Saturday, August 14, 2010

'The Only Self-Help Book You'll Ever Need—The Sequel.' By Rhonda Byrne.

Let's start, boys and girls, with a disclaimer/confession: I have not read Rhonda Byrne's new book, The Pow-errrrr. (And can't you imagine the phrase being uttered just that way, in breathy tones that drip with a practiced air of mysterioso? The Pow-errrrr... One almost hears distant nighttime thunder and gusty winds rustling through trees in the background. Whooooossshhhhh....) That said, I ask you to read her publisher's own product description, as appearing on Amazon, and experience for yourself the utter contempt for the collective intelligence of her target market:

The Secret revealed the law of attraction. Now Rhonda Byrne reveals the greatest power in the universe—The Power to have anything you want.

In this book you will come to understand that all it takes is just one thing to change your relationships, money, health, happiness, career, and your entire life.

Every discovery, invention, and human creation comes from The Power. Perfect health, incredible relationships, a career you love, a life filled with happiness, and the money you need to be, do, and have everything you want, all come from The Power.

The life of your dreams has always been closer to you than you realized, because The Power—to have everything good in your life—is inside you.

To create anything, to change anything, all it takes is just one thing…THE POWER.
(Wait! I'm hearing it again now: Whooooosssshhhhh....)

Then we have the "about the author" section:
Rhonda Byrne's intention is to bring joy to billions. She began her journey with The Secret film, viewed by millions. She followed with The Secret book, a worldwide bestseller now available in 46 languages. Now, with The Power, Rhonda Byrne reveals the single greatest force in our Universe.
OK. A few thoughts. In my own book, SHAM—which, honesty also compels me to confess, was not a bestseller and is not available in 46 languages, in part, I'm sure, because my goal wasn't to "bring joy to billions" but rather to bring sanity to as many as were willing to listen—I discuss the concept of repurposing. As described on page 6, I learned about repurposing during my 16-month stint at Rodale: It consisted of "reusing chunks of our copyrighted material in product after product under different names, sometimes even by different authors."

Byrne, at least, repurposes her material under her own name; I'll give her that. But folks—really now—well, here are a few lines from an interview she gave early in the viral-marketing stage of The Secret:
"With the knowledge from The Secret there is not anything any human cannot be, do or have...not a single thing. No limits whatsoever. It doesn't matter where anybody is now—it doesn't matter if they're sleeping in a park, if they're totally broke, it doesn't matter if they're not well, it doesn't matter if their relationships are a mess. It doesn't matter where they are, when they gain this knowledge and when they apply and use The Secret in their life, their lives will totally change."
Or let's revisit the product description of The Secret that appears on Amazon to this day:
In this book, you'll learn how to use The Secret in every aspect of your lifemoney, health, relationships, happiness, and in every interaction you have in the world. You'll begin to understand the hidden, untapped power that's within you, and this revelation can bring joy to every aspect of your life.
Starting to sound familiar at all? Think some small portion of that same stuff, artfully repurposed (or not), might now be in The Pow-errrrr?

More to the point, if The Secret was the only thing you needed in order to be one with the Universe...why the hell do we need a second book? Maybe it's just me, but if you're framing The Pow-errrrr as the key to success, isn't that a repudiation of The Secret? An admission of failure? So why should anyone believe Byrne now?

Of course, maybe our gal Rhonda has just grown weary of watching various Secret alumni, including James "Sweat Lodge" Ray, cash in with spin-off products that sought to explain why the original Secret failed to usher in an era of universal (pun intended) prosperity. In fact, if there's one silver lining in the financial meltdown of recent years, it's that the economy went to hell in a hand basket within months after Byrne came along, telling us all how to have anything we wanted in life.

Not that any amount of commonsensical thinking will prevent The Pow-errrrr from taking its un-rightful place alongside Byrne's previous tome in the annals of New Age marketing. I'm betting that Byrne is already at work on the third book in the trilogy: I Still Can't Believe People Buy This Shit!


Anonymous said...

Ohh Steve I think you're asking for it now! The dollar sign in place of that stupid jewel is classic. Great post, keep it up.

roger o'keefe said...

Steve, you're not actually developing some marketing savvy, are you? Playing off the heads up from "John" yesterday? :-)

And that is my second smiley ever, I do believe.

Steven Sashen said...

Clearly, Steve The Power is the secret Secret that the secret people behind The Secret secretly wanted to keep secret.

