The two best-selling advice gurus in the U.S. would like us to call them by their First names. But don't be fooled by such folksy familiarity. Dr. Phil (author of the chart-topper Relationship Rescue) and Dr. Laura (10 Stupid Things Couples Do to Mess Up Their Relationships) have the bedside manner of a drill sergeant and their prescription for success is, a bitter pill to swallow indeed.
In a publishing cohort dominated by the awkward, plodding images of John Gray (who in addition to his trademarked punchline--"Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus"--often speaks of "love tanks") and the feel-good gruel of the nauseating Chicken Soup series, Laura Schlessinger and Phil C. McGraw have introduced a clinical level of cynicism, detachment, and practicality. "You think I'm teaching you how to be manipulative," runs a typical Dr. Phil directive. "You're right." Asks Dr. Laura, "Is compromise really a good idea?"
Although getting what you want from your friends and acquaintances is important, that isn't Laura and Phil's real subject. The true object of their attention is you, and they're not sure they like what they see. A typical caller to Dr. Laura's popular national radio show contends that she treats her daughter badly because she herself was "emotionally abused." "So what?" Dr. Laura retorts. In his books, Dr. Phil is less brutal, but just as direct: "Bottom line: You are not a victim. You are creating the situations you are in...This is not a theory; it is life."
Between Dr. Laura's powers-of-10-based "Stupid Things" series and Dr. Phil's Oprah-spawned "life makeovers," the industry once best known for assuring everyone that they're OK has received a powerful corrective. Not only are you not OK, it's also all your fault.
Books intended to guide readers along the path of life. have been staples of American publishing since Benjamin Franklin's autobiography. From the preposterous New Age mind cure of Deepak Chopra to the hard-nosed confidence of Think and Grow Rich, few offer much beyond a variation on working hard, being specific in formulating your goals, and treating others well in order to get what you want (whether you call this manipulation or "karma"). Still, that hasn't stopped self-help from becoming a multi-billion dollar industry. And the profit margin gets better every day.
Through the advent of bullet-pointed lists and fill-in-the-blank charts, on a strict words-per-page basis, modern readers are getting less and less advice...