Thursday, October 14, 2010

And the dog whisperer makes a species-jump.

Comes word that Cesar Millan, best known for teaching yellow labs not to bark when the phone rings, aspires to be the next Tony Robbins. He says so himself in this article from The Canadian Press:

"I'm really looking forward to being a part of the super pack," the world-renowned pooch professional said in a recent phone interview. "The super pack of inspirational and motivational speakers."

Millan was speaking of Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra and Byron Katie, whom he consulted before crafting his Cesar Millan Live show, which kicks off a Canadian tour Oct. 26 in Victoria.
"Super pack." Get it? How terribly clever of Cesar, keeping it real, tying his past life to his new life with a nice tidy bow. All those motivational alphas, out there showing the rest of us submissives the way.

See, this goes to my point about how we'll take advice from anybody on anything, once that person becomes a celeb. Sully Sullenberger (yes, I'm going to bring him up again) lands a plane in a river, so a publisher hands him $3 mill to cobble together his inspirational thoughts on life and living, knowing that we'll buy it. Beck Weathers runs into trouble on a mountaintop, almost gets himself killed, forces at least a half-dozen other people to risk their lives in saving him, then comes back and gives speeches about facing life's challenges. Barbra Streisand has a butter-smooth voice and an incredible range, so we listen, some of us, when she talks about politics. Ditto Sean Penn. (OK, Penn doesn't have that great a voice, to my knowledge, but you get my drift.) Even Bill Maher, indisputably one of the sharpest tacks in today's entertainment shed, started out, you gotta remember, doing dick jokes. Relatively clever dick jokes, but dick jokes nonetheless. And now his legions of adoring fans walk around each Saturday afternoon quoting (and tweeting) the clever putdowns of capitalism and conservatism that dripped from Bill's lips the night before; parroting the gospel according to Bill.

I'm not saying it's even possible to always "think for ourselves." I'm certainly not saying that's all I do, is think for myself. I'm just saying I don't understand why someone becomes eligibleempowered, if you willto tell the rest of us how to think or feel or live, just by virtue of having become famous.


Anonymous said...

Milan is perfect for the SHAMpack. I have read that he is not nor claims to be a dog trainer. He's an actor posing as a dog trainer, and gullible people everywhere think he's a real dog trainer because he's on National Geographic. His show is entertainment. Isn't image what it's all about?


Wayne S said...

I would have groaned in surprise had I not had an inkling of his intentions a few months back. On one of his episodes he was teaching a group of trendy new age advertising employees how to have their canines behave in an office setting that is dog friendly. He was tossing around all the popular catch phrases such as "empowered", "transformation", "being in the present" etc., etc., etc.......

As irritating as this was when I mentioned the show to a friend , who is an animal lover, she mentioned that there have been complaints against him regarding animal cruelty with his own animals. So, I guess the end result is that if after shelling out big biscuits for his new age cage training, if you don't "get it" it won't just be your fault you'll probably have to suffer a whack with a rolled up newspaper.

Steven Sashen said...

Bill Maher "started out doing dick jokes"?

Uh... as someone who watched Bill in 1978 (while standing in the back of the room with Jay Leno), and worked with him off and on starting in 1983 when I was a full-time comic, the *last* way I would describe Bill's act is "dick jokes".

In fact, his (first?) Carson spot in 1983 was mostly political jokes, and then he pauses and adds a great line: "Ah, who am I to try to change the world? I'm no folk singer."

Okay, sure, you didn't do dick jokes on The Tonight Show in the early 80's... but Bill was always known for being WAY above the average hack "blue" comic.

While none of this argues with your point about how we pay attention to celebrities way outside the domain in which they became famous, I think you're falling into a rhetorical problem.

Just because someone becomes famous doing X, doesn't mean they're unable to be informed about and make valid points regarding Y.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you have more than a passing level of intelligence and opinion about more than one topic, right?

Yes, sometimes celebs are no more knowledgeable than anyone else and it's silly to give them a bully pulpit and, sometimes, sillier to give their opinions any attention.

I'd argue that the reason they become "eligible" to "tell us how to think or feel or live" is related to how they become famous: in large part because of our evolutionary and social history that looks for -- often creates -- alpha figures.

