WHY BY PINKY
(a column about what I think)
Why self-help books are evil
American culture deserves many a slap upside the head. For lots of things. But right now the biggest thing I can think of is our seeming inability to learn from our past. In fact, I believe that our cultural incapacity for Getting the Clue is directly responsible for the outbreak of 70ís retro going around. Austin Powers is a big hit, everybody wants to shag each other rotten, white eye shadow is back in style AGAIN (OK thatís it, Iím never throwing mine out) and Interstate í76 is a groovelicious driving game that even Shaft would enjoy. Those are all OK; go-go dancing in white knee boots can be downright cute.
Letís take a look at a couple of other things that have made an unfortunate resurgence along with the whole Ď70s caboodle. Hey, kids, letís talk about heroin. Heroin! Duh! Did we not learn from the Ď70s and Ď80s that heroin is a very, very bad thing? Did we not learn that heroin is not at all glamorous? Why this sudden nostalgia for the nods? Heroin "chic"? Junkie models tripping over camera equipment! Now this is just dumb, with no validity beyond making it more understandable that the Self Help Book has again reared its whiny head. Any society dumb enough to get back on heroin is one with its sleeves rolled up, ready for whatever junk it can get.
The Self Help Book is as dated, artificial and tacky as a yellow plastic bean bag chair, and about as useful. The chair promises to solve all your furnishing problems quickly, easily and permanently - and itís dirt cheap! What you really get is a yellow plastic bean bag (made of, and filled with, materials you wouldnít want manufactured in your neighborhood), which you throw on the floor and sit on once or twice. Then you discover the icky sensation of standing up and having the yellow surface stick to your leg, which is all sweaty because the chair is, after all, made of plastic. Eventually, it becomes a yellow plastic bean bag dog bed, until you sell it at a garage sale for a quarter (with duct tape over the holes poked by the dog). You know what else always ends up in garage sales? Self Help books. The Road Less Traveled. Women Who Love Too Much. Iím OK, Youíre OK. How to Win Friends and Influence People. What Color is Your Parachute? I donít even need a parachute, Iím just jumping off right here. This is the great society of Tell Us What To Do. We blah blah blah about freedom and independence and what a strong-willed country chock full of ingenuity we are, and yet, by jingo, we canít make a simple decision without a seminar.
Letís take a look at the biggest Help Me craze going on right now. Yes, I am talking about Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. I will start off by admitting that I have not read it. I believe in reading something before you squawk about banning it. Iím not, however, going to go off on what the book says - just what it does. This John Gray guy came up with an idea - remember, Iím not judging the idea in itself - and wrote a book. Nothing particularly wrong with that. But now heís gone and created a whole Way of Life to go with it. Now you can join Mars and Venus in the bedroom! In marriage! On the job! Now you can spend a big chunk of money to go to a John Gray seminar, where you learn to incorporate Mars and Venus into every aspect of your life! Now, if youíve a psych or counseling degree (Gray got his from a correspondence course), you can pay an even bigger chunk of money to learn the Mars and Venus "method", complete with start-up costs and a monthly licensing fee.
So, basically, John Gray has come up with many different colored bean bags to jazz up the rec room in your head. Theyíre just more expensive ("And therefore," says Dumb American, "better.") Itís a quick fix, just like heroin. People can now base their lives on this convenient-and-easy-to-use system, candy for their Inner Child. Ever see the comic in which Calvin sits in front of a TV and says, "Pander to me!" ? People are opening these books and saying, "Tell me how to run my life!" Itís an ugly thing when youíre referring to the collective spines of the American People - and youíre talking about the ones on books and videocassettes.
When will we stop looking around for that handy dandy doodad that will fix everything wrong with our lives? Heroin is not going to make you feel better about your life for more than a few minutes. Neither will Mars and/or Venus. My mama, in all good will, sent me a book that I hide so that no one will think I bought it for myself. Itís called, Men Who are Good for You and Men Who are Bad. Thereís the "Manipulator", the "Bully", the "Mamaís Boy", and so on. Like I need a book to tell me my ex-boyfriendís a loser! So itís fine by me if you have The Cinderella Complex - just try to figure out how to get home on your own when your coach turns back into a pumpkin.