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.)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Hustledork Cinema: the hits just keep comin' at ya!

Oh. My. Goddess. Wednesday came and went last week, and I know I had more than halfway promised that I would wrap up the Peter Wink conversations that day, but I didn't. The truth, Dear Ones, is that I had spent the previous few days dealing with some extraordinarily trying family matters, in addition to recuperating from a mystery ailment, and I did not have the brains to write anything even remotely thoughtful and serious. I'm still not up to full speed yet, though the Snark is definitely stirring. So, with my apologies to Peter and to anyone who might have been expecting a Wink Wednesday Wrap-up, let me more than halfway promise to do it this coming Wednesday instead. That should buy me some time to either write the post or come up with another excuse for not doing so.


For now, I have a Very Important New-Wage Moviemercial Announcement. Or several announcements, actually. I Tweeted briefly about this matter the other day, but the topic begs for elaboration.

I first found out about this scintillating film project via a spammish comment I received a few days ago for an August 2007 Whirled post about the hustledork flick The Opus. Over the years I've received a fairly steady flow of comments on that post, most of them supporting The Opus and its creator, a Canadian actor, author, Mormon missionary, motivational speaker, and film producer named Douglas Vermeeren. Doug currently calls himself "North America's Achievement Expert," and is touted by some as being a spokesman for the younger generation of overachievers. These days, in addition to announcing moviemercial projects, he mostly seems to be making his living teaching individuals and corporations how to reach that storied "next level," delivering seminars in places such as Mexico, Jamaica and Fiji.

Doug himself contributed a couple of comments to the discussion on my Opus post, and a few folks have asked me why I have allowed such blatant promotion of his work, in the guise of "conversation." But it's NBD, as far as I'm concerned. I snark. Others defend my snargets, and sometimes the snargets defend themselves, as they have every right to do, and indeed as I openly invite them to do. I snark again if I feel like it. And so it goes. That's the way my Whirled turns, sometimes.

At any rate, here's that spammish comment announcing the next cinematic breakthrough (and I call it spammish because it appeared verbatim on several other forums as well):

Bob Proctor and Douglas Vermeeren and The Opus... There's a new movie coming promises to reveal a message that The Secret left out... That movie is The Lost Message. And it features both Bob Proctor and Douglas Vermeeren. ( You can find it online at www.TheLostMessage-movie.com) It focuses around an ancient message that was practiced by rulers and kings to build and maintain empires, but since then it has been lost. Only a few have even had a glimpse at this grand secret. It is a lost message but it will be reveal [sic] again in this upcoming movie.

When I visited the web site, it was not immediately clear to me exactly who is behind The Lost Message. But on the "About" page I read that the film is "brought to you by the creator of The Opus." That would be Doug V. And if you Google the Calgary, Alberta phone number listed on the site, you'll see it is also associated with Doug.

What seems abundantly clear is that The Lost Message is covering some mighty familiar territory, as you'll see if you follow the link to the home page and take a look at the trailer. A glance at the "Cast" page will also reveal some familiar names. And yes, Scientist Bob Proctor is prominently featured. I'm not surprised to see that he seems to be continuing his campaign to throw The Secret under the bus, as he did a year and a half ago when he and Mary Manin Morrissey introduced their "Eleven Forgotten Laws" frauduct (to borrow a phrase from my pal Salty Droid).

In a "Warning" on the Lost Message site, we are told that The Lost Message is "not just a movie" because it is accompanied by "specific state of the art training materials and tools" that will allow you to "do more with this film than any other that has come before it." But you may be wondering, as I did, just what that "lost message" is. Well, gee, that would ruin the surprise, and the need to buy the movie, wouldn't it? Suffice to say that...

There are few who know what that message is. And now they will present it to you. This message will change everything. You will find greater satisfaction, greater abundance, increased positivity, better relationships and the ability to defeat every challenge you will ever face.

Well, that clears that up.

Following the Anon comment on my blog about The Lost Message, regular participant "Disillusioned" mentioned that James Arthur "Death" Ray's name is listed on the trailer. "Is this a new advertising ploy what with his trial coming up in a couple of months?" wondered Dis.

I replied that I thought the cast list wasn't necessarily current. I surmised that the project was begun years ago, perhaps during the first wave of Secret ripoff flicks, but for one reason or another it didn't get off the ground. "The creator(s) of the flick probably got a preliminary commitment from 'the usual suspects,' most of whom were so high on Secret fumes that they would agree to anything at the time," I mused, adding that in any case I thought it might be a good idea for them to remove James Ray's name for the time being.

