Friday, August 31, 2007

A glorious, laborious day in Robbins' World.

Labor Day looms, which can only mean a "special Labor Day message" from that tireless fount of obscure SHAM-related holiday tie-ins, Tony Robbins...and Tony does not disappoint: just such a message arrived late yesterday in my inbox.* You almost wonder: How did TR manage to miss Bastille Day? National Radon Action Month? Or what about For the Love of Mike Day? It's February 22—really, it is—and Tony could make a killing by offering "25 percent-off Unleash the Power Within seminar attendance!" to all guys named Mike (or the people who love them). There's a ton of 'em out there, after all.

Anyway, re Labor Day, what Tony wants us to know is that "to have an extraordinary life, you need to have extraordinary work." That's the main sales line of this latest promo, framed as a pithy quote from the master. He then asks: "Are you working 50, 60, maybe even 80 hours a week because you want to or because you have to?" He's going to show you how to get maximum bang for your working buck. I could be wrong, but I think this represents Tony's attempt to tap into that same disgruntlement that struck such a chord in the recent smash bestseller by Tim Ferriss, The Four-Hour Workweek. (A book, author, and phenomenon I still plan to cover, by the way, when I get a few more hours in my workweek. You think Tony would give me a class as a professional courtesy?)

What's a bit sad about this is that once upon a time—if you could say little else about him—you had to give Robbins his props for cutting the new trails in the SHAMscape. Maybe I didn't especially like what he innovated, but I couldn't deny that he was innovating. Nowadays Tony sometimes strikes me as more of a mimic, like SHAM's mockingbird, glomming on (as my wife would put it) to every hot new self-help trend or theme he spies around him. We saw this also with Robbins' Secret-tinged St. Patrick's Day mailing.

Hey, it just occurred to me: TR could do a very nice promotion that plays off that little event they hold over in Pamplona, Spain each July; he could call it The Running of the Bull.

* As many of you probably know, I registered as part of Tony's "community" back when I was doing the research for SHAM.


And here, hot off the cyber-press, is a link to my National Review piece on the Robin Roberts/Barack Obama GMA debacle, an outgrowth of my blog item on same from earlier this week.


Bill Harrison said...

Hi Steve,

Just out of interest, one of the marketing men behind the big man is a guy called Dan Kennedy.

Kennedy is the ultimate marketer and is the guru's guru (having launched or aided) the likes of Matt Furey, Robert G Allen etc etc.

In one of Kennedy's seminars he talks about Robbins, who got his big break appearing as a regular Joe on an infomercial for think and grow rich.

At the time, apparently he was running seminars at $300 a pop. Later Kennedy helped him to do his own infomercial (which Kennedy described as ridiculous promise upon ridiculous promise).

You should go to and check out his information products - he has a blueprint for how to be a get rich quick SHAM artist.

As a regular reader of your blog - I URGE you to look at the 4 hour work week. Do some digging.

At the very least write a blog post on the NY times bestseller.


Keep up the good work Steve.



Anonymous said...

Great stuff Steve. Anderson Cooper likes to say he's keeping them honest but, for my money you do a better job!

Mary Anne said...

I'm with Bill, Ferriss needs to be looked into. Even the Giant Robbins is feeling threatened by him. I saw Dan Kennedy's site and he is a guy you couldn't pay me to go see. He is probably fine one on one, but a seminar with him would kill me. By the way, Napoleon Hill's THINK & GROW RICH is the blueprint for all the books I have read on positive thinking, especially in regards to money. I finally read it recently and saw how many times it has been copied by con artists.

Your PR Guy said...

Nice ending -- good punch line!



Anonymous said...

Thank you for the link to your National Review Article. It was a very good read and timely point. I have lost much of my faith in mainstream TV to objectively present any issue.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see you turning a critical eye back towards the current SHAM news and bestsellers. Reading this information is very entertaining, almost a bit of a comedy central roast session. Too bad most of the SHAM authors see no humor their own work.

Anonymous said...

I think it is interesting how you can write a piece about objective journalism but in the same token devote so much energy to only representing one side of the self-help and actualization movement. There are both positive and negatives aspects of self-help books. Your argument is that self-help does more harm than good. Is that why you refuse to objectively report any good that may come from self-help authors?

Steve Salerno said...

This is an interesting point (that, for the record, has been made a number of times before, even on this blog). I'll give you a shortish version of the answer I've given, at far greater length (believe it or not!), before.

