Parting the rubes from their rubles: a rockstar in Russia
Russia fans keep asking me to sign their ruble notes. They believe it will attract money.
~Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale on Twitter
NOTE: I've added a few footnotes and links to this post since I first wrote it on September 16. Also see the September 17, October 1, and October 9 addenda.
Mr. Fire is currently on a Law Of Attraction tour in Russia, and, according to his reports on Twitter, he has been treated like a bona fide celebrity there, with nonstop fans, flowers, and media. He has done press conferences about the Law Of Attraction (LOA) and The Secret, has been on numerous Russian TV shows, and has been filmed for a Russian movie on, as he puts it, "money and spirit." In Moscow he was mobbed at dinner as an "LOA rockstar," and the fans are lining up at his book signings to give him flowers and get him to sign their ruble notes.
But it's not all good, apparently. The killer pace is really getting to him, and he's been having the worst travel experiences of his life, as indicated on some of his recent tweets:
- Missed flight. Ticket agent fired for it. Stuck in Moscow airport for hours.
- Made it to Siberia. No palace but in Russia vodka solves all.
- No wonder celebs turn to booze drugs or death. This pace is nuts. I want to fire all.
- Interpreter took day off. Tired. What? I'm one doing all work. No day off for me.
- Race car driver of limo hit bump at warp speed. Sent us into roof. Hurt back.
I know what some of you are saying: "Cry me a river, Josef." Tsk, tsk, you cold-hearted souls. I imagine that numerous others are saying, "Wait just a doggone a minute! Joe Vitale... a rockstar in Russia? You have got to be kidding me." As a matter of fact, more than one friend of mine has remarked on the weirdness of a New-Wage guru being treated like such a celeb anywhere, even in Russia.
To me, however, it doesn't seem all that weird when you consider Russian history and culture. It seems to me that Russia is a market tailor-made for Joe's brand of mystical materialism.
To begin with, Russians have arguably always been more openly accepting of mysticism, the supernatural, and the miraculous than have Westerners. Along with that openness comes, not surprisingly, an extra measure of gullibility, which (to give but one example) goes a long way towards explaining why the profligate and seriously hygiene-impaired faux-monk Rasputin was able to bilk so many people back in the day, including Russia's last Tsaritsa, Alexandra Feodorovna. Even when Russia was under the grip of Communism, and religion and spirituality were officially frowned upon while "scientific Marxism" was officially embraced, the Soviet government was reportedly quite actively engaged in psi/paranormal research, presumably to give them a leg up in the Cold War. Whether this was evidence of open-mindedness and an enlightened attitude, or merely a sign of a secret attraction to woo, is a matter of opinion. (No doubt the US government is/has been involved in the same kind of research, but they’ve never been all that open about it.)
Post-Communism, the willingness to believe just about anything remains steadfast in the Russian collective soul. In fact, Russian belief in the mystical and paranormal seems to have increased in recent years, or at least it is now more openly expressed, according to this report on the first international skeptics' conference in Russia in 2001. And let's not forget that in the years since the Cold War ended, Russia has spawned its share of New-Wage hucksters, most notably, the remarkably inventive Vladimir Megre, who suffered a few failures as an entrepreneur until he found his calling in the imaginary-friends industry. I refer, of course, to Megre's Ringing Cedars series, featuring his woodsy make-believe gal pal Anastasia.*
A few days after initially writing this post, I came across this article on the new Russian mysticism, reprinted from the Globe and Mail (Canada) on the Rick Ross web site. If this doesn't convince you that the Russian market is ripe for a little bit of New-Wage magic, nothing will. Among other things, the author points out that many Russians are quite superstitious, "openly discussing omens and bad luck. It's not uncommon for a Moscow merchant to refuse to handle money after sunset because it is considered bad luck. Customers must instead place their money on the counter." And just wait till you read about some of the wacko "home-grown" cults in Russia, including the apocalyptic cave dwellers, and another group of folks who, believing Prime Minister/ex-President Vladimir Putin to be a reincarnated apostle, perform daily devotions in front of a "presidential icon." The "Anastasians" seem quite sane by comparison. (I'll go into all of this in more detail in my next post.)
What about New-Wage materialism?** Well, even though it has been almost twenty years since the failure of Communism in Russia, many Russians are only now awakening to a new world of possibilities – including, and let's not underestimate this – the possibilities for material wealth. Under Communism, so many had so little, and life was probably pretty grim on a material level for all but the highest government officials, assorted Russian mobsters, and a few other wealthy folk. I imagine that living in such a bleak environment was pretty depressing overall for most people, and not just materially.
