Thursday, March 05, 2015

Looking behind the headlines...a selection from SHAMblog's "greatest hits."

Although I have trepidations about nominating as a "greatest hit" a post focusing on a suicide in the family of one of my subjects, I think this item transcends such qualms due to its redeeming social value. It's a case where I believe that SHAMblog provides readers with an important missing piece of the puzzle, "the rest of the story," if I may appropriate the late, great Paul Harvey.

And can we stipulate before we start that the art is meant almost in self-parody? Yes, I am waging a battle for truth and justice, but I hardly see myself as Superman; anyone who really knows me and my circumstances would laugh out loud at the mere suggestion. I don't even own a cape. 

So here's my thinking:
1. Cindy Bassett and her former venture, the Midwest Center for Stress & Anxiety, have long been beset by controversy; this was all the more true in the years leading up to the second half of this post, which appeared originally in June 2013. My writing on the Center has generated greater reader interest than any other series in the 10-year history of the blog. Many readers have exhorted me to "keep digging." Some have chosen to recount their own experiences with the Center.

2. Based on feedback directed to me personally as well as discussions that have flared in my comments section and in forums devoted to the Center, it's clear that I exposed a sizable contingent of consumers to new information...which they then used in deciding against a purchase they realized they would have regretted. No, it is not my job to tell people not to patronize self-help gurus. I simply want to equip them with info to which they're entitled as they evaluate self-help's role in their lives and in society. 

3. If it is gauche for me to blog cynically about a family that has been touched by suicide, then is it not at least as gauche for someone to exploit that same tragedy as the theme for the next in a series of consumer products? For while the death of David Bassett was surely a tragedy of unprecedented dimension in Lucinda Bassett's life, the basic pattern we see here was nothing new. From the outset, Cindy used the drama of her own life (some of which may be only "Brian Williams true") as the template for her outreach to vulnerable Americans who felt that she uniquely "spoke to them" because of what she herself had gone through. Without the added context I provide, how many consumers would be predisposed to take Bassett's spiel at face value?

4. Which brings us, finally, to the more general Fairness Question: Steve, how come you only seem to present the ugly side of self-help? This deserves a lengthier explanation, but the skinny is that if you want to see/hear/experience the so-called wonders of self-help and its foundational concepts (e.g. self-esteem), all you need do is turn on almost any morning talk show, go on Facebook, walk into any bookstore, attend any speaking event sponsored by your company (these are often mandatory), etc. Reinforcement of self-helpeven the most predatory kindis ambient and ubiquitous in American culture. I dare say, before SHAM and a small basketful of other books came along in 2005 or so, there was really no serious rebuttal to any of this stuff to be found anywhere; meanwhile, the top gurus were getting a daily/nightly platform from Oprah, Larry King and everyone else. Still today, it's just assumed that this stuff is "the right way to think." So if I'm doggedly contrarian, as in that recent essay for the Daily News, it's with good reason. 

Following is my original post.

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Courtesy of one of our regularswho also happens to have some first-hand knowledge of Lucinda BassettI received today this quote from page 258 of Lucinda/Cindy's new book*, Truth Be Told: A Memoir of Success, Suicide, and Survival.

Though she does not mention me by nameand I hope I'm not being self-aggrandizing in assuming that she's referring to meI have to think her use of the word sham is intentional. Here's the passage, in which she writes of her son's accidental discovery of my blog.

He'd been looking for something on the Internet and found a blog full of speculation and misinformation about how and why his father had killed himself. An aggressive blogger, a guy who apparently likes to write vicious, untrue blogs about people in an attempt to provoke a response, wrote that David committed suicide in our own backyard. Then he said that he killed himself because he knew our product was a sham."
"Mom, get that stuff about Dad off the Internet!"  Sammy shouted through his tears.
A few things. Assuming she's talking about me, she's specifically talking about my post, "A Death in Malibu," current holder of this blog's all-time record for most comments. Note that I do not say that David Bassett killed himself in their "own backyard." I say, in my first line, no less, "This past June 7, 53-year-old David Bassett walked onto a California beach and ended his life with a shotgun." That is not speculation. It is based on information contained in the June 12, 2008 edition of the Malibu Surfside News, and a follow-up conversation with the newspaper's very hands-on publisher, Anne Soble. Ms. Soble had spoken to the coroner. And insofar as whether I correctly identified David's tool of choice, here's a screen shot from Lucinda's own site, devoted to the book**:
While most people who commit suicide use a firearm over every other method combined, solving that problem isn’t as simple as removing guns from the home. That’s what we did for David and he was still able to get a hold of a shotgun.
So I had the general location right, and I had the gun right. ... Where's the misinformation?

And now we have my supposed contention that David killed himself "because he knew our product was a sham." Sigh. I did not say anything of the kind, and there was no "speculation" to that effect. I simply noted the irony: One would expect people hawking a foolproof method for beating anxiety and depression (as per the tenor of their own advertising) to be able to use that proprietary methodology to beat their personal demons. But faithful readers will know that I have recently rethought that whole proposition and revised my emphasis. See this post.

In closing, I choose to think that Cindy Bassett is talking about me. I also choose to think that her coloring of what I said epitomizes her general disregard for truth, and her inclination to rewrite history in whatever way suits her needs of the moment. The individual who sent me this tip knows Cindy very well, and contends that her book is full of such rewritten history. So even if she's not writing about me here, I suspect there's a good deal of convenient untruth in Truth Be Told..

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* New then, which was June 2013.
** That site has undergone considerable modification since then.

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