The profitability of expertise is both a blessing and a curse. Since the acceleration of neoliberalism and the final triumph of capitalist realism, we can say we’re living in the age of gurus. Especially of business, sales and marketing gurus.
One of the most nefarious species to emerge in this dystopian landscape is that of the blogging guru, a direct consequence of our obsession with false prophets, of our enshrining of the entrepreneurial condition, and of content marketing’s establishment as an obligatory advertising technique.
In April, Kathryn Jezer-Morton wrote a wonderful article about “the world of stay-at-home moms who blog for profit”. After navigating “the mommysphere” for a while, Jezer-Morton came to the obligatory realization:
"...Suddenly the oddly haphazard nature of the posts I was seeing made sense. These aren't blogs primarily meant for telling a story, or establishing someone's digital personality --- they're blogs for earning money. And among the most popular items for sale, it would seem, are guides for how to make money through blogging. They are blogs about blogging. The substance of the blogs — guidance on motherhood and domesticity — is often so thinly reconstituted that it’s basically motherhood tips from a content farm. Rather than writing about their own personal experiences or expertise, the mothers producing it seem to be following a set of conventions that they learn in the online blogging courses they buy. The result is a uniformity of tone and content that fails to conjure anything real. It’s a simulation of motherhood engineered to earn a bit of income for mothers…”
But this kind of aspiration and its consequent praxis aren’t exclusive to stay-at-home mothers. These bloggers who blog about making money with a blog are of all genders, races, and ages, and they’re all selling the same formula to different personas: Whether you’re a graphic design student, a vegan, a marketer… whatever, find a niche and create content for it, nurture it, build an email list through freebies and then offer them pay-walled content or courses.
This sort of character is very common in the start-up world. If you, reader, work within the anglophone entrepreneurial/corporate sphere, you’re probably painfully aware of Sam Ovens, a meta-consultant.
Sam Ovens teaches other people how to become consultants like him, a consultant whose consultancy is based on teaching people how to be consultants. Oven’s profile is full with a “success story”.
At age 21, Ovens was very happy to have risen out of poverty and into an office job at Vodafone. He was very happy, until he met a millionaire, who seemed to him like a member of a better cast. The millionaire, Ovens noted, lived happily and didn’t care for the environment:
"...The other thing that stood out to me was how differently a wealthy person approaches day to day life versus someone like me who was raised to be frugal. All the lights in six houses left on? No problem. Windows down with the air conditioning on? Why not? And it wasn't so much of a frivolous spending thing, as much as it was a preference thing. This man could afford to pay for his day-to-day preferences, no matter what they were. By the time I left the island, I no longer was satisfied with a corporate desk job and salary. I now knew how much more was available and I wanted it. I didn't want a life preoccupied with saving money. I wanted the freedom to live however I wished..."
Alienated, Ovens didn’t question the underlying dynamics of the situation. Like the imaginary Indians in the simplified story of the Conquest of The Americas that they taught my grandparents at school, Ovens was seduced by pigmented mirrors. He didn’t question why a statue in that guy’s house would cost him 17 years of work. He didn’t question the repercussions of living in a world led by people fixated on floating through life with mindless nonchalance. He didn’t think. He only wanted.
Of course, Ovens opposes all deep or non-profitable thinking:
"...the owner of the island had no time for negativity. If something negative came on the television or became the dominant topic in conversation, he would simply walk away. When I asked him about it he said, 'Sam, I don't listen to or watch or put into my mind to anything that is negative.'..."
These are the words of a man who thinks of Jeff “my working conditions are so horrifying people suffer heart attacks on my watch and have to wait 20 minutes for an ambulance” Bezos is a hero.
Researching for this mess, I found a Reddit thread titled “The anatomy of a scam: Sam Ovens’ $2000 Consulting Accelerator course”. Sadly, it’s centered around a broken link. But some of its comments are tremendously illuminating. Responding to a “success story”, a user writes:
"So why are you not one of his success stories? Why are all of Sam's success stories people who sell similar 'get rich quick' advice? Apologies for poking hard at this, but even if there is some value to be found (by some people who 'take action', a common disclaimer in this industry), he's still set up like a scam artist."
The awfully long, self-aggrandizing response starts as such:
"Because I'm a private guy. These dudes want fame man. I don't. I want deals. Real world deals. I'm not into teaching. Example: that Paul Ryan (Xavier) guy? He got his start with Sam's course as a student, then became a trusted freelancer with him for PPC, then started off on his own, changed his name etc... Now he has a damn webinar too lol. A lot of these guys want to be gurus. Cause it's lucrative. A lot of these guys just want to enhance their guru business. In one QnA someone asked Sam about his revenue split. It was roughly $400k/mo for consulting and $400k/mo for info products and coaching. You can easily double your business by dealing with people who haven't even cracked open all the shit they bought. All you gotta do is get them moving and win their first deal. It'll more than make up for the investment in your 'coaching program'. Once they get moving they can take it from there -- or join your 'inner circle program' Cha-ching. You look like a hero, they finally get results. It's a win win..."
Our very successful friend has once more confirmed that the heart of Corporate America is a big rock o’ coke.
Expertise as a Fetish
Courses, webinars, and e-books promising a key to becoming a millionaire aren’t rare. Sometimes, they’re offered by people who lack the expertise to teach. Sometimes the very subject at hand is bullshit or allows plenty of room for it.
“Expertise” has become a fetish, “becoming a thought leader” is not an intellectual effort but a marketing goal. Noble enterprises like blogging or providing flexible educative opportunities through the internet have been perverted by the ethos of a corporate culture of narcissism, selfishness and thoughtless lust for power.
Far too much of what is published on Medium is symptomatic of it. Far too much of what one finds when looking for marketing, business development or sales-related writings is an attempt to inflate thin layers of knowledge, for greed's sake. It's a shame.