Even if this minimalist existence was all they knew, and even if they held to a general belief that the Soviet way was "better" than that of the cravenly capitalist West, surely they had some awareness of the larger world. Surely some must have at least wondered what life was like in a freer society. Chuckle if you will, but I am irresistibly drawn to the video for Elton John’s 1980s hit song “Nikita”; if you can suspend disbelief to the point where you can imagine Elton actually being attracted to a woman (and vice-versa), and if you can get past Elton's silly costumes and the girl's spiky eighties' hairdo and shoulder pads, the song and video can be viewed as a poignant expression of longing for a richer life that once seemed forever beyond the reach of the majority of Soviet citizens. “Oh, Nikita, you will never know/anythin' about my home/I'll never know how good it feels to hold you…"
These days, in theory, "Nikita" would have a much better opportunity to learn about Elton's home, were she so inclined, and to explore the big wide world for herself. She might manage to do it on her own, or she might take the seemingly easy way out and sell herself as a mail-order bride to a wealthy middle-aged American man who's had it with bossy, money-grubbing American gals and wants to make a fresh start with a woman who knows her place. (By the way, the richly informative Moscow Life web site offers some interesting perspectives on the Russian bride phenomenon as well as the gold-digging leggy Russian beauty phenomenon.) In any case, there are now more opportunities for Russians to broaden their horizons than there were in Soviet days. And a whole generation has come of age since the statues of Lenin first began tumbling down.
Yet in the nearly two decades since the Iron Curtain fell, Russia’s economy has been on a roller coaster, and consequently so has Russian society. As a result, in many ways much of Russia’s vast population remains out in the cold, figuratively as well as literally. While there is an intense interest in all things Western – the music, the fashions, the fads, the material dreams – the good life remains elusive for all too many Russians. Now comes Mr. LOA (that would be Joe) to tell ordinary Russians that they too can have the luxury cars and the big mansions and the vacations in a tropical paradise, and perhaps the sublime romance with the perfect soul mate as well – all this, and the ability to bend the Universe to their will. And, luckily for them, he has the books and other products to show them how.
Is it any wonder he's a rockstar in Russia?
I’m sure he has also played on the theme that if a “regular guy” like him could achieve such astounding wealth and success, so can they. No doubt he has shared his tale of former homelessness with them, and no doubt they are duly impressed. My guess is that few if any will stop to consider the possibility that being “homeless” for a few months on the streets of Dallas, Texas (or was it Houston? He has told it both ways) – while retaining the option of going back home to a materially comfortable if emotionally dysfunctional middle-class existence in Ohio – is not at all the same thing as chronic poverty on the harsh tundra, where it often must seem that the only thing between you and the abyss is a half-empty bottle of vodka.***
Nor will many of his new Russian followers pause to really think about the fact that even Joe has often said he struggled for years and years and years. (Following the bout with homelessness, there were ten or so years in poverty, and many more after that with a hit-and-miss approach as both a seller and consumer of endless selfish-help/New-Wage/McSpirituality gimmicks, till he finally hit pay dirt.) He was far from an overnight success, but somehow one has the feeling that in Russia, this fact will get lost in translation. Most importantly, I'm guessing that few of the giddy, flower-bearing Russians, envisioning their own happily-ever-after scenarios, will be even remotely aware of the extent to which Joe and other New-Wage gurus still work their buns off, their continued success depending heavily upon aggressive, relentless, and sometimes desperate-seeming marketing.
When it comes to selling ops, Joe in particular leaves no stone unturned, sending out email blasts nearly every day for one or another of his or his cronies' products. At the beginning of this month, f'rinstance, just before embarking upon the Russia trip, he sent yet another email promoting the ludicrous "Psychic Demand" gimmick that he's been marketing for a couple of years with his buddy Pat O'Bryan. If you haven't read about this scheme yet, do follow the link below to "the most shocking web site of all time," and read all about the "new method" (well, I suppose it's new if you consider something dating from circa 1910 to be new). The whole thing is so classically schlocky that even now I find it hard to believe it is serious, but it must be selling, or Joe wouldn't keep sending emails like this:
I found a technique that's far more powerful than the power of intention.
In fact, intention is for wimps.
I wish I had known this new method when I wrote my book, "The Attractor Factor."
At least I know it now. You can, too.
Go see --
If you're ready to achieve results so big that all your friends and family will scratch their head in wonder, then go to that site right now.
You'll love it.