Not long afterward, I received this from another anonymous commenter:

Just thought I'd share an insight from someone who worked on the movie although you have to appreciate that I can't share my name. James Arthur Ray has been cut from the final film. Any guess why... and a few other Secret alumni have also been given the heave-ho. Mostly for the reasons you've pointed out. People are tired of seeing this gang try and build another "secret."

Having said that I do think what the film is shaping up to be may surprise many people. It is pretty interesting and there's a lot in there that I didn't expect. The first few scenes I saw rough cuts on were kind of interesting.

I guess we'll see what the end result is....
I guess we will, if the movie ever comes out. Now, I realize that it takes time and a great deal of organized effort to produce and promote a moviemercial, even a highly formulaic one. It also takes money, which – shockingly! – is sometimes in short supply even in the New-Wage universe of abundance and infinite riches. Still, it seems a bit misguided to keep putting up hype-notic announcements and teasers and trailers for one moviemercial after another, when so many of them apparently come to nothing.

The prolonged online tease worked once, very well, for The Secret. But isn't the market saturated with Secret-type movies by now, and hasn't that style of marketing lost much of its effectiveness? Why do people keep churning these flicks out (or at least churning out teaser sites and trailers, if not finished products)?

Those are serious questions, by the way, not just snarks in the form of rhetorical questions. I seriously want to know if any moviemercials besides What The Bleep Do We Know? and The Secret have paid off in any big way for the creators or, equally as important, for the countless affiliates hoping to make a few bucks off of the products.

Doug Vermeeren has apparently also had yet another moviemercial in the works for a couple of years,
The Gratitude Experiment. A commenter mentioned it on the discussion following my Opus post, and it was also mentioned in the discussion following a July 2007 post about The Opus on the Surface Earth blog. The Surface Earth post bears the long title, "Is the movie 'The Opus' the next level of 'The Secret?' Will we have a foolproof plan to elevate ALL of humanity?" From where I sit, the answer to that second question is...um..."No." But one January 2010 commenter to that post wrote:

I loved The Opus and felt that it was very epic. Kind of like the Titanic of personal development film. Very visually stunning and cool. I am looking forward to Doug Vermeeren’s next movie The Gratitude Experiment. If it is anything like the Opus it will be incredible. The trailer is on the official website http://www.Gratitude-Experiment.com

...I am a BIG fan of Doug Vermeeren. I believe his materials surpass Napoleon Hill. I believe the Doug Vermeeren is destined to reshape personal development in the same way that Hill and several others of his day did. There is no one really doing what Doug Vermeeren is doing and all the really well known leaders are not prepared to connect with the younger generations. Sure they are using the internet technology to reach out to us, but their message is still something that resonates best with my parents. It’s time for a new generation that has messages relevant for today! I believe that Doug Vermeeren is leading the way. Keep up the great work Doug!

"The Titanic of personal development film?" Oh, Lord, I'm getting a sinking feeling...

Maybe I'm just getting old myself, but I am having trouble discerning how the "messages" in Doug Vermeeren's moviemercials are substantially different from that of the h-dorks of previous generations, particularly from the past 25 years or so. Near as I can tell, the basic message goes something like this: You can have, do, and be anything you want to have, do, and be, if you just have the right attitude, are willing to do a little work (or not), and are willing to be a relentless hustledork yourself. That last bit is particularly important, for without the ceaseless buying and selling of products and events that claim to show millions of other folks how to have/do/be anything they want to have/do/be, the whole system collapses.

The basic h-dork message is always enhanced by the promise that the product or event being sold is a unique blend of forbidden ancient secrets known only to a few elite folks! – and cutting-edge technology. As it was in 1985, so it is in 2010.

Or am I missing something?

I also think it noteworthy that Doug himself doesn't hesitate to draw on the "wisdom" of previous generations of h-dorks, including, of course, the Elder Statesman of H-Dorkery himself, Scientist Bob. And on the home page of one of Doug's main sites, there is this bit of pseudo-wisdom from baby-boomer Secret star John Demartini: "When you are humble to divinity you get the most powerful certainty for humanity." (I have never really done justice on this blog to Dr. Demartini, who, incidentally, hardly seems like the humble sort himself.)