Steve Salerno said...

SS: The tragic part is that the actual publicity matter isn't much more outlandish in tone and (alleged) substance than your parody. That's the real killer here: You almost can't satirize this stuff. It's already too far over the top.

Anonymous said...

What is unbelievable to me, or almost unbelievable given who you are is you admit you haven't even read this woman's book and you tee off on her in order to promote your own book, which bombed for good reason. Even leaving that aside, how are you any different from her? You're both peddling your own books. You only wish you could "attract" an audience like that! And you have the nerve to call this journalism?? What a joke.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 2:15, why don't we begin by correcting a few of your facts.

First, let's be clear on one thing: SHAM didn't exactly "bomb." I said it wasn't a bestseller, and it wasn't. There's a respectable middle ground between the two, and my book is solidly there. And I'm proud of its contribution to "the literature" on self-help in any case.

Second, no, I don't call this journalism. I call this SHAMblog. My mission/mandate, which is right there in the blog's subtitle, is to expose "the scams, shams, and shames of modern life." If Rhonda and her literary output don't qualify, you tell me what does.

Third, I am "different from her" in the sense that those of us who have some grasp on reality have a moral obligation, or something akin to one, to try to protect consumers from the tyranny of those who pander to desperation (and naivete) by selling sheer fantasy in the interest of shameless self-enrichment. I realize that such a remark may sound a little, well, messianic in its own right, but I don't mean it that way, and I come back to my oft-given analogy about the 7-foot hamster: If some enterprising New Ager writes a book about how there are invisible 7-foot hamsters in everyone's kitchen, and I write a book about how there are no such hamsters, the two of us are not equivalent. I have science, common sense, and everything we know about empirical truth on my side.

Steve Salerno said...

And incidentally, if Rhonda ever feels like slumming and would deign to appear on SHAMblog, I'd be more than happy to engage her in fair dialogue. She wouldn't get an opportunity to make an unedited stump speech--I'm sure Oprah and Larry will be giving her that chance quite soon--but if she's up for a little give-and-take, I'd let her say her piece.

Verif word--I swear--bullarta. I mean...come on.

RevRon's Rants said...

I find it amusing that anon 2:15, who is apparently a fan/follower of Rhonda's BS, would find ANYTHING unbelievable. After all, if you're willing to believe in the New Wage equivalent of the tooth fairy, there isn't much that would be beyond the realm of your gullibility. IMO, of course.

Cosmic Connie said...

Y'know, it might be interesting to see Rhonda re-emerge in the media. I wonder if she'll be all over the place as she was in the halcyon days of The Secret, or if she's still gun-shy from all the trouble she's encountered. After all, she all but disappeared a couple of years ago when the legal s--t started hitting the fan, and she hasn't really been seen that much since. At any rate, the woman probably still has tons of legal bills to pay so you can hardly blame her for wanting to recycle some more crap.

But hey, maybe we should give The Pow-errrrr a chance. Maybe we should give Rhonda herself a chance. Maybe we should even sing a hymn of praise to her and her new creation.

(Sorry for providing that link again, but sometimes a little song can be inspiring. :-))

John said...

…to try to protect consumers from the tyranny of those who pander to desperation (and naivete) by selling sheer fantasy in the interest of shameless self-enrichment.

Steve, I'll cede the pandering to the naïve and shameless self-enrichment points, however, if you have the time I'd like to hear your definition of sheer fantasy. Until then, I'll offer up my own perspective as a counter.

From amazon's product description of Stephen Hawking's new book, The Grand Design:

In The Grand Design they explain that according to quantum theory, the cosmos does not have just a single existence or history, but rather that every possible history of the universe exists simultaneously. When applied to the universe as a whole, this idea calls into question the very notion of cause and effect. But the “top-down” approach to cosmology that Hawking and Mlodinow describe would say that the fact that the past takes no definite form means that we create history by observing it, rather than that history creates us.

So, according to Hawking: every possible history of the universe exists simultaneously and we create the past by observing it. From his position and my understanding of things, I don't see it as sheer fantasy to hypothesize that we create the future in a like manner as we create the past.

To be clear, I'm not saying that ideation is equivalent to observation, it's not. Hawking isn't claiming that we create the past by imagining it, believing it and feeling it as real. However, consciousness does appear to be a requisite factor in observation, both as an act of observing and what we decide to observe, so I think we're safe to conclude that it factors in somehow or in someway.

The point I'm trying to make is that the suggestion that we actually create the past by observing it would have been considered sheer fantasy, if not worse, not all that long ago. So while I'll agree with you that The Secret doesn’t appear to work in practice (unless one is selling self-help products), I'd like to hear why it can't work in principle.

Best Regards,

Steve Salerno said...

John, don't take this the wrong way, but invoking Hawking's Grand Design theory doesn't impress me, in terms of this thread. And since this is my blog, I will tell you what I think, and where I'm coming from in such discussions, and you are of course free to remain unimpressed by my reasoning as well.

So, Steve's theory (emphasis on theory): The cosmos has just one possible history. That history is what has really occurred. That history exists apart from human experience of it, but it does exist. (We don't "create the past" by observing it; we create our narrative of the past, which is quite a different matter.) That history explains everything that has happened to date in a strict cause-and-effect manner. Nothing happens without an antecedent cause. Everything that happens had to happen. There is no randomness, and no free, unordained action. We may be limited in our ontological and epistemological insights about that chain of causation, but our lack of knowledge is our problem, and is totally separate and apart from the Raw, Objective Is, if you will.

Now, as Mankind grows in experience, the outline of certain objective truths begins to suggest itself--the earth is round; the sun is the center of our known universe; George Carlin is a helluva lot funnier than Robert Klein--and we then (as part of that same chain of causation) contribute to the forward progress of the universe by making certain "decisions" (in truth there's really no such thing as a decision or free will; all decisions, too, had to happen exactly as they did/do) based on empirical experience: If you have touched a hot stove 10 times and been burned, you reason that you are also going to be burned the 11th time. And you are almost surely correct in that assessment. There is no reason to assume that somewhere in the cosmos a dormant/latent force exists that is suddenly going to remove from your stove, tonight at 8 p.m., the capacity to inflict burns.

The only problem I have with all this--with my own analysis as well--is that there's no accounting for why we (or the cosmos) should even be here. If you can't explain that, then in a sense you have nothing. The Big Bang doesn't explain it; it just begs the question: Where did the matter for the Big Bang come from? After all, the only thing that could've existed in the beginning was nothingness, a pure and perfect vacuum. So then we get into the whole God business, at which point, it seems to me, all bets are off.

But see, if you want to talk religion, we'll talk religion (and the New Age is a subsection of that). If you want to talk science, we can't start talking about random/multiple pasts, because then all of science is itself invalidated (as is Hawking's own theory, which is self-inconsistent, if you think about it).

John said...

With Hawking, I'll leave it up to his peers to decide if what he's proposing is inconsistent. His model is just an interpretation of quantum theory and relativity, so I'm not sure if you mean his interpretation is inconsistent with those theories, or reality as we perceive it is inconsistent with said theories and/or his model. I will say it's counter-intuitive, though.

I was just trying to get at the sheer fantasy definition. While I'm not into determinism, I can accept it as a reason for why you'd term anything where free-will factors in or where a substantial cause-effect relation was absent a fantasy.

Best Regards,

RevRon's Rants said...

"...there's no accounting for why we (or the cosmos) should even be here. If you can't explain that, then in a sense you have nothing."

On the other hand, determinism would necessarily be the manifestation of intent on a cosmic scale. If one denies the existence of that original intent, the very essence of determinism disappears, since all those "predetermined" events would have occurred within an environment based upon chaos, rather than a cohesive plan.

Science and religion are based upon units of measurement and criteria that renders impossible any attempt to quantify/qualify one using the other's "language." Perhaps one day, humankind will realize that one "truth" doesn't necessarily cancel out another, and that the same logic upon which our science is built also exists at the core of our spirituality. It is that logic that will ultimately recognize Byrne et al's "Lorr of Attraction" for the absurdity it is.

Anonymous said...

You're in this for the money every bit as much as Rhonda Byrne is, and don't insult anyone's intelligence by denying it. You're a writer who is jealous of another writer's success, plain and simple. Atleast admit it.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 6:20, see my previous comments in the thread.

Anonymous said...

Help me Rhonda, help, help me Rhonda:

Anonymous said...

If you want to get confused, read these e-books about how to catch and keep a man! They are all pretty interchangeable and empty. How come no one has tackled those books? There is a new one every week and they are as damaging, in many ways, as self-help books.

Rebekah Roberts said...

Couldn't agree more!