Whirled Musings

Across the Universe with Cosmic Connie, aka Connie L. Schmidt...or maybe just through the dung-filled streets and murky swamps of pop culture -- more specifically, the New-Age/New-Wage crowd, pop spirituality & religion, pop psychology, self(ish)-help, business babble, media silliness, & related (or occasionally unrelated) matters of consequence. Hope you're wearing boots. (By the way, the "Cosmic" bit in my moniker is IRONIC.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The 2009 Scammy Awards: it's not too late to vote!

A few weeks ago I received an email from John Curtis, founder of Americans Against Self-Help Fraud! The purpose of the email was to announce the second annual edition of an awards program that John created last year as an adjunct to his National Guru-Free Week, which is April 1-8. And yes, there is a significance to the fact that Guru-Free Week begins on April Fools Day. (Here's a link to a press release about last year's National Guru-Free Week.)

Being preoccupied with my real work as well as my serious investigative non-journalistic pursuits of other matters of consequence, I let John's email slide, but everything worked out all right anyway. As it happens, he also sent an email to Steve Salerno at SHAMblog, and Steve didn't let it slide. Here's the link to Steve's post about the matter.

At this point the Scammy Awards are still wide open for categories as well as nominees. Some of John's suggestions for categories are:

  • Dumbest Thing Said by a self-Help Guru
  • Most Hypocritical Self-Help Guru
  • Worst Sequel to a Self-Help Book
  • Least Likely to be a True Self-Help Premise
  • Self-Help Product Most Clearly Done Just for the Cash
  • The Deepak Chopra Lifetime Confusion Award
  • Biggest Celebrity Sucker (Who Bought and Then Promoted a Load of New Age Crap)
  • Biggest Promise That Will Not Be Delivered Upon

You are, of course, welcome to add your own categories and nominees. Steve is now receiving suggestions at SHAMblog, which he will compile and forward to John.

Not surprisingly, I have a few categories to add, which I shared on SHAMblog. I'll recap my nominations here.

To begin with, I think there should be a category for Most Creative/Profitable Use of Imaginary Friends. The obvious front runners would be Esther and Jerry Hicks and their Imaginary-Pals collective, Abraham. Even though they were, for all practical purposes, ousted from The Secret due to Rhonda Byrne's greed, they continue to rake in the really big bucks, holding lavish Abraham-Hicks cruises every year. As Jerry and Esther themselves put it on the web page describing their 2009 Tahiti cruise, "We keep saying this----It just can't get any better than this! (But we know that somehow it will!)."

Another stunning success story in the Imaginary-Friends industry is JZ Knight and her old (literally; he's over 35,000) pal Ramtha. JZ has exclusive rights to Ramtha and even successfully sued someone else who claimed to be channeling him. She has made many millions of dollars convincing people that Ramtha is real, and as many may recall, the two of them were a major part of the hit New-Wage moviemercial, What The Bleep Do We Know? The blurb about Ramtha on the "Scientists" page of the official What The Bleep web site says, "[Ramtha's] partnership with American woman JZ Knight, his channel, still baffles scholars." (No, Bleepers, what baffles scholars is the fact that so many people apparently believe Ramtha is real – a belief that enabled his wily inventor to evolve from trailer park resident to multimillionaire. I GOTTA find me a scam.)

A newer entry in the Imaginary-Friends arena is Vladimir Megre, once a failed Russian entrepreneur who hit the big time after he "discovered" a young, naked but infinitely wise woman in the Siberian woods. He says her name is Anastasia, and he has written a slew of books about her, The Ringing Cedars series. They haven't become as big as The Secret yet, but they seem to be pretty popular, and such luminaries as Chicken Soup co-perp Mark Victor Hansen has praised them (scroll down a bit on the page and you'll see his brief testimonial). Or at least Mark praised Anastasia, saying, "Anastasia wows the soul!" It's entirely possible that he was actually praising the animated movie, and the Ringing Cedars people lifted his testimonial, but knowing the circles Mark runs in, I tend to think not. Anyway, here's a bit more insight into Anastasia and the whole Imaginary-Friends shtick.

