The latest in the burgeoning genre of book review-cum-anti-Oprah- screed, to which I made a humble contribution some weeks ago here, came courtesy of Peter Birkenhead writing for Salon.com. His excellent piece was featured on Monday, and has thus far garnered upwards of 300 reader responses, by far the most feedback I have seen to any single piece on Salon, which now posts all such commentary.
The thrust of Birkenhead’s piece is that Oprah has completely sold out her once (halfway) respected Book Club to the forces of capitalism, in the form of her latest endorsement, ironically titled The Secret, an insipidly condescending visualize-it-and-it-shall-be-yours self-help contrivance, by Rhonda Byrne. Byrne is backed by an elite lineup of self-help heavy hitters, and Birkenhead trenchantly observes that “the enlisting of that dream team, in what is essentially a massive, cross-promotional pyramid scheme — is brilliant.” Brilliant when it comes to selling books, that is, not actually helping people. And, as Birkenhead points out, Oprah is, of course, at the top of the pyramid.
It got me thinking about the various self-help flowers out there and cross-pollination, and so I thought I would do a little research. I sought to enlist the help of a large pack of rehabilitated canines, a dream team, if you will, of (formerly) problem pooches. Cesar Millan, as anyone who has seen his TV show The Dog Whisperer or picked up his new book Cesar’s Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Correcting Common Dog Problems, is the leader of the pack. He is, in my opinion (and as someone who is considering becoming a dog owner), a pretty likable personality, and he certainly knows his dogs. But don’t let the dog thing fool you: Cesar Millan is a self-help guru like the rest, believing that it is the owner, not so much the dog, who must change his or her habits in order for a dog to overcome its own behavioral problems. So, could it be that even the beatific Cesar Millan is part of the aforementioned pyramid scheme?
Acting on a hunch, and with some time to kill at Barnes and Noble, I picked Up Cesar’s Way, and looked no further than the acknowledgments for my answer. Cesar makes a special effort to thank some of the personalities who have aided him on his spiritual journey. First and foremost, you guessed it, Oprah. After effusive praise of the den mother comes thanks to another dream team of self-help gurus: Anthony Robbins, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Dr. Deepak Chopra, and Dr. Phil, all of whom have upwards of 25 different books authored and for sale on Amazon. Cesar also thanks John Gray, of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus fame, for helping save his marriage. It seems that Cesar’s guiding spiritual values are anything but pure-bred. Rather they are engendered by a whole host of self-helpers.
Using Cesar’s Way as a litmus test, it would appear that Birkenhead is certainly on to something when it comes to the trend of self-help cross-marketing. Help yourself, sure, but it also helps to have some new-agey friends, all of whom have sold millions of books, on your side. Couldn’t do it without ’em. If you scratch behind my ears, I’ll scratch behind yours. Let’s just hope, for Cesar’s sake, that Dr. Phil is free of ticks and fleas.