Friday, February 23, 2007

And, from the (drop) dead letter file....

So this morning, presumably in response to yesterday's post about The Secret, I get an email that reminds me of a comment I got in response to my scathing review for the book's Amazon page, a while back. In essence, both writers asked—rhetorically, of course—"If you're so smart and people like Rhonda Byrne are so dumb, why is her book Amazon's No. 1 best-seller, and your book, like, No. 109,000?" I suppose the question was intended to make me feel bad: Taste my sword, heretic! And I confess that I felt a momentary pang at the fact that against-the-grain books like SHAM often struggle to find an audience, despite the intense thought and honest firsthand research that go into them. This is a society-wide reality: Compare the subscriber base of a magazine like Harper's to a magazine like O, the official voice of the Oprah Winfrey camp.* By the way, I have never denied that I would've liked SHAM to be America's No. 1 best-seller. What author wouldn't want that? I'd probably even settle for No. 11.

But in another sense my accuser's remarks were actually validating, because they make my case about how this whole phenomenon—The Secret and today's entire Empowerment sub-culture—is market-driven, not idea-driven, and is judged accordingly. (Notice the letter-writer's assumed link between "smart" and "profitable": Byrne is "smart" because her book sells.) That's a polite way of saying, once again, that these jokers will tell you what you want to hear, regardless of whether it makes sense, conforms to anything/everything else we already know about life, or has any track record of solid science behind it. Bottom line, it's all about cash...and everybody knows it! If you're willing to buy mindless crap, they'll make sure the shelves are always stocked with plenty of mindless crap for you to buy. Meanwhile, you, Joe or Jill Consumer, play your role in this absurd cultural charade by obediently coughing up your $20 or $50 or $5000 each time, to have some guru or coach or shaman reassure you that yes, you can have everything you want in life if you just believe strongly enough and send the right vibes out into the universe and—most important!—keep paying your $20 or $50 or $5000 tribute each time.

* One has about 200,000 subscribers, and one has about 2.7 million. Guess which is which?

11 comments:

Aaron said...

Nicholas Taleb has a funny way of turning around this sentiment in his book "Fooled by Randomness":

"If you're so rich, why aren't you smart?"

Steve Salerno said...

My father--a lifelong critic of capitalist excess who somehow always voted Republic (go figure)
--used to say much the same thing of his corporate management.

Good to have you aboard, Aaron.

a/good/lysstener said...

Well I finally got to see the Secret. Unbeknown to me my Mom had BOUGHT IT! And about 10 minutes in I started laughing uncontrollably and just couldn't stop. The whole thing is so pretentious and silly. The air of mystery that it tries to create, almost like it's a parody of itself. And my god, some of the examples they use! It's ridiculous, and I don't know how anyone takes it seriously.

My Mom is more half and half about it, and I don't think she appreciated some of what I had to say (sorry Mom), but Steve, I'm on your side with this one.

Cosmic Connie said...

Well, Miss Alyssa, you are obviously negative and closed-minded. And you too, Steve. And me too. We're all on this garbage barge together! Yea!

Anonymous said...

The fact is people get rich and famous for all sorts of reasons, sometimes they are smart, other times they are lucky, and some still happen to play into the needs of the masses. Snake Oil sold alot of bottles until it was proven a placebo. Emotions cause people to buy. Not whether it is useful or even helpful. Hence the Amazon sales of The Secret and its quick fix approach to life.

By the way... the no. 1 bestseller every year in all its language translations is ... The Holy Bible ... now I am not a bible thumper .. but if you are looking for more grounded work on conscious creation (as they say) check out The Circle by Laura Day. She is NOT New Age or hocus pocus.

Anonymous said...

It is because of people like you Steve Salerno that most of the rest of us have so little hope. So what if a book doesn't have all its scientific ducks in a row? Hope is what matters, the hope to face a new day. You should be ashamed.

RevRon's Rants said...

Anonymous -
You are so right... Hope is essential. Yet hope, untempered by common sense and right action, is nothing more than mental masturbation. It makes you feel good for a minute, but has no positive effect on your life.

If it works for you, go ahead and put that tooth under your pillow. Just don't count on what you find there in the morning to pay your rent.

And Steve might be kind of a Gloomy Gus now and then, but the fact that so many people consciously choose gullibility as a way of life might tend to frustrate any reasonable person (especially one who is trying to sell common sense).

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, you are so right--even about me. Yes, I sometimes err on the side of pessimism, but that's b/c (as you also imply) today's society brims with people who have thrown any notion of common sense to the far winds. My most fervent wish is NOT for an America full of frowning naysayers, but merely that my occasional fatalistic overcorrections may play some small role in nudging the pendulum back toward a more sensible center...

Cosmic Connie said...

It looks like "The Secret" has just gotten a double whammy, from Newsweek (cover story) and The New York Times (front page feature in the "Style" section). Finally, a little bit of balance...

Steve Salerno said...

Yep. That's kind of a good-news/bad-news deal for me, since I just sent out a flurry of proposals--among them, to the Times--to write a delving piece focusing on The Secret. However, as I've said pretty much all along, I'm at the point where I root for anything that debunks this stuff, even if I can't be in on it.

Cosmic Connie said...

What do you want to bet, though, that some of the writers of these critical articles at least took a peek at some of the stuff you've been writing on this blog about The Secret since January of last year? Heck, they may have even seen some of my stuff. So at least we did our part, even though we're not getting the credit (or the compensation) for it.