The Three Amigos $2,000 Briefcase Scam perpetrated by Bob Proctor, Jack Canfield and Michael Beckwith is worthy of a Scammy in and of itself. For the benefit of those who don't know about the Briefcase Scam, it involved a $1,995 leather briefcase that contained DVDs, CDs, MP3s and a workbook, all centered around Wallace Wattle's classic book, The Science of Getting Rich, but with a whole lotta Proctor thrown in. It was an affiliate program, so for your nearly $2,000 you got the chance to sell overpriced briefcases full of crap to as many other people as you could manage to sucker into the deal, and you'd get a commission. As I just mentioned the other day, though (scroll down to the third item, "Whither the SGR Club"?), the briefcases are no longer selling for $1,995, but are now going for the rock-bottom price of just under $300. When they're gone, they're gone! Be sure to watch those videos if you follow the link, especially the one where Scientist Bob snaps his finger and demands that you take advantage of his briefcase deal NOW, with absolutely no further thought about it – even if you have to borrow the money from your grandmother (here's the YouTube link to that one).

Kevin Trudeau probably deserves his own Lifetime Achievement award too, perhaps as Most Successful Serial Scammer.

There should also be some sort of New-Wage Martyr Award, and I think Trudeau (or True-dough, as he's often known) would be up for that too, since a major part of his marketing shtick is making a big deal out of the fact that the big bad US government has been on his case for years. Poor Kevin; he's only trying to help consumers, and Unca Sam just keeps trying to clip his wings. Another contender for New-Wage Martyr, of course, would be David Schirmer, Aussie Secret star, whose ongoing martyrdom has been documented on my Whirled numerous times, including here, and here, and here, and here. David has been accused of all sorts of financial wrongdoing, including bilking investors out of a great deal of money, but he blames all of his troubles on a vengeful ex-employee/lover, tabloid journalists, Satan, etc. They're all out to get him, poor guy, when all he really wants to do is the Lord's work.

Although I didn't mention this on SHAMblog, there's another potential Scammy category, based on an award I proposed a couple of years ago on this blog: the MystiCouple Award for the best New-Wage mom-and-pop team. Response to my proposal was lackluster (although I did get a lecture about what a judgmental and angry person I am, and I also received some indignant private emails from followers of one of the MystiCouples. I'd tell you which couple, but I don't want yet another spate of angry emails). Anyway, I'm thinking that some sort of Flim-Flamming Couple Award would be a viable category for the Scammy Awards. Once again, our pals Esther and Jerry Hicks are contenders in this category, but there are several other active couples, as mentioned in the post linked to above. (Note: The couple at the very end of the post, one Rev Ron and Cosmic Connie, are there for laughs. We're not competing for a Scammy. Don't waste your valuable vote!)

Now, I realize that the MystiCouple category may be more New-Age/spiritual than strictly self-help, but then again, so is the Imaginary-Friends category. Frankly, the line between self-help and New Age has blurred so much in recent years (which is why I coined the term, "New-Wage" in the first place) that they are all, in my opinion, Scammy contenders. In fact, John Curtis' tentative category list above reflects the common threads of New-Age, self-help and McSpirituality.

Well, I hope this was enough to get you inspired. I invite and encourage you to participate in the Scammy nominations. You can do it at Steve's blog, as mentioned above, or you can submit your suggestions here on my Whirled, and I'll forward them to John Curtis.

And, of course, you can also contact John directly through his site. He does solicit financial support for his ongoing efforts to battle self-help fraud (and yes, I know that some would say "self-help fraud" is a redundancy), but you can participate in the Scammy nominations at no cost.

Let the nominations begin (or continue)!

PS ~ If you want to promote the Scammy Awards on your own blog or other site, feel free to use the image above (note: it's not an "official" creation or logo of John's organization, just my own effort for the cause). If you single-click on the image you'll get the large version, which will be better for downloading.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for directing me to that web site. I have been alarmed by the selfishness of most of the people involved in this area for a long time and how they manipulate people is very dangerous.

Things particularly disturbing to me are:

1. They remove all negative comments about themselves.
2. They threaten people when people say things they don't like about them.
3. They publicly make comments about other people that they know are absolutely not true and they also knwo that those people won't do anything about it because they value honesty and anonymity.
4. They make claims which cannot be proven.
5. They do not live by what they teach.
6. Some of them have even been taken to court for their conduct and still claim to be ok.
7. They align themselves with people with questionable intent.
8. They say that the whole thing is not about money when it is blatantly obvious to everyone that it is.
9. They are literally teaching people to be greedy.
10. They contradict themselves in their claims all the time, it seems that lying is becoming more and more difficult.
11. They do not understand that they are the biggest losers out of this whole scam.
12. Perhaps the most offensive of all is the fact that they claim to be religious when their actions are so far from anything religious it is an embarassment tot he churches.

