My knee has been bothering me a little bit, so instead of going for a run outside today, I went to the gym to do 45 minutes on the elliptical. This was at about 11 am. I never watch television on Saturdays, especially during the day, so I was intrigued to see that several channels on the overhead monitors were showing the TV equivalent of spam, i.e., infomercials. One starred Heidi Klum. She was hawking a line of face products designed to cover wrinkles, complete with “unretouched” (but not unblurred or unlighted) before and after photos. Another one was making the preposterous claim that YOU can buy YOUR OWN PROPERTY for ONLY PENNIES ON THE DOLLAR!! Yes, that’s right, YOU could own A HOUSE LIKE THIS for only A FEW HUNDRED DOLLARS!!!!! On yet another screen, 2-TIME SUPERBOWL CHAMPION HEAD COACH JIMMY JOHNSON was selling financial kits that will allow YOU to MAKE THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS IN JUST A FEW HOURS doing online stock trades. These “programs” brought many questions to my mind, not the least of which was why the hell I should trust 2-TIME SUPERBOWL CHAMPION HEAD COACH JIMMY JOHNSON to give me financial advice.
Are there that many gullible, ignorant, naive, and/or just plain stupid people out there who fall for this stuff? I guess there must be, because the infomercials persist. It’s a sad indictment of our culture that we are caught between two conflicting mythologies: the cultural value that those who work the hardest will have the most success, and the tantalizing idea that anybody can get rich quick. Both of these propositions are absurd, but there are enough people out there who fit the myths that people believe them. This is a perfect example of confirmation bias – only acknowledging or remembering the evidence that supports your view, and ignoring the evidence that doesn’t. My personal name for this is the “plane crash theory.” You remember the planes that crash, because nobody talks about the ones that land safely. Can you imagine how boring (and not to mention long) the nightly news would be if the safe landings were reported? “We now turn to Bob Bobson for tonight’s safe landing report.” “Thanks Brian. Today, planes landed safely in Topeka, San Jose…” (Three hours later…) “Now back to you, Brian!” Obviously this can work the same way for our cultural beliefs about success and making money. The recent immigrant who works two jobs for minimum wage just to pay for a ghetto apartment that he shares with five other people might not agree that the hardest workers have the most success. But for every ten thousand hard-working, yet low income people, we have a “boot strap” story about somebody who “overcame tough beginnings” and became a millionaire. This is what we remember. And, for all the thousands of people who sign up to sell Amway or Acai berry juice or whatever and fail to get rich, there are one or two people who do succeed, and again, this is what we remember. It is all magical thinking, complicated by those correlated, but not causative, success stories. So, what’s the moral of the story? For me, I guess it’s “don’t go to the gym on Saturday mornings!”