But perhaps I am being too hasty in my judgment about all of this. Where The Gratitude Experiment is concerned I couldn't say one way or the other, because so far the web site still seems to consist only of a teaser page with a one-minute trailer promising a "controversial" movie that will deliver some answers humanity has been seeking for millennia. (I know...we've never heard that one before.)

But wait, there's more! While the world waits for The Gratitude Experiment and The Lost Message, other movies are in the works. When Googling, I found a link to the Facebook page for The Gratitude movie, and saw an announcement that Doug himself will be starring in yet another moviemercial, The Journey. Motivational author Don Boyer and his lovely wife Melinda are the exec producers of this one, and they are also cast members. And...hold on, because your hands are going to start shaking from excitement, just as mine are now... Scientist Bob Proctor is in this movie too! You simply must follow the link and at least watch the trailer.

If you want a piece of that Journey pie yourself, click on through to the Sponsors page. Besides getting a bunch of copies of the movie if when it comes out, if you fork over enough bucks you'll also get your name on the movie credits, and you'll get to hang with the "stars" during the red-carpet premiere events. Plus your business and your credibility will get big boost. According to the copy, there are numerous good reasons for becoming a sponsor. Among them:

4. Association. The old saying of “It’s not what you know but who you know that counts” is a true maxim when it comes down to creating quantum growth in your business and profits. The right associations can eliminate years off your growth curve and open doors that have remain iron shut for years.

5. Tax Deduction. Let’s face it, taxes are good and needful, however there is no need to overpay in taxes. The fact is, our government allows us to use money in order to grow our business. Therefore you can use money to grow your business using the benefits or sponsorship or you can take that same money and give it to the government so they can give it to very able healthy individuals who refuse to work and rely on welfare for support. What is the best investment for your money?

6. Credibility. We are known by the company we keep and people do business with us on the perception they have of us. When you associate with credible people and companies you tend to inherit their cloak of credibility.

Notice how the copywriter manages to sneak a little bit o'politix there in Number 5, ripping on all those folks who "refuse to work and rely on welfare for support." As for the bits about "Association" and "Credibility," well... those speak for themselves.

On his May 12, 2010 blog post about the new flick, Doug Vermeeren wrote:

This new personal development film features many top personal development teachers like: Brian Tracy, Bob Proctor, Mick Moore, Don Boyer, Melinda Boyer, Dr. Joe Rubino, Kandee G, Nik Halik, Glenda Feilen, Ridgely Goldsborough, Vic Johnson, Judi Moreo, Rollan Roberts, Dr. Dallas Humble, Lisha and Kari Schneider, Matt Brauning, Kimberly Adams,Dale Halaway, Dr. Letitia Wright and of course, Myself, Douglas Vermeeren.

The format of this show, I was told by the producers, will be quite different than any of the personal development films out there so far. I am quite excited to see the finished product.

I am told the release date will be in December of this year...

As I said, the hits just keep on comin'. And each one promises to be "different" from all those others, and full of "surprises." The more things change...

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Taking a break from "Wink Wednesdays"

By popular request, Dear Ones, I'm taking a break from the Wink series, but I will probably wrap it up next Wednesday. This week I've been busy with work-related stuff, and Ron and I have been recovering from a weird stomach bug. Oh, yeah, and we finally got the basic pages on our new business web site up and running.

Meanwhile, I'll be back soon with some good old-fashioned snark. Goddess knows there's plenty to snark about.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Conversations with Peter Wink, Part 3



Another Wink Wednesday, sort of...

For most of you reading this, it's Saturday already. Where did the time go? But as this post was mostly completed and saved to my Drafts folder on Wednesday (hence the date stamp), I can at least pretend that I kept to my Wink-Wednesday schedule. My apologies for the delay.

Last week's non-post about my communications with Peter Wink gave rise to quite a conversation, resulting in even more comments than the first installment. Which just goes to show that you never know what might spark a conversation. Admittedly, though, much of the talk was devoted, once again, to the topic of online critics, with one (or possibly more) Anonymous commenters in one corner, and yours truly in the other. For those of you who think that conversation went on much too long, I apologize. But I hope someone got something out of it.

For this post, rather than spending a lot of time ruminating and philosophizing, I'm just going to lay out snippets of various exchanges between Peter and me so you can read some more of his thoughts on different aspects of this phenomenon we call the self-help industry.* In some cases I'll interject my own counterpoints because they were part of our conversation.