If these people put as much effort into being someone of real value to society they could do great things but I fear the path they have chosen for themselves.

If they value the young and innocent, why don't they focus on supporting them instead of focusing on marketing false hope to the world. I hope that the government sees a need to regulate this industry because I find it extremely dangerous and damaging. Are these peopler responsible for creating minds of the children we have seen in Germany and here in the US who if they cant' have what they want they just take it out on the world and everyone around them. I fear that will happen much more often because of what has been created.

Bring on very strict regulations and regular reporting. I know that these people live their lives finding ways around the system but they are and they will be the losers.

Very interesting post.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 5:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about:
"Most Newage Thinking Justified in the Lords Name Rip-Off",
which would have a host of pious contenders from Schirmer, Bob, Belcher, The Internet Buddha to Beckwith and a whole slew of holy rollers with a beady eye on the bottom line.
The rationalisation goes 'God wants me to be wealthy so a little subterfuge to rip people off is not only justified, it's sanctified.'

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 5:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Connie it doesn't matter what these guys say the public are their judge and jury and like Madoff and Belcher, Schirmer will be held accountable if not now sometime very soon. In my opinion he's been given far too many lives but perhaps they've been very short and getting shorter. I dont like to wish ill on anyone but all of these guys must be held accountable for their unbelievable greed. Talk about doing the Lords work. They are a Lord unto themselves only.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 8:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Julie O said...

Yes I agree, these people can whatever you want but what is most offensive is when they try to mix a belief in a faith and a money making racket. That is the essense of evil.

Thursday, March 12, 2009 12:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Curley said...

What is that what the Aussie guy is holding? It looks like a cheap bit of pipework and I bet it was specially designed for him too, made soooooooooo big to match his ego...

Thursday, March 12, 2009 10:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course the big daddy of imaginary friends is the Big Dog himself.

Thursday, March 12, 2009 1:12:00 PM  
Anonymous mojo said...

Also missing from the list of noms is a *special* award that should be given to the most doe-eyed head-in-the-sand how-dare-you-question-my-hero apologist/follower guru-fan. They deserve some sort of special mention. They really do.

Friday, March 13, 2009 10:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Lana said...

I like mojo's category for best apologists.

How about a category for Most Sickening? The trophy can be a giant barf bag.

Friday, March 13, 2009 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

To my first Anon commenter (5:43 PM): I agree with your 12-point assessment of the selfish-help gurus; I think you said it very, very well.

However, I don't necessarily agree with the idea of introducing more regulations and laws. I think there are already enough laws in place to deal with actual consumer fraud (not to mention sexual predation, embezzlement and some of the other shenanigans for which some in the industry are known). I admit that most of the New-Wage hustledorks make such vague promises about their products, techniques, etc., and with that they issue so many legal disclaimers, that they make it all but impossible to prove actual fraud. But I don’t see how introducing more laws to cover nebulous promises of miracles is going to help.

Besides, we've seen how even when people do get nailed by the government for provable fraud, they can still manage to slink out of it. I'm thinking, of course, of Kevin Trudeau, who paid his fines, did his time, and then emerged stronger than ever, exploiting his past troubles in his marketing shtick. (You know, the big bad government was just out to get him, etc.)

That's why critics – including satirists – play such a valuable role here. They can and do point out the inconsistencies and absurdities in the hustlers’ words and works. (No, I'm not trying to inflate my importance here...well, maybe I am, a little bit. :-)) Anyway, I think that if anything needs extra legal protection, it is freedom of expression, which is already written into the U.S. Constitution but is continually being challenged in one way or another – and certainly isn't so sacred in other parts of the world. As long as critics of the selfish-help stuff are free to express themselves without fear of being hauled into court for defamation, I think we're in pretty good shape.

I am not saying that that the targets of criticism shouldn't have a right to defend themselves against actual slander or libel (i.e., deliberate untruths), but they shouldn't be allowed to pursue defamation cases every time someone utters a critical word about them. I'm thinking of how SHAMblog's Steve Salerno and others have been threatened in the past by Tony Robbins' legal team, simply for making some statements about Robbins' trading his old wife for a newer model. More recently, Aussie spruiker David Schirmer jumped on some folks on Twitter for some critical remarks they made about him (I never read the remarks), and he threatened to sic some top defamation lawyers on them. They quickly retreated and apologized; one even left Twitter entirely. I think Schirmer was just blowing smoke, but it was enough to remove some people whom he apparently considered bullies from his new playground.

