Monday, October 31, 2011

Aspects of the American Salesman Mythos

By P. Emerson Williams
Following the threads of any far-reaching narrative can be a treacherous task. If one is so inclined, one can find oneself tumbling down strange rabbit holes. These rabbit holes may reveal actual events and connections, or they may be created by the human mind's tendency to impose patterns over random sets of facts. The trick is to discern between an understanding of a set of facts and narratives that allows one to understand a simpler overarching order to the complexity or if prejudices and blind spots distort this understanding of the facts.

Central to the how the American mythos of success and power relates to the individual is through narratives of salemanship. The ability to sell supercedes the ability to produce goods and services. The reason the government and businesses put so much energy into controlling media is so narratives that contradict their sales pitch are not heard by a critical mass of the populace. Just as a dude at a bar who is trying to score doesn't want his rap spoiled by someone who knows him telling a story that runs counter to his tale of aggrandizement. (Or sensitivity, or erudition, or wealth – whatever narrative that works best with the hearer.)

After troops were deployed to Iraq and Afganistan one arrow in the quivver of the domestic and diplomatic effort was that we were bringing "Democracy" and "Freedom" to these countries. "Ah", said some citizens, breathing easier. "We're there to sell these unfortunates on our most precious commodity!"

In connection with the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement, when the main thrust of coment from our infotainment industrial complex goes in effect "...but what are they selling?", they are in fact lobbing a more powerful explosive at the problem than participants and supporters realize.

What follows here may be a chaos of my impressions as I try to condense the American mythos of salesmanship and the salesman as a mythic hero as much as a solid condensation of the phenomenon into an easily understood overview. In the myth of the entrepreneur, which is one of the most powerful figures in the American pantheon of heroes, the idea or invention could be viewed as the "MacGuffin".

From the dreaded Wikipedia:    
A MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or maguffin) is "a plot element that catches the viewers' attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction".[1] The defining aspect of a MacGuffin is that the major players in the story are (at least initially) willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to obtain it, regardless of what the MacGuffin actually is. In fact, the specific nature of the MacGuffin may be ambiguous, undefined, generic, left open to interpretation or otherwise completely unimportant to the plot. Common examples are money, victory, glory, survival, a source of power, a potential threat, or it may simply be something entirely unexplained. The MacGuffin is common in films, especially thrillers. Usually the MacGuffin is the central focus of the film in the first act, and then declines in importance as the struggles and motivations of characters play out. It may come back into play at the climax of the story, but sometimes the MacGuffin is actually forgotten by the end of the film. Multiple MacGuffins are sometimes—somewhat derisively—referred to as plot coupons.[2][3]    
The story of the success of the entrepreneur is more about the effort to sell the McGuffin.this can be a briliant new widget, it can be snakeoil, or it could be the fabled Loc-Nar... But! - This might be wrong. The product is not to be obtained and held on to, it's to be spread throughout the land. What is being sold is incidental to the legend. Already we step off into the intangible, for in fact, the MacGuffin is the sale. First the idea of the product has to be sold to partners, sold to investors, patent and trademark offices have to be sold on the idea. After all this, sales representatives are sold on either the company, or they are sold on the value of a franchise in the company. Finally, "the Market", (that natural resource that is you and everyone else).

I will take one specific example and see where it leads us, for this I choose Amway (now Quixtar). I choose Amway instead of Edison, General Electric,Lockheed-Martin or any number of US businesses because its business model is so quinessentially American, and becase the strategy of anyone who has had monetary success after falling into Amway's multi-level marketing (MLM) web requires an understanding of what they are really selling that is an oroboros so meta, the mind boggles at how it could be conceived.