PS -- What's more powerful than intention? Go see the most shocking website of all time:
And so on. As I said, the selling is nonstop. "So what's your point, CosCon?" you're asking. "There's nothing wrong with marketing and selling, and if you were better at marketing yourself, maybe you'd be more successful too." Point well taken. But my point is that Joe's success story isn't nearly as fantastic in reality as it is in the telling – not that this seems to matter, either in the U.S. or in Russia. And it's easy to understand why Joe's Russian fans, already steeped in a culture rich with folklore and fairy tales, might accept his modern-day fairy tale as absolute truth. It's easy to see how that tale might ignite in them a desire for a life as fun and carefree as the one Joe claims to enjoy (notwithstanding those moments when he is being hurled about in a Russian limo, or stranded at a Moscow airport for hours, or abandoned by his interpreter). Indeed, from a marketing standpoint his choice to go to Russia was a brilliant one; the only puzzle is that more of the New-Wage gurus haven't exploited this deep, rich mine (though apparently numerous other foreigners of the spiritual-huckster persuasion have, in the years since the Soviet Union collapsed). Heck, even you and I could probably be rockstars in the Land of the Firebird if we only had a good mystical shtick, and/or a way to convince large numbers of desperate or discontented Russians that we possess some great secret to make them as rich as the Russian mafiosi.
I’m not saying it is entirely a bad thing to introduce people to new ideas that will, perhaps, give them hope. The question, as always, is, how realistic is that hope? And the greater question is, does the world really need a whole nation of Russian hustledorks?
I'd say the answer to question number two is a big nyet.
As for the nightmarish travel experiences in Russia that Joe has repeatedly tweeted about (and that he even asked his Twitter followers to “clean” on (presumably with Ho'oponopono)), I wonder if he believes that he “attracted” all of that trouble, and if so, if he has asked himself why he might have “attracted” it. Alternatively, I wonder if he might be willing to consider that in a huge country where the past and the future sometimes collide in bizarre ways, where everything is in a state of flux and the infrastructure in many areas is dysfunctional at best, sometimes s--t just happens – despite all the “cleaning” and chanting and other rituals a New-Wage rockstar and his fawning fans can perform.
PS ~ I know I provided these links above, but here it is again for your convenience: For additional offerings from Russia with love, you must, if you've not done so already, read about the remarkable naked blonde wild woman, Anastasia, who first showed up on my Whirled in March and April of 2007.
PPS added later ~ For still more Musings about Anastasia, see my next post (final item).
Addendum, 17 September 2009: My first commenter to this post, named "Anon" as so many of them are, made me think about my tendency to jump to conclusions and make generalizations. Although of course I do this to make a point, and I think most of my regular readers (dare I say "fans"?) will probably understand this, perhaps a few disclaimers are in order nevertheless. First, although I have long been fascinated with Russian history and culture, in part because I have Russian roots of my own (as does my partner Ron), and in part because an ex-boyfriend of mine got me interested in Russia long ago, I am not even remotely an expert on anything Russian. My opinions and observations, expressed through admittedly sweeping statements about Russia's past and present, are those of an outsider making what I nonetheless think are some educated guesses. That's why I welcome insights from those who are experts, or at least who have firsthand experience with any of what I've written about in this post.
Secondly, for those who think I may have been singling out the Russian people for special insults, particularly by pointing out what I see as a singularly Russian propensity for belief and acceptance of the mystical, that was not my intention either. I know as well as anyone that Russians have no monopoly on gullibility, and I am sure that not everyone in Russia is into woo; moreover, I realize that there is a great deal of serious scientific research going on in Russia. In fact, anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I look upon the U.S. as Ground Zero for New-Wage gullibility and selfish-help schemes.
Further, notwithstanding my Anon commenter's remark, my post was not an expression of "post-Cold-War smugness." I'm not even sure the Cold War is indeed over, and I know that Communism/Marxism are not dead on this planet, perhaps not even moribund. (I keep remembering Leonard Cohen's song, "The Future," which imagines a longing for the return of the Cold War, when the major powers thought they knew who "the enemy" was.)
Nor, despite the imagery in my paragraph discussing homelessness and poverty, do I believe that the vast majority of Russians are living in bleak circumstances on the tundra, wasting their lives away with a bottle of vodka. It seems obvious that there is a vibrant life in the cities, particularly Moscow and St. Petersburg, and there is a growing middle class in Russia – a consumer class, which really only enforces some of the other points I've made in this post.
Finally, as someone else pointed out to me privately, there is always the chance that Joe Vitale may have been exaggerating some of the stuff about the "rockstar treatment" and being "mobbed" at dinner (not that he's ever been known to exaggerate before, mind you)****, which would render my entire post somewhat less relevant. I'll just have to wait and see what else, if anything, I hear. As I noted in my response to my first Anon, I'm open to hearing from all.
Addendum, 1 October 2009: On a blog post entitled "Russia Questions," written after he got home and was somewhat recovered from his travels (and travails), Mr. Fire revealed some of the tough questions he was asked by Russian audiences and press. One of these questions almost certainly reflects the post-Cold War ambivalence many Russians have regarding Western-style consumerism, but never fear: Joe has the perfect rejoinder.
Q. Are you creating a culture of consumerism?
A. Consumerism is a negative word for a positive trend. When people buy something to enrich their lives, they are showing they respect themselves. But you can poison that positive by calling it something negative, like consumerism.