I think that if the hustledorks and spruikers are allowed to sell their wares, the critics should be allowed to speak their piece too, without the hustlers whining, "Defamation!" every time they're exposed for who and what they really are.

Saturday, March 14, 2009 1:04:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Anonymous 5:57 PM said...

How about:
"Most Newage Thinking Justified in the Lords Name Rip-Off"...

That's an excellent category. And, unfortunately, a very crowded one.

I think, however, that the Scammy categories have been solidified in the time since I wrote this, but I could be wrong. I'll send an email to John Curtis and ask him if there's still room for write-in categories.

Saturday, March 14, 2009 1:09:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Anonymous 8:12 PM said...

"Connie it doesn't matter what these guys say the public are their judge and jury and like Madoff and Belcher, Schirmer will be held accountable if not now sometime very soon..."

One can but hope. But remember, Belcher got nailed by the government, paid fines and forfeited some assets, and he's still out there raking it in. Or at least that's what he has us believing. As for Madoff, he just plead guilty to all charges and may face prison time of up to 150 years, but I have a feeling he'll still be sitting pretty for the rest of his life, wanting for nothing, while many of the people he bilked still suffer, and some lost nearly everything. (I'm not saying that *all* of his victims are suffering as a result of his wrongdoing, but I think many are. And, of course, whether or not his bilking caused true suffering to all of his victims is not the point; what he did was legally and ethically just plain wrong.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009 1:16:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Julie O said...

"...what is most offensive is when they try to mix a belief in a faith and a money making racket. That is the essense of evil."

I agree that even if it's not always purely evil, it is certainly pretty smarmy to exploit people's faith or their longing for spiritual guidance in order to extract money from them.

But this is a tricky area, because it's one that many of the New-Wage hustledorks are so quick to jump on. They claim that their critics are saying that money itself is evil, and/or that all material desires are evil, and/or that there is something noble about poverty. Or they claim that their critics are just envious of successful people or that they (the critics) are suffering from feelings of personal unworthiness or fear or rage or whatever, and simply want to drag everyone down with them.

As an antidote to what they claim the critics are peddling, the gurus peddle their own spiel about how righteous or spiritual it is to be prosperous. They may even preach a variant of the assertion that being poor is evil, sinful, or at least that it's a sign of being spiritually unevolved.

While I agree that there's nothing intrinsically evil about money or material desires, and that poverty is (as I noted in another thread) its own breeding ground for various evils, I think that most of the hustledorks' pronouncements about prosperity are pretty transparent. It's all a way for them -- and their followers -- to feel better about their own greed. It may not always be the essence of evil, but it's pretty slimy anyway.

Saturday, March 14, 2009 1:32:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Curley said...

"What is that what the Aussie guy is holding? It looks like a cheap bit of pipework and I bet it was specially designed for him too, made soooooooooo big to match his ego..."

Hi, Curley, it's good to see you here. I think that trophy our favorite Aussie is holding is an award he won in November of 2006 when he attended a Dan Kennedy marketing event in the US.

Here's a snippet about that event, from the blog of a woman who calls herself "The Red Hot Marketer" (slogan: "Traditional marketing meets the conscious entrepreneur. Selling doesn't mean selling out!"):

"Have you seen the movie, "The Secret"? What?! You haven't?! Go to this site immediately and watch... www.thesecret.tv It's a viral message that will change the way you look at things forever. I've watched it 7 times in the past 5 months. I'm sure there are many others who have watched it more. Anyway, the man who inspired it (and is also in it), David Schirmer was at the event with his lovely wife, Lorna. He actually won Info-Marketer of the Year (shocking...NOT). I really enjoyed talking with both of them about their future plans. They are truly changing lives."


Of course, that was written in November of 2006; perhaps Ms. Red Hot Marketer has since changed her opinion about Mr. Schirmer.

Saturday, March 14, 2009 1:49:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Anonymous 1:12 PM said...

"Of course the big daddy of imaginary friends is the Big Dog himself."

Perhaps. I'm an agnostic so I'm not sayin' either way. But I am thinking that Neale Donald Walsch's version of the Big Dog could qualify as an Imaginary Friend.

Saturday, March 14, 2009 1:51:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

mojo said...

"Also missing from the list of noms is a *special* award that should be given to the most doe-eyed head-in-the-sand how-dare-you-question-my-hero apologist/follower guru-fan. They deserve some sort of special mention. They really do."

