Another odds-n-ends post, Dear Ones. I've been trying for days to get this one out, but work and fun stuff kept intruding. Anyway, here 'tis...
Should we sic the Feds on the hustledorks?
I'm on the email list of John Curtis, the man who's on a mission to expose self-help fraud. In a recent message he solicited opinions about whether or not the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should have a say in how self-help stuff is advertised in the United States:
Question: Do you think it is fair and appropriate for the following General Advertising Policies from the Federal Trade Commission [to] be extended to include self-help beliefs, methods or practices that claim to increase wealth, improve mental health or interpersonal relationships?
GENERAL ADVERTISING POLICIES
Under the Federal Trade Commission Act:
- Advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive;
- Advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims; and
- Advertisements cannot be unfair.
What makes an advertisement deceptive?
According to the FTC's Deception Policy Statement, an ad is deceptive if it contains a statement - or omits information - that:
- Is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances; and
- Is "material" - that is, important to a consumer's decision to buy or use the product.
a) No, b) Yes, c) Don't Know / Unsure, d) Other (please explain)
Your responses will be tallied and reported back soon.
John Curtis, Ph.D.
Waynesville, NC 28786
While I generally support Dr. Curtis' efforts, things like this make me a little uneasy simply because I don't like the idea of getting the government involved in our lives any more than it already is. Besides, most of the selfish-help gurus use sufficiently vague language that you really can't pin them down on much. In fact, many if not most of them infuse their offerings with elements of pop spirituality, making frequent references to God, a Higher Intelligence, Source, Spirit, The Universe, and the like. Even as they invoke scientific concepts to make themselves sound intelligent and highly educated, they are in fact working in the realm of faith – and if the FTC and other government agencies are going to get involved in that, then they need to go all the way and regulate traditional religious insitutions, with their wild promises of salvation and such, not to mention their constant and unabashed fundraising efforts.
But, you see, there's this separation-of-church-and-state idea that the US holds (if you'll pardon the term) sacred...
Moreover, even as the selfish-help/New-Wage hucksters are spewing the most extravagant promises of miracles and wonders out of one side of their mouths, they are mumbling the obligatory legal disclaimers out of the other. (See, for example, the second item, "Why you can't sue a hustledork," on this October 2007 post of mine.) These disclaimers would no doubt tarnish the miracle for any eager believer who bothered to read them, but the very people who most need to read them generally don't bother to do so.
I do wonder how the FTC would view the items such as the Psychic Demand site, for example, which really seems too ludicrous for serious consideration. I know I've snarked about this before, but I bring it up again because it's such a classic, right down to the disclaimer, which in this case appears right there on the front promo page:
Yes, this package is guaranteed.
But what we guarantee is that we will deliver the goods promised. We do not guarantee your results because it is up to YOU to apply the Psychic Demand method. You can't buy a hammer and return it when you don't use it, saying "It doesn't work." Of course it works.
If you use this method, it will work. But if you're not happy, Clickbank (the company who handles the orders) will replace any defective item within 8 weeks, as they see fit.
Now, that leaves a loophole so big you could drive a flying car through it (just helping prep you for the next snippet). And notice that the copy stipulates that any "defective" item will be replaced. There's no indication about whether Clickbank will give you your nineteen bucks back if the Psychic Demand technique simply fails to work even if you follow instructions to the letter – f'rinstance, if you observe the proper rituals and you say, "I demand $25,000.00!" and the Universe fails to deliver the goods.
Reading the ad copy, of course, you'd think that failure was a moot consideration. After all...
Remember, Psychic Demand is extremely powerful. If you feel drawn to this rare material and proven method, then order it right now. You can have it in only minutes. But if you are skeptical or doubting or unsure, then please forget about this and move on. Or if what you want to do with this power is to control others or to over indulge in your own desires, then please don't order.
This sort of stuff is more than a little reminiscent of those old-time ads for amazing magic tricks and such that were directed to kids under the age of ten. I have to wonder if these guys honestly expect reasonably intelligent adults to fall for this bunk.
The point is, do we really want to waste government resources going after this crap, which, even though it is more than a little stupid, is probably pretty harmless overall?
Besides, FTC oversight hasn't stopped the cosmetics industry from making outrageous claims. When it comes to scams and false promises, I have to say that the beauty biz puts even the selfish-help industry to shame. And when it comes to bastardizing the English language (another New-Wage practice that annoys me no end), well, once again, the beauty industry can bastardize circles around the New-Wage selfish-help perpetrators. Cosmetics manufacturers are always making up bulls--t scientifical-sounding words and terms to describe the miraculous qualities of their egregiously overpriced products. And I fall for it every time, damn it. I've been using expensive advertised products for many years now and I still don't look like Cindy Crawford or Penelope Cruz or Halle Berry. On a good day, maybe Marisa Tomei, or Debra Winger in her younger days. But has the FTC saved me from squandering my money? No, because at some level, I want to believe. I'm in on the con, in other words.