Since, as I explained at the beginning, I did not record our phone conversations but scribbled notes as we went, many of Peter's thoughts expressed during those conversations will be paraphrased. Hence this is not a verbatim Q & A interview.** I think some of you might have been expecting that, and perhaps this was why some felt that the previous posts had too much Cosmic Connie in them and not enough Peter Wink.

On the other hand, it could also be because I do have a tendency to go on and on about myself. I'll own up to that, with apologies to those who were bored or annoyed. (Jeez, I sure am spending a lot of time apologizing. Please forgive me for that.) Anyway, I do think I managed to get some Wink words in edgewise. And Peter has been actively participating in the "after-parties," the conversations following the posts.

When reviewing some of our earlier email exchanges, I came across something Peter wrote to me after our first conversation. He urged me to keep the blog posts honest as to what the interviews were about. Regarding my concern for the edginess, or lack thereof, of the series he wrote, "We should not make being 'edgy' a goal if that's not what it is. Let's present to your readers what I think and your opinion...The key is not to go into this with the goal to push something that's not there."

Fair enough. So here, in no particular order, are more thoughts, opinions, and insights from Peter, based on our original phone conversations in December of last year and, to some extent, on other exchanges.

* * * * *

It takes two (or two million) to tango
Some defenders of the self-help industry have accused critics of unjustly demonizing the industry. If you've been hanging around the discussions here lately, you'll know that I'm one of those "critics" so accused. In truth, I know and have said numerous times that we can't blame self-help for all of the evils of the world. I certainly don't. Peter contends that the industry isn't even to blame for many of the evils of which it has specifically been accused. He would actually prefer not to use the word "blame" at all, but would rather focus on the concept of responsibility. He's a big believer in personal responsibility – and the exercise of common sense – both by the creators of self-help products and their consumers.

As I mentioned in Part 2 of this series, Peter thinks that where self-help products and consumers are concerned, responsibility is a two-way street. On the one hand we have the sometimes wild and extravagant claims of the marketers. But on the other we have consumers – and that means all of us – who have our own sets of expectations, and who, in the U.S. at least, are very much a product of a culture of instant gratification.
(I won't presume to speak for my friends in the UK, Europe, Oz, etc.) We want everything and we want it yesterday, preferably without working any harder than we absolutely have to.

Of course I'm oversimplifying a bit, and am probably being insulting to the people who do know the meaning of work and sacrifice. That's not my intention. I am aware that many people do work very hard for what they attain, whether it's material wealth, good health, or other desirable goals. Not everyone is lazy, and not all people who are "lazy" in some aspects of their lives are lazy in others. (And as I mentioned in the discussion on the previous post in this series, even laziness is not necessarily a bad thing.)

However, as one of my all-time-favorite songwriters Leonard Cohen put it in a song from his 1988 album I'm Your Man, "Everybody Knows": "Everybody talkin' to their pockets/everybody wants a box of chocolates/and a long stem rose/everybody knows."*** (Forgive me; I just had to slip a good old LC quotation in there. It's been too long.) My point is that we are, as a culture, quite spoiled. We want to have our cake – or our chocolate, if you will – and eat it too. We want our roses delivered to our door. (Come to think of it, chocolate roses would be the best of both worlds. (I bet y'all were wondering about that picture I chose for this post. That, obviously, is not a picture of Peter.))

But I digress. Peter believes that there really are a lot of good information products out there that can help people improve their personal or professional lives. He acknowledges that there is a lot of junk as well. But even the best product is only useful if people actually use it. This isn't a matter of putting the blame on the consumer when shoddy products or vapid ideas don't "work" (as some self-help gurus seem to do, for instance. I won't mention any names.). But sometimes people don't even take the first step towards using a product. Peter says, "I can't tell you the number of products that were returned unopened, still in the shrink wrap, during the time I was working at Nightingale-Conant."

Obviously the "effectiveness," or lack thereof, of a given product cannot be gauged solely by the number of units returned. It's also true that many people get into the habit of buying product after product after product, after which they simply let their purchases gather dust on their shelves. Maybe that's mostly a symptom of our obsessively consumerist culture. We love to buy stuff, even if it's not particularly useful stuff...or if it's stuff that we choose not to use. For some folks, the act of buying is more of a thrill than actually putting that purchase to use. We can't necessarily blame the creators or sellers of those products.