Oh, Mojo, I so agree with you. There could even be a category for most stupid thing said by a New-Wage guru's follower; Joe V's blog comments sections alone are a rich mine for this kind of thing. Just the other day I saw this comment to Joe's March 2, 2009 post about what to do when the Law Of Attraction doesn't seem to be working. Joe, of course, asserts that LOA is always working, like the law of gravity, 'cos it's a scientifical fact and all that. A Joebot named Josh responded:

"The LOA is always working because all atoms and cells communicate at the same time . When you have a thought. These thoughts actually create particles. These particles attract like particles. There was an experiment that showed even particles of water are attracted to each other when separated. So weather someone believes it or not, there is proof of the LOA. Thanks Joe!"

Rolling my eyes...

In any case, as I noted above, I think the Scammy categories have since been solidified. I've posted the "official" link on my blog but will post it again, and I'll give it here too:

Saturday, March 14, 2009 1:58:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Lana said...

"How about a category for Most Sickening? The trophy can be a giant barf bag."

Wow, the possibilities are endless there... maybe that can be a write-in category, or lacking that, it can be part of next year's Scammy Awards.

Saturday, March 14, 2009 2:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That Schirmer guy is an arrogant bastard isn't he. Look at what he is saying about the other secret teachers on his twitter page

"I agree ... they are a weird bunch, getting them together is like herding cats! LOL"

What an arrogant, self absorbed, twit the guy is. He has no credentials that anyone is aware of yet he has self claimed the title of guru and calls everyone else weird. Wow, thats says a lot.

Thursday, March 19, 2009 5:35:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 5:35 PM: I too saw Schirmer's Twitter comments about the other Secret teachers. Out of context it does sound arrogant, as do many of his pronouncements. However, in all fairness to Schirmer, *in* context it just sounds like a lame attempt at humor.

He was actually conversing with another Twitter user named Sharon about how odd it is that many celebrities still don't seem to "get" Twitter. Schirmer said that it seemed some of the "teachers" from The Secret still don't get it either. (He, of course, is having a grand old time on Twitter and seems to think it is helping his marketing efforts.)

To Schirmer's remark about the Secret teachers, Sharon responded, "What is it with that? Maybe we need to get your fellow Secret Teachers together & give a good lesson :)"

Schirmer answered: "I agree ... they are a weird bunch, getting them together is like herding cats! LOL"

The truth, I suspect, is that getting all of The Secret teachers to agree to do anything at all with Schirmer would be all but impossible, since none of them seem to want anything to do with him.

I guess he has to grab onto anything he can find to set himself apart from others -- his professed Christianity, his Twitter literacy (Twitteracy?), etc. So yes, there probably was some arrogance behind his remark about the Secret teachers being a weird bunch -- but even so, as I noted, it sounds to me more like a half-baked humor attempt than full-blown arrogance.

By the way, speaking of arrogant, I noticed that he has changed his Twitter self-description. It DID read:
"I'm the only Aussie on The Secret DVD, and probably the most controversial, most
fun loving, most challenging and direct, maybe the richest?"

But it now reads:

"Teacher on The Secret , Commodity & Stock Trader, Financial Mentor, Mindset Coach,
Christian, 6 boys, fun loving"

I wonder why he changed it...

Thursday, March 19, 2009 6:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very confused. David Schirmer has been in court twice this week in Australia I think it is because he thinks he has been charged too much for his legal bills or something. But what confuses me even more is the fact that what he is doing is underlining his poverty mentality. How can someone who claims to understand the mind challenge anything that anyone is asking as payment for their services? That is a poverty mentality. Wouldn't you think it would be better to pay up considering that he would have known the charge in the first instance but probably decided it was a bit much and he didn't want to pay it. Or maybe he will try anything to get out of paying anything. I don't know but I'm afraid I have no confidence or trust in a person who does that. That shows a complete lack of faith and understanding.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 5:51:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 5:51 AM: Apparently David Schirmer has been in court A LOT over the past few years, most of the time because other people were suing him, but in some cases because he was suing others or filing a counter-suit. You make a good point about his apparent display of poverty mentality versus his teachings on abundance mentality. That's just one of many reasons for my choice of David Schirmer in the Scammy category of HYPOCRITE AWARD (given to the Self-Help guru with the biggest gap between their professed values and how they actually behave).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 11:13:00 AM  

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