First, a short explanation of what MLM is and does. A quick applicatiuon of google-fu yields this:    
MLM. A sales system under which the salesperson receives a commission on his or her own sales and a smaller commission on the sales from each person he or she convinces to become a salesperson.   If this sounds like a pyramid scheme, that is no cioncidence. The one thing that separates MLM from pyramid schemes is whether the equation includes product(s). According to the Federal Trade Commission, what distiguishes a pyramid scheme from MLM is:   Pyramid schemes now come in so many forms that they may be difficult to recognize immediately. However, they all share one overriding characteristic. They promise consumers or investors large profits based primarily on recruiting others to join their program, not based on profits from any real investment or real sale of goods to the public.     
This sounds familiar to any of us who on the web has been exposed to spam emails, twitter marketing "gurus" and affiliate marketing true believers. A report by Chris Hansen for Dateline NBC reveals how high level Quixtar distributors really make thier money:    
And it's a business that is completely separate from Quixtar, a hidden business that most recruits don't realize exists. Short says many of those high-level distributors singing the praises of Quixtar on stage are actually making most of their money by selling motivational books, tapes and seminars -- not Quixtar's cosmetics, soaps and electronics..   The Dateline report states that the average distributor makes only about $1,400 per year and that many of the “high level distributors singing the praises of Quixtar” are actually “making most of their money by selling motivational books tapes and seminars; not Quixtar’s cosmetics, soaps, and electronics.” In fact, about twenty high level distributors are part of an exclusive club; one that those hundreds of thousands of other distributors don’t get to join. For years only a privileged few, including Bill Britt, have run hugely profitable businesses selling all those books tapes and seminars; things the rank and file distributors can’t sell themselves but, are told over and over again, they need to buy in order to succeed.     
The trick is not to be the last person holding the bag downline.

Now we have that out of the way, we can follow the money in reverse to see how this company has influeced our world directly and how their occult business philosophy has woven itself into many unexpected places.

The Secret – The Law of Attraction, Transformation of the New Age Market and the Coming Kingdom of Christ    

By the mid 1970's, Jerry Hicks was the very picture of a successful Amway distributor, achieving the diamond level and was a sought after speaker, giving his Amway insight and wisdom to eager groups of Amway hopefuls across the country. Jerry and his wife at the time were known as a charming couple and gracious and generous hosts. I have read some mention that it was the wife's money that paid for the lavish lifestyle the couple presented potential recruits for Amway, but I can't say if that is fact or speculation. In any case, they did make a convincing picture of having achieved the American Dream.According too all accounts, including the Abraham-Hicks superhero origin story, when Jerry read "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill (covered in more depth elsewhere on this site) it was the making of his life work. The philosophy of this book became an ever bigger centerpiece in his lectures. From the beginning, Amway employed motivational techniques that bordered on the religious, and some would charge even cult-like. By all accounts, Jerry Hicks was quite charismatic and handsome, and his metaphysical elaboration found many enthusiastic listeners.  

In 1976 Jerry met Esther Weaver. She and her then husband were also Amway distributors, recruited by Hicks. Four years later, they left their respective spouses and married. By this time their tapes and seminars had become their main source of income. One day Jerry picked up the book Seth Speaks, by Jane Roberts, a book that shaped much that was to come for the burgeoning New Age movement and a flood of "channellers" that were to follow. He convinced Esther to try this channelling lark through meditation and contact was made with "Abraham", that Aiwass of the lower middlebrow bringing forth tidings of Cadillacs and McMansions for all. Verily, a new era of Newage was initiated. And an entirely new business for the Hickses.

So, what skills did Jerry Hicks bring from his day at Amway to this new business? What was offered as the "product" – the teachings of Abraham – plays the same role in the process as the products from Amway manufacturing. These teachings could be encapsulated in a booklet with a recommendation to read TAGR at the end and left at that. Much of what is taught is rumored to have been adapted from the talks and seminars Jerry Hicks delivered to Amway recruits. In a genius move, people buy the sales pitch, which creates a perceived need for more sales pitches until it's sales pitches all the way down. Abraham, and the Law of Attraction has had a profound effect on the world of crystal gazers and white lighters. But wait! There's more! It is a matter of well-known history how far the film and book "The Secret" reached into the mainstream, with no small help from media titan Oprah Winfrey. For more on the actual teaching of LOA and The Secret I refer the reader to Douglas Rushkoff. And a short time on Google will catch a person up in no time.