I do think that in many cases, either because of highly effective marketing or their own longings, people initially get excited about a product and then either get bored with it or distracted by something else. I have no doubt that on some level, many really do expect instant results without really working for those results, and when they don't get those results they throw the product on the shelf with all of their other impulse purchases.

On the other hand, as I've noted in previous posts in this series
as well as other posts and other discussions – marketers, including self-help marketers, work very hard to create and encourage consumer expectations. Self-help leaders promise wonders and miracles and amazing results with little work. Even those who are more honest about the amount of work and the possible results still tend to employ hype. Yes, it's just part of marketing, but where's the responsibility? Is it all on the shoulders of the consumer?

"Yes! We are all individuals!"
As I also mentioned previously, Peter says you just can't make a blanket judgment about the effectiveness of products or the larger effect of self-help on our society, because society is made of individuals, and every person is different. "You have to consider the individual's state of mind at the point of entry," he says. "Emotions cloud our judgment more often than not. People who are either overly exuberant or overly depressed when they buy a self-help product, or attend an event, may not be the most objective judge of the product or event's effectiveness or harmfulness."

It only follows, then, that we can't get the entire picture from either the enthusiastic testimonials, videotaped during or just after an event, or from the individual horror stories that occasionally make the headlines, or appear on the critical blogs and other forums. It's also true that many events – not the terrible tragedies, of course, but the more mundane events – are open to interpretation, People see and hear what they want to see and hear, and that goes for direct participants in self-help events as well as outside observers on all sides, including critics and critic-haters.

Yes, but shouldn't event leaders be more careful in screening participants – at least as careful as they are about making participants sign those all-encompassing waivers and disclaimers? And if there are repeated horror stories that can be verified, might it not point to patterns we should watch out for? Could detecting patterns of harmful behavior have prevented the tragedies that have made the news in recent months? Is it right to just ignore the negative and tell ourselves that the positive experiences of others will somehow balance it all out?

Further, it's all well and good to talk about common sense and personal responsibility. But what about charismatic leaders who prey on people's vulnerabilities and work very hard to override an individual's common sense and b.s. detectors?

What do y'all think?

Gone Hollywood
"The self-help industry has gone Hollywood for no good reason," Peter wrote to me during one of our early email exchanges. He's often a man of few words, at least when he's writing, though he does love to talk – so I wanted him to 'splain what he meant.

Of course, while I was asking, I shared some thoughts of my own. (Those who don't care to hear me indulge myself yet again can just skip the next couple of paragraphs, but this was, after all, a conversation in which I too participated.)

I reminded Peter that ever since the 1990s, if not before, New-Wage/McSpirituality ideas have captured the fancy not only of film and music stars but also mainstream filmmakers, and have increasingly become themes in movies and TV shows. Further, in the past few years, even before The Secret, a whole new genre called
"Spiritual Cinema" arose. In other words, there's gold in them thar New-Wage ideas. Hollywood (not to mention Larry King and Oprah, especially after The Secret came out) did its part to finally push formerly fringe ideas much more into the mainstream.

And the gold flows both ways. While Hollywood types have long been mining the New Wage, in more recent years New-Wage types have been mining Hollywood. The explosion of the Internet, that great equalizer, made it easier for folks outside of mainstream show biz to grab their fifteen minutes (or more) of fame. Internet marketers and New-Wage hustlers began taking advantage of unprecedented opportunities to get their names and mugs before the public and reach larger audiences than ever. It was inevitable that some would start looking towards Hollywood, with greater or lesser degrees of success, to increase their fame and wealth.

What Peter meant by the industry going Hollywood was somewhat along the lines of what I had touched upon. He referred to the rash of "movies" in the wake of What The Bleep and, especially, The Secret. Peter doesn't really think much of The Secret, noting, as so many others have, that it is basically just repackaged material, though skillfully repackaged and cleverly marketed. Ever since The Secret, he said, dozens of people have tried to copy its success, making movies just for the sake of making them (and using many of the Secret "stars"). Basically they're just churning them out and throwing them to the wall to see what sticks, he told me. Peter said that when he was consulting for Joe Vitale, on at least a weekly basis he would field a call from someone pitching a movie idea that was guaranteed to be "the next Secret!"

To Peter's knowledge, not one of those offerings has enjoyed a fraction of the success of The Secret. I am not surprised.

