Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dispatches from the SHAMscape... April 30, 2015

The Oprah Effect: a grim retrospective. A very nice piece on how Oprah's weakness for "crackpot" theories (and the purveyors of same) has tarnished her legacy. The author focuses chiefly on Dr. Oz and bogus health advice, dragging Jenny McCarthy in as an aside, but no list of Winfrey's Wackos would be complete without the likes of Marianne "Miracles" Williamson, Eckhart Tolle, The Secret's Rhonda Byrne and, of course, the occasionally fatal James Arthur Ray. Here's a second piece in the same vein, and with a bit more detail.

From April 27:
Courtesy of long-time SHAMblogger Londoner, here's a cautionary tale for our times: about the New Agey 23-year-old wellness blogger who beat the brain cancer she didn't have by eating foods whose therapeutic mechanisms she doesn't understand. This is a story, of course, with relevance that extends well beyond young Belle Gibson, bogus cancer cures and the whole anti-gluten fad. I'm drawn to the way the author describes Jenny McCarthy's "harping on the idea that the medical establishment is not to be trusted–only outsiders like her speak the truth." It's a line that I'm sure will resonate among hipsters and conspiracy nuts...but...why? Whence today's passion for pseudoscience and/or being nakedly anti-science? And here's a great line from a second article on Gibsob: "[She] needed to fake cancer, because the New Age narrative of transcending physical and spiritual sickness is so ingrained into its marketing. New Age philosophy is the clearest example of a utopian movement utterly absorbed by capitalism, which it once (feebly) opposed." The latter line reminds one of Salty Droid's investigation of sleazy online marketing, in particular the loose consortium of New Age interests known (yes, even to themselves) as The Syndicate. Finally, how telling is it that some folks have rallied to Gibson's defense (just as they've rallied to Dr. Oz's defense), hailing her work as symbolically truthful in the same way that (a) some addiction activists united with diehard Oprah-philes to defend James (Million Little Lies) Frey and (b) black activists clung to the narrative of the Michael Brown shooting long after it became clear that Brown was neither a choir boy nor the poster child for ruthless police oppression of blacks. We sort ourselves into teams and then, having done that, there's no going back. We're the ones in the know and we must be right, even if we aren't. We see this with McCarthy's anti-vax crusade, too; doesn't matter how much she and her cause are repudiated, her movement remains intact. This helps explain how long-defeated diseases like measles gain footholds anew in hipster strongholds like the Bay Area.

I barely scratched the surface here and probably did not do justice to Londoner's tip, but I invite you to follow the links above or do some independent research. And as always, report back and/or comment.


Anonymous said...

I think the conspiracy/tribe thing is just another element of the rebellion against authority and the establishment. Nobody today wants to be told what to do. As you've written we want to create our personal realities.

Love the blog!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm generally in agreement with the skeptical and cynical take on SHAM. But when I read articles in Fortune Magazine where multibillionaires like Paul Tudor Jones, Marc Benioff, et al., swear by Tony Robbins, I start to diffident of my skepticism. Even the second richest hedge fund guy, Ray Dalio, who was interviewed by Robbins for Robbins' new book, said he listened to Robbins' tapes decades ago. Über successful Hollywood guys Peter Gruber is a Robbins devotee. I don't know, it is hard to keep up my skepticism when I read things like this.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon, I can see where you'd feel that way, but be careful about a common logical fallacy. The fact that some very successful people swear by Tony Robbins does not mean that Tony Robbins will unfailingly lead you to success. I tend to think that for every million/billionaire who swears by Tony, there are hundreds if not thousands of everyday people who bought the books and videos, and maybe even sprang for one of the $10,000 retreats, and have little or nothing to show for it.

Also keep something else in mind: When it comes to the like of $10,000 retreats, you have to be reasonably successful to begin with in order to afford that level of investment; so a lot of these folks were probably well on their way already, even without Tony. Which leads me to my last point: Just as not everyone can hit a major league fastball, not everyone who gives the Robbins program (or any such program) a serious try is going to soar with it. You need The Right Stuff constitutionally. It's similar to the "never give up your dreams" mantra.

In any case, as I've said many times before, Robbins is hardly the worst offender.