WE make the pedestal, WE put them on it, WE listen to their musings... and then we bitch about what THEY did and find a way to knock them off (quickly replacing them). Watch "Escape to Chimp Eden" or any documentary about primate societies and you'll see the same thing there (but without the shiny white teeth).

Steve Salerno said...

Anon/Barb: Does anyone know for sure whether this is true? As usual I'm pressed for time...but what a stunning revelation that would be!

SS: Point taken. All I was trying to say was that Bill started out as a stand-up comic, not a sociopolitical analyst. And though he always had that political bent, he still traded in part in jokes about the battle of the sexes as well as sex per se.

As for your own analysis of celebrity in the final two paragraphs, I would largely agree in general. In fact, I've covered this phenomenon several times on SHAMblog, notably with respect to Bernie Kerik, the "embattled" New York City police commissioner who became such a hero during the early days of 9/11.


To write "WE make the pedestal, WE put them on it, WE listen to their musings... and then we bitch about what THEY did and find a way to knock them off (quickly replacing them)" implies that we're kicking them off the same pedestal we put them on. And while that may be true of how we treat celebrities as a class, it does not apply here, in cases where celebs blithely jump from one pedestal to another without paying their dues in the second arena or having any such credentials to do so. Taking "motivational" advice from Sully Sullenberger is as flawed and silly as asking Tony Robbins to pilot your 747. (Disclaimer: I don't know whether Tony himself is a pilot; if he is, then the analogy doesn't apply. I'm just using it as a general statement of the problem.) It only seems less silly because we say things like, "Well, being a pilot entails a certain specific set of competencies. It's not like being a motivator."

Why not? We know a hell of a lot more about the specific process of flying an airplane than we do about the rather more enigmatic process of supporting and incentivizing human achievement! As I attempt to show in my current article on happiness for Skeptic, how can we teach something when we aren't even sure what it is?! And if we're going to listen to someone about human motivation, shouldn't it at least be someone who has studied human personality and behavior in some formal way?

Finally, I think it's dangerous to start thinking along the lines of your logical proposition, "Just because someone becomes famous doing X, doesn't mean they're unable to be informed about and make valid points regarding Y." Don't get me wrong, I agree with the underlying truth of the statement...but that notion is too easily perverted into exactly the situation we have now, where people throughout society try to claim that their competencies with respect to X are perfectly transferable to Y--and then want to be paid (often big $$) for doing Y. I'm sure that plumbers, especially those who work in construction settings, know quite a bit about the overall workings of a home. Still, if you have trouble with your wiring, you're going to call an electrician, not a plumber.

Steve Salerno said...

Incidentally--because I'm sure someone is going to call me on it otherwise--I am not vouching for the legitimacy of Tony Robbins' motivational advice in my example re Sullenberger. He was just a handy person to use for comparison sake.

RevRon's Rants said...

"And if we're going to listen to someone about human motivation, shouldn't it at least be someone who has studied human personality and behavior in some formal way?"

While it would appear sensible to seek out such a professional, I would counter that a better choice would be to seek guidance from someone whom we perceive to be both wise and joyful. Having worked with many psychiatrists and psychologists over the years, it has been my observation that as a group, they are some of the most troubled individuals one is likely to encounter outside of an institution or the criminal justice system. This is not to imply that *all* of them are beset with demons, but many are, likely having initially entered the profession to overcome some demon of their own.

The public personas whom we so blindly follow project an image of that joyousness we crave, and many are fooled into believing that the projected image is consistent with the actual person when they might well be more troubled than most of their fans.

I've made the point before about one particular "teacher" whose public persona is one of joyous compassion and magnanimous generosity, while the man himself fairly seethes when confronted, and is quick to become emotionally abusive to those closest to him. We crave that image of having it all together that some in the public eye seem to project, and in our craving, we refuse to look beyond the mask. We desperately need to know that their apparent happiness is available to us, and are unwilling to consider anything that might suggest it is just a fantasy or a projected image. We love the shiny shoes, and are unwilling to consider that they might be filled with feet of clay.