You don't have to spend a fortune...
Peter thinks that most people can get practically everything they need, self-help-wise, from basic infoproducts. At the very least, he advises, you should start small and see if a given author's ideas resonate with yours. Buy a book. Listen to a CD or two. Actually make an effort to do some of the exercises and take some of the suggestions. A good book or other infoproduct, in his opinion, should be substantial and contain at least the fundamentals of the author's teachings; it shouldn't just be an empty gimmick, and it shouldn't be one long upsell for an expensive seminar.

Peter says you should think long and hard before committing to a pricey workshop that will cost you time and money (even if it doesn't cost you far more).

...but keep in mind that many gurus are out to make a fortune
Peter acknowledges that of course self-help authors and workshop leaders are out to make money. Anyone who refuses to see that is just being naive. That doesn't necessarily make the gurus bad; it's just a fact.

Moreover, to be truly successful an author has to do more than just write a book or two. Few people in the self-help industry (or any other industry) can make a fortune or even a decent living from just writing one or two books. They have to keep on creating products, and for most, the real money is in workshops and other events.

So, yes, one has to be cognizant of a guru's mercenary motives. If someone is profiting from you, of course he or she is going to try to get you to keep coming back. However, if the person is teaching practical skills that you really think will help you, there's nothing wrong with attending an event or two, as long as you can afford it financially and every other way.

As many critics would note, though, this is the area where many people get in trouble.

The real danger?
While Peter sees the self-help industry as generally benign and helpful, he does recognize that there is a dark side to the quest for personal growth, whether it's through secular self-help or more spiritual pursuits. (Of course, the two areas frequently overlap these days.) During one of our exchanges Peter wrote to me, "The most dangerous people in this industry are not those who are transparent frauds with idiotic products. They will take a few bucks and that will be the end of them. They come and go like the wind.

"The most dangerous are those who actually believe they are gurus and experts. They tend to be the most influential and outright dangerous. We have not seen the last Jonestown type incident." He says the recent tragedies that have made the news "are just a small time version of what can happen when you believe in gurus. "

Peter takes a dim view of external "gurus" of any type, at least when it comes to figuring out answers to the deeper questions in life. These are the questions we ultimately need to figure out for ourselves. There's nothing wrong with turning to others for advice, assistance, and expertise as needed, but as for looking upon anyone as the keeper of wisdom, that's a big no. "There are no gurus," he says. "That's a myth. Be your own guru. After that, it's all blind faith."

He's also a big believer in the saying, "If it sounds too good to be true, it is." And, despite our cultural addiction to "easy steps" and magic formulas, Peter says, "There is no easy path." As was the case with a point made in Part 2 of this series that self-help gurus are more complex than some of their advice, I suspect that most of y'all have already figured those things out. It's good to hear those words from someone in the industry, though.

I do see Peter's point about people who are transparent frauds. To me, however, his statement raises the question of what to make of people who seem to be serial frauds with a long series of virtually useless products – the folks who won’t go away but just keep on coming up with one bizarre product or service after another, such as "magical" items, or overpriced “readings” or “therapies” or workshops. Is this a moral issue, or is it just a marketing issue and thus morally neutral for the most part (even if the person is making what seem to be outrageous claims regarding how the product or service "works")?

Food for thought, and I'd love to hear from all of you about this.


The future of self-help?
At one point I asked Peter if he really thinks that tragic incidents related to self-help gurus are going to continue to happen. "Or do you think people are finally waking up?" I asked. "As a result, do you think there will be more personal responsibility (a positive development) and/or more laws (not necessarily a positive development)?"

Peter said that he doesn't really foresee that in the long run, people will take more personal responsibility because of any individual event, no matter how tragic. He seems to be pretty much in agreement with me that the public has a short memory, even regarding tragedies where the body counts were very high (e.g., Jonestown in the late 1970s, which didn't prevent Heaven's Gate less than 20 years later).

As for whether or not there will be more laws and regulations, that's anyone's guess. Peter thinks that even if more laws and regs are passed, enforcement will be a challenge, especially if it involves the government. There simply aren't enough government agents to oversee each and every transaction and event. (For more about the issue of self-help regulations, see my March 11 post.)

Peter says he loves the self-help/self-improvement industry, as he has seen all of the good it can be and do. "The occasional hiccup happens in all businesses," he says. "At the end of the day, if someone wants to change, they will no matter what. Books and tapes are just there to help someone along.

