Self-Help and the Cult of Banality

Pop Culture, Satire and Cynicism

(originally published in 2015)

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night. -Dylan Thomas

The operation runs smoothly. Hundreds of Chinese child laborers sit hunched over on the cold concrete basement floor, the florescent lights flickering, each of the children scribbling hundreds of inspirational quotes per day. The skittering of a cockroach is heard, and the sudden heartless thud of a stiletto stabs the thing in the center, a white paste oozing out onto the shivering floor. Tony Robbins—motivational speaker extraordinaire—stands over the children, pacing the aisles in his stripper heels, his whip dragging on the floor beside him. Only the sound of frantic scribbling can be heard, along with Tony Robbins’ heels clicking on the impenetrable callousness beneath him. His thin porno mustache twitches. He opens his mouth, white saliva pooling at the corners of his lips, making a smutty moist sound as it smacks open, and he booms, “MAKE MEEEE MONAYYYYYY!!!”  And the little children scribble furiously. “It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped,” one bucktoothed boy writes. “We can change our lives. We can do, have, and be exactly what we wish,” a five year old with a bowl cut and a runny nose, writes.

This place was a fortune cookie factory for years, with the same child laborers previously scribbling good common sense and lotto numbers, but Tony Robbins highjacked the place years ago, and uses the kids to write his books. He’s worth $480 million, and suffers from illiteracy and adulthood ugliness. But over the years, he’s inspired millions to buy his books and pay for his courses and motivational lectures on how to become rich. It’s something the Cult of Scientology excels at, convincing throngs of boorishly inept humans to give the institution all their money to become free from all their problems.

There have been countless others before Robbins, promising you heaven, health, love, money, tits, happiness. There was Robert Tilton, the famous televangelist, who’s demographic was predominately old women in the American South and Midwest with only a high school education and an average income of between $15,000 and $25,000. Tilton raked in $80 million a year from contributions, one hundred percent tax free. Discovered in a Primetime special in 1990, donations and pleas for prayer didn’t go to Tilton at all, but rather straight to his bank, depositing the money directly and tossing the personal letters into the dumpster behind the bank. There’s Creflo Dollar, another MegaChurch pastor, who started a fundraising campaign to buy a $65 million private jet. There’s Kenneth Copeland, who used his private jet not to preach, but to ski and hunt and kill endangered animals. But Tilton, Dollar, and Copeland used and use religion as their face, pandering to the incorrigible stolid masses in order to lift themselves from their flaccid arrangements of manhood. What Tony Robbins has accomplished is a mastery over the vulnerable without using religion. The philosophia perennis generalized for any woman or man.

You don’t need to listen that closely to realize they are selling you dog shit wrapped in Reynolds wrap. But then again, men like Robbins are attracting tens of millions of people to their bro-ish fallow theater. You have to wonder why he keeps coming out with books promising you these are the steps to your financial freedom, as opposed to his previous ones. Tony Robbins is the high priest of all the others. There is Tai Lopez, a pubic-bearded general of sexless adulthood, showing you his Lambourghuini (which turned out to be a rental) in his garage, next to his “seven new book shelves” of two thousand new books appropriately also in his garage. Because I always go to my garage when I need a new book. He reads a book a day, because  .  .  .  because he reads good. He quotes Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels, (who was also a charged rapist), and tells you to remain an optimist, that optimism will eventually get you your new Lambo.

Then there is Lewis Howes, a regular guy who still dreams of being a high school jock, who played two games of arena football before breaking his wrist, thus ending his career. He starred on my college’s football team, a Division III Christian Science school who lost to the worst college football team in the country. He called up a girl I know very well, and asked her to buy him a plane ticket to fly him out to see her so he could fuck her. And he recently made the New York Times Bestseller list with his book about how to be great. It’s called the School of Greatness. In his highlighted Facebook video, he teaches you the ten best ways to make money on the internet: 1) teaching and training. 2) providing a service. 3) creating and selling a product. These are his top three, in his words. The androgynous auto-objectification of such a vaguely non-comedic skit, along with the brittle hysteria of telling someone the best way to make money is to make something and sell it, is so horridly adolescent, so mockingly stupid and obvious, you ought to punch a male stripper in the dick. You can purchase an hour conference call with Lewis for $497. I have $14 to my name and a pack of condoms I got for free at Planned Parenthood. A kid from my college bought thirty copies of his book, like a lost evangelical, passing out copies to homeless people at the airport. I just don’t know anymore. Here at Paradise of Storm headquarters, we know the importance of intellectual bravery. Last week, someone found my blog by searching for “throbbing dick.” Another found it by searching for “rob palm oil with penis before fucking besides a dead man in my home town.” Another was “iggy azalea yoga pants fit a little too well naked.” I pride my readers in asking about the big issues, and together we try to nudge ourselves closer to the answers.

On the other hand, I am as much a follower as anyone. We idolize women and men of sun. Over the years, I’ve passed through phases of literary idolatry, pretending to shadow the brazen obsessions for beauty that was lived by the likes of Rimbaud and Celine and Baudelaire and Thompson. I’ve mimicked all their writing styles, drunk and drugged away endless nights, slept with as many women as I could, in some sort of vague pedantic discipleship of the great men who also put pretty words together. I began sailing strictly because of Hemingway. At one point I began writing standing up, slamming away on my typewriter, allowing the breeze to blow through the curtains and across my chest, certain that if this is how Hemingway did it, then so could I. But there is a justified egotism in our ubiquitous want for recognition. A ballet dancer could never merely dance in her bedroom. A singer could never sing to himself. And a writer strains to earn his or her laurels. The ephemeral orgasms in the daily struggle. As a young writer, Hunter S. Thompson would type out the entirety of The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises over and over, just to feel what it was like to write masterpieces. When we realize we’re not becoming the sports stars and the rock stars that we first imagined we’d become, we turn to more achievable men. Bankers. Writers. Politicians. Alcoholics.

But then there are Lifestyle Entrepreneurs. Motivational speakers. Social Media experts. The smarmy inbred tanning salon men who sell snake oil on the internet. They write self-help books and host podcasts, with hundreds of thousands of listeners paying for subscriptions, writing notes on how to make it rich. They use phrases like, “Your life is your message to the world. Make sure it’s inspiring,” with a picture of a footpath winding through a sodden morning forest. Or “Your greatness is not what you have, it’s what you give,” scribbled casually over the sepia stained silhouettes of girls twirling their hair. The magniloquence of their egodystonicity is something from the bowels of poetry  .  .  .  a vague enough catch-phrase stolen from a bunch of fortune cookies. They are the actual vampirish cult leaders of the modern age. Their horoscopic forgery is basic enough to inspire misandry. They steal the insanity from the beautiful. Until there is nothing but a bow tie and a forced smile. We need the gorgeous and the awful, the theater of wilderness and rage. Woman and man will always have a bowl of porridge in the drought, a last glimmering maxim that shines beyond the distance.

In Kant’s What Is Enlightenment? he describes man’s inability to free himself from the herd, from his timid nonage that prevents him from maturing into his hypothetically innate state as Übermensch. Man’s craving for instruction. Craving for “laziness and cowardice.” Kant quotes the Roman poet, Horace: Sapere aude! Dare to know! Dare to be wise! It’s a challenge for bravery, to walk into the unknown night without Tony Robbins holding your hand. Enlightenment, freedom, wisdom, knowledge itself, is the courage to find the beautiful alone, to shiver in the silver strands, to rage and rage until the sky burns spectacle.