'Nuff said. Joe wraps up his post with a cliffhanger:
I was fascinated by Russia (the little I saw of it), but I had to leave it unexpectedly and in great danger. Soon I’ll post an account of my harrowing escape.
While his fans breathlessly await the rest of the story, let me offer another one of my wild guesses. Would that "great danger" be a simple matter of a tourist visa about to expire? I'm just going by what he wrote in a September 22 Twitter entry: "Scrambling to leave Russia. Visa expires tonite. Headed to Finland. Send love."
Now, according to information I read on the Moscow Life web site, an expired Russian visa is a monstrous inconvenience and extra expense, but hardly a "great danger"...
Getting a visa to enter Russia may be one of the most difficult processes, next to getting one to exit Russia if your visa expires...
...First, you can stay in Russia on a tourist visa for up to 30 days, so when applying be sure to fill in the maximum time possible, regardless of what a Russian consulate tells you. Second, you cannot renew a tourist visa! Which brings us to our most important point (and hard-earned lesson): never overstay your Russian visa!
...Against all logic, if you've overstayed your Russian visa, you're actually NOT allowed to leave the country. That's right, even though you're no longer there legally, and any other country would just kick you right out, in Russia you actually have to stay in the country longer to get an exit visa so that you can leave...
...We hate to say 'we told you so', but if you overstayed your visa, it will cost you. The price of an exit visa has been known to vary from 300 to 3000 roubles [under current exchange rates, approx. $9.95 to $99.50 USD] or more, depending largely on the whim of the immigration officer handling your case. In addition to having to stand in queues for hours to even hand in your documents, there's the amount of time you'll lose being stuck in Russia (which we normally wouldn't complain about, but it's not a pleasant experience when you have plans to be somewhere else at the time)...
But I have to admit that "great danger" makes for a much better story, whether framed as a true suspense tale or told with a wink and a nod to Joe's heroes, the nineteenth-century impresarios and twentieth-century ad men who were such marvelous storytellers. And I doubt that anyone has ever accused Joe of not being a good storyteller.
Addendum, 9 October 2009: Here at last is a link to Joe's blog post about what happened in Russia (and didn't stay in Russia). And here's a link to my comments about the story. One point I've picked up was that travel in Russia can be pretty dicey, particularly for Americans, it seems, if every detail isn't handled correctly. This page from the U.S. State Department paints a somewhat grimmer picture than the Moscow Life page I cited earlier. So...was I a bit off-base after all with some of my speculations that Joe's claims of "danger" were exaggerated? Maybe. I really want to be fair here. In any case, you can read his post and draw your own conclusions. If nothing else, Joe does provide a good cautionary tale for Americans planning on traveling to Russia.
* As it happens, Vladimir Megre's imaginary Russian babe Anastasia (or, rather, Megre's enterprising "ringing-cedar" products company, which is milking the Anastasia fairy tale for all it's worth) sells a sea-buckthorn berry oil extract, for only $45.80 (US) for a 3.5-oz (100 g) bottle. The berry extract is combined with the magic "ringing cedar" oil that forms the basis of Vlad's international mail-order business. I really shouldn't call Vlad a failed businessman at all, since he has obviously found a great gimmick, what with the Anastasia books, which just happen to mention the marvelous benefits of products derived from the "ringing cedars" (actually a species of Siberian pine). With those titillating visions of the mysterious nude nature girl, I imagine the products practically sell themselves.
By remarkable coincidence, Mr. Fire, according to one of his Twitter entries, told a Russian audience that "the cleaning tool for Russia" is Siberian sea-buckthorn berry. In his October 1 blog post, which he wrote after returning from Russia, he elaborates. According to him, his recommendation was a response to a question he was asked:
Q. Are there any new clearing tools since writing Zero Limits?
Yes. I’m inspired to say Russians are to eat or drink the Siberian berry, Sea-Buckthorn.
Uh-huh. Would "inspired to say" be code for, "I'm in an MLM scheme to sell products made from this magical berry, and I'll be glad to sell a bunch of 'em to you?"
** Re materialism: I understand that some Russians are turning to spirituality and mysticism in an attempt to escape from what they view as the crass materialism of modern life, but, as in the U.S., many others have no problem combining spirituality and materiality. In other words, they're New-Wagers in training.
*** Lest you think I'm stereotyping about Russians and vodka, well, even Russia's newest rockstar wrote, "In Russia, vodka solves all." And consider this, from the Nomad Journal Trips web site:
A quick word of warning for those intending to travel to Russia. Everything you have heard about the amount of vodka consumed in Russia is wrong. The simple truth is Russians drink much more then you’ve been told. You will be expected to join in the toasting to love, mom, vodka, fill in your favorite sports team, etc. Refusal to join in will be considered rude and an insult. It is strongly recommended that you practice drinking shots before going in for Russia travel. I’m very serious.
**** That was sarcasm.