So, that's a tangential spin-off chain of events that captured a certain segment of what may be a closed group. What about the direct influence of Amway/Quixtar itself? Are they open to any type of person, or are they too targeting a certain type of recruit? Again from Wikipedia:    
In the 1990s, the Amway organization was a major contributor to the Republican Party (GOP) and to the election campaigns of various GOP candidates. Amway and its sales force contributed a substantial amount (up to half) of the total funds ($669,525) for the 1994 political campaign of Republican congresswoman and Amway distributor Sue Myrick (N.C.).[50] According to two reports by Mother Jones magazine, a liberal news organization, Amway distributor Dexter Yager “used the company’s extensive voice-mail system to rally hundreds of Amway distributors into giving a total of $295,871” to Myrick’s campaign.[50][51] According to a campaign staffer quoted by the magazine, Myrick had appeared regularly on the Amway circuit, speaking at hundreds of rallies and selling $5 and $10 audiotapes.[50] Following the 1994 election, Myrick maintained “close ties to Amway and Yager”, and raised $100,000 from Amway sources, “most notably through fundraisers at the homes of big distributors”, in the 1997–98 election cycle.[51]  
Much of the political efforts of Amway and co-founder Dick DeVos has been devoted to growing the fundamentalist Christian influence within the GOP. Millions have been given to the party, individual conservative candidates and founders and members of the organization have close ties to US fundamentalist organizations like Pat Robertson's many splendored behemoth and in support of many efforts to establish Dominionism in the States and abroad. One can look to the "witch hunts" currently plaguing some African countries to see what they want to see happen in the US and Europe.

In a self-penned "interview", the Amway co-founder stated:    
Being a capitalist is actually fulfilling the will of God in my life. Prayerfully, I trust that this is my calling. So I don’t see any contradiction. The alternative view is that, as a believer, I should be poor, a business failure. I do not accept that. God has given us talents. Either we use them in business or we all should become priests and ministers, or devote ourselves to social work. That is not a framework to provide meaningful employment or opportunities for everyone.   

And the Christian rumour mongering and manipulation is not new. Amway distributors played their own little part in the Satanic Panic of the 1980's and 1990's - Wikipedia:    
Some Amway distributors were involved with an urban legend that the (old) Procter & Gamble service mark was in fact a Satanic symbol or that the CEO of P&G is himself a practicing Satanist. (In some variants of the urban legend, it is also claimed that the CEO of Procter & Gamble donated "satanic tithes" to the Church of Satan.)[105] Procter & Gamble alleged that several Amway distributors were behind a resurgence of the urban legend in the 1990s and sued several independent Amway distributors and the company for defamation and slander.[106]    
There is a network across church groups that includes many forms of MLM schemes, Satanic Ritual Abuse and other rumours spread through a jungle telegraph of the faithful and "grass root" political organizing. The above-mentioned P&G story could just be a way to make competitors less attractive, but in the light of the founders and organizations preoccupations, this may be less than likely.    

We're living in strange times when Ayn Rand's virtue of selfishness, Abraham's there are no victims philosophy, end time theology and modern day witch hunts play out in a continuum of Koch bros. Funded tea party politics and where a renewed red scare meets the occupy movement. Sales people on all sides look for an angle and new formulas. Good medicine and repackaged snake oil are of equal market value. What marks the latest generation of business innovation is this thing of offering something up, while the main source of revenue is hidden in the back-end  Variations of this can be seen in Facebook, where users think they are customers, but are in fact the product that is to be delivered to marketers and the US government. You are being bought and sold and it can be surprizing to find out who is managing the account.

P. Emerson Williams is the host of the Necrofuturist Transmission on Nightbreed Radio, editor and producer for Music Tuesdays on, core member, sound design, actor, artist and composer with FoolishPeople and product development manager and art director for Weaponized , the publishing imprint of FoolishPeople. He is also a visual artist whose work has graced book covers for Original Falcon, Weaponized and Westgate Press, the pages of magazines including Culture Asylum, Isten 'zine, Ghastly, Esoterra and too many more to list, album and CD covers for Rat King, a Primordial/Katatonia split 10" EP on Misanthropy Records, SLEEPCHAMBER and his own bands Veil of Thorns, Choronzon and kkoagulaa. He has worked with Manes and John Zewizz and is currently recording two albums with SLEEPCHAMBER.

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