"And," he continues, "I think people need help right now... if nothing else, at least a friend that can help give them some direction."

That's it for now, Dear Ones. There's still more to come, but next Wednesday's fare will be a bit lighter.

* We had a bit of a discussion on last week's post about the exact definition of self-help. Though I suspected that the Anon contributor who brought up the question was merely arguing for the sake of arguing, I provided what I thought was a helpful link to Chapter 1 of Steve Salerno's book SHAM. Also see his Saturday, May 15 post on SHAMblog.
** In my opinion, many verbatim interviews are difficult to read anyway, because unless someone is a very careful and eloquent speaker at all times during a given conversation, the spoken word just does not translate well to the printed word (or the onscreen word, as the case may be). Try reading some of those transcripts of interviews with witnesses at the James Ray sweat lodge tragedy, and you'll see what I mean. So, lacking a podcast or other audio format, this combination of paraphrases, quotations, and my own thoughts is just going to have to be sufficient for this series.

*** © ROBINHILL MUSIC;MCA O/B/O GEFFEN MUSIC;LEONARD COHEN STRANGER MUSIC INC. Like most of Cohen's work, "Everybody Knows" is hardly a feel-good song. But can you imagine sneaking it onto the playlist at one of those rah-rah self-help seminars?

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Whither Wink Wednesdays (or, Wink Wednesdays withered)?

Conversations with Peter Wink, Part 2 1/2

So far, the reviews have been mixed regarding my little experiment in examining issues about the self-help industry from "the other side," via conversations with industry insider
Peter Wink. Formerly Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale's VP of Sales and Marketing, Peter is now working for another one of my fave snargets, Kevin Trudeau. My main intentions in presenting this series about my conversations with Peter have been to broaden the conversation and to stir the pot a bit. Peter has said his intention is to help my readers see aspects of the industry they may not have considered. As far as I'm concerned, if that ultimately results in more readers (and, in the best-case scenario, more donations to this Whirled), it's icing on the cake.

Judging from what has happened so far, we were off to a rollicking good start with a flood of comments to
Part 1, and then it slowed to a trickle in Part 2. But that’s much like life itself. The final chapter has yet to be written.

From my perspective, I'm just getting started on the series, and the real point of the conversations – the larger issues regarding the self-help industry and its place in our culture – are to come in Part 3 (and a possible Part 4), though we've gotten a bit of a head start in some of the discussions following the existing posts. But I confess, Dear Ones, that over the past week and a half or so I've been so busy again with work and family stuff that I haven't devoted as much attention as I'd wanted to getting Part 3 completed to my satisfaction. I'm hoping to get it up next Wednesday.

So I hope that those of you who haven't left in boredom or disappointment will stick around; I predict it will get more interesting around here again. To paraphrase some New-Wage gurus: What if it does?

Meanwhile, I think that the conversations that have sprung up around the posts I've published so far are worthy of an interim post.

To begin with, let's take a look at that Part 2 letdown. I believe several factors are at work in the relatively lackluster response to Part 2, apart from all the usual things that dictate the rise and fall of conversations on blogs (including, perhaps, the "lame-sequel" syndrome). I have no doubt that because of the way I wrote the first post, some people were expecting some real dirt – or perhaps some genuine insights – in Part 2, and were a little disappointed. I take responsibility for this. Some might say that the expectations of the readers (particularly the dirt-seekers) were to blame as much as anything else, but, as is the case with self-help industry leaders and their clients, it is the marketers who reinforce – and in some cases create – those expectations. In this case, I was the marketer. So...mea culpa, y'all.

Quite without intending it – and a blog, particularly a rather freewheeling one like Whirled Musings, is nothing if not an experiment in unintended consequences – I may have been doing one of the very things I've found so annoying when New-Wage marketers do it. I may have made a huge deal of the sizzle, and then followed it up with a flavorless and ultimately disappointing steak. Several people have told me privately that Part 2 just kind of seemed to fall flat. Some said it read like a fluff piece to promote Peter, and some even speculated that I am indeed being “played,” per my semi-facetious narrative of my reservations that I shared in my first post. More than one person thought I am being too deferential and complicit in the rosy picture they think that Peter is trying to paint. And, just to keep the intrigue going, there was even some speculation that I was somehow setting Peter up, in keeping with the (again, semi-facetious) notation on my Twitter page: "I won't be mean to you, but sometimes I play with my food before I eat it."