Of course it might be argued that the FTC and other governing agencies have prevented the cosmetics manufacturers from selling me stuff that will make my face fall off or cause my skin to turn chartreuse. But such untoward side effects really aren't an issue with most selfish-help stuff. For the most part, I think John Curtis needs to keep on doing what he's doing, as do the skeptics and critical thinkers and all of those "naysayers" who are such a thorn in the side of the hustledorks. But keep the government out of it, thank you. Quite frankly, I think one of the best defenses against selfish-help fraud is for snarky people like me to keep on snarking. And that's just what I aim to do. As you'll see momentarily.
Buddha of the Internet sore because he can't soar
Talk about synchronicity. Mere weeks ago, I found myself Googling "flying cars" because the subject arose (so to speak) in a manuscript I was editing. And then, and then... just the other day, Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale wrote a blog post about a flying car. As it happened, this was a car he'd wanted to buy, but darn it all, things just didn't work out for him. When he found out about the existence of the car, a rigged-up version of a sporty Panoz Esperante, he knew he had to have it. (He first wrote about it on his blog in October 2006.) But the person who owned it didn't want to sell it. So he let it go.
Then recently he discovered that the flying car had been auctioned off for an incredibly cheap price (relatively speaking) in January 2008. And no one had even told him the car was up for sale. Even worse, the auction house, for privacy reasons, refused to give the winning bidder's contact info to Joe.
Joe wrote that all of this caused him to be deeply upset for three whole days. "This was an experience of deep disappointment to me," he lamented. "I took it personally, and judged myself harshly. I felt stuck, unhappy, and un-clear."
Fortunately, Joe was saved by his own wisdom. Turns out he had to go back into the recording studio to record a few more segments to his forthcoming audio program, The Awakening Course, which he says is the most advanced stuff he's ever perpetrated...I mean, created. This is the course where he reveals a previously unrevealed "fourth stage" of awakening. Just last year, he was touting the "third stage" as being the ultimate, but never mind that. Anyway, as he was recording some new material about trust and letting go, he realized that he had been "attached to wanting that flying car. VERY attached."
To say the least.
"Yet," he wrote, "a key secret to attracting whatever you want is to let go of attachment. Want it without needing it. As my friend Bootzie often says, "I’m perfectly satisfied, I just want more!'"
Bootzie is the ebullient Maui merchant who peddles stuff like magical gold dust that's been blessed by the goddess Laxshmi. It has also been "blessed in the moonlight for extra potency by the notorious nymph, Miss Bootzie herself!" Mr. Fire claims to be a big fan of this stuff, and once wrote:
If you want a little extra help with your prosperity, consider getting some Laxshmi Gold Dust. Laxshmi is the goddess of wealth and good fortune. She's my sidekick. Sprinkle some "dust" in your pocket, wallet, or purse, and watch the money grow...Expect miracles.
Apparently, though, the magical gold dust – and the Law Of Attraction, and Ho'oponononononononononono, and his status as a fourth-state-awakened being, and his Internet Buddhism, and all of the other rituals and techniques and technologies and modalities and wisdom paths he has at his disposal – didn't work to help Joe get that flying car.
Why, Universe, oh why, do you let such bad things happen to such good people? As a friend of mine said in regard to this incident, "The greater the man, the greater the tragedy."
Rather than being even slightly appalled that their highly awakened leader could get into such a state over not being allowed to acquire a toy he wanted, Joe's followers seemed grateful. And they came out in force to praise him for his wisdom. Some sample comments (unedited):
Brenda Best says
OMG! Thank You, Thank You, Thank You! I really need to hear that even an expert of “The Universe” and ‘How To Work With It” still gets dissapointed and upset! No matter how much you know, thier will always be tests to try to throw you off balance! Thanks so much Joe! You are definately an inspiration!
May you get all the “more” you want
Tamara Hanson says
This is exactly what I needed to hear right now. Thanks for the wake up call!
Thanks for sharing this, Joe. And thanks for showing your humanity* in admitting you were stuck with the feeling for a while until you got to clarity about it. Disappointment is something I’ve been terribly struggling with in the past couple of years, this helped a lot. Thanks again.
The Rev said to me, "Gee, it only took him three days to get over being upset. Must be one eeee-volved Buddhist!" Must be, indeed. When those of us who are less spiritually aware miss out on a chance to buy a flying car, it can take us up to a week or maybe even longer to get over the upset.
