Thursday, February 08, 2007

Idol thoughts, decode THIS, et cetera.

Today we have what my colleagues in magazine-dom would call a "round-up" feature, with the last two of the three individual items courtesy of AOL—fast becoming a fount of SHAM wit and wisdom (if, usually, the unintended kind).

Been seeing a lot of buzz lately about the upswing in the demand for female motivational speakers, particularly in such erstwhile all-male realms as insurance and financial services. The theory here, presumably, is that you can't get the tips you need to succeed in life from someone who's the wrong gender, color, etc. See how insane this gets? It's emptiness piled atop emptiness, a veritable pyramid of emptiness: You take a nebulous entity like motivational speaking (for which there have never been any proven, quantifiable results to begin with) and you further corrupt it by superimposing the irksome and regressive "role model" concept, which only reinforces the social divisions I thought we were all trying to escape. Terrific.

AOL wonders why people who obviously can't sing persist in trying out for American Idol nonetheless. Sure, as AOL's experts note, some of this could just be people seeking their Warholian 15 minutes. But I think AOL largely misses the boat on this one. When you see the devastation on these contestants' faces—when you hear their agonal shrieks at being told by Simon, "That was quite possibly the worst performance of this season"—you realize that it's more than that. Much more. These kids actually think they have a shot. How can that be!? Then they rush out into the hall and enfold themselves into the waiting embraces of their parents and friends, who pat them on the back and lovingly reassure them of how wonderful they are, how a moron like Simon simply can't appreciate their God-given talents...and you understand precisely what happened here: Like millions of children today, they have lived in a cocoon of faux self-esteem their whole lives, with their parents* not only insulating them from real-world judgments, but supplying validating (i.e. bogus) judgments of their own. It's a microcosm of an American pandemic that has falsely inflated expectations—and lowered standards—throughout.

Finally we have another feature from AOL on decoding sexual body language. I can't do it justice here, so just read the feature, then ask yourself: Is this really telling me anything I don't already know? That's pretty much the case with everything in the SHAM-scape, of course: It doesn't tell the average person anything that he or she doesn't already know five times over. And if you don't already know this kind of facile nonsense, a book isn't gonna help you anyway. You're beyond help. It's like the photo at left: How advanced do one's interpretive skills really need to be in order to comprehend the message being sent?... I'm reminded, too, of life coach Martha Beck, whom I mention in SHAM (page 111) and who has a recurring role as an all-purpose relationship guru in Good Morning America's ongoing riff on that classic favorite, The Newlywed Game. (Come to think of it, this might be item three-and-a-half.) The other morning, when one contestant on the GMA version confessed that he still spends a fair amount of time on the phone with Mom and Dad, Beck's sage advice, basically, was as follows: "If you're spending too much time on the phone with your parents, you should think about whether you need to spend less time on the phone with them, now that you're married." Wow. I mean, who would've ever thought of that!

* And, of course, their teachers. See SHAM chapter 10.


Cosmic Connie said...

For that matter, why isn't there a female equivalent of mega-motivational star Tony Robbins? Oprah doesn't count; she's a different kind of megastar than Tony.

BTW, Steve, did you see yesterday that the lucky wedding couple chosen by "Live With Regis & Kelly" received some premarital counseling from none other than Dr. Phil? They both said he was amazing, awesome, etc.

Rolling my eyes...

a/good/lysstener said...

Steve, I have to say, I don't really agree with what you're saying here, and I think I can cite some of my own college experiences as examples. The person giving us the information has a great deal to do with whether we absorb the information and how we use it. I have had profs who will give lectures and it sinks in, and other profs who give the same lecture (or a lecture on the same subject) and it basically goes in one ear out the other. So it makes sense to me that if an audience feels a particular bond with a speaker, then whatever that speaker presents will have far greater impact. We women get tired of listening to the same male authority voices after awhile, you know. ;-) And you should't automatically take it as a sign of the decline and fall of western civilization when we feel more receptive to people we feel a kinship with. Just a thought!

Steve Salerno said...

Connie, yes, I did see that the lucky couple got a hands-on dose of Dr. Phil. Sigh. I am told that this was a "special needs" couple, in a sense, in that the woman is giving a kidney to the man after the nuptials (usually they just give a big piece of their mind--ta-da-dum!) But still, the very idea that a sit-down with McGraw is somehow supposed to ensure marital longevity.... Sigh again.

Alyssa, hey, I don't disagree with you about some people being better presenters than others. (I like to think that my lectures were at least a little bit more memorable than most professors', when I was teaching.) But remember, I'm not talking about individuals here; I'm talking about stereotyping. If it's true that we are more open to information presented by people who look and sound like us, well then, that's something that I think needs to change. It's a form of "ism." And we'd be better off if we got past it. But also remember--and this is my key point--that motivational training isn't about conveying information. It's about conveying...nothing. And if, by bringing in a woman to talk to other women, you make them more susceptible to--nothing--is that really a positive??

Cosmic Connie said...

And, Steve, are you watching Oprah right now? It's an infomercial for an infomercial! She's absolutely enchanted by "The Secret," which she says she's always lived by anyway.

matt dick said...

Steve, I think there's a problem with asserting that we'd better "get over" our predilection to be more receptive to people who are "like us" superficially.

It's not that I don't see it as a laudible goal, because I do, but it isn't a stretch to see this predilection as a function of evolution, and hence very hard to shake.

One likely reason diets are so hard for the vast majority of people is because up to maybe 75 years ago, and only in the West for that matter, our eating habits have been driven by a single evolutionary paradigm: i.e. if it isn't poisonous, it is to my survival advantage to eat as much of it as I possibly can as soon as I can. Fighting evolutionary imperatives can be a bitch.

The other comment I wanted to make was: Damn! How on Earth do you read through all this crapola!?! I couldn't finish the first slide of this AOL body language thing without skimming, and by the time I was on slide 2 I had to shake myself from the soul-threatening torpor of platitudinal overload. Seriously, how do you do it?


Cosmic Connie said...

It took me a few days, but I think I decoded the woman's body language with the car. I have narrowed it down to one of three possibilities: (1) She somehow scratched or dented the car and is trying to hide it from her husband; (2) She is trying to keep someone from stealing that purse she's clutching; (3) Her back went out on her when she was reaching over to squash a bug with her purse, and she's stuck in that position.

How'd I do? :-)

I agree with Matt, though (and I love his phrase, "soul-threatening torpor of platitudinal overload"): It must take endless patience to go through all of this crap. But someone's gotta do it, to save the rest of us from falling into the trap of actually reading an entire article by an AOL "coach." If by mining all of the silliness Steve is able to save just one person from exposing himself or herself to this stupidity, his efforts will have been worth it.

Steve Salerno said...

Very good, Connie, though I think another possibility is that she'd just waxed the car, and her BF wasn't happy with the job, so he told her to "use some elbow grease, woman!" (For feminists who would now like to spray some hot, brake-dust solvent in my eyes, the line forms to the left...)

I too loved Matt's phrase, and meant to give him props for it, so I'm glad you chimed in. In fact, I'm thinking of stealing it for the title of my next book... Can you imagine Diane Sawyer introducing THAT segment on GMA??

Anonymous said...

Steve, I'm not sure about meaning of the comment, but I like the photo alot.