I'm sorry to disappoint, but there's no set-up intended.

While some readers acknowledged that I balanced the relatively rosy picture somewhat by referencing my past writings and explaining my temporary suspension of snark, they said that in their eyes there still seemed to be something missing. "We're used to snark and hard-hitting criticism," wrote one of my pals, "and this didn't fit into the expected genre in the expected way."

Another told me, "The one thing people have come to expect from you is that you hold the New-Wage gurus' feet to the fire – generally in a humorous or cute way. You're not the no-holds-barred muckraker or the trivial gossip-monger; you're the happy medium between the two. But in this post, it reads like you just rolled over and played nice. It kinda looks like ya sold out, CC."

Well, yes, but the purpose of these particular posts was, after all, to present "the other side." But even that mission has received mixed reviews thus far. Several people have shared their opinion that Peter has not exactly presented a credible case for that "other side," due in part to the way he reacted to criticism and challenges in some of the discussions. A few also thought that some of Peter's remarks didn't sound believable. Some thought he sounded pat or dismissive when supposedly attempting to put issues in perspective. I have no doubt that some of the exchanges even reinforced the negative images some people have about self-help industry members. If I were a markedly different sort of blogger, I would simply dismiss these opinions as the flawed perspectives of people who are just out looking for the negative or searching for a reason to argue. There are plenty of bloggers who would do this – indeed, some have been favored snargets of mine – but count me out of the critic-dissing. Truth is, I think there's validity to all of the criticism, not only about the way I wrote the posts but also about Peter's remarks.

As for Peter, despite some of his responses on the discussions, he still claims to hold to the opinion that criticism is a good thing. And I have to agree.

In any event, I ask you to keep in mind that what I've presented so far is just the tip of the iceberg. (And for those who adore dirt, I would gladly have shared more, but I am simply not at liberty to do so. I hope you understand.)

I will say this, in hopes that you will pardon what might seem like a momentary digression: the public exchanges, particularly in response to Part 1, brought up many issues relevant not only to the self-help industry but also to blogging, criticism, and online discourse. At this writing, there are 90 comments in response to Part 1, and fully one-third of those are exchanges between an anonymous commenter who is relentless in her attacks on snarky or critical bloggers (especially yours truly), and the responses to her comments. She addressed very few of the points in my blog posts, but seemed more intent on continuing a longstanding campaign of ragging on me for "character assassination," gossip, name-calling, and the like. Although I continued to publish her remarks long past the point where most of my colleagues would have banned her (and a few have banned her from their blogs), I ultimately decided to put a moratorium on her comments because she just kept making the same points over and over and over. For those of you who got bored and disgusted by that bickerfest, please accept my apologies.

I confess that because of this one commenter, I seriously considered banning all Anon comments, but that is such a radical step that I have decided against it for the time being. After all, most of my Anon comments (well, except for the death threats and the ones calling me that crude term for female genitalia) are substantial and, in my opinion, do add to the conversation.

Interestingly (well, it's interesting to me, anyway), this Anonymous seems to have backed me into one of those “damned-if-I-do-and-damned-if-I-don’t” corners I wrote about in my first post. She even wrote in one of her comments that she thinks I’m just publishing the Wink posts to make myself look like a good person who is only trying to look at things from the other side. In her eyes, this doesn’t make up for all of the “character assassination” and low-life “gossip” I’ve committed over the years on Whirled Musings. I’ve learned to live with these accusations but can only answer them so many times before I start boring myself. And since I'm not easily bored, that's really an accomplishment. Though I hate to squelch open conversation, and though it seems inconsistent with my previous declarations that I welcome all participation on this forum, I’ve become quite proficient with that “Reject comment” button.

I do think it noteworthy that some people think I'm being too soft on these posts, while others, most notably my favorite Anonymouse, seem to think I'm harsh and unfair no matter what I write. Maybe in the end it all comes back to that line from the late Ricky Nelson's hit song, "Garden Party," "But it's all right now, I learned my lesson well./ You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself."

Anyway, I will be back next week with more "Conversations With Peter Wink." Meanwhile, if you have any questions you'd like to ask Peter, send them to me either by private email (cosmic.connie@juno.com) or via the "Comments" on this blog. Let's keep the conversations going.

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