And when I think about what an absolute baby I myself have been regarding the little losses and disappointments I've faced over the past eight months or so, I am downright ashamed. To tell the truth, I'm still not over some of these losses. But then I look at brave Mr. Fire, who recovered from such a devastating loss in a mere three days, and had the
unmitigated gall profound courage to share his story – not to draw attention to himself, not to elicit sympathy from his fawning minions (well, he did admit he wanted to "vent"), not to take advantage of another opportunity to brag about the expensive cars he already has, and not even to try to "attract" an offer from the guy who won the auction for the flying rattletrap – but for the greater purpose of helping his readers come to a better understanding of spiritual truths.
He is an inspiration to us all.
* Why are they so surprised that he's "showing his humanity," when he reveals it in many ways every day? Get a grip, Joebots, he's really NOT Buddha.
Dreaming-Bear: rolling with the punches
It occurs to me, Dear Ones, that I haven't mentioned Maui's sex symbol and mystical ham, Dreaming Bear, in a few months. These days, I am sorry to report, he is confined to a wheelchair, as I read on one of his web sites:
Dreaming-Bear is currently preparing for another World Tour called Loveolution. Part of his preparation involves intense physical therapy & training for a spinal injury incurred years ago in an auto accident. Despite his severe physical pain & inability to walk at this time, Dreaming-Bear remains happy in his heart knowing that with patience, the body will follow. He invites your support & prayers as he dedicates himself to celebrating the beauty of what IS.
Looking at some of his more recent pictures and performances reveals another big change: These days, he's not nekkid. Or even half-nekkid.
And who knew his middle name was "Baraka?"
May Goddess forgive me for my initial reaction to the news about the wheelchair bit. I actually had a brief thought – misguided, no doubt – that the wheelchair was just another prop, and that if DB wasn't actually faking his disability, he was exaggerating, or at the very least milking it for all it is worth. I was having flashes of that old Frasier episode, "Wheels of Fortune" (Episode 203, originally airing 2/26/02) featuring Lilith's half-brother Blaine, a lifelong con man (played by Michael Keaton). In this episode, Blaine is in a wheelchair and has become a traveling preacher. He charms everyone but Frasier, who is convinced that Blaine is faking it all and is still a scammer. In the end, Frasier is taken in too and gives Blaine some money, and too late finds out that he was right all along.
But, like I said, I'm sure those thoughts are way out of line. I imagine I am not alone in wishing Dreaming-Bear a speedy recovery. (By the way, here's a link to his new web site.)
PS added Wednesday ~ If you think I'm being way too harsh and cynical and maybe even a little bit mean for having even entertained the notion that DB might be kind of exaggerating his plight, consider some of his past performances. Start with this post, and it will lead you to a link of a "teleconference" where he describes his trials and torments at last year's Burning Man orgy. I mean, c'mon, these were basically self-inflicted torments – just like a selfish-help "intensive" workshop, but with more sun, sand, performance “art,” scorpions, and nekkid people. And if you're still not convinced of DB's propensity for taking artistic license with reality, try this post (fourth item down, "Dreaming-Bear redux").
PPS added February 2009: Since this was written, Dreaming-Bear has communicated with me directly. He says the wheelchair is for real; he was in a bad car wreck some years back and has been in and out of the hospital for ten years, having had numerous surgeries to repair the damage. He also says he is legally disabled, and that it isn't nice to make fun of disabled people.
Okay, so I have sucky taste too
It occurs to me that I really have no room to snark about Dreaming-Bear and his hammy, ersatz-mystical ways, when I am a closet Abba fan. Abba has always been sort of a guilty pleasure for me. Even though a little Abba goes a long way with me, and even though I recognize that they personified much of what was so appallingly bad about the 1970s (aka The Cheesy Decade), there was just something about some of their songs... Fernando, for example. I always liked that song, despite the intrinsic ludicrousness of bell-bottom-jumpsuited nerds singing about the Mexican Revolution.
Like it or not, Abba's music will never go away. A.O. Scott said it best in the New York Times review of the movie version of the Abba-inspired Broadway play, Mama Mia!, which opened this past Friday in the US:
Those shimmery, layered arrangements, those lyrics in a language uncannily like English, those symmetrical Nordic voices — they all add up to something alarmingly permanent, a marshmallow monument on the cultural landscape...
...Abba made some of the most highly polished, tightly engineered pop junk ever. There is a kind of perfection in some of those hits that is undeniable even if — or maybe especially if — you can’t stand to hear them.
Here's another Abba song (from 1979's Super Trouper), that I'm inordinately fond of.
Here's the Spanish version.
Anyway, I'm going to rush out to see Mama Mia! just as soon as it comes out on DVD.
Labels: Dreaming-Bear, Hustledorks and New-Wage masters, Joe Vitale, pop culture