that teenagers last year may have produced "only" 60,000 infants in no way alleviates the colossal headache we're going to have to deal with--in terms of day care, school dropout rates, overall social services, likely child abuse, crime, etc.--when that entire sub-generation of babies born since 2000 comes of age. Does that not make sense? We have yet to come to grips, today, with the overall societal effect of babies having babies. The tsunami from this earthquake has not yet hit. That's what I'm saying, bottom-line. (And what does this have to do with the piece I wrote for the Observer, anyway? Are you just trying to get in a gratuitous dig? Lest the regulars get the wrong impression--which I suspect you intended for them to get--that piece ends without incident.)

The Professor said...

Steve,
The Professor does not do gratuitous digs. He hardly knows what gratuitous means. He referenced the Observer article only to offer an example from your own catalogue (vast as it is) that explores the January-May relationship paradigm. Your fawning bloggies have referenced the "holding onto youth" theme as well as "growing up to fast." That whole 40-is-the-new-20 and 10-is-also-the-new-20 was a good way to put it. This is not something new. Portions of America were literally discovered by young explorers looking to grow up too quickly and make a name, funded by rich patrons searching for a fountain of youth. Its just, they never shared a campus where the younger is encouraged to explore societal and authoritarian boundaries.

You dig?

RevRon's Rants said...

Those young explorers the (?) professor alluded to were not driven by fashion sense or by some desire to stand out in a crowd, but by a hunger for a better lot in life. As to their having such aspirations at a tender age, perhaps the fact that in their day, "40 was the old 90" might have had some bearing. Girls were women at 12, frequently married by 13, mothers at 14, grandmothers at 30, and dead by 50. Kind of changes one's perspective, I would think.

"Fawning bloggies," eh? I've been called worse... probably by Steve, himself! :-)

Cosmic Connie said...

And now a few more words from a "fawning bloggie": Thanks for the historical perspective, Prof. As you know, though, people had to grow up pretty fast back in the day when life was much more nasty, short and brutish, as they say. And most of those rich old farts searching for their fountains of youth would be considered middle-aged today. (40 is the old 70, I guess you could say.)

One problem is that in addition to increased life expectancy, the onset of puberty is occurring at an earlier age than in days of yore. Which only adds to the phenomenon of little girls growing up too quickly.

As for their moms... I don't see anything intrinsically wrong with people trying to remain as healthy and attractive as possible for as long as they can. Science and medicine have made this easier. But as a culture, we've turned it into an obsession. And the obsession with superficial beauty has definitely reached the younger set -- to the point where eight and nine year old girls are suffering from eating disorders because they fear they're too fat.

As for the teen pregnancy rate, that is still a problem, but for that matter, I think pregnancy rates in general -- in the US and elsewhere -- are a problem. And it's only going to get worse as more Third World countries develop and raise their material expectations and their consumption of resources. Meanwhile, science is busy cooking up new ways to increase longevity, so that eventually people can live to be a healthy 120 or 144 or whatever...thus consuming still more resources for a longer period of time. Oh, yeah, the sky is falling...

How's that for getting the discussion way off track? :-)

The Professor said...

Fawns,
The Professor would first like to note that he is, in fact, good looking enough to pull of referring to himself in third person. That said, he is also upset by his typographical error leading to the use of the wrong "to" (too, two, to) and wishes to appologize for any agony that might have caused. He also wishes to make clear that the explorer-patron line was what he likes to call "playing with the idea" and seeing how far it could be expanded. Do we like doing this? Does Steve?

RevRon's Rants said...

CosCon -

Sky isn't falling. Mother Nature will ultimately provide the necessary balance. Granted, it might be in the form of a deadly epidemic or global war, but the numbers will eventually return to a sustainable level.

Encouraging, isn't it? :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Steve basically got lost about six posts ago. But that's OK. As noted, this is supposed to be a forum, so feel free to keep right on...for-ing. Besides, I have a new post coming soon that may make all this byplay moot, intriguing though it may be.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve -
You're not slipping into that feigned third-person-perspective to make yourself sound superior too, are you? What's next... echolalia?

Please hurry with the new blog... We are in desperate need of something new to fawn over. :-)

Cosmic Connie said...

"Appology" accepted, Prof. (Do you look anything like the Professor on Gilligan's Island?)

And thanks for the words of comfort, Rev! :-)

Alas, after the Prof's latest comment, I find myself as lost as Steve. Maybe I'll find my way back with the next post...