Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why I suddenly love Dr. Phil.

Comes word that Dr. Phil McGraw's forthcoming book, Real Life: Preparing for the 7 Absolutely Worst Days of Your Life, will benefit from a million-copy first printing. The book is due out in mid-September. McGraw knows something about worst days, having had a few of them in recent times. Notably, there was the $10.5 million settlement of the class-action lawsuit over his Shape Up! "nutrition bars." Then, first-thing this year, there was his cheesy, publicity-seeking involvement in Britney Spears' latest meltdown, which once again left mental-health professionals shaking their heads over McGraw's professionalism, or lack of same.*

Anyway, it should be obvious to those who've been reading this blog and/or following what's going on in the SHAMscape that the new McGraw title is distinctly off-message for a positive-thinking era in which preparing for the worst could be construed as inviting—that is, attracting—the worst. It's not often I find reason to line up behind a self-help guru, and lord knows I've given McGraw grief often enough (or tried to, in my small SHAMbloggian way). What's more, I have no way of knowing whether any of the "emotional preparedness" advice in McGraw's new book will stand the test of time any better than his Shape Up! bars did. If nothing else, though, I gotta give the guy props for going against the grain in a realm that seems to have lost its collective mind (and assumes that all of us out here listening have lost ours, as well). At least it sounds like he might be giving useful tips for better living (as opposed to just blowing fanciful smoke up the you-know-whats of the hordes expected to queue up for that new book).

It's remarkable to me that so many of the leading figures in self-help apparently feel no need to project a consistent message; they seldom even deign to resolve the contradictions that usually arise from even the most cursory reading of their so-called programs. As just one minor example, I'm still waiting for Tommy Lasorda to explain how he can go on-stage during a presentation for which he's being paid $1000-a-minute, tell his rapt corporate listeners that two of the most important principles in any joint enterprise are teamwork and individual initiative...and just go on from there! How can you not at least spend a few moments explaining how those two normally incongruous attributes resolve into a cohesive plan of action! It's like my telling you that the two most important factors in marital longevity are everlasting togetherness and respecting each other's personal space. I grant you, they're not totally contradictory, and anyone who's been married a while knows just what I mean. But still....

Or take Oprah.** It'd be one thing if The Oprah Winfrey Show were just an ordinary gabfest like an afternoon version of Conan O'Brien (or even, say, The Ellen DeGeneres Show), featuring a random cast of guests unconnected to any particular agenda or organizing theme. But Oprah stopped being "just a talk show" years ago. There's little question that Winfrey today sells a philosophy of life that's deeply rooted in New Wage gospel; this is clear in her cultish and unflinching public sponsorship of the likes of Marianne Williamson, Rhonda Byrne and, most recently and ambitiously, Eckhart Tolle. I'm always amazed, therefore, that she reserves the right to step out of character whenever it's expedient. Like, say, when she'll do a show with Suze Orman about surviving financial disaster. There really shouldn't be any financial disaster if you buy into Oprah's LoA-based mode of thinking. And if you're planning for disaster, you haven't bought in. Indeed...if you're planning for disaster, you've opted out. No matter. Oprah knows that women love Suze, and it's good for ratings, so she does the show. No one gives it a second thought.

To anticipate some of those who might accuse me and this blog of the same sin: As I've said before in the Comments section, philosophical and thematic consistency aren't too high on my list of priorities, because SHAMblog is devoted chiefly to raising questions, not seeking answers. (Maybe I should say it this way: I believe that the process of finding answers is facilitated by subjecting the conventional wisdoms to constant devil's advocacy.) That explains why I might put up a post on Monday that attacks capital punishment, then a post on Tuesday that wonders if we need to be tougher on crime. All of that is perfectly fine, as I see it, on a blog devoted to critical thinking.

The Oprah Winfrey Show—like the SHAMscape as a whole—isn't about critical thinking (or thinking of any kind, really). It proposes to give you The Answer. How can Tuesday's Answer contradict Monday's? And why don't people care, or even seem to notice?

* McGraw got off on the wrong foot with practicing therapists with his very first prime-time special, "Family First," wherein he implied that a 9-year-old boy was destined to become a serial killer. If you have a copy of SHAM, see page 69.
** like the comedian says: please.

3 comments:

Jim said...

Steve, don't you want to read the book before you give Dr. Phil any credit? It seems like you get all that from the title alone.

I predict when it comes out you will read it, find something you don't like about it and then post something about hating Dr. Phil.

Cosmic Connie said...

Maybe Oprah just has mood swings like me. Some days I'm snarky, some days I'm almost sweet. Of course Oprah's mood swings are on a much grander scale than mine, and she gets paid for hers, whereas I don't.

Obviously the main agenda for the Big O Show is to attract viewers. And apparently her viewers are just as interested in learning how to solve problems -- whether mundane or earth-shattering -- as they are in magical-thinking stuff. Viewers have mood swings too, y'know. :-)

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