In short (too late), I think we would be best served to seek the guidance of those who are genuinely at peace with their lives, and whose lives are testament to the joyousness we crave. But that takes work, not to mention objective insight, and we want our answers neatly packaged and laid in our laps RIGHT NOW. By following those criteria, we deserve what we're getting.

Anonymous said...

How easily we miss the obvious hypocrisy in our own thinking.

Steve, why should anyone listen to YOU?

Steve Salerno said...


1. I'm not charging anything for this.

2. I'm not asking people to follow me anywhere.

3. I say again: There is a profound difference between them saying "we have the answer" and me saying "wait a minute, maybe they don't have the answer."

You're arguing in essence that the agnostic is every bit as much a tyrant or autocrat as the priest. Sorry, I don't see it.

RevRon's Rants said...

"Steve, why should anyone listen to YOU?"

Perhaps because while he states his opinions (and biases) honestly, he goes to the trouble of explaining WHY he holds those opinions, providing clear examples of the phenomenon, circumstances, and behaviors that helped him form those opinions. I don't always agree with his conclusions (sometimes, I wonder if he's on another planet!), but I have to respect the care and thoroughness with which he has reached them.

You, on the other hand, offer only sniping dismissiveness and attempted obfuscation (that word does come up frequently in describing your comments, doesn't it?). So I'll toss your own question right back: why should anyone listen to YOU?

Steven Sashen said...

Steve, I agree with you in specific. ;-)

I was commenting, as you noticed, on the generalization.

And, yes, I agree that there are some are actively pursuing the advantages of celebrity which include having an opportunity to have anyone listen to anything you say, regardless of your qualifications.

I'd still contend though, that, they're merely playing into a socially, if not genetically conditioned situation. That is, if we weren't wired to listen to authority figures, we wouldn't pay money to buy Sully's guide to life.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit I have a very soft spot and a huge crush on the dog whisperer - he at least seems to practice what he preaches and ends up treating the human rather then the canine animals - which is where the problem lies anyway.

He can motivate me anytime......


Steve Salerno said...

"Motivate me, baby... ohhh, motivate me hard...!"

(Sorry. But it is a Friday.)

Anonymous said...


I've submitted questions to both Nat'l Geo and to

I'll let you know what I hear back.


Anonymous said...

Excerpt of letter from Lisa Laney, Dip. DTBC, CPDT, CBC
to National Geographic before airing “The Dog Whisperer”:
“The intended program depicts aversive and abusive training methods - treatment for some serious anxiety and fear based issues - being administered by an individual with no formal education whatsoever in canine behavioral sciences. The "results" that are shown are more than likely not long lasting changes, but the result of learned helplessness, or fatigue, neither of which impact behavior to any significant long term degree - at least not in a good way. For those of us who are pioneering the effort to end the ignorance that drives the cruel treatment administered upon our canine companions, it is disappointing to see that this programming will reach the masses - especially on the NG Channel. The ignorance that this program perpetuates will give equally ignorant people the green light to subject their dogs to abuse. In turn these dogs will react even more defensively, will bite more people - and end up dead.”


Anonymous said...

Don't you agree that if someone becomes successful he is then able to share the secrets of what made him successful?

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 1:32, in a word, no. First of all, I think a lot of successful people have no real idea why they're successful; it just "happened." Second, they may think they have a very good idea what led to their success, but may themselves be badly mistaken; they may be crediting the wrong attribute. Third, I am not one of those who thinks that all success reduces to a set of repeatable attitudes, ideas or behaviors that apply across all realms, ergo I don't see what someone's success in, say, music has to do with teaching me how to be a successful parent or husband or football coach.

I could go on and on...

Anonymous said...

Steve, my you are quite the cynic aren't you? I would truly hate to live in your world. It sounds so barren and full of un-belief in everything that gives the rest of us hope for a better tomorrow.

Cosmic Connie said...

Good work, Barbara, regarding the letter to NG. There's also this:

According to the Wiki bio, Millan is a self-taught pro dog trainer who had a "natural way" with dogs from childhood. So whether or not he is officially a "dog trainer" may be moot if we're talking purely about formal credentials. I'm not really sure what sort of formal credentials would apply, but dog training obviously isn't on the same level with practicing medicine or law.