SHAM (the movement, not the book) is everywhere around us. It's one of the preeminent "genres" in bookstores (new self-help releases get prime display space); it's on Oprah and Dr. Phil; it's on your radios (Dr. Laura, Joy Browne, others); it's embedded in the plots of TV shows and movies; it fills magazines and heavily influences the practices on top dating sites; hell, increasingly, it's woven into HR manuals and personnel-policy handbooks. Not only that, but it receives potent reinforcement daily via so many subtle means; even watching a ball game--as I am at this moment--you can't escape the nonstop blather about momentum and motivation and positive mental attitude. There was no need for me to present "the other side" to SHAM, because that "other side" is, in fact, the dominant cultural position. In American society, self-help is right up there with apple pie and motherhood. And these days, I'm not so sure it's behind motherhood in the hierarchy.

Given that, I felt perfectly comfortable writing a book (and now a blog) that present a contrarian view of SHAM. And my book and blog still represent a journalistic point of view, as I see it, because they're rooted in evidence (or, alternatively, the LACK of evidence on that "other side"). I feel no more obliged to showcase the "positive" side of self-help than I would feel about showcasing the "positive" side of God. God doesn't need my praise; He has his loyal subjects and defenders everywhere on earth, even if they may differ in their specific views of His agenda. So if I were writing a book that was critical of God, or even one that doubted His very existence, I would not feel obliged to present a case in God's favor as well, because that case has been made, and made, and made again, since the beginning of recorded time.

That make sense?

Anonymous said...

It’s interesting that you reference Chirstopher Hitchins’s book Got is not Great. In fact, I’m off to purchase it tonight. I assume you’ve read the book and that it does not make any positive claims about faith in the existence of G-d.

I think the difference between Hitchins’s work and your book is that most people recognize religion and belief in G-d as a faith while most people think self-help is something related to science, albeit an unproven science of the mind. Their assumption may be incorrect but I have experienced it as the prevalent cultural stance. To not address this up front will simply create more confustion.

The average reader simply does not recognize SHAM in its various manifestations like you do. Self-esteem in education to me is completely different than Tony Robbins empowerment or the victimization of other authors. I realize there may be a bit of you that thinks I should just read your book. I understand that, but you should include some minimal introductory or education in an “About this Blog” section for those of us that found your blog through recommendations. Either that or endure the repeated questions from most of us that come from a culture that sees some merit to self-help resources. Also, most of us have never learned to take a critical view of the basic assumptions of our culture. I hate to stay it, but you almost need to fill in that part of our education! I certainly learned about other cultures in college, but rarely did we turn a critical eye to the assumptions of our own culture.

It is difficult to understand your agenda having not read the book, even after reading your blog for some time. If you keep getting the same questions, why not develop an FAQ section?

Here are some suggestions:
What is SHAM? book and movement - red is the movement, black is the book?
Where can I find SHAM in American Culture?
Why are you against self-help?
Why do you not write about the positive aspects of self-help?
Do you see any good coming from self-help?
What are you beliefs about destiny?
What’s so bad about self-help books, aren’t the authors trying to do good?
How much control do you think we have over success?

I think your expectations of your readers are too high. You work from a platform whether you realize it or not. Why not help us understand that platform by giving us more guidance. One way to do this is by creating a minimal definition of the tenets or providing answers to your most frequently asked questions in an “About” section of your website. I personally prefer the FAQ format as I find it more entertaining to read. You could also easily create a sequel to SHAM by simply gluing together FAQs from you blog around various themes. I would certainly pre-order that book on

BTW – feel free to answer any of the example FAQs above. I still have many questions, but I think you would rather enjoy your game on TV. Besides, you’ve probably answered them many times in the comments over the last few years of this blog.

Steve Salerno said...

Very interesting. I sincerely appreciate the time, and thought, that went into your suggestions. You've given me a lot of food for thought of my own.

One thing: I wasn't specifically referencing Hitchens' book (though I have referred to him and his work at other times on this blog). There has been a recent flurry of books that are skeptical of God and his role in everyday life, and I probably had Dawkins' "God Delusion" more in mind when I wrote my response to you. It's a small point, but worth making, as my critics are always telling me I shouldn't jump to unwarranted conclusions about certain aspects of the SHAMscape (I don't think I do, but...), and I would therefore urge my readers to observe that same caveat.