Sunday, January 25, 2009

Somewhere, Bill Maher is smiling,* and Oprah is fat.

If you've been following the incessant coverage of the new administration, you know that a certain segment of the population has got its historically tight shorts all bunched up over a single word (or a single hyphenate, depending on whether you're a fan of AP style) in Obama's inaugural speech. The word is nonbelievers, and it appeared, in context, like so:

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindusand nonbelievers...
Seems the Christians among usespecially some leaders in the Christian black church, according to media reporting on the controversythink Obama's use of the word may signal a plot to take the U.S. in a more secular direction.

Wow. You mean we're actually going to consider governing this nation based on things like, say, science? Or simple pragmatics?


Your not-always-so-gracious host is quoted extensively in this piece, today, about Oprah, her chronic battle of the bulge, and what it all means. The New York Post is not normally known for its intellectual heft, and during the Murdoch era has been tainted by a distinct partisan air, but I think writer Maureen Callahan did a masterful job of sketching the fundamental paradox of hope
that paradox explaining why mainstream inspirational efforts are so often self-defeating. Worth a read.

* Maher has long chafed at the way our Judeo-Christian culture marginalizes atheists, of which he is one.


Anonymous said...

I am cynical about this whole thing. The Oprah "brand" was damaged with the Obama worship - she lost not an insignificant amount of viewers who were either Hillary fans or republicans. Her magazine had a drop in readership (as have most magazines), and her latest Neilson ratings have shown a four-year slide ( Her "Big Give" show crashed and burned.

It was time for Oprah to go back to what worked - and nothing worked better than her struggle with weight.

Oprah's guy is in the White House now, so it's time to protect the franchise by dusting off the old playbook and getting all emotional over weight. Look for more tears, setbacks and, ultimately, victory as Oprah sheds the pounds yet again.

Her handlers have decided that '09 will be a year of less spiritualism and more drama, weight loss, and struggle with life's mundane issues.

RevRon's Rants said...

I wonder... Will Oprah sing on her final episode? :-)

Cosmic Connie said...

Bill Maher may be smiling, and magician/skeptic Penn Jillette certainly is too, sort of. On a recent Tweet on Twitter, he mentioned Obama's nod (in the inaugural speech) to "nonbelievers" -- but subsequently Penn groused that it was a shame nonbelievers have to fight so hard even for crumbs. He has a point there.

While I'm no atheist activist (I'm still agnostic after all these year), I say it's high time that nonbelievers at least be acknowledged as being worthy contributors to our free nation.

And re Oprah: I think Anon 11:26 nailed it.

Cosmic Connie said...

Oops... typo in first comment. I meant I'm still an agnostic after all these YEARS. :-)

Anonymous said...

As a devout, church-going Roman Catholic, I have no problem at all with acknowledging the fact that "nonbelievers" are a very important part of this country's social fabric.

I'm secure enough in my faith to realize that not everybody believes in my God or any God. I guess you could say I just don't understand the genesis of the threat or insult in recognizing unbelievers. for those who are insulted - what the Hell's the problem?

Steven Sashen said...

My favorite part of the Oprah story is the Adsense ads for diets (I know they are there because of a Google algorithm which recognizes that the article is about diet, but that doesn't make it less funny).

My second favorite part are some pithy quotes from SS.

My LEAST favorite part is the perpetuation of other un- or dis-proven theories of the self-help and psychology biz (especially when tossed out as truths from fitness trainers), like this one from Greene:

"But it is in the crucible of her childhood, says her trainer Bob Greene, that her issue with weight was born.... If there is a trauma or something life-changing in the first eight years of life - in my experience, with 95% of people, it's always going to be with them,"

At least he qualified his comment with "in my experience." Too bad his experience doesn't include reading books that would lead him to drop the "childhood trauma as cause of all manner of adult problems" theory.

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, Steven. I must say, I like my line about how "when Oprah and her hope get on the scale, they both weigh more." I'm not entirely sure it makes sense, but it just kind of came to me in the moment, and it made the reporter laugh, and I've gotten good feedback on it, so maybe it's one of those things that gets the point across in a "meta" way.

Re Green et al: It amazes me that these people never quit. They always have a reason-in-waiting that explains why the last explanation didn't quite work out as they said. It's like this jaboney*, Bob Proctor, who's got this new thing now that reveals why The Secret may not have produced the general prosperity everyone expected, and it comes down to the fact that we forgot some of the real secrets behind The Secret: the 11 forgotten laws that catalyze the LoA, or whatever the hell he calls them. There's no end with these people.

* jaboney is a very outmoded word, but it was one of my Dad's favorites, so I trot it out now and then.

Steve Salerno said...

I have a question for Anon (the devout Catholic), if s/he's still around--and this is a sincere question, in no way rhetorical: Don't you find it difficult to be "devout" about Catholicism while at the same time truly respecting other faiths? When I was a boy we were taught that if you weren't Catholic, you were going to Hell. Period. How is that level of zealotry compatible with respect for religions that believe differently?

Anonymous said...


The hard-line zealotry of Catholic-or-eternal-damnation is all but gone these days. I haven't heard a good hell-fire and brimstone sermon in well over a decade, (and I've been going to mass!)

The Church has certainly softened ("lowered its standards" in the minds of the Old Faithful - my parents for instance think the softened message has followed the lax dress code) over the past 20 years. The Church has gotten very politically correct where it used to be confrontational.