What is important is that his methods have been criticized as being harmful and, according to at least one prominent vet, his show has "set dog training back considerably."

But you're right, Steve, it's really all about fame and celebrity in the end. And dogs are such a rich mine of inspiration that Millan has a ready-made motivational career. After all, dogs live fully in the present and they love us unconditionally, and all that stuff. As Millan says, we have a lot more to learn from them than vice-versa. (Of course dogs also roll in foul-smelling things whenever possible, drink out of the toilet, and snack on cat poo whenever they can.)

I love dogs, I really do, but I hate the prospect of yet another level of exploitation of both the canine and the human races.

And no, Anon, being cynical about this type of crap does not mean that one has given up on the hope of a better tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Previous Anon...

You DO live in Steve's world, you just haven't noticed because you're blinded by fantastical beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Gee, this sounds soooooo SHAMMY! Simple (b&w) solutions to complex issues, deceptive, more seductive rhetoric than substantial information, more fantasy than fact or science. Millan sounds like the typical Wizard of Oz.


Anonymous said...

Whilst I might not buy Sully's book on motivational living, the man undoubtedly has a wealth of experience doing a demanding job extraordinarily well and so might have something of value to pass on to his readers.
He got his experience the hard way, through study and practice of a risky profession over a great deal of time so I consider him far better placed to motivate any aspiring pilots than Tony Robbins with his cheap circus tricks that pretend to demonstrate competencies other than an ability to entertain with a cheap circus trick.
Its that $3 mill for a book deal that really sticks in your craw Steve, not the 'mission creep'

Sully is a poor example in this context, he didn't seek fame, he sought to deliver his passengers safely since that was his training and expertise. The fact that he accomplished this in such spectacular style rightly earned him accolades.

Your continuing jealous mention of his $3 mill book deal while discounting his achievement as requiring less skill than that demanded of a writer (as you have done previously) gives away the real reason for your ire towards Sully and his remarkable feat of flying skill.

If tomorrow some publisher offered you a book deal for $3 mill would you turn it down?

renee said...

Hi Steve -
We're channeling the same inner demons these days. I don't think I've ever suggested my own blog here but in this case, maybe you'll indulge me.

At any rate, I think you'll enjoy my own view of this nonsense: My Tank and Me.

: )


Steve Salerno said...

Renee: Read your column and, as the agents are wont to say, loved it! (Though on another level, of course, I hated what it affirms about modern life, or at least publishing life.)

You know the scariest part? Your book could sell. You'd find inadvertent gurudom. And then you are hopelessly lost to the rest of us who are still (at least somewhat) sane....

Steve Salerno said...

Other possible chapters (with the obvious, and rich, self-help potential they offer):

Swimming Upstream.

Avoiding the Hook.

If You're a Salmon, Don't Make Friends With the Bears.


renee said...

This stuff writes itself!

Anonymous said...

The last thing we need is Millan's brand of "wisdom" applied to humans. As Barbara and Connie have already pointed out, his dominance-based methods of training are bad for dogs, and worse for humans. Dominance works well for vacuum cleaners, but not for sentient beings.

As an unabashed dog lover (and relatively tolerant person toward other people), I would advise anyone who considers Millan's approach to think twice and try better alternatives first.

A little factoid: Cesar's now ex-wife's name is Ilusion (yes). He named a dog collar and leash after her (while still married) -- quite a telling honor, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Connie said:

Of course dogs also roll in foul-smelling things whenever possible, drink out of the toilet, and snack on cat poo whenever they can.

Nobody's perfect.

Henriette said...

Rev's comments reminded me of a philosophy professor I had many years ago who the students loved, but was one of the most inept humans I ever met. I use to be amazed at how many kids idolized him, when he was so bitter and lonely. It was akin to idolizing Ebenezer Scrooge. On top of that, he was a pretty lazy professor who was all show and little substance.

I also agree with Steve about successful people being lucky. I would also throw in charisma. There are certain people who have something that makes us pay attention, but it is not a skill we can aquire.