Steve, if you haven't attended mass for the past 20 years or so, and you went back for a few months, you would think you discovered a "Catholic Light" religion. Obligations have been greatly reduced - showing up will pretty much do it.

As i said before, I'm secure enough in my faith to respect the fact that others don't have the same beliefs. And unlike, say, hard-line Muslims, I don't think you have to convert or die.

Cosmic Connie said...

Steven (Sashen), I too have had it up to here with those who claim that nearly every great life issue a person can possibly have is rooted in early childhood. Years ago, a "life coach" tried to convince me that I needed to sign up for private coaching sessions in order to get at the roots of my fears and other issues. No, the coach wasn't a guy making a pass at me; she was merely a money-hungry woman. And she too was thoroughly convinced that nearly every fear or other issue people have is a result of something -- very often, a single event -- that happened before the age of eight. Since I can't consciously recall any single horrid traumatic event that happened to me before the age of eight, she thought I was merely suppressing memories, and she, of course, could help me retrieve them. For a fee.

I declined.

And Steve (Salerno), you wrote: "It amazes me that these people never quit. They always have a reason-in-waiting that explains why the last explanation didn't quite work out as they said..."

That's the problem with making a living by selling b.s. If you're selling actual products like washing machines or computers or even software, you can always make tweaks and changes and call the result "new and improved," or "upgraded," or whatever. And in many cases, they *are* improved, or at least different in a measurable way. One can generally make a case for the desirability of upgrading to the new product, without sounding like a total huckster. Sure, you still have to market it, and that takes creativity and money, but at least you're selling something tangible (and something that can be evaluated and rated by objective third parties, such as consumer organizations).

But when you're selling b.s. (under the guise of "truth," "universal secrets," etc.), you have to continually come up with wild rationalizations about why your newest b.s. is necessary, especially when you had marketed your previous b.s. as an amazing breakthrough, or the ultimate secret, or "the last (or only) [book/DVD/workshop] you'll ever need."

It's a never-ending process, and despite glowing promises of "four hour work weeks," or "making millions without ever having to work again" the truth is that the most successful hustledorks are always hard at work creating new schemes and scams.

I'm reminded of our pal Joe Vitale, who just threw an "Awakened Millionaire Training" weekend for $12,500 a person (and even if not everyone paid that much -- even if no one paid that much -- he will still advertise that he had a full house for a $12,500-a-head weekend). Anyway, apparently one result of that weekend was that he had another inspiration to create more money for himself -- a $100,000 "Platinum Package" of some sort, for which he claims several of the Awakened Millionaire Trainees rushed to sign up. He calls his Platinum scheme an "awakened, inspired" idea.

You have to wonder if there's really that much money floating around in Hustledorkville, particularly in these trying economic times (of course, the hustledorks and their followers make it a point to deny that there's an economic crisis). However, whether the hustledorks are being completely honest about their earnings or not, the point is that they have to be relentless in creating new stuff, and, even more importantly, in marketing that stuff.

These people never quit (as you put it, Steve) because if they did quit, they'd have to find real work. And real work that supports them in the style to which they've convinced everyone they have become accustomed is hard to find.

Steve Salerno said...

Connie: Your comment makes me mindful of one of the questions my Post interviewer (Maureen Callahan) asked: "But why do people stay with Oprah? If the woman clearly can't even control her own destiny--if she can't overcome the one main bugaboo [weight] that's been dogging her for years--how can people continue to trust her and all the talk of 'personal empowerment'?" Which is also to say, Why--when it's clear that a person like Oprah or Vitale or whoever is just pyramiding hope upon hope in a colossal Ponzi-empowerment scheme where no one ever actually gets paid off (that is, except Oprah or Vitale or whoever)--why does no one finally scream ENOUGH!? Just STOP with the BULLSHIT!

I wish I knew. I suppose the answer once again comes down to hope itself--that many of us simply have to be able to sustain hope in something or someone, no matter the cost in logic or common sense (or, indeed, money), because if we give up on that, we might as well give up on life; we can't find a reason to face the new day.

Still...I don't get it.

Cal said...

1) Anon 11:26 did hit the nail on the head, as CC said. In fact, I was telling a friend a few weeks ago that this weight problem seemed orchestrated because of the loss of viewership due to her Obama endorsement. I mean with a personal chef and trainer (and she probably has several of each at her beck and call at her many homes), as well as BFF Gayle King to encourage her -- I don't get it.

2) Steve Salerno - your point about religion intrigues me tangentially. I always wonder how children of inter-faith marriages can reconcile the disparities, especially around the holidays. It confuses the devil out of me as an adult, so I would really have issues as a child. Maybe many families are like Caroline Kennedy (no Schlossberg please). I read where she reportedly made her husband sign a pre-nup saying the children would be raised Catholic, which infuriated his family. Even Granny Rose could not understand why she couldn't find herself a nice Catholic "boy"...allegedly.

Anonymous said...

On a somewhat related note (speaking of hustledorks -- or dorks? -- and Oprah, at least), this is a funny take on Blago's TV performance today.

Anonymous said...

I know America will be truly great when an atheist gets elected as president! I'm not an atheist, but I'm not holding my breath for that one. Obama seemed very what's the word I am looking for...spiritual in his inauguration. How many times did he go to church that day? Oddly enough, I don't remember Bush II being so church going.

Anonymous said...

Jason Linkins continues to roast Blago (really funny stuff -- and true), while Oprah admits that she could be a senator but is not interested (obviously; she wants to be GOD -- and, really, who doesn't? But if